The Liberal Trashing of Prof. Ward Churchill

Distortions of Acumen

The shameless trashing of Ward Churchill from the left side of our political setting was perhaps the most grotesque of all the attacks faced by the tenured University of Colorado professor after his essay “Some Push Back” began making headlines in early 2005. It was predictable that right-wingers like David Horowitz and pundit Sean Hannity would blather about Churchill being un-American, but the liberal loathing of the radical academic came with an extra unexpected fervor. Let’s take Marc Cooper, contributing editor to The Nation magazine, whom, on his personal blog, responded to Churchill’s 9/11 thesis:

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.

It was the kind of cheap jab Cooper is famous for. He’s spelled out all sorts of ad hominems over the years — from the bashing of Mumia to the castration of Hugo Chavez — Cooper claimed to have reread Churchill’s essay, only to find “it more offensive than when I originally saw it right after 9/11.” If one only read Cooper’s grotesque distortions of Churchill’s fiery analysis (thinking a liberal would at least give Ward a fair crack), they would most likely believe the professor deserves the filthy muck that has been shoveled all over his career.

What did Cooper find so offensive anyway? Most likely it was Churchill’s commentary on 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 shit with the likes of New York’s Governor Pataki and Bill O’Reilly over at Fox News. Taken out of context, Churchill’s remarks seem difficult to defend. When it stands alone, the aforementioned statement clearly seems to illustrate that Churchill praised the attacks of 9/11. But did he really champion the horrific atrocity?

Not exactly.

Prior to his Eichmann comment, Churchill used the following precursor to set up his case: “ [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. Of course, Churchill should have clarified his position better in his original essay given the weight of his argument. (He defends and explains himself later, which we’ll see in a moment.) But, unfortunately, his vagueness aroused a plethora of reactionary attacks, both from the right and left.

Churchill should have emboldened this “little Eichmann” argument in “Some Push Back” by pointing out that CIA offices were housed in the WTC 7, along with a large office of cruise missile manufacturer Raytheon within the towers. He could have also stressed that the terrorists likely attacked the WTC in hopes of inflicting a massive wound to the US economy, which is the driving force behind the violent war machine.

Even so, Cooper and many others who criticized Churchill’s statement failed to point out that the professor, in his original essay, never argued the WTC attacks were morally justified. In fact, he said it was an act of war, which he detests. As Churchill wrote in “Some Push Back,” “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 and elsewhere.

From there he goes on to compare the terrorists to former Secretary of State 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 Jabba the Hut, 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 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, and alleged al Qaeda operatives have since attacked many civilian centers in Europe and elsewhere since 2001. But on 9/11, perhaps they knew the US government would react violently, attacking 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. Days after Cooper ripped into Churchill, the liberal newswire ran a bitter column entitled “Ward Churchill’s Banality of Evil” by Anthony Lappé. Like our pal Cooper, Lappé, who I consider a friend, argued that the prof’s critique of 9/11 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. Rather, he said that using the US government’s 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 wrote in “Some People Push Back”:

[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.

Lappé (and CommonDreams, by association) really got off track when he implied that Churchill somehow condoned the attacks on the WTC attack and the Pentagon. In response to misinterpretations such as Lappé’s, Churchill lays it out quite clearly in his essay, “Lessons Not Learned and the War on Free Speech”:

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 9-11 attack. According to Pentagon logic, was 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 was really getting at. And Churchill’s rejoinder to critics was only clarifying his earlier position, not backpedaling, as Lappé contested. Indeed, Churchill sees the WTC attack as it was — “ugly” and “hurtful.” He also thinks such militaristic conceptions, when applied to other US ventures such as Iraq and Palestine, 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 military establishment. Churchill simply took the WTC massacre, looked at it through the lens of the US government, 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. The attacks on the WTC weren’t right, but malicious and iniquitous. Churchill’s larger parallel is what critics like Lappé seem unable to stomach: that the US “military” interventions can also be classified as “terror.” Churchill’s argument, despite what Cooper and Lappé claimed, was, and is, sound. Does his interest “in hearing about” other ways and places the terrorists could have struck to inflict 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 7 housed a CIA office and a weapons producer like Raytheon? Was this irrelevant, or just coincidental? Like it or not, Churchill forced us to address his claim that the WTC was a military target.

