November 12, 2002

· Politics

Eugene Volokh criticizes the history professor who insulted a cadet by quoting some Kipling:

Probably old hat to most of you, but some at least have forgotten it:

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap.

The last clause is thankfully no longer quite true, but the rest is still right.

All very well, except that yesterday he was agreeing with Christopher Hitchens that it’s wrong to criticize “armchair generals” who advocate military action, but haven’t served themselves. Hitchens righteously pointed out that we have a civil government and people who don’t (or can’t) fight aren’t disqualified from being in favor of war:

My wife is not of military age, and there is little chance of a draft for mothers. Are her views on Iraq therefore disqualified from utterance? And what about older comrades who can no longer shoulder a gun? What about friends of mine who are physically disabled? Should their expertise—often considerable—be set aside because they can’t ram it home with a bayonet?

Well, civil authority over the military cuts both ways. If armchair generals can send young people to war, despite having actively dodged military service themselves, then armchair peaceniks (even loutish ones, as in this case) can criticize those who “guard them while they sleep,” too. The soldiers’ duty is to guard everyone regardless of their political views—- just as it is their duty to go to war if the chickenhawks order them to. I have no doubt they’ll fulfill both obligations.

(Incidentally, surely I can’t be the first person to use this headline, can I? It’s lame, but I couldn’t resist.)

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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