A chickenhawk is some one who is pro-war, who did something dodgy to avoid military service when his or her country called on him. Most commonly used by people on the left, but only because conservatives tend to be more pro-war in general.1

In its most common usage, its applied to modern-day politicians who used their famous and/or rich dads to do something to avoid fighting in Vietnam, but now are trying to get US troops to go fight another nation. Famous US chickenhawks include almost every politician who is not John Kerry or John McCain, both on the right and on the left. George W. Bush is often considered a chickenhawk because he got his dad to pull strings so that he never had to leave the states, but has now sent people off to die in at least two wars. Some people consider Bill Clinton to be one too, because he got a Rhodes Scholarship instead of getting drafted, and he sent US troops into Bosnia. The lists are always a little fuzzy, because there is a degree of war-mongering required, and whether someone is an evil baby killer or freedom-defending patriot is often a matter of which side of the debate you are on. Reluctant warriors are not chickenhawks. People who have exhausted all other options are not chickenhawks.

A list of chickenhawks may be found here2:


Remember - a chickenhawk is not just "someone who hasn't served". It is someone who dodged the draft to avoid serving, and is now trying to send others off to do what he (or she) was unwilling to do. A chickenhawk thinks that war is a great thing for others to fight in, but has shown an unwillingness to do so himself when called upon.

  1. Why that is, I don't know. What does war conserve, anyway? Or, for that matter, why would a progressive be pro-war? Not a whole lot of progress going on there....
  2. I realize that list has a lefty bias. But since both sides use this as a name calling tactic, I am sure that there exists a more conservatively slanted list. I'll happily post a link to one if someone points me to it.
"You're probably going to hate me for what I'm about to do, but after all, I am a chickenhawk."
The following quotation was made famous by:

  1. Henery Hawk, Senior
  2. Jerry Lee Lewis
  3. Rush Limbaugh

1. In some parts of North America, the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is known as the "chicken hawk." This raptor ranges throughout North America, and may be found as far north as Alaska and northern Canada. While not a migratory bird in the strict sense, it does follow its prey, and therefore may disappear from the northern regions during winter. The typical chicken hawk preys principally on rodents, but will also eat rabbits, snakes, lizards, and small birds-- including, of course, chickens.

This hawk weighs 2-4 pounds. It is brown in colour, lighter on its underside, and has a distinctive reddish tail which sometimes has a dark terminal band. The life span of a chickenhawk ranges from 10 to 20 years.

In addition to chickenhawk, this bird is also known as the henhawk and the mousehawk. Henery Hawk, a Warner Brothers cartoon character who would like to make a meal of Foghorn Leghorn, is supposed to be such a creature.

2. A male homo sapiens who prefers younger partners. Although the word has been used to refer to pederasts and pedophiles, it more properly relates to hebephiles, and those cases where both partners are legally adults, though one is a young adult. The word seems to have had its origin in the gay community, but is now commonly applied to relevant heterosexuals.

Chicken Hawks of note include Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Plato, and Woody Allen.

3. A person who supports a war—a so-called "hawk"—but who has avoided military service, especially in the recent past.

This sense of the word dates to at least 1986, and became widespread during American conflicts with Iraq, where several prominent supporters were criticized for having avoided past military service. When rhetoric trumps commitment, we naturally become critical.

"Chicken Hawk" Wordspy. http://www.wordspy.com/words/chickenhawk.asp

Matthew Engel. "Chicken Hawks." The Guardian August 20, 2002. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,777433,00.html

J. H. Hatfield. "Military Record" (excerpted from Fortunate Son). The Dubya Report. http://www.thedubyareport.com/milserv.html

"Red-tailed hawk." Desert USA. http://www.desertusa.com/aug96/du_hawk.html

"Red-tailed hawk." Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. http://www.hawkridge.org/raptors/Buteos/rth.htm

Chickenhawk is a book written by Robert Mason about the air war in Vietnam, as seen from behind the plexiglass windscreen of a Huey Slick. Mason leads us from pilot training through his assignment to the 1st Cav, his transfer to Vietnam, his 1000 mission tour of duty, and his return home.

The book is disarmingly candid and straightforward, Mason's carefully unemotional prose allows the facts of misjudgement, destruction, mutilation and war to have their own devastating effect. Mason draws you into the world of the Vietnam helicopter pilot, endless cold sweat nights before and after repeated landings in enemy-ringed landing zones, showing the human and the technical side of combat aviation.

I recommend this read to anyone and everyone. The narrative is riveting, I could not put it better than this passage from the back of my copy:

"Rich, often relentless memoir... had me trembling, fidgeting, wanting it to stop, wanting to get those guys up, off the LZs . Powerful scenes made me cry. Others were hilariously funny... Anyone who served in Vietnam... should read Chickenhawk. Anyone who wants to learn more about the war or who likes exciting reading should read it."

John Del Vecchio (The Thirteenth Valley), Philadelphia Inquirer

He puts it as well as I can. An excellent read.

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