In “Lessons Not Learned and the War on Free Speech,” Churchill again clarifies,

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 Cooper, who wrote that he would “be terrified if this guy was teaching [his] kid.” First, Cooper made no mention of Churchill’s counter essay 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 smarmy blindness selective perception, for he wants to see what he wants to see.

This leads us to the much larger issue at hand — the implications for tenured professors and academics who publicly voice their objectionable political and cultural opinions. What is now happening to Ward Churchill is pure intimidation, spearheaded by Republican Gov. Pataki, exacerbated by Fox News and David Horowitz, and condoned by liberals such as Cooper.

The current battle over whether Churchill keeps his post at Colorado University, along with the Norman Finkelstein and David Graeber cases at DePaul and Yale respectively — is setting the bar for a whole assembly of radical intellectuals who could one day become the target of McCarthy-like censorship. It’s time to move past Ward Churchill’s fearless thesis about the US Empire and fight for his right to voice his opinions publicly. No matter how unsavory they may be.

Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in June 2008. Check out the Red State Rebels site. Read other articles by Joshua.

22 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Dawson said on July 12th, 2007 at 9:56am #

    OK, but the fact remains that Churchill has accomplished exactly what an FBI agent posing as a leftist would have wanted to accomplish: He has made the left look both dishonest and pro-terrorism. And to what end? That we have some responsibility for what happened on 9/11? Duh, but why not explain the real reasons why, rather than backhandedly implying that the buildings were full of legitimate targets? Why not explain the policies and events in the Middle East? Personally, I suspect Churchill is incapable of doing that well, given his simple-minded worldview. And I also think Churchill did indeed condone the attacks, by calling the terrorists fighters and then refusing to really apologize for his stupid, massively counter-productive scribbling. Why did he publish it in the first place? Who was he hoping to educate?

  2. JBPM said on July 12th, 2007 at 9:57am #

    “It’s time to move past Ward Churchill’s fearless thesis about the US Empire and fight for his right to voice his opinions publicly. No matter how unsavory they may be.”

    Duh. Isn’t that what freedom of speech has always meant?

    When did American liberals lose sight of the Voltaire’s basic dictum, “I might not like what you say, but I will defend unto the death your right to say it”?

    And what, if anything, did the advent of identity politics, the concept of hate speech, and “political correctness” have to do with it?

  3. Ivan said on July 12th, 2007 at 10:32am #

    I applaud your defense of Prof Churchill arguments as much as I admire his guts on putting into words what no other americans would dare to look at: the name of the elephant in the living room.
    We have a million examples of American acts of war targeting civilians as main victims : bombing of Dresden, nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, carpet bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia, indiscriminate killings in Grenada, indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas in Panama, countless terrorist acts in Nicaragua in the 80’s, bombing of Sudan in 1998, 10 years of bombing Irak, bombings of Yugoslavia, and I’m not counting all the Israeli bombings of Lebanon and Palestine with American support.
    Has anybody ever made an estimated count of civilian deads by American bombs???? This means, bombs dropped by American war airplains under the American flag in the past 65 years??????
    This point should be stressed by all whom opposed the genocidal american foreing policies, because that count may be approching by now the 2 million civilians number.
    If we want to give prof Churchill’s stand its real dimension, we should put it in the historical context it belongs to.
    It is important to re-educate the American public (including the pro-imperialist-pseudo-left represented by positions like that one of Marc Cooper and The Nation) on the horrors and crimes commited by the American governments and its Military in the past 65 yers.
    It is important to make the American people understand that their way of life has been fueld by a permanent war and a crimes machine directed always against nations and peoples who have not attacked the US.
    And that the abundance America has enjoyed for nearly a century it’s
    based on a century and a half of ransaking of other nations, leaving on the way a path of destruction, mass murdering, poverty for generations and cultural genocide.
    It is also important for the understanding of this reality, that the American general public should be initiated in the theories of imperialism, as to make possible the further understanding of where the causes of that national behavior lies.
    That means that it is crucial to make people understand that these are not acts caused by the “evilness” of their leaders.
    The criminal behavior of America foreing policies are only the result of the inner dinamics of capitalism in its imperialistic phase.
    These are concepts which are not difficult to explain and understand, and they attack the base of the right’s conceptual core: that one that states that human beings are “evil” and that religion is the “salvation” for our own weakness.
    The right’s conceptual armour takes us to a never ending self perpetuating war of humans against humans, because it can only funtion in the frame of a struggle against evil (always represented by the different, the foreigner or the one that thinks diferently).
    If that “evil” is nowhere around us, we should create one somewhere far away and go fight it there.
    It is crucial for all us who want change based on humanitarian views to engaged on this ideological struggle.
    For it is the inner dyinamics of imperialism what is destroying America (and the world) and a cultural change is urgently need it if we want to stop the decline and self destruction of our civilization.

