The continued trashing of radical professor Ward Churchill from the left end of the political spectrum is ever-increasing. Take Marc Cooper, contributing editor to The Nation magazine, and columnist for the LA Weekly, who on his personal blog responded to Churchill’s essay “Some Push Back”:
Move over, Mumia. The Left has a new cause celebre that’s a guaranteed loser: Ward Churchill … I saw the essay at the time and was nauseated by it. I have been tempted over the years to write something about it, but have always decided not to. Only because I consider Churchill to be an irrelevant and clearly deranged loner on the edge of the looniest left.
Now I regret not having denounced him. Too bad others on the left also didn’t quickly hurry to divorce themselves from this guy. Churchill, as you know, surfaced in the news last month when he was invited to speak at an upstate New York university and some conservatives raised a ruckus—as they damn well should. If this guy can hang on to his tenure at CU fine. But damned if student funds from somewhere else should be used to host him as some sort of guest speaker.
Cooper claims to have reread the essay only to have found “it more offensive than when I originally saw it right after 9/11.” If one only reads Cooper’s grotesque distortions of Churchill’s fiery analysis they would most likely believe Churchill deserves the filthy muck that is being shoveled his way. What does Cooper find so offensive anyway? Most likely it is the following, as Churchill writes about the “technocrats” in the World Trade Center:
If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.
Churchill’s Eichmann reference is what got him in deep do-do with the likes of Governor Pataki of New York and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. Certainly it is difficult to defend Churchill’s remarks when his comment is taken out of context. Leaving the above statement on its own clearly, seems to illustrate that Churchill is praising the attacks of 9/11. But is he really championing the horrific atrocity? Not exactly. Prior to his Eichmann comment, Churchill used the following precursor to set up his case: “They [the 9/11 terrorists] did not license themselves to ‘target innocent civilians.’” There you have it. Churchill was trying to make the argument that the 9/11 terrorists did not target the WTC simply to kill innocent Americans. According to him, the 9/11 attackers went after the WTC because it was a legitimate military target in an act of war. Plain and simple. I don’t necessarily agree with his assessment, although I think this was the crux of his argument. Of course, Churchill should have clarified his position better in his original essay, which could be categorized as sloppy given the weight of his argument and tone of his language (he defends and explains himself later, which we’ll get to in a moment). But unfortunately his vagueness has aroused a plethora of reactionary attacks, both from the right and left. Churchill should have emboldened this “little Eichmann” argument by pointing out that CIA offices were housed in the WTC along with a large office of the cruise missile manufacturer, Raytheon. Churchill could have also stressed that the terrorists likely attacked the WTC in hopes of inflicting a massive fracture in the US economy, which is the driving force behind the violent US war machine. But instead he left his readers to sit quietly with his “little Eichmanns” reference. Even so, Marc Cooper and many others who criticize Churchill’s statement fail to point out that nowhere in Churchill’s original essay does he argue that the WTC attacks were morally justified. In fact he says it was an act of war, of which he detests. Churchill writes that “if what the combat teams did to the WTC and the Pentagon can be understood as acts of war—and they can—then the same is true” for the US conduct in the Middle East. He goes on to compare the terrorists to Madeline Albright, who oversaw the US imposed UN sanctions of Iraq, which killed tens of thousands of people, mostly elderly and small children. “Evil—for those inclined to embrace the banality of such a concept—was perfectly incarnated in that malignant toad known as Madeline Albright, squatting in her studio chair like Jaba the Hutt, blandly spewing the news that she’d imposed a collective death sentence upon the unoffending youth of Iraq.” Does such a harsh critique of the US military actions, and Churchill’s comparison of these ventures to the WTC attacks imply that he is delighted people were killed on 9/11? Not in the least. In fact, as noted, Churchill argues that these were not individual acts of terror (unless you can also categorize US military activity as terror): “This is to say that, since the assaults on the WTC and Pentagon were an act of war—not ‘terrorist incidents’—they must be understood as components in a much broader strategy designed to achieve specific results.” Of course those results can be debated. Perhaps they knew the US government would react violently, attack countries in the Middle East—which would only inflame more rage against the US and consequently aid in the recruitment of more fighters to sign up for Bin Laden’s jihad. Nevertheless Churchill’s argument is relatively sound. Does the fact that his interest “in hearing about” other ways/places the terrorists could have struck that would have inflicted some “penalty … upon the little Eichmanns” still bother you? His question, to me, seems to express that if the assault on the WTC was only about killing innocents: then how can one ignore the fact that the WTC housed a CIA office and a weapons producer like Raytheon? Was this irrelevant or coincidental? Like it or not, Churchill is forcing us to address his claim that the WTC was a military target. Churchill, due to the misinterpretations of his Eichmann statement, later clarifies his original essay in a piece titled “On the Injustice of Getting Smeared,” where he writes:
I am not a “defender” of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned. I have never said that people “should” engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy. As Martin Luther King, quoting Robert F. Kennedy, said, “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.” This is not to say that I advocate violence; as a U.S. soldier in Vietnam I witnessed and participated in more violence than I ever wish to see. What I am saying is that if we want an end to violence, especially that perpetrated against civilians, we must take the responsibility for halting the slaughter perpetrated by the United States around the world … Finally, I have never characterized all the September 11 victims as “Nazis.” What I said was that the “technocrats of empire” working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of “little Eichmanns.” Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies.
Now back to Marc Cooper who hisses that he would “be terrified if this guy was teaching [his] kid.” First Cooper makes no mention of Churchill’s counter essay “On the Injustice of Getting Smeared” in his online screed, even though he has “kept half-an-eye on Churchill since” his original essay first appeared. We can certainly call Cooper’s blindness selective-perception, for he wants to see what he wants to see. This leads us to the much larger issue: What the implications are for tenured professors and academics that voice publicly their objectionable political and cultural opinions. What is now happening to Ward Churchill is all just pure intimidation, which was spearheaded by Republican Gov. Pataki, exacerbated by Fox News, and condoned by liberals such as Marc Cooper. The upcoming battle over whether or not Ward Churchill keeps his position at Colorado University will set the bar for a whole assembly of radical intellectuals who could one day become the focus of McCarthy-like censorship. It’s time to move past Churchill’s fearless thesis about the US empire, and fight for his right to voice his opinions. No matter how unsavory they may be.
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