Watchdog Blog

Myra MacPherson: It’s Not Too Late to Enlist, William Kristol

Posted at 6:33 pm, June 24th, 2008
Myra MacPherson Mug

While he may possibly have flat feet and at 55 is probably a bit long in the tooth for battle, gung ho neocon William Kristol still could join the “all volunteer” army if he wanted to serve in some capacity. After all, this is a war that he and other neocons have championed– for someone else to fight, that is. In his New York Times column, Kristol criticizes an anti-war ad that shows a mother holding her baby boy, Alex, and saying “And so, John McCain, when you say you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex? Because if you were, you can’t have him.”

Kristol sees a different message than many who understand a mother’s fear of a child growing into a war viewed as senseless horror. And she would be backed by such war heroes as Republican senator Chuck Hagel and Democratic senator James Webb, who have protested our continuing presence in Iraq. But, says Kristol, the ad is “barely disguised in its disdain for those who have chosen to serve—and its contempt for those parents who might be proud of sons and daughters who are serving.” Kristol quotes an unidentified mother of an “actual soldier” who responded to the woman in the ad: “does that mean that she wants other people’s sons to keep the wolves at bay so that her son can live a life of complete narcissism?”

Kristol praises the fact that we “live in a free country with a volunteer Army” and that Alex, when he grows up, would be free to join or not. So the “you can’t have him” sentiment is obviously moot. What Kristol does not mention is that he and his fellow hawks are totally free of any sacrifice in a war that, like Vietnam, asked everything of a few and nothing of most. (A draft, which no one champions, could even the playing field and certainly concentrate the minds of most of us who remain untouched except at the gas pump.)

This ad, despite its hyperbole, does not speak to a selfish position of “narcissism” and “disdain” for those serving but to a stay-the-course election gambit that exploits fear of terrorism. If he wants to hear from another mother of an actual soldier he should read this article in the latest issue of The Nation: “Jose was the youngest police chief in the state of New Hampshire, forever” says the mother of Sgt. Jose Pequeno. “But then he was in the National Guard, and they asked for volunteers.” While guarding an Iraqi police station, his Humvee was hit by a grenade. “When they found Jose, the lower part of his body was still inside the Humvee but the explosion had gone under his helmet and the left part of his brain was out in the sand….” Hours later the neurosurgeon sobbed into the phone from the hospital in Germany where Sgt. Pequeno had been flown. “Such a beautiful son,” he said. “What a terrible waste, a young man with such a life ahead of him…”

In this historic election, despite all the trivia about fist bumps and other measures of little consequence, the economy and the war are intertwined realities that need constant probing by the media—whether in ads or in tracking what the candidates and their surrogates are saying. The “wolves at the door” mentioned by Kristol’s unnamed mother are defined by the Republicans and many Democrats on the hill as the unseen terrorists, as witness McCain aide Charlie Black’s gaffe that a terrorist strike before the election would be a “big advantage” for McCain (for which Black apologized.) Using the fear of terrorism as an excuse for staying in Iraq (even though reports show that U.S. presence there has strengthened terrorist groups around the world) has its parallel in domestic events. The House all but mugged the Fourth Amendment, recently, passing a bill that amounts to legal immunity for phone companies who engaged in warrantless eavesdropping. The fear of terrorism was a major justification for both Republicans and Democratic congressmen who helped rip away basic civil liberties.

While the fear card plays out for the rest of this election year, Kristol and everyone else should remember that the ones who are dying are “actual soldiers” and actual civilians in Iraq.

15 Responses to “It’s Not Too Late to Enlist, William Kristol”

  1. Veteran says:

    Kristol and other neocons, like Dick Cheney, are chicken-hawks, people who didn’t serve in the military but gladly urge others to serve and die. They have found, in John McCain, the perfect candidate, a man who served and suffered and a man who gladly urges others to serve and suffer.
    Unlike Kristol and Cheney, I did serve in the military, and yet I don’t find the “You Can’t Have Him” ad to disdain military service. The point of the ad is that mothers, and indeed all of us, should be very skeptical when we hear calls for war and more war and even more war.

  2. mYRA says:

    To “Veteran”–thanks for your thoughtful comment. I wrote a book about Vietnam (“Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation”) and find such cynicism in the chicken hawks like Cheney, Perle, Bush et al who evaded that war through any measure possible …..keep writing about this.

  3. Thomas says:

    If we should listen to parents, and in particular to parents with adult children who have served in Iraq, then we should listen to John McCain. After all, McCain–who himself risked his life for his country, and suffered horribly for it–has a son who served in Iraq. Are you suggesting that the mother in the ad cares more for her child than McCain does for his? What an ugly and dishonorable thing to suggest.