  4. Timber said on July 12th, 2007 at 12:55pm #

    The quote from the Common Dreams article is a crystal-clear example of why I struggle to remain optimistic these days:

    “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?”

    Indeed, Anthony Lappe, where do you draw the line? The hysterical rejection of any real investigation into the 9/11 attacks on the part of the establishment left–we must, after all, reject “outrageous conspiracy theories,” as instructed by that avatar of open government George W. Bush–was supposed to reassure us that there are no secrets, that the government would never take the lives of innocent civilians because there is so much oversight and those participating can always be counted on to sacrifice their careers, families, or freedom to come forward and out any such plans or policies.

    Now we’re told that the people who actually carry out these policies aren’t responsible either.

    So we’re left with this conundrum: if there are no planners who are responsible, and there are no bureaucrats, agents, military personnel, or other actors who are responsible–they’re all people “just trying to make a living” and “following orders” according to this conventional wisdom–just who the hell IS responsible, and what can we do about it?

    You can see why some people resort to acribing the world’s ills to Satan or reptilian aliens when there is so much entrenched denial that our fellow citizens are perfectly capapble of atrocities, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

  5. Hue Longer said on July 12th, 2007 at 2:30pm #

    The argument of innocence is only certain for children, and explaining this to the ones arguing otherwise is difficult if using them as the example. “Good Germans”, “VC supporters”, “brainwashed commies” are all good enough reasons to remove innocence from women and men who worked further from the “line” than did stock brokers in the towers in New York.

    It’s odd that words like this need to be accompanied with a pledge to mean only what they mean.

    Where does Lappe draw the line? An inch under Dick Cheney?

  6. Marikken said on July 12th, 2007 at 3:17pm #

    I’m addressing two issues here. First: “that malignant toad known as Madeline Albright, squatting in her studio chair like Jabba the Hut” – what Madeline Albright said was despicable. Please stick to criticizing her for what she said, not for her body shape or size. Women get enough of this kind of misogyny already!

    Second: I work at the University of Colorado on the same campus that Churchill did. When this all hit the fan, I was in support of him. For one thing what he had to say didn’t offend me; I could understand what he was saying, and for the second, it was his opinion and surely we all have the right to express our opinion. When he held his first press conference at the University after this came down, I was there to support him. The ballroom was packed and there were speakers outside for the many that couldn’t squeeze inside. I remember he came in and struck an imposing figure; tall and large as he is, and he was flanked by Indian bodyguards. There were perhaps three people who booed, but they were quickly drowned out by the rest of us who cheered loudly for him. He seemed moved when he got to the podium; I don’t think he had expected such rousing support. He expressed humble gratefulness for the support and proceeded with an inspiring and stirring speech. There were questions and answers, and then he left – always surrounded by his Indian body-guards. I went back to my car feeling inspired and hopeful.

    A while later I attended a discussion that had a panel of speakers; one of which was Churchill. It went fine for a while, although I did feel Churchill kept the discussion centered on himself, and there was a Latina woman who pointed this out. He came unglued. He verbally attacked her and stood up and leaned over in a very threatening manner. Another Latino man stood up and spoke against Churchill and he was even more abusive toward him, telling him to “shut up” over and over again. This from a man who was crying “free speech” for himself?! I was shocked and dismayed that afternoon. Another woman and I tried to talk to him about it after it was over, but he dismissed us rudely, laughing at us. My impression of him was completely reversed. I still criticize the regents and the administration for trying to dismiss him because that is wrong. But I also now realize that this man who criticizes Bush for being a bully, is a bully himself – and a hypocrite.

