Idiots and the Vagaries of Language

It is True; Johnny and Marc and Anthony Can't Read

The banality of evil, I love that phrase.

Seeing the world through the eyes of Marc Cooper, Anthony Lappé, and poor benighted Johnny (of American Education Classroom fame) it is clear that those of us who labor in the fields of education have failed miserably. Even, it seems, our very pundits are incapable of holding more than one thought in their very small minds, whether left, right or center. Is it any wonder the only way to communicate with such people is through the sound bite, that tiny bit of information so many people seem dependent upon to rationalize their point of view.

When Ward Churchill, who is actually literate despite the fact I don’t always agree with his perspective, wrote his article about blow back at the WTC on 9/11 it was amazing how little impact it had. Only later, when people began to respond to the article, did it appear it was controversial. It seems it may have taken commentators (left, right and center) that long to actually read through the piece. They needed help from others, equally unable to understand simple English, to point out what they clearly missed in the original article. Complicity seemed in their views to refer to innocents. But there is no way one can say anyone who died at or near the WTC was innocent. They were complicit by virtue of the fact they were mere ciphers in the machinations of empire. We, you and me, are members of the American Empire in exactly the same way that Romans were members of the Roman Empire. The fact that we do little, if anything, to mitigate the effects of that Empire are no less real to the victims of Empire than was the so-called average Roman World of 2000 years ago.

We are complicit … and yes, Mr. Lappé, the answer to your question regarding

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?

Each of those people, as well as you, are complicit. You are complicit. I am complicit. We live in the empire that stirred the antagonisms of blow back. In order to preserve our “American way of life” we have tolerated a huge number of sins done in our name. But that was never the point Ward Churchill was making. His point was simply that by virtue of what the WTC symbolized, by virtue of the role the people who worked there accomplished, by virtue of how a military views targets, the WTC and all it held was a target. Being in the target (the WTC) was later defined by some as (again to use a military term) collateral damage.

My position is simple … as citizens of the empire, each of us is complicit. There are no innocents. So, to go through your list, from the perspective of a military person, the WTC was a legitimate target … in precisely the same manner as all of those people who have died in Iraq as a function of the various means of collateral damage we have inflicted upon them, including the multiple levels of reaction to our behavior.

Ward Churchill sinned against the Empire by not attempting to justify the Empire. You sin against the Empire by trying to absolve the Empire of its various levels of sin against humanity. I (and every other person who lives in the United States) am complicit simply because there are ways I could revolt against such a system. I don’t simply because it is easier to ‘go along to get along,’ it is safer to not make myself a target of government (the left, center and right) by keeping my mouth shut, it is easier to shop at Wal-Mart, accept checks from my employer, pay taxes, earn dividends from corporations, keep my money at Chase or Citi-Bank, serve coffee to my bosses, and all of that than to say … what we are doing is wrong.

Sure, I can rationalize that I am no worse than others … that if the US wasn’t the current flavor of Empire some other Empire would rise to oppress others … I can go about my life pretending to be innocent … but I am not. The only difference between me and others is that I admit I am not innocent … I am complicit because I do shop at Wal-Mart, I do accept checks from my employer (who in turn accepts checks from the government), I do pay taxes that are used to support the military industrial (Congressional) complex, I do earn dividends from corporations involved in the manufacture of everything from weapons to poisons, and I do have accounts with Chase or Citi-Bank, I don’t happen to serve coffee (the one thing I don’t do), and I don’t stand up and say ‘what we are doing is wrong.’ I am complicit. Until we admit we are complicit and then act upon that reality, all the rest is just an excuse.

Randall Gaylor is a high school librarian/super computer challenge sponsor/chess sponsor for a down in the heel school district in southeastern New Mexico. He has some 30+ years in education (schools, colleges and public libraries) and an MA-History and an MLS (Masters-Library Science). Contact him at Read other articles by Randall, or visit Randall's website.

24 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Evil Mammoth said on July 13th, 2007 at 11:15am #

    Your point is well taken, and yes, we will always be complicit to an extent. Some more than others.

    It’s about time more people stood up and said, “This is wrong.” Our stagnancy derives itself from our complicity and from the fear you seem to harbor (and that I harbor as well). We can weigh these things, though, and make some progress. Don’t you think?

  2. Michael Dawson said on July 13th, 2007 at 11:46am #

    So, you agree with Churchill and his buddies Al Qaeda: “There are no innocents. ” By definition, this includes me, my 11-year-old son, and my old professor, who is on David Horowitz’s “100 Most Dangerous” list. None of us has destroyed the most powerful and sophisticated ruling class in human history, so we are asking to be shot and bombed.

