IN DEFENSE OF WARD CHURCHILL – HISTORIAN!
In every society, more or less coercive measures are applied by ruling groups to organize and control mass opinion. This method seems worse than some because it constitutes an abuse of reason. — Edward H. Carr, What is History? (1961) As rabid right-wing talkbirds cackle for the firing of University of Colorado-based historian, Ward Churchill, the very controversy echoes an earlier, meaner age; that of the Cold War period of the ’50s, when the state, through the FBI and various other government agencies, ran riot over the rights, livelihoods, families and lives of tens of thousands of people, simply because of their differing political opinions, or because they were suspected of being ‘communists.’ Churchill, an ethnic studies professor at UC, knows a little something about that era. He was co-author (with Jim Vander Wall) of the now-classic and authoritative studies of the now-infamous COINTELPRO, or COunter INTELligence PROgram of the FBI against radical movements: Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (Cambridge, Ma.: South End Press, 1988 ); and The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (Cambridge, Ma.: South End Press, 1990 ). Both works, together over 900 pages, are exhaustively footnoted and documented, and provide chilling insights into how the State used illegal, unconstitutional, and outright criminal tactics to “neutralize, disrupt”, and indeed destroy social and political movements for decades! Churchill is now under fire for an essay penned shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, where he reasons that, to anyone knowledgeable about U.S. foreign affairs, the attack could hardly have been surprising. As knowledgeable as he is about U.S. domestic affairs, he is equally knowledgeable about foreign affairs. And he knows, all too well, that many people in foreign lands have grievances against the U.S. In his 2002 essay, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens”, Churchill recalls the famous comment by Malcolm X, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy: it was but a case of “chickens coming home to roost.” Both Malcolm and Churchill knew something about U.S. actions abroad, its export of violence abroad, and its demonstrated hatred of dark peoples the world over. He recounts how American armies and agents have wreaked brutal havoc all around the world, killing almost countless “innocent civilians”, in their efforts to insure continued imperial rule. For example, he mentions the CIA’s Operation Phoenix, where the U.S. government, the Navy Seals, Army Special Forces, south Vietnamese Rangers, and Australian SAS, “neutralized” people named by CIA snitches as Vietnamese “guerrillas.” Churchill writes:
Upwards of 40,000 people — mostly bystanders, as it turns out — were murdered by Phoenix hit teams before the guerrillas, stronger than ever, ran the US and its collaborators out of their country altogether. And these are the guys who are gonna save the day, if unleashed to do their thing in North America? [p. 6]
Ward Churchill is bitingly critical of the politicians, the military, and other government agencies who have unleashed a wave of terror upon people around the world. He does not mindlessly genuflect to the dead from the World Trade Center attacks. He explains, as best he can, that such unbridled violence abroad, led to violence here. Churchill is not a ‘safe’, or ‘guild’, historian. He does not speak obliquely of ‘the vanishing Indian’, or the glories of Manifest Destiny. He teaches of the madness of Empire, and from the position of the people on the periphery, the outskirts of Empire. It is not enough for us to merely, dumbly intone that Churchill has the right to write what he does. No — we must do more. We must insist that Churchill *is right*. And no one, not some rabid talkshow parrots, nor a political whore like Gov. Bill Owens, has a right to demand what is wrong. The Cold War is over (even in Colorado). Churchill is right! Copyright 2005 Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mumia Abu-Jamal is probably the United States’ most famous political prisoner. He is also the author of several books, including the recently released WE WANT FREEDOM: A Life in the Black Panther Party from South End Press ( http://www.southendpress.org ). For more information about Mumia and the campaign to save his life, go to http://www.mumia.org