  7. Michael Dawson said on July 12th, 2007 at 3:22pm #

    That’s another major sin of Churchill’s horrible little essay: It exhibits massive, unjustifiable, and politically stupid contempt for ordinary Americans and the actual power and knowledge conditions in which they live. The question of guilt for historic crimes is not simple in any way. In a nation where virtually nobody can give you anything close to a coherent account of Middle East history since WWII and where the political system is thoroughly dominated by the corporate overclass, how do you blame the 99 percent of the population (and 75 percent of the WTC buildings) who have no clue and no say about actual history? Is being too ignorant and alienated for Professor Churchill’s taste a war crime, an act of combat, a demand for a bomb on your own head? And, while we’re at it, are stock brokers really legitimate military targets? That’s a pretty scary conclusion, and we do live in a system that forces almost everybody to distinguish between their larger preferences (if they ever get to think about them) and how they make a living.

    Meanwhile, terrorism is terrorism, theirs and (far bigger and more frequent) ours. Both types are illegal and wrong. Every chance the left blows to make this clear is another slide down our slow slope to political oblivion. Cooper and Lappe are grandstanding sell-outs, but Churchill is no better. The job of the left is not to paint Al Qaeda as heroes. It is to explain where Al Qaeda came from, and how to REALLY attack it and all the other expressions of injustice and inhumanity.

  8. Timber said on July 12th, 2007 at 4:45pm #

    This successfully provocative little firebomb of an article aside, I think our discussion of it here illuminates the catch-22 I was trying to describe: there is no link in the chain of command or the bureaucracy of ANY institution we criticize that could be eliminated without it raising some defense of that person, whether it’s “he’s somebody’s grandfather, too” or “they know not what they do.”

    By this logic: George Bush is a father and a husband–is it really fair to Jenna, Barbara, and Laura to call him a criminal, much less to submit them to the humiliation of impeachment or a trial? Blackwater mercenaries are good family men, just trying to provide for their families, and anyway, you have no right to judge their conduct because you don’t know what it’s like over there. The corporate CEO who takes advantage of people’s desperation to cut his labor costs has a duty to his stockholders, and can’t be blamed for trying to increase efficiency and cut overhead. On and on….

  9. Michael Dawson said on July 12th, 2007 at 5:02pm #

    “Successfully provocative?” Of what? Making the left look utterly stupid to the general public, followed by a huge attack on academic freedom? The right is the only winner in all this, by any measure. It’s straight out of an J. Edgar Hoover wet dream.

    Meanwhile, you can always split hairs and talk like a nihilist if you want to. But to argue that you don’t see how George Bush is more responsible than Joe or Jane Sixpack is just willfully dumb. He’s the highly advised President of the United States. He started an illegal war and can stop it with the stroke of a pen. Most of the rest of us can’t even cast a vote that matters.

    P.S. Bush belongs in jail, not death by terrorism.

  10. Timber said on July 12th, 2007 at 5:36pm #

    Now Churchill’s responsible for the counter-attack against him?

    You don’t even acknowledge that his critics refused for the most part to discuss the history of US involvement in the Middle East after they were done waving the bloody shirt of the 9/11 victims. I may not agree with what Churchill said or the way he said it either, but the opportunity to discuss US foreign policy that his article created was pissed away so establishment noodlers could retain their scholarly distance from the questions he raised.

    I wasn’t arguing that Bush is no more responsible than the average citizen. I agree that he is ultimately responsible. But to about a third of our fellow citizens, he was just doing what he thought was best for the country in spite of all the evidence. Under those circumstances, he won’t ever be held responsible. And yes, that’s pretty damn depressing.

  11. Adam said on July 12th, 2007 at 7:05pm #

    The Twin Towers were brought down by controlled demolition, not by the impact of the planes. 9-11 was an inside job; a false flag operation. Unfortunately, Churchill’s statement , the subject of the above piece, supports the lie of the official story.

    That being said, Churchill’s work, especially the historical outline he provides in his book “The Justice of Roosting Chickens” is scholarship at its best. He exposes the brutal reality of this country like no one else.

