The ubiquitous Support our Troops ribbon. As Noam Chomsky wrote, such slogans can distract the US public from questioning government policies that are disturbing at a deeper level.
A reader recently sent me a letter, objecting to a reference I made in a recent article to a Noam Chomsky critique of propaganda that included the US yellow ribbon campaign (that says “Support Our Troops”). I reproduce the letter — from Greg Jackson, Board Chairman of WoundedWarriors.ca — in full below.
The article to which Mr. Jackson refers was the back page opinion piece (“Messing with the Term ‘Zero Waste'”) that appeared on page 38 of our recent August/September edition. (If you don’t have a print copy handy, you can navigate to it via the digital version on our website.) To save you looking it up, I’ll just re-iterate that the article included observations about how certain kinds of language can be used to truncate discourse so as to distract people from deeper questions they might otherwise ask. One example is how the soft drink industry and certain packaging interests have, via the Blue Box and the promotion of recycling, propagandized us to the point where we only think about how to divert more and more waste from landfill, and not ask deeper questions like, “What would a sustainable economy look like?” which might cause us to realize certain products and packaging ought not exist in the first place (be it recyclable or not).
My article made reference to Chomsky on this, who referred to the Support our Troops slogan as a mnemonic device that distracts the American public from asking deeper questions, such as “Should we support the government’s policies?” Chomsky is a linguist and an intellectual, and a provocateur famous for questioning US foreign policy and military exploits such as the invasion of Iraq. I agree with Chomsky’s thoughts on the Support Our Troops slogan as a piece of propaganda but didn’t mean to disparage the specifically Canadian program to the extent that it functions to raise funds for injured soldiers and their families and so on. I suppose I could have been more specific that I was referring to the American campaign, but this was implied by the fact that I was quoting Noam Chomsky. I have no quarrel with the Canadian program that supports soldiers and their families, and thank Mr. Jackson for explaining how that works. I also never meant to imply (nor did Chomsky) that the Support Our Troops ribbons were created by government. I don’t know if the US campaign works in a similar manner to the Canadian one, but even if it does, Chomsky is talking about cultural symbolism and myth-making, not analyzing how a specific fundraising program works. In other words, a yellow ribbon campaign could raise money for good things, but still be part of an American myth-making system with a propaganda dimension that deserves awareness raising.
The news website The Daily Beast (formerly Newsweek magazine) recently published a fair and good article about Noam Chomsky that readers might wish to click to.
As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that a large percentage of Americans today are shockingly ignorant of the world outside their borders, and rally behind government forays in foreign lands without really understanding the geopolitics or consequences. American opinion was surveyed during and after the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush, and a large number of US citizens were discovered as believing that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis were behind the destruction of the World Trade Centre and the other events of 9/11, despite the fact that the attackers were Saudis (albeit renegade ones). I recall watching a documentary that followed the day to day lives of US soldiers in Iraq who repeatedly mentioned they were there to avenge “what happened on 9/11.”
Anyway, here’s the letter from Mr. Jackson. I need to also mention that Mr. Jackson’s reference to my “late stepfather” who would “not be impressed” by my article is Peter Worthington, the well known Canadian journalist and former solider who was my stepdad and who wrote often about the Canadian military and in defence of ordinary soldiers who are often screwed over by the “brass” and the politicians. My stepfather — who passed away last year — and I agreed and disagreed over a great many things, but I think we were largely on the same page on the matter of ordinary soldiers. I have stood on a bridge over the 401 and waved to the families of fallen soldiers as they’ve driven past as part of a motorcade from Trenton to Toronto, and felt a tremendous surge of emotion at the sight not only of the hearses but the somewhat unexpected sight of the wives and children waving back up at us. I do “support our troops” while reserving the right to recognize and call out propaganda when I discover it.
You may know a thing or two about solid waste and sustainability, but you don’t know “squat” about the “ubiquitous Support our Troops ribbon.” The Support our Troops ribbon campaign was never an attempt by the Department of National Defense, the Government of Canada or anyone else, to divert the attention of Canadians from the foreign policy of the day, to the support of troops voluntarily serving in conflicts, not of their making. In fact, the ribbons of the type you pictured in your blog, are sold by the various Military Family Resource Centres (MFRC) found on Canadian Armed Forces bases across Canada. The funds raised by the sale of those ribbons and other items are used by the Centres to fund programs for the soldiers and their families. Some of these programs include group programs for spouses and family members of deployed soldiers, helping them to cope with the separation from their family member and the anxiety of having a spouse/father deployed in a combat zone. Other programs include family reunification post tour and dealing with Occupational Stress Injuries, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I understand the point you were trying to make and perhaps you feel that your audience in the “green” movement will naturally find an affinity with the concept that the “military-industrial complex” or the government used the ribbon campaign to shift the attention of the “unwashed’. This is lamentable. I’m sure your late step-father would not be impressed.