  4. Veteran says:

    Thomas says it is “ugly and dishonorable” to disagree with John McCain because he has a son in Iraq. I don’t see why. If your neighbor lets his children play in the street, does that mean you should let yours? I bet many of the mothers of the victims of the Iraq war wish their children had not gone. Dying for your country is one thing. Dying for George Bush and Dick Cheney and John McCain is another.

  5. Thomas says:

    Veteran, MacPherson says that “hawks” like John McCain haven’t sacrificed anything in the war in Iraq. Now obviously John McCain has sacrificed plenty for his country, and he no longer is capable of serving his country in Iraq. But since MacPherson believes in some sort of sacrifice-by-proxy, in which parents are credited with the service of their children, then surely McCain has sacrificed, given the service of his son in Iraq. So why should we credit some of those whose children have served over others whose children have served? The only explanation I can see is that MacPherson opposes the war. Which is fine, but why does she need to make such bad arguments for that position?

  6. Veteran says:

    I think MacPherson is saying two things. First, Kristol and the neocons play a neat little trick. Whenever their hawkish policies are criticized, they accuse their critics of being unpatriotic, or they say their critics are in fact criticizing the men and women in uniform. That’s not true and it’s a trick that needs to be exposed for what it is. Second, MacPherson is saying that this trick is particularly galling when it comes from chickenhawks like Kristol and Cheney who never even served in the military and never even considered the possibility that they personally would go into combat. There is an old saying that used to go around Congress, “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.” Well, MacPherson is charging that Kristol does the same: “Don’t send you, don’t send me, send that fellow behind the tree.”

  7. mYRA says:

    Thomas- You got it wrong…I never said “hawks like John McCain” had never sacrificed anything in the war in Iraq. I specifically said “KRISTOL and his ‘fellow hawks’”–i.e. meaning Cheney, Richard Perle, Wolfowitz, Bush etc. who had been chicken hawks who avoided military services during Vietnam (although Kristol himself was a bit too young for that war, although not for Desert Storm) remain untouched by a war they eagerly champion for other people’s sons and daughters to fight. Thanks Myra

  8. Thomas says:

    So “fellow hawks” means not “fellow hawks” but some subset of his “fellow hawks” who you believe are “chicken hawks.” Of course.

    But, if that’s your meaning, I’m afraid I can’t make any sense of the post. I mean, the MoveOn ad is directed not just against the war, but against John McCain. The election is mentioned again and again. But you say you weren’t referring to McCain when you referred to Kristol’s “fellow hawks.” How strange. What’s the relevance of those “fellow hawks” to the election, since apparently none of them are on the ballot?

    Isn’t that Obama fellow a “hawk” on Afghanistan? He wants to send more troops there, doesn’t he? Doesn’t that make him a “chicken hawk”? He avoided service in Vietnam and Desert Storm, just as Kristol did.

  9. Norman Mark says:

    Bravo! No Neo Cons in the Army they love so much, George Bush AWOL from the Air Guard so he can party — it’s so easy to shout “LET’S HAVE A WAR! YOU GUYS FIGHT IT, while we stand on the sidelines and talk about the ‘romance’ of war.” They are beyond disgusting!

  10. mYRA says:

    to Thomas–Sorry you just don’t get it. I will try again. I was referring to COMMENTATORS like Kristol and the “FEllow Hawk” administrative backers of the SPECIFIC war in Iraq in the Bush circle who had ALL avoided Vietnam, hence the long standing name coined by Vietnam Veterans for this ilk, Chicken Hawk . They are pushing a war for other people’s children to fight. And BACKING the McCAIN premise that we should stay there. The ad is against the McCain premise that we should stay there–which makes it both against the war and obviously the candidate who is pushing to stay there (i.e. McCain.) Got it?? I was arguing against the ridiculous VIEW of KRISTOL”S that the ad showed distain for parents who sent their children to this specific war. Which it did not in my estimation and many others. I added that the McCain strategy (and the Kristol’s who back it) also played into the politics of fear of terrorism that is being used as a ploy during this election.