  12. Adam said on July 12th, 2007 at 7:18pm #

    9/11 The Myth and the Reality: Dr. David Ray Griffin

  13. Fred said on July 12th, 2007 at 11:28pm #

    “Churchill’s work, especially the historical outline he provides in his book “The Justice of Roosting Chickens” is scholarship at its best.”

    Most of Churchill’s output is not even scholarship, much less scholarship at its best. Churchill routinely exaggerates and even makes up data. Twenty five different scholars sitting on four different CU committees have looked at the research misconduct charges against Churchill. All 25 unanimously agree that he committed serious research misconduct, and is deserving of serious sanctions.

    The impetus for the investigation may have been political, but the evidence of Churchill’s personal corruption is astounding. It is foolish to line up behind this guy. He deserves to be fired not for what he said, but for his abuse of scholarly ethics.

  14. Lila Rajiva said on July 13th, 2007 at 3:18am #

    I don’t think people who consider themselves “free-thinkers” and “dissidents” should be involved with turning people into pariahs for their thoughts.

    People don’t consider politicians pariahs for the things they actually do…if society does not shun Bush or Clinton or Brzezinksi or Kissinger (sticking to American pols alone for the minute) – who are directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundereds of thousands of people – millions…or Jeff Sachs or Greenspan or any economist whose policies ruined whole economies – then why on earth are we picking on someone for something they just said? Did Churchill kill anyone? Did he bomb, or poison anyone? Did he steal, plunder or rape? Did he connive and lie?

    No, he was voicing an opinion…

    And about his rudeness on one day..

    The guy is under a lot of pressure. Talking about himself? I guess he’s feeling a bit persecuted these days. Understandable, I think.

    Personally, there are many days on which I ‘ve blown off steam a bit for much less..

    I have a bit of a story on this because my publisher had sent out for a blurb request from Churchill (whom I had not read and whom I had heard about only in relation to his delineation of Native Indian history) before the controversy developed.

    Not remembering this, I wrote a piece on Churchill’s article — “Little Eichman’s and the Harijans” for Counterpunch (

    “That’s the perverse logic of binary inversions of black and white and it’s what the radical rhetoric of the right and left both miss. In the immediate aftermath of an event as emotional as 9/11, was the public debate really served by comparing ordinary money managers to the arch-Nazi Eichmann? Would Churchill also be willing to argue that some Iraqis citizens in Fallujah may have tacitly supported Saddam’s oppressive policies and might therefore also be little Eichmanns meriting extermination?

    The greatest danger of magical thinking is not simply in the likelihood of such inversions boomeranging to hit you in the face – witness “reverse discrimination” and white or Brahmin backlash – but in the strengthening of exactly the passions and irrationality on which public support for war feeds in the first place…”

    In the article, I spent some time – objecting for various reasons to Churchill’s use of the word “Nazi” (I did not say it was a morally indefensible argument – I said that it was tired and intellectually somewhat weak)..

    A month or two later, I got a blurb from Churchill in which he got his back with a two-handed jab that endorsed my work (He called it “excruciatingly precise” ) but also reiterated his own use of the word Nazi firmly.

    Guess what? Having by then waded through a stack of Bush jurisprudence, I was overcome with Schmittean flashbacks…
    Nazi still sounded wrong to me..but the legal justifications and military and nonmilitary acts of omission and commission were certainly similar enough that while my criticisms were good ones, Churchill’s rejoinder was apt…

    Calling a country’s laws Schmittean (Promethean was the word I coined)…is suggesting its government is similar to the Nazis…
    why split hairs? Why be so excruciatingly precise?

    I felt a momentary twinge. I had been temperate and said something which people might be able to digest and like…

    Churchill said something that discomfitted people…

    I am not now sure who took the high road…

    I stuck the blurb on the jacket.
    Distancing myself from it at that moment would have been wrong.
    And distancing ourselves from Churchill, when we really are saying the same things, only in different or more subtle or more nuanced ways…is
    somehow not right.

    Even though, prudentially I agree it might not help.
    Intuitively, morally, it is the right thing to do.

