Johnson: Churchill not alone in pointing accusatory finger
I listened to the endless chatter about it on talk radio. I read the news stories, along with the editorials condemning Ward Churchill’s essay. I have just gotten around to reading what the professor actually wrote. The University of Colorado professor could have used a good editor. That’s the first thing I noticed. And certainly, he holds back not at all in casting blame for Sept. 11. What struck me the most, though, is how familiar it all was. The Eichmann reference clearly was stupid and was designed to be incendiary. A fair reader of the essay will not, though, be tripped up by it. In no way was he saying children, police officers and firefighters deserved to die. Instead, he is saying they were the enemy’s “collateral damage,” no different from the innocent Iraqis, Afghans, Vietnamese and a host of others who have been killed when our military weapons miss and, sometimes, hit their targets. The familiarity of what Ward Churchill wrote comes from the books and extensive articles in national publications that have been written in recent years on this very subject, with the same accusatory finger for Sept. 11 pointed directly at the U.S. and its citizenry for closing a blind eye to our country’s adventures overseas. “(We) now have several thousand of our own disappeareds, and we are badly mistaken if we think that we in the United States are entirely blameless for what happened to them. “The suicidal assassins of Sept. 11, 2001, did not ‘attack America,’ as our political leaders and the news media like to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy.” Chalmers Johnson wrote this in the Nation magazine on Oct. 15, 2001, about the same time Ward Churchill wrote his essay. “On the day of the disaster,” he continued, “President George W. Bush told the American people that we were attacked because we are ‘a beacon for freedom,’ and because the attackers were ‘evil.’ In his address to Congress on Sept. 20, he said, ‘This is civilization’s fight.’ “This attempt to define difficult-to-grasp events as only a conflict over abstract values – as a ‘clash of civilizations,’ in current post-cold war American jargon – is not only disingenuous, but also a way of evading responsibility for the ‘blowback’ that America’s imperial projects have generated.” The article is equally as devastatingly self-blaming as that written by Ward Churchill, only much more factually based and eloquently written. And Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute and professor emeritus at the University of California at San Diego, has had no one call for his college position or his life. The author of 12 books, he is best known for his 2000 book, Blowback: The Cost and Consequences of American Empire, long a best seller overseas, that was barely picked up by Americans until after Sept. 11, when it became a best seller here. “Blowback” a term invented by the CIA in 1954 to describe possible results from its operation to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, refers to the unintended consequences of American policies, few of which, Chalmers Johnson contends, most Americans even know about. In the book, he fairly predicts that a Sept. 11 is an inevitability, noting the only question is where it will be carried out. He answered his own telephone when I reached him at his San Diego-area home. He knew of Ward Churchill. His use of the Eichmann reference, he said, “was a stupid, foolish decision.” “The bond traders and other professionals, you could argue, were part of the military-industrial complex George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower both warned about, but to say their deaths were warranted is a bit of a stretch.” The rest of what Ward Churchill wrote “is little different” from what scores of others, including him, have written. “I am not endorsing the professor one way or the other. Yet I and so many others are not alone in our view,” Chalmers Johnson said. “In fact,” he adds, “I’ve actually had quite a favorable response to my work.” He is 73 years old. “I certainly am not out there trying to get tenure. And I don’t need the money. I am retired.” The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he actually believed the horrors were the work of Chileans. Sept. 11, he noted, is the date in 1973 when the U.S. sponsored the overthrow of the elected government of Salvador Allende, a date no Chilean, he says, has ever forgotten. It could, too, have been Greeks, Okinawans, any number of African nationals, Argentines, Brazilians – you name it, he said. That the attacks were mostly carried out by Saudis, he said, was not a surprise. Blowback. Like Ward Churchill, Chalmers Johnson says the Pentagon, in the context of blowback and warfare, was a “legitimate military target, no question.” The destruction of the World Trade Center, he adds, was “not legitimate. Clearly it was symbol,” he said, “but it was pure terrorism.” The problem, he said, is “when retaliation comes, Americans do not have the context to see why it happens. What it is not is a clash of civilizations. It is irrelevant to what we are talking about here.” In Indonesia, for example, a country where he has lived and visits frequently, 80 percent of the people there are now demonstrably anti-American. “They openly wear Osama bin Laden T-shirts. In the years before George W. Bush, 80 percent were pro-American.” What happened? “Every red light was flashing,” Chalmers Johnson said. “The world knew it. Yet here in America, we re-elected George Bush. We simply are asking for it. “All of us, with that election, endorsed preventative war and more war, torture, prisoner-abuse, the flaunting of Geneva Convention rules, the backing out of treaties when it suits us, the rest of the world be damned. It is one bad thing after another. “The belief out there is the U.S. is unfair. And that is warranted.” There are three things the U.S. can do to solve it all, where terrorism “will become only the concern of local police chiefs. Not that it ever will happen,” Chalmers Johnson said. Our uncritical and unflinching support of Israel, our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and this nation’s unchecked militarism, he said reciting Roman history, is “our Rubicon, and we have crossed it. “I am not certain it can be reversed,” he said. “I see clearly what I call the short, happy life of the American republic. “We have undercut the separation of powers. We have an imperial presidency that does what it wants, that relies on secrecy more than ever, combined with a Congress that doesn’t perform. “The entire political system today doesn’t perform. As a result, Nov. 2, 2004, will be a date that ultimately will be better remembered in this country than Sept. 11, 2001.” Ward Churchill never said anything like this. And Chalmers Johnson, whose head no one has yet called for, has released a new book, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic. It well could become a best seller.
Bill Johnson’s column appears Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in the Rocky Mountain News, from where this article is reprinted. E-mail him at johnsonw@RockyMountainNews.com