    Fascinating, deeply criminal logic you have here, Mr. Gaylor.

  3. Chris Crass said on July 13th, 2007 at 1:52pm #

    Well, think about it in the context of these two situations:

    1) You give money to a hitman for the expressed purpose of murder.
    2) Your hitman murders folks.
    3) You are guilty of murder.

    1) You pay taxes/spend money, directly and indirectly giving money to the gov’t, an institution which tells you (via the discretionary budget), “Here comes murder!”
    2) Your gov’t murders folks.
    3) You are guilty of murder.

    If your old prof. is one Noam Chomsky, you’ll find he agrees with the author of this article here (–.htm). The title of the article is “We Are All Complicit.”

    So, there you have it.

  4. Deadbeat said on July 13th, 2007 at 2:35pm #

    Dawson is a typical demagogue hiding the crimes of empire against humanity behind children.

  5. JBPM said on July 13th, 2007 at 2:52pm #


    Perhaps you want to read the piece again, assuming you actually read it the first time. What Mr. Gaylor is saying, in my reading, is that every single person who benefits from the existence of an empire and who does nothing to speak truth to that empire is, in some sense, guilty. That includes me and my wife (arguably not our five-year old daughter—as she is a minor, it seems we are complicit for her.) Does that mean that we are “asking to be shot and bombed”? No. What it does mean is that we should be a little less quick to wear sackcloth and ashes in the face of predictable blowback, wondering (without really wondering, of course) why they would do this to poor innocent us. Instead maybe we should recognize that our government has done a good deal of horrible shit to millions of people around the world, and that because ours is a government of, for, and by the people (according to our 16th President) our unwillingness to take it to task leaves a lot of blood on all of our hands.

    All this was never Churchill’s point, though, as you would know if you actually read his original article. His original point was a question. Why is it that we Americans so casually dismiss the killing and maiming of equally innocent men, women, and children in Afghanistan and Iraq (and Panama, and Vietnam, etc. ) as “collateral damage” while expecting the entire world to stop when some of our innocent men, women, and children are killed in a similar fashion. Does the fact that our planes drop bombs onto civilians, rather than flying them into skyscrapers, make their deaths any less real, any less unnecessary. Churchill’s point, if I may be so bold as to put words in his mouth, is that ALL these innocent deaths are unnecessary, and that the one’s we are responsible for are those committed by OUR government. If we can’t be bothered to care enough about innocent people “over there,” then why on earth should they be expected to give a flying fuck about us.

    Somebody here is operating with criminal logic, but it ain’t Mr. Gaylor.

  6. Fred said on July 13th, 2007 at 3:56pm #

    Any sensitive person will share Churchill’s professed position on human suffering. But hardly anyone but Churchill would phrase it in such a deliberately rude manner. Churchill was being deliberately obnoxious and offensive to people who lost loved ones on 9/11. He was asking for negative attention, like a toddler throwing a tantrum, and he got just what he asked for.

  7. Max Shields said on July 13th, 2007 at 3:59pm #

    As long as we refuse, we deny, the truth in the paradigm of empire and complicity, we are doomed to keeping “foot to the peddle” and continuing to do exactly what we’re doing today in Iraq and Afganistan – murdering Iraqis and Afganistans – primiarily for control of the region’s oil.

    To think that one is an “anti-war”/Iraq occupation proponant and don’t fully appreciate and understand that paradigm is to be deeply delusional. The truth can be a hard thing to swallow when thinking oneself a victim is some damn comforting.

    is no excuse.

  8. Max Shields said on July 13th, 2007 at 4:19pm #

    Let me restated it emphatically, not accepting this empire/complicity paradigm is what keeps us in Iraq. No other single factor sustains the inertia more than this simple denial – this disconnect between the citizens, their responsibility as citizens and their government.

    As long as most of us continue to believe that the killing is something Bush owns we will forever dig and dig and dig. He, ugly truth though it be, is simply the cruel reality of our quiet deal with the devil; and crying about blowback does not make you a victim.

  9. Michael Dawson said on July 13th, 2007 at 9:03pm #

    The level of competence and logic in this thread is so pathetic, it’s scary. Criss Crass says paying taxes is the same thing as requesting everything that’s actually done with the tax payments — no analysis of any disconnect. Then, Fred accuses me of not reading an essay that he either didn’t read or can’t understand. Read it (and the follow-up) again, Fred. It’s a paean to Al Qaeda. Churchill endorses the 9/11 attacks as a form of legitimate resistance, with literally no discussion of who did them and on what basis. “Some push back.” No wonder the left is still dying, despite the world.