  15. Michael Dawson said on July 13th, 2007 at 8:35am #

    Hell, yes, Churchill is significantly responsible for drawing the attack on his tenure. What do you think will happen when you say the WTC was full of Little Eichmanns and the bombers were freedom fighters? It’s not hard to predict. It’s virtually certain. And nothing about any of this has increased anybody’s chances to discuss the history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Quite the contrary: Churchill’s essay is as obscurantist and unhelpful as the obvious motives of the reactionaries now predictably attacking his job. Blaming everybody and cheering on Osama is as wrong as it is politically dunderheaded. Talking about the relevant realities raises topics such as defunding Israel, defending the Palestinians, regional peace conferences, and who really opposes secular democracy. Churchill’s cowboys-versus-indians schtick is far too crude to ever point people in these latter directions.

  16. The Ron Paul haters…. « Lila Rajiva: The Mind-Body Politic said on July 13th, 2007 at 10:18am #

    […] my comment on Josh Frank’s recent piece in DV […]

  17. rosemarie jackowski said on July 13th, 2007 at 11:15am #

    Thanks for a great article that started a great discussion. Churchill is brilliant – maybe the most gifted writer of our time. Is there anyone who does not admire his courage to speak the truth? It was his use of the “E” word that caused so much sensation. Everyone wants to believe that they are not guilty – “blame- the-other-guy” syndrome is pervasive. Let’s face the facts. We are all complicit. Anyone who supports the economy in any way is responsible. If Churchill has any fault, it is that he is TOO forgiving of the average citizen in the USA.

  18. Lila Rajiva said on July 13th, 2007 at 1:46pm #

    I don’t know if I would say I agree with him on everything. I think Bush jurisprudence is close in thinking to Nazi jurisprudence. In other ways the administrations is worse…and better….it’s complex.

    I don’t agree with Churchill on the issue of complicity though, simply because I don’t agree wih the left thesis that capitalism per se is bad. Imperialism seems to me to be a perversion of free enterprise and capitalism. And speculative finance is not investment and growth (not that I think growth is the be-all and end-all…it’s simply one aspect of the perversion of terminology when the state gets mixed up with the economy at every turn)…Gabriel Kolko wrote a very good book on how it was actually big business cum government intervention that led to monopolies…on their own, monopolies were not the natural development of free enterprise.

  19. Hue Longer said on July 13th, 2007 at 10:44pm #

    Guilt or innocence was not by themselves the point. Cause and effect were and challenging selective morality to get to that shouldn’t be accompanied with a caveat of, “I’m not saying it was right for ___ to ___”. Patriotic leftist sound funny to anyone else? Go Team!.

  20. cdub said on July 14th, 2007 at 5:42pm #

    I recall Churchill pointing out that his use of the name Eichmann was of course in reference to the book by Hannah Arendt . At what point does one become complicit by going along with the policies of a country that one is a citizen of ? Lots of extremists might spew ideas similar to Hitler or any other fanatic, but the massive bureaucracy composed of individuals who all believe they are not morally wrong because they are following orders and obeying the law is what makes such crimes possible. Alfried Krupp only got 12 years at the Nuremberg trials and consequently got his firm back after his release, and the whole time claimed he was just a businessman like any other and a victim of Hitler himself. Without Krupp arming the Nazis I posit Nazi aggression would not have been possible. His supply of war material demanded a larger labor force, which he plucked from the concentration camps. Business concerns such as Krupp and I.G. Farben had a symbiotic relationship with the Nazis and also previous german govts. Krupp and I.G. also literally stole and physically moved steel and chemical plants back to germany. At what point does one become guilty by being intentionally ignorant of the actions of the govt or corporate bureaucracy that one is a part of? The allies bombed Krupp steel works during the war, were the workers that were killed there guilty of war crimes because they knowingly worked alongside slavs and jews that were in essence slaves? They were not Nazi functionaries but were they just as guilty, and therefore no discussion on the morality of bombing a Krupp factory is necessary? There were also slave laborers killed in these factories, does that exclude these factories from being legitimate military targets? In a developed industrialized country in which military and civilian industries are enmeshed is there some stark line delimiting a legitimate target from others? Are these concepts more clear cut to others across geographical distance in the way that the involvement of Krupp etc seem to be obviously intertwined with Nazi imperialism across the distance of time?

