Chickenhawk (politics)

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Chickenhawk (chicken hawk or chicken-hawk) is a political term used in the United States to describe a person who is a war hawk yet actively avoids or avoided military service when of age.[1] In political usage, chickenhawk is a compound of chicken (meaning 'coward') and hawk from war hawk (meaning 'someone who advocates war'). Generally, the implication is that chickenhawks lack the moral character to participate in war themselves, preferring to ask others to support, fight, and perhaps die in an armed conflict.


The term war hawk developed early in American history as a term for one who advocates war. On one episode of the American television show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In that aired in 1970, Dan Rowan made the following joke:[2][better source needed]

On the Vietnam issue, I have a friend who says he's a chickenhawk. He wants us to fight on to victory, but to do it without him.

Previously, the term war wimp was sometimes used, coined during the Vietnam War by Congressman Andrew Jacobs, a Marine veteran of the Korean War,[3] to describe "someone who promotes waging war or building up the tools of war but hid behind a college deferment or suddenly came up lame when the draft board whistled."[4]

The 1983 bestselling book Chickenhawk was a memoir by Robert Mason about his service in the Vietnam War, in which he was a helicopter pilot. Mason used the word as a compound oxymoron to describe both his fear of combat ("chicken") and his attraction to it ("hawk").[5]


James Fallows identifies the rise of chickenhawks with the distancing of the American public from the military. He says that while most Americans had experience with the military by the end of World War II, having either served or known people who had, "now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public." He cites examples of popular media such as Apocalypse Now and The Hurt Locker as many Americans' exposure to the military.[6]

Critics of the term chickenhawk argue that the term is used as a form of whataboutism in place of arguments against military action. Matthew Yglesias describes it as "a species of hypocrisy charge, a tempting rhetorical ploy that in practice proves almost nothing."[7]

John Bolton,[8][9][10] Donald Trump,[11][12][10] Dick Cheney,[13] Newt Gingrich,[14][15] and Ted Nugent[16][17][18][19] are modern examples of those being called chickenhawks by critics.


According to a 2014 study, leaders who had military backgrounds but no combat experience were most likely to initiate conflicts and wars.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "chicken hawk". The Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved January 6, 2020.
  2. ^ "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In". IMDb.
  3. ^ "What the Contras Need is Patrick Buchanan". The Spokesman-Review. March 16, 1986. p. 10. Retrieved February 14, 2020 – via Open access icon
  4. ^ "ALL THE QUALITIES OF A WAR WIMP". Chicago Tribune. June 28, 1985. Retrieved June 12, 2021.
  5. ^ Mason, Robert (1983). Chickenhawk. Penguin Publishing Group. ISBN 9781101175156.
  6. ^ Fallows, James (2015). "The Tragedy of the American Military". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  7. ^ Yglesias, Matthew (2005-08-23). "Manpower Meltdown". The American Prospect. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  8. ^ Rodriguez, Sal (April 6, 2018). "Wars Only Bring Death and Destruction". The Modesto Bee. Modesto, CA. p. A9. Retrieved December 22, 2020 – via And his selection of awful neocon chickenhawk John Bolton ... Open access icon
  9. ^ Miller, Justin (May 28, 2019). "Diplomacy First with Iran". The Orlando Sentinel. Orlando, FL. p. A11. Retrieved December 22, 2020 – via ... or a classic Washington, D.C. 'chickenhawk' (that is, advocating for a war but never serving in one) like Bolton. Open access icon
  10. ^ a b Lemon, Jason. "'Draft Dodging' Trump and Adviser Bolton Are 'Chickenhawks' Pushing U.S. to War With Iran, Democratic 2020 Candidate Warns". Newsweek. No. June 2, 2019. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  11. ^ Fallows, James (August 8, 2017). "Chickenhawk in Chief". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  12. ^ Burt, Charles (August 16, 2016). "Donald Trump Is the Definition of a Chickenhawk". The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  13. ^ Egan, Timothy (December 11, 2014). "The War Hero and the Chickenhawk". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2022.
  14. ^ Weinger, Mackenzie (January 4, 2012). "Paul calls Newt a 'chickenhawk'". Political. Retrieved November 22, 2023.
  15. ^ Mali, Meghashyam (January 4, 2012). "Paul blasts Gingrich as 'chicken hawk'". The Hill. Retrieved November 22, 2023.
  16. ^ Jensen, Dennis (May 28, 2006). "Ted Nugent: Call him Chickenhawk". Rutland Herald. Retrieved November 22, 2023.
  17. ^ "Ted Nugent Dodged the Draft?". April 20, 2012. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  18. ^ "The Worst Ted Nugent Interview Of All Time". Media Matters. March 25, 2014. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  19. ^ ""Ted Nugent Grows Up?" The Detroit Free Press Magazine, July 15, 1990". Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  20. ^ Horowitz, Michael C.; Starn, Allan C. (2014). "How Prior Military Experience Influences the Future Militarized Behavior of Leaders". International Organization. 68 (3): 527–559. doi:10.1017/S0020818314000046. hdl:1811/52883. ISSN 0020-8183. JSTOR 43282118. S2CID 154302567.

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