  10. Michael Dawson said on July 13th, 2007 at 9:11pm #

    P.S. I blamed Fred for theignorant bs of jbpm. Sorry, Fred.

    P.P.S. to Deadbeat: You’ve heard the word “empire.” Congratulations. How “radical.” Meanwhile, what else do you know? Do you really believe 11-year-old Americans are legitimate targets for Al Qaeda or anybody else? If so, where’s your AK47 blazing tonight? Targets abound!

  11. Max Shields said on July 14th, 2007 at 10:39am #


    I must say, I think it is you who just don’t concur with the analysis presented. You seem to be “stuck” on the idea of some American child being victim of a terrorist attack.

    Here’s the disconnect (and it is all yours, friend): It is the US who regularly murders (through its global interventionism) children and civilians of all sorts. You’ve followed the reports, no doubt. The point being made, rather consistently is that there is a connection between those killings and the hit on 9/11. The terrorist attack hit a building housing among other things, CIA agency. In US military parlance that’s a “reasonable” target.

    But no one argues killing of civilians is a just or right thing. What is being argued is the understanding that there is a responsibilility which connects the American people and its governments policies, policies which have been publicly aired – in one form or another. And since these policies and the actions taken are part and parcel of the empire we live in, we have ownership and complicity with those policies and thus should not be surprised when there is “blow back”. That’s the connection. It has been well documentated with no attachment to ideology.

    Until we completely understand our deep connection with the killing done in our name and until we actually demand, in no uncertain terms change, we will continue in endless war.

    As former CIAer, Chalmbers Johnson quotes from Arundhati Roy (The Guardian) in his Nemesis:
    “Who is Osama bin Laden really? Let me rephrase that. What is Osama bin Laden? He’s America’s family secret. He is the American president’s dark Doppelganger. The savage twin of all that purports to be beautiful and civilized. He has been sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by Ameria’s foreign policy: its gunboat diplomacy, its nuclear arsenal, its vulgarly stated policy of ‘full-spectrum dominance’, its chilling disregard for non-American lives, its barbarous military interventions, its support for despotic and dictatorial regimes, its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a cloud of locusts…Now that family secret has been spilled, the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable.”

  12. Michael Dawson said on July 14th, 2007 at 11:01am #

    The topic of Churchill’s essay is not the sociology of blowback. It is the moral legitimacy of blowback, which he endorses in its 9/11 form. The second wrong is right, according to Churchill. And Churchill says not one word about the actual origins and nature of Al Qaeda. In his hands, they are just legitimate warriors fighting back against the U.S. empire, nothing more.

    Meanwhile, why are people so obtuse about what Churchill plainly says? Max says “no one argues killing of civilians is a just or right thing.” In fact, Ward Churchill does exactly that, by defining the WTC as a legitimate military target. Sheesh.

  13. Max Shields said on July 14th, 2007 at 11:58am #


    Arguing someone else’s case (for or against) is always dicey because the interlocutor is not present to make his own comments. So, see the link below for his global response.

    If we isolate 911 then I think we miss the true context of Churchill’s remarks since his wrtings in general provide a full view of American diplomacy from its inception on, not just the 21st Century.

    Michael says: “Churchill does exactly that, by defining the WTC as a legitimate military target.”
    As I noted, the US legitimized WTC as a target, because it housed a CIA agency. We can argue that legitimacy – and I would. But it is THE USA who established the rules of military engagement, not Al-Qaeda. One can despise the tactic and the results, but it is dishonest not to acknowledge who’s the RULE MAKER. To see what the US military considers target for missle or air attacks, simply look at Vietnam and its massacres, recently Afganistan and Iraq, were buildings are filled with civilians (including children) and blown apart. This is not unique to “wars”, the US has been doing this in Somalia and in any number of other locations directly or through proxies.

    Again, I think you’re walking around the issue of complicity. Like it or not, the USA is the aggressor, and it is this government (and a string of many administrations) who have forcefully intervened in our name. That makes us – collectively – complicit. If we don’t like that, than DAMN IT let’s do something about IT!

    Churchill’s response:

  14. Michael Dawson said on July 14th, 2007 at 12:20pm #

    Max, I am doing all I can to stop this machine. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done, which is why it’s necessary to stop talking like Churchill about complicity. My complicity is 1 percent, and I recognize it. But even those who don’t recognize it fail to do so mostly because they can’t. They don’t have access to the information needed — the information that Churchill does nothing to reveal, by the way.

