Football Game Flyover on 9-11 Promotes War

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A recent internet-driven furor in response to my letter
protesting an outburst of militarism at a University of Illinois
(Urbana-Champaign) football game on September
11th has prompted the following reflections on freedom of
speech, militarism and war, and the responsibilities of university
First, however, I will review the letter and the responses
that it provoked. The letter was published in the Daily
Illini (9/15) as follows:
“The vast majority of 9/11 observances in this country
cannot be seen as politically neutral events. Implicit in
their nature are the notions that lives lost at the World
Trade Center are more valuable than lives lost in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and elsewhere; that the
motives of the 9/11 attackers had nothing to do with genuine
grievances in the Islamic world regarding American
imperialism; and that the U.S. has been justified in the
subsequent killing of hundreds of thousands in so-called
“The observance at Saturday’s football game was no different.
A moment of silence was followed by a military airplane
flyover; in between, I-Block students chanted
‘U.S.A., U.S.A.’ This was neither patriotism nor remembrance
in any justifiable sense, but politicization, militarism,
propaganda, and bellicosity. The university is a
public institution that encompasses the political views of
all, not just the most (falsely) ‘patriotic.’ Athletic planners
should cease such exploitation for political purposes. They
might at least consider how most Muslim students, American
or otherwise, would respond to this nativist display;
or better, Muslims and others that live their lives under the
threat of our planes, drones, and soldiers.”
“The overwhelmingly white, privileged, I-Block students
should be ashamed of their obnoxious, fake-macho,
chicken-hawk chant, while poverty-drafted members of
their cohort fight and die in illegal and immoral wars for
the control of oil. University administrators need to eliminate
from all events such “patriotic” observances, which in
this country cannot be separated from implicit justifications
for state-sponsored killing.”
In the days subsequent to the letter’s publication hundreds
of critical comments, the majority of them abusive,
were posted on the DI website and received at both my
work-related and personal e-mail addresses. Abusive and
borderline threatening e-mails, some calling for my dismissal,
were also received by my work supervisor, as well
as perhaps two dozen phone calls over a period of four or
five days by the receptionists in my office. This resulted in
a police recommendation to keep the outside door locked
during business hours until further notice. These comments,
e-mails, and phone calls came from across the
country, although it cannot be stated with any certainty
how these “outside” numbers compare to responses from
students, campus, local, or in-state individuals.
Clearly, like the flyover itself, the responses to my letter
left little room for civil, intelligent, or critical discourse in
relation to the substantive issues that were raised.
For the record, while my letter became a phenomenon
in itself, the intimidating nature of these responses was not
seen as newsworthy by university administrators, DI editors,
or the local media. One might conjecture that threatening
phone calls to offices on campus—for example,
administrative offices—might have been met with a different
reaction from these individuals and media outlets.
Meanwhile, I was invited on WGN radio in Chicago for
a 20-minute morning interview, which was relatively civil
and afforded me the opportunity to clearly articulate my
perspectives. A discussion with national right-wing talk
show host Michael Medved was not nearly as civil, and an
invitation from Bill O’Reilly was rejected due to my concern
that there would be no chance for a fair hearing. Both
of the above-mentioned interviews can be accessed online.
At this point, I will proceed with my substantive reflections
on the events at the football game, and their implications
for the University community:
I continue to assert my right to attend public events,
including university sporting events and graduations,
without being politically proselytized by those responsible
for orchestrating such events. At the same time, I support
the right of any individual or groups of individuals in the
audience at any such event to engage in non-obscene and
non-racist expressions, chants, or songs of any nature
whatsoever, as they see fit, at appropriate points during the
proceedings. That would include “U.S.A.” or the name of
any other country on earth.
What I protested in my letter—secondarily to the university’s
support for militarism and war—was the decision
by university administrators to view me as a captive audience
for hopelessly entwined and repulsive patriotic/militaristic
sentiments, expressed in a manner that is intimidating
and obviously allows for no thoughtful response.
Meanwhile, I retain the right to publicly express my horror
at the behavior of Block-I students, whether it be in relation
to chants of “U.S.A.,” “chief,” or any other outbursts
of mindless, conformist and belligerent speech.
My fundamental concern, however, is the university’s
identification with militarism and war, and the propaganda
and coercion that inevitably go with it. Sports events,
and particularly football games, are tempting targets for
those who would confuse the love of country with the
practice of killing innocent people in other countries.
Thus these displays move from flags and anthems, to color
guards and flyovers, to implied assertions of American
innocence and support for unjust wars.
This is clearly analogous to our entire aggressive history
and current state of affairs, characterized on one hand by
the varied motives, intentions, and ideals of our soldiers,
which on the other hand are invariably exploited by economic
elites and political leaders for their self-serving,
nefarious, and destructive policies.
In short, I demand university administrators either
clearly explain why they think that the ceremonies prior to
the game on September 11th were not politicized and militarized;
or apologize for their decisions and promise not
to repeat them. I promote, for starters, a clearly announced
policy of no more flyovers, ever.
In 1976, The late historian Howard Zinn wrote the following
in a column in the Boston Globe in connection to
the observance of Memorial Day: “In the end, it is living
people, not corpses, creative energy, not destructive rage,
which are our only real defense, not just against other governments
trying to kill us, but against our own, also trying
to kill us.” University and athletic administrators need to
stop aspiring to be part of such a government, and actively
recognize the perversity of a public educational institution
promoting the agenda of such a government, which
makes it the opposite of a government that is “of the people,
by the people, and for the people.”

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