It’s easy to attack University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill. He went too far in his essay “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. ” He made overstatements, praised the Sept. 11 terrorists as noble heroes and labeled their victims as criminals who deserved what they got.
The essay is not a scholarly document. It’s not subtle, reasonable or balanced. In fact, Churchill states in the addendum that it’s more of a “stream-of-consciousness interpretive reaction to the Sept. 11 counterattack than a finished topic on the piece.” I’d say that’s a fair assessment.
I can only assume that in a true scholarly work, Churchill wouldn’t describe former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as “a malignant toad” or “Jaba (sic) the Hutt.” I assume that he wouldn’t call President Bush the “Scoundrel-in-Chief,” or refer to the FBI as “a carnival of clowns.”
But while it’s easy to attack Churchill’s inflammatory words, it’s harder to deny the core argument of his essay. It is a critique of U.S. policies around the globe, particularly the 12 years of sanctions in Iraq that former U.N. Assistant Secretary General Denis Halladay denounced as “a systematic program … of deliberate genocide.”
I have long been a vocal opponent of sanctions in Iraq, because everything I read on the subject revealed that it was regular citizens, not the leadership, who suffered under sanctions. Saddam Hussein easily circumvented the restrictions, made billions of dollars and built more palaces. It was regular Iraqis who died for lack of clean water, sewage-treatment facilities and basic medical supplies.
We might expect Hussein to show indifference to his own people, but I was shocked by the degree of indifference Americans showed toward them. We continued to enforce sanctions that killed civilians.
If you put aside Churchill’s angry words, his message is something that every American needs to consider. Why were we attacked? After Sept. 11, I repeatedly asked this question on the radio and in this column, and I was stunned by the vitriolic response that I received from listeners and readers.
People accused me of “justifying” the terrorists, being a terrorist sympathizer, an unpatriotic American and a heartless jerk. Some people told me to shut my mouth until after I’d visited ground zero, while hundreds of others suggested that I leave the United States. No one was willing to have a rational conversation about why we were attacked.
An analogy can be found in the life of Martin Luther King Jr. If someone had thrown a brick through his living room window, it would have been reasonable for his wife to say, “Explain to me again why these marches and speeches are worth putting our family at risk.”
Asking the question doesn’t suggest that she sympathizes with the brick-thrower, but it does demand some accountability from her husband, so that she can decide whether his being a civil rights leader is worth the risk.
It would be silly for King to respond, “They attacked us because they hate our freedom and our goodness.”
Ironically, the reaction to Churchill’s essay mimics the thesis of his essay. In calling the victims of Sept. 11 “little Eichmanns,” Churchill has offended so many people that he has provoked an effort to remove him from the CU faculty. He argues that enforcing sanctions that kill hundreds of thousands of children angered terrorists so much that they attacked the United States.
We can clearly see the connection between Churchill’s statements and the public effort against him, but we seem unable or unwilling to see the connection between U.S. foreign policy and terrorist reactions against it.
Former Denver Broncos player Reggie Rivers writes Fridays on the Denver Post op-ed page.