    As for Obama, he would have had a hard time carrying a rifle in Vietnam in his diapers (he was two when we sent troops in 1964)or as it continued through his elementary school years . His view on Afghanistan–as all reports show–is that we should have stayed there where Al Quaeda and Bin Laden were, rather than our pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. Do you remember pre-emptive, which means we started it? Latest reports show that terrorist groups are assembling in Afghanistan as a result of the US moving from that war to Iraq. As unfortunate as war always is, if we have to finish what we started in Afghanistan then Obama’s point of having to send troops there speaks to this. .Myra

  11. Thomas says:

    I’m afraid you can’t keep your story straight. You now say you meant “COMMENTATORS” and “administrative backers”, and thus suggest that of course you didn’t mean to include John McCain, who after all is neither a “COMMENTATOR” nor a member of the administration, but was instead perhaps the most prominent proponent of the war in the Senate, and is now the Republican nominee for president. Why not just say you meant the slur to apply to only those you meant it to apply to, and leave it at that? Then there’s never a chance of contradiction.

    Would Obama have had any harder of a time serving in Vietnam or in Desert Storm than Bill Kristol? I don’t think so, and yet you reserve the slur “chicken hawk” for only one of them. Why? Why doesn’t sending troops to Afghanistan lead to a charge of “chicken hawk”? Is that just a way of disagreeing about the war? If that’s the case, why not make an honest case about the disagreement?

    I am always amused to see confident assertions by Democrats like you that bin Laden was in Afghanistan at points when the intelligence information strongly suggests that he was in fact in Pakistan.

  12. Janice Huth Byer says:

    Thomas, you say you’re amused by Dem’s being off on their intel. It’s not funny that you yourself seem unable to do simple math.

    Obama, as you know is in his mid forties. Since we pulled out of ‘Nam 36 years ago, he can’t have been old enough. To be precise, he was 11 when we stopped sending troops in 72. too young to even fake 18. As for Desert Storm, there was no shortage of volunteers and no declared need for any, so why should Obama, a peace advocate, volunteer when he was working in community service in Chicago? As for Bill Kristol, he was 17 or 18 in 72 [I'm too lazy to Google, sorry], and could have joined with his parents’ permission or when 18, if he felt as strongly about service as he claims to now. For Desert Storm, he may have been too old and definitely is too old now to join the military, because they do have an age maximum.

  13. Thomas says:

    Janice, I’m capable of doing the same math as you. Both were capable of and eligible for service in war, but neither served. Why should Obama have served in the Gulf War? So he wouldn’t be a chicken hawk, of course. He does want to send US soldiers to fight and die in Afghanistan, doesn’t he? And if wasn’t willing to do the same, then he’s by definition a chicken hawk. That much I thought we could all agree on.

  14. madd mom says:

    MADD Mom

    A mom against dumb deployments, that is. Thomas, I have to wonder if you are a naturalized citizen, free of all the scar tissue we wear from our Viet Nam Era. Perhaps you’ve fled war-ravaged or disenfranchised citizenry (Zimbabwe?) desperate to find a government you can trust? Your zeal for this country’s stated mission and your unequivocal loyalty to this administration bespeak a recent conversion experience.

    Are you a parent? If not, I’m reminded of Swift’s Modest Proposal. If so, would you not ask what causes are worth the sacrifice of our children-–our own and those of the vanquished people? Is Senator Jim Webb, who has lent his son to this war, unpatriotic for voicing his concerns? Why the vitriol toward those who do? Many of us would love to see a menu of national service options (e.g., Peace Corps and Teacher Corps as well as military service) giving our children opportunity to contribute to the greater good. It’s not that we want to preserve or perpetuate a kind of Narcissism, as has been suggested. We just don’t want our own or anyone else’s children sacrificed to the neo-con’s Big Ideas, a la World War I.

  15. Don Capps says:


    The point is that Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, and host of those in the neo-con camp chose not to serve in the military; indeed, it seems clear that in some cases such service was actively avoided since it might interfere with their plans or careers. The appropriate name for these sorts of people is Chicken Hawk. Now, being in the military does not endow one with any special qualities akin to those given to superheroes in the comic books or movies, but it does raise an eyebrow or two when someone is so happily inclined to use military force so willingly without much actual experience in that realm.

    At the moment, I have managed to accumulate about 33 months in combat areas, a tour as a Lurp and then as a Ranger in Viet-Nam and then another 21 months in SWA. I have been shot up, shot down (three times), and even managed to a few boats shout out from under me (three on two occasions) in one war. I got to see how IEDs operate up close and personal on several occasions recently in another war. I have seen more than enough, but I could be headed back once more, either back to Iraq or to Afghanistan. I am obviously not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

    The experiences above, along with a total of 33 years in uniform, going from draftee private to colonel, seem to make me more than qualified to have a column in the NY Times since I really don’t need to have much actual experience with journalism since I do read newspapers and magazines….

    I would guess that the market, however, for a neo-Moderate columnist is not quite — Alas! — that of that for the blatantly partisan or ideologically inclined. Oh, well….

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