A Virginia Tech University professor has taken a stand against the popular “Support Our Troops” expression, calling it an overused platitude that prompts Americans to blindly support U.S. military actions.
The phrase also serves as “an exploitation tool for cooperate charity” in “an era of compulsory patriotism,” Steven Salaita, an assistant professor of English, suggested in his recent Salon.com column, which was headlined: “No thanks: Stop saying ‘support the troops.'”
Salaita reportedly penned the column after he was asked to donate some spare change to the troops while out shopping.
“In recent years I’ve grown fatigued of appeals on behalf of the troops, which intensify in proportion to the belligerence or potential unpopularity of the imperial adventure du jour,” Salaita wrote. “In addition to donating change to the troops, we are repeatedly impelled to ‘support our troops’ or to ‘thank our troops.’ God constantly blesses them. Politicians exalt them. We are warned, ‘If you can’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.’”
“Such troop worship is trite and tiresome, but that’s not its primary danger.”
He went on to argue that “a nation that continuously publicizes appeals to ‘support our troops’ is explicitly asking its citizens not to think.”
“It is the ideal slogan for suppressing the practice of democracy, presented to us in the guise of democratic preservation,” Salaita wrote, adding the “phenomenon of corporate charity for the troops tells us about commercial conduct in an era of compulsory patriotism.”
The column has prompted anger among many, including from one of Salaita’s colleagues at Virginia Tech.
“He wrote a thinly veiled, not too thoughtful, critique of American capitalism, dressed deceptively in the guise of a well-reasoned critique of what he called ‘unthinking patriotism,’” Buddy Howell, visiting assistant professor for the department of communication, told the student newspaper the Collegiate Times. “It lacks intellectual rigor. It never defines ‘patriotism,’ which he seems to have a problem with. Yet he is critical of the phrase ‘Support Our Troops,’ which he claims is empty and inexplicable.”
The campus paper went on to note that “Howell has publicly invited Salaita, in a letter to the editor to the Collegiate Times, to an on-campus public debate regarding the topic of American imperialism and Jihadi fascism.”
Virginia Tech has also received many phone calls from people upset by the column, the Times reported.
“Certainly, right now, we (Virginia Tech) are being negatively affected (by Salaita’s work),” Larry Hincker, associate vice president of university relations, was quoted as saying. “That’s the strange thing about this. With 7,000 employees, why would anybody think that one junior English department faculty member somehow speaks for the rest of us?”
An article about the uproar by ABC news pointed out that “Salaita tweeted Wednesday that he doesn’t hate America or the troops.”
“First person to find a quote where I say I hate America or the troops wins an introductory primer on reading comprehension,” Salaita tweeted.
The ABC report also notes that the professor clarified his argument on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, saying “I want us very much to support the human beings who comprise the military. I want us to question and challenge the platitude, support the troops, and think about who that platitude, whose interest that platitude actually serves.”
During his radio interview, Salaita talked on many subjects, including: his admiration for Fidel Castro; his belief that America is an “imperial power” and a country that has caused “extraordinary destruction”; that he’s not sure whether he’s glad Saddam Hussein is dead, and couldn’t say whether it was unequivocally good to kill Hitler.
Hewitt also brought up the fact that one of Virginia Tech’s biggest benefactors is the Department of Defense, and told the professor that, in a roundabout way through his teacher’s salary, Salaita is “accepting the very money which I think in other circumstances you might call blood money.”
“I’ve thought much about it, and it’s something that I dislike tremendously,” Salaita replied, adding he had no plans to quit anytime soon.
Jennifer Kabbany is associate editor of The College Fix.