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Professor Says No to 'Support the Troops' Yes to Benefits of Living in America

Steven Salaita is an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech. Last week he wrote a piece for Salon in which he argued that “support the troops” was merely shorthand for support-the-plutocrats, and for that reason, it should be resisted.

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.” One wonders if our troops are the ass-kicking force of
P.R. lore or an agglomeration of oversensitive duds and beggars.

Such
troop worship is trite and tiresome, but that’s not its primary danger.
A nation that continuously publicizes appeals to “support our troops”
is explicitly asking its citizens not to think.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Salaita says he is not anti-military, just anti-imperialism. But the root of his disdain for American imperialism, something he takes for granted, is an even deeper loathing of international capitalism. As he puts it “Supporting the troops is a cheerful surrogate for enabling the friendly
dictators, secret operations, torture practices and spying programs that
sustain this terrible economy.”

Salaita’s writing is like a lot of liberal writing at Salon and elsewhere. It expands on tiny human interactions, such as the invitation to donate .18 cents to “support the troops” at a gas station, and then glosses over big questions. Most of the heavy lifting in Salaita’s piece is done by making assumptions he never even tries to back up.

For instance, Salaita writes “Plutocracy ravages the state; we rebuild it with narratives of glory and selflessness.” It might get up-twinkles at an Occupy encampment, if there were any left, but it’s not something most Americans would concede in passing. But of course there’s no need to explain the “ravages” of plutocracy at Salon. It’s a given that corporations are evil and global capitalism is a net negative.

Early in the piece he writes an entire paragraph full of similar assumptions. It’s really the core of his argument and, as I’ve suggested, Salaita offers no support for any of it. Let’s go through this a line at a time:

Multinational corporations have a profound interest in cheerleading for
war and in the deification of those sent to execute it.

Salaita offers examples of corporations supporting the troops, such as allowing them to board airplanes first, or building a float in a parade. He does not offer examples of corporations “cheerleading for war” much less deifying anyone. Allowing someone to board a plane and applauding them is honoring them, it is not making them into gods. In an article which clearly prides itself on subtle unpacking of language, this is haphazard liberal junk-speech.

For many of
these corporations, the U.S. military is essentially a private army
dispatched around the world as needed to protect their investments and
to open new markets.

What new markets were we desperate to open in Afghanistan? Heroin? What about Kosovo? Are military bases in Germany and Japan the only thing giving us access to their markets?

Of course the real unexamined idea here is that protecting investments around the globe is a bad idea. One of the places in the world that might fit Salaita’s description of American military protecting US trade interests is Korea. Would it be better for Americans to withdraw troops and allow the militant lunatics ruling North Korea to “reunify” the country? For whom would this be better? Salaita doesn’t explain.

Their customers may “support our troops” based on
sincere feelings of sympathy or camaraderie, but for the elite the task
of an ideal citizenry isn’t to analyze or to investigate, but to
consume.

When your central point is best explained by a Pixar movie, you probably shouldn’t oversell your contribution to the debate.

In order for the citizenry to consume an abundance of products
most people don’t actually need, it is necessary to interject the spoils
of international larceny into the marketplace.

And there you have it. Global capitalism is “international larceny” to create products “people don’t…need.” This is beyond sweeping. Tenured college professors and communist autocrats have in common that they think they know what the world needs and how it should best be provided. Both should be ignored as much as possible.

Finally it’s worth noting that Salaita, like so many anti-corporate progressives, appears to be a hypocrite. His piece opens with a trip down the highway and a stop at a convenience store, “one of those squat, glass and plastic rectangles that looks like a Sears & Roebuck erector set.” He is clearly disdainful of the existence of the store, yet he still shops there. It’s a perfect metaphor for the disconnect between his piece and his life.

Normally a person’s ordinary personal choices aren’t relevant to their political pronouncements, but Salaita wants us to think deeply about these things. So let’s do that, shall we?

Where did the materials for the car he is driving come from? Where was the metal mined? Where was the energy that shaped the metal into auto parts purchased? And the gasoline, was that imported as oil from Saudi Arabia? Does he own a cell phone? I’ll bet he does. Who made it and in what country? What about the materials that make up the computer he wrote this article on? Why are they exempt from his prohibition against needless international larceny?

Does any of this matter? Well, again, Salaita balks at giving .18 cents to “support the troops” because he doesn’t want to support America’s icky global empire. He wants you to stop yourself applauding soldiers on airplanes for the same reason, a show of respect which costs absolutely nothing. And yet he still feels free to buy a car, a phone, a computer and whatever gasoline he needs. When will Salaita be willing to deny himself .18 cents worth of benefit from the system he despises?

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