  21. Gregory Afghani said on July 23rd, 2007 at 5:47pm #

    Churchill Punished for Central Theme: Universality

    The reaction to Joshua Frank’s “The Liberal of Prof. Ward Churchill” illustrates the deeply ingrained indoctrination, common to western “liberals.” American “exceptionalism.” So powerful, that even the most fundamental moral principle is easily ignored, with predictable resort to obfuscation.

    The moral truism of Universality is the visible central theme in the writings of Churchill related to 9/11. Then, as now, the “controversy” surrounds mostly attenuated or tangential aspects of Churchill’s style, not analysis of the governing theme.

    Focusing then on Churchill’s main theme – Universality, we reduce the discussion to the core principle: We should apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others, if not more stringent.

    When we consider the magnitude and volume of state terrorism and war crimes committed by the US government and relevant client states, since 9/11 alone, we see immediately, that Churchill’s analysis is fairly accurate.

    The fundamental question then becomes: If it is “terrorism” when official enemies commit the crime, then why is it not so when our government does it? All other arguments and analysis logical flow and very valuable discussion can be had, unless of course, we resort to distractions and other tangents that are mostly irrelevant.

    To that end, consider the response of so-called progressives to Churchill for simply pointing out, with stark clarity, the hypocrisy we enjoy within our western empire. Predictably, we spend most of our efforts bathing in righteous indignation, as we lash out at other countries and peoples for crimes that pale in comparison to what our own government and industrial complex commits, daily.

    At best, we mildly criticize our “leadership” and ignore or fail to understand the violent reaction of others, to our savage policies, instead equating the violence of the oppressed, with the violence of oppressor. When

    You will search in vain for sober analysis like Frank’s. Instead, Churchill is subjected to repeated lashings, especially by American “liberals,” for his crime of pointing out American “exceptionalism,” using Universality, something people in the rest of the world are well aware of, even if we choose to ignore it.

    Instead, we see the predictable reaction from Fred, who calls into question Churchill’s body of scholarship or Marikken, who bases his analysis on a personal anecdote involving Churchill, or the best of bunch – Michael Dawson, who insists that Churchill’s writing shows, “unjustifiable, and politically stupid contempt for ordinary Americans and the actual power and knowledge conditions in which they live.”

    Thus, Americans, who comparatively enjoy unequaled privilege in the world and have power to make political changes unavailable to the victims of US state terrorism, are not responsible for their government’s actions, nor are they to engage in analysis of the most fundamental of moral truisms, because as Michael Dawson reasons, Americans “have no clue and no say about actual history.” So instead, Americans are encouraged to do their part in the service of power. Attack Churchill and treat him miserably.

  22. Adam said on July 25th, 2007 at 1:51pm #

    Fred said on July 12th, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    “Most of Churchill’s output is not even scholarship… Churchill routinely exaggerates and even makes up data. ”

    If it’s so “routine” and “astounding” (below) then it shouldn’t be hard to find just one example.

    Fred said

    “Twenty five different scholars sitting on four different CU committees have looked at the research misconduct charges against Churchill. All 25 unanimously agree that he committed serious research misconduct, and is deserving of serious sanctions. …the evidence of Churchill’s personal corruption is astounding. He deserves to be fired … for his abuse of scholarly ethics.”

    Ward Churchill’s response:

    Regents of the University of Colorado accepted, in full knowledge at this point, a non-scholarly sham of an investigative report, creating the pretext. And I say “non-scholarly” because the university has withdrawn the entire investigative report from any scholarly scrutiny. They refuse to allow it to be subject to scrutiny by competent scholars. And there are research misconduct complaints in place at this point against the members of the investigative committee for serial plagiarism, wholesale falsification, outright fabrication — in other words, fraud. It’s a fraudulent finding.

    So there is no defensible scholarly conclusions that anything I’ve said in my writing is even inaccurate, much less fraudulent, or that I committed the so-called plagiarism. All they’ve got is public outrage in the form of very well-organized rightwing lobbying blocks, and the statements of public officials, and so on, saying I should be removed as the basis for removing me.