In his Oct. 30 op-ed article, "Return of the 'Chicken Hawks,' " Michael Kelly disparaged the slogan "My country right or wrong" as a "substitution of reaction for thinking." While I do not disagree, I wonder if Mr. Kelly knows the expanded version of the saying.

"My country right or wrong" was originally offered as a toast by Capt. Stephen Decatur after naval victories in the War of 1812. It gained circulation as an endorsement of mindless patriotism.

In the 1870s, however, a new version was given by Carl Schurz, a German immigrant who fought in the Civil War and later served in the Senate. His more challenging text is:

"My country right or wrong.

"When right, to be kept right;

"When wrong, to be put right."




Michael Kelly is right to dismiss arguments such as "My country right or wrong" as "the sort of thing you say when you need to stop the argument in its tracks because you simply can't bear to address its realities."

He is wrong, though, when he writes that people who use the term "chicken hawk" are saying that only people who have served in the military can advocate war. Certainly, some of this is going on. But more important, people are registering with a short, powerful image their disgust for leaders whose words and actions are inconsistent.

Many people are tired of hearing that, though it may be painful, for the good of everyone "we" -- as in "you" -- now have to ante up. By failing to delve deeper into the roots of "chicken hawk," Mr. Kelly has missed the fact that the issue is not about the need for a military with civilian leadership. It is more about practicing what you preach. It is about character.


New Creek, W.Va.


Michael Kelly cited Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt as examples of chicken hawks who were great wartime leaders. In 1832 Lincoln enlisted in and was elected captain of his volunteer company during the Black Hawk War. He later re- enlisted after his term expired. FDR never shirked military duty. By the time World War I came along, FDR was assistant secretary of the Navy and too old for combat.

Calling someone a chicken hawk does not imply, as Mr. Kelly asserted, that only people who have served have the authority to advocate for war. No liberal would ever claim that. What the term does point out is the hypocrisy of so many of our leaders who did everything they could to avoid combat when they were young but now seem eager to engage our forces in combat around the globe and have the chutzpah to question the patriotism of those who disagree with them.




Michael Kelly said "chicken hawk" is a portmanteau word that "manages to impute, at once, cowardice, ignorance, selfishness."

Chicken hawk is not a portmanteau word. Lewis Carroll defined a portmanteau word as a word "having two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau." One example, in "The Hunting of the Snark," is "frumious" -- a combination of "fuming" and "furious."

A correct portmanteau word for Mr. Kelly's piece would be "chawken," not "chicken hawk."

Therefore, in this context, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle are chawkens.