I am sure you’ve heard of Ward Churchill’s latest tribulations—so I’ll save you the repetition. However, I bet what you didn’t know was that liberals were running hand in hand with conservatives in hopes of clothes-lining the radical professor. In a recent CommonDreams.org column titled “Ward Churchill’s Banality of Evil” Anthony Lappé argues that Churchill’s critique of 9/11, along with his calling the workers in the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns,” was utterly reprehensible:
Consider the professor’s twisted logic: People who work in the financial industry are legitimate military targets. Where do you draw the line? What about the secretaries who serve coffee to the little Eichmanns? They keep the evil system caffeinated, should they die? What if you own stock? Does earning dividends on GE mean your apartment building should be leveled with you in it? What if you keep your money at Chase or Citibank? Buy stuff at Wal-Mart? Pay federal taxes? Or better yet, what if you work for the government? Churchill himself works for a state university. He takes a paycheck from an institution that in all likelihood does military research and is probably ten times more complicit in the actual machinery of war than any junior currency trader.
To start, Churchill never actually said that WTC workers should be legitimate targets. What he did say was that using the US governments’ own rationale the WTC would most likely be a target for a military attack—for if no other reason than it housed a large CIA office and was an economic bastion of the military industrial complex. Arguing that the WTC would be a justifiable military target using the US government’s bloody rationale, Churchill writes in his now infamous essay “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens”:
They [the WTC] formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire—the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved—and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance”—a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore”—counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in—and in many cases excelling at—it was because of their absolute refusal to see.
Now where Lappé really gets off track is when he implies that Churchill somehow condones the WTC attack, let alone the attack on the Pentagon. In Churchill’s own words I think he spells it out quite clearly in response to misinterpretations such as Lappé’s: It should be emphasized that I applied the “little Eichmanns” characterization only to those described as “technicians.” Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 9-1-1 attack. According to Pentagon logic, were simply part of the collateral damage. Ugly? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. And that’s my point. It’s no less ugly, painful or dehumanizing a description when applied to Iraqis, Palestinians, or anyone else. If we ourselves do not want to be treated in this fashion, we must refuse to allow others to be similarly devalued and dehumanized in our name. The fuzzy nature of “collateral damage” is what I think Churchill is really getting at. And Churchill’s rejoinder to critics was only clarifying his early position, not backpedaling as Lappé contests. Indeed, Churchill sees the WTC attack as “ugly” and “hurtful.” It was. He also thinks such militaristic conceptions, when applied to other US ventures such as Iraq and Palestine, for example, are also “ugly and “hurtful.” This isn’t “twisted logic” as Lappé puts it. Or rather, it isn’t Churchill’s “twisted logic”: but the “twisted logic” of the US government. Churchill simply took the WTC massacre and looked at it through the lens of the US military establishment, and pointed out why the attack on the WTC could be justified militarily. Nowhere in Churchill’s original essay did he state such a terrorist act was morally justified. And there’s the key point. It wasn’t right, but evil and iniquitous. Churchill’s larger parallel is what liberals like Lappé cannot seem to stomach: that the US “military” interventions can also be classified as “terror”. Lastly, if you are a taxpaying American (yes I am a taxpayer) you certainly are a “little Eichmann” in a very real sense. Especially if you do not speak out against the actions of our government and the corporations that run the damn show. Nevertheless, this complicity by no means implies we should be all bombed in our apartments and homes, or forced to jump from a flaming skyscraper. And I certainly have never gotten the impression in any of Churchill’s writings that would indicate he would condone such horrific acts. In fact I think Ward Churchill would say that such an act of terror is just as evil as bombing “selective targets” in Iraq.
Joshua Frank is the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, to be published by Common Courage Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org