Steven Salaita was at a gas station when he was asked by the store clerk to donate his spare nickels and dimes to the ‘Support our Troops’ change jar sitting by the register.
This experience prompted the assistant professor of English to write a column for Salon.com, criticizing the adage and fundraising efforts to support the troops.
Salaita, who grew up in Bluefield, West Virginia, is the author of six books and specializes in research about Arab Americans, Palestine, Indigenous Peoples and decolonization.
The assistant professor’s article was published on Aug. 25, and currently has over 1,300 comments. Salaita’s column argued that Americans should analyze the meaning of ‘Support our Troops,’ and consider the ideology behind the military’s actions, as well as consider the people in power who are making decisions for the military.
“(The article) merely analyzes and critiques the platitude ‘Support your Troops’ and discusses how it’s actually inadequate when it comes to properly caring for and tending to our veterans when they come home, or folks who leave the military and need health care and employment,” Salaita said. “There’s nothing anti-troops or anti-military about the article at all. You could say the article is anti-imperialism; that it’s anti-corporate control.”
An opposing column by Victor Medina of the Examiner said, “Salaita's condescending tone with anything and everything pro-military is evident immediately.” The Examiner column has over 150 comments on it, and has been “liked” 18 thousand times.
In the article, Salaita says, “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. It is the ideal slogan for suppressing the practice of democracy, presented to us in the guise of democratic preservation.”
While Salaita said his column was not trying to imply an anti-military sentiment, it hasn’t kept individuals from criticizing him for being unpatriotic.
"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,'” said Buddy Howell, visiting assistant professor for the department of Communication. “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."
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.
In his column, Salaita asked readers who should be included in the umbrella term “the troops.”
“Who, for instance, are “the troops”? Do they include those safely on bases in Hawaii and Germany?” Salaita’s column said. “Those guarding and torturing prisoners at Bagram and Guantánamo? The ones who murder people by remote control? The legions of mercenaries in Iraq? The ones I’ve seen many times in the Arab world acting like an Adam Sandler character?... It does neither military personnel nor their fans any good to romanticize them as a singular organism.”