EDITORIAL: Experience not the ultimate authority

The recent criticism against President Bush by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has sparked yet another round of controversy over who has the moral high ground in the debate over the Iraq War. It appears, unfortunately, that the “chickenhawk” argument has reared its ugly head yet again.

Liberals love to throw around the “chickenhawk” argument – a delicious, politically-charged non sequitur which runs something like this: Only those who served in the military understand the consequences of combat, and therefore, they are the only ones justified in supporting the war – should they choose to do so. Essentially, it means two plus two equals four – but only if the right person says it.

Murtha, a Marine Corps veteran and originally a supporter of the Iraq War, has recently criticized Bush’s handling of the conflict and suggested the time has come to start withdrawing troops from Iraq. Because Murtha served in Vietnam, and Bush didn’t, the general public is supposed to believe Murtha is right and the president is wrong, and Murtha’s combat experience somehow makes him an indisputable authority on the Iraq strategy. The same thing happened during the last presidential election, when Democrats suggested that because John Kerry was a combat veteran, he was, ipso facto, a more sagacious and effective policymaker.

The fact is, the soldier’s job is very different from that of the politician, and having served as one is not a necessary qualification to serve as the other. Some of America’s greatest wartime leaders – Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, to name a couple – had no military experience whatsoever, yet no one disputes the appropriateness of their judgment in things martial. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the most senior member of the U.S. Senate, never spent a day in uniform, yet he sits on the Armed Services Committee. And how many anti-war protesters that fill the streets of America’s major cities have military experience? The percentage is undoubtedly a small one, and yet no one challenges the validity of their opinions – the correctness, perhaps, but not the validity.

The fact that there are many veterans with just as much experience as Murtha who actually support the war doesn’t seem to register for proponents of “chickenhawk” reasoning. In fact, if only those who served in the military were allowed to voice their opinions on the conflict, most liberals would find the results quite unpleasant. Countless news stories and anecdotal accounts indicate the majority of people who have been on the ground in Iraq, who have actually done the fighting and seen the progress made, believe staying the course isn’t the best option – it’s the only option.

So if experience gives one the ultimate authority to make pronouncements on such matters, why is there such a difference of opinion among those who have this experience?

The same fallacious principle seems to manifest itself throughout American politics, from foreign affairs to the Supreme Court to economic policy: Experience rules, and without an appropriately “authentic” lifetime experience, all opinions are null and void. This is a logically fallacious and downright un-American approach to politics and can even result in limits on freedom of speech.

The above is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.