    And I have read Churchill’s hair-splitting non-retraction. The main point he makes is that people are targets unless and until they “compel their government” to change 180 degress. How does one do that, Max? By voting? For whom? Obama? Hillary?

    And P.S.: Because the U.S. uses criminal methods of selecting military targets, does that excuse Al Qaeda? Is the second wrong a right? Personally, I oppose all forces who use terrorist definitions of military targets, as do the vast majority of ordinary Americans, if you ask them the question. Legitimate military targets are military forces invading one’s homeland. Nothing else. That’s international law, and it’s a very good thing. Ward Churchill sucks.

  15. Deadbeat said on July 14th, 2007 at 1:01pm #

    ///P.P.S. to Deadbeat: You’ve heard the word “empire.” Congratulations. How “radical.” Meanwhile, what else do you know? Do you really believe 11-year-old Americans are legitimate targets for Al Qaeda or anybody else? If so, where’s your AK47 blazing tonight? Targets abound!///

    To Dawson:

    Did you speak out against the sanction against Iraq during the 1990’s that led to the deaths of 500,000 innocent Iraqi children. NO! Clinton didn’t have to lob BOMBS (although he did). He just starved a population. Don’t need no AK47!

    The issue Dawson is I’m not feigning some false outrage and ignorance by rhetorical HIDING the crimes of the EMPIRE behind CHILDREN LIKE YOU! That’s demagogic and hypocritical.

  16. Max Shields said on July 14th, 2007 at 1:02pm #

    I am not excusing these tactics. I’m simply stating cause and effect which is very important if we are to begin to touch this monster we’ve created.

    I appreciate your frustration. It is truly painful to see on the one hand a sunfilled day, knowing that our government is committing crimes against humanity – in our name! But let’s avoid the ad hominems. It’s not Churhill who sucks, its the cold reality he’s presenting. I won’t quibble with “hair splitting”. We can argue we didn’t vote for the maniac in power and so we’re not “responsible”. But while we’re arguing that the killing continues. And most of it has little to do with Al-Qaeda. Churchill is not the problem.

    Where are the impeachment proceedings our constitution calls for? Yes, it’s tough but imagine how tough it is on those we slaughter.

    If the US had stayed in Afganistan with its military – more or less as it has today – it would still be the completely wrong approach to 911; but it didn’t even do that. Instead it engaged in a massive attack of a non-threatening sovereign nation with millions of innocents. But even before thatk, over a million were killed in Iraq due to US policies.

    Ok, so you now all that. This is an entrenched problem. None (Kucinich excepted) of the candidates are about to change the course of our policies – though one or two might mollify its intensity. Getting behind a candidate who is against empire, who addresses, head on the entrenched ills. That would mean a third party – assuming Kucinich doesn’t survive the primaries. But more importantly, this kind of activism will take time, years, and will be grass-roots based. We can’t throw up our hands and let this go on. We have to feel – as best we can the bullets tearing throw the bodies of families, of children by America’s war machine. The more sensitized we become, the more of us who are sensitized, the greater the demand to stop this behavior.

    Given the depletion of oil, our massive debt, our overextension, we more than likely will have no choice. But I still believe we should do everything we can until that choice is taken away by utter collapse.

  17. Deadbeat said on July 14th, 2007 at 1:06pm #

    The issue isn’t Al Qaeda. The issue is ZIONISM and U.S. advancement of their racist ideology. Does that excuse Isrealis from killing Palestinian children. Your sense of “outrage” is a one way street. You sir are part of the problem.

  18. Michael Dawson said on July 14th, 2007 at 5:23pm #

    Deadbeat: The topic of Churchill’s essay is no the crimes of empire. It is the crimes (he says non-crimes) of the 9/11 hijackers and their bosses in Al Qaeda.

    I’ll put my anti-imperialist efforts up against yours or anybody else’s.

    And Zionism is hardly the deepest problem. The deepest problem is corporate capitalism and the increasingly dangerous behavior of its U.S. leading branch.

    Meanwhile, if saying children are not legitimate military targets is demagoguery, so be it. I’d rather be a demagogue than a terrorist.

  19. Max Shields said on July 14th, 2007 at 8:50pm #

    Michael, I think we’ve found common ground in your last post.

  20. Max Shields said on July 14th, 2007 at 9:26pm #

    Ooops, forget to mention the common ground:

    “The deepest problem is corporate capitalism and the increasingly dangerous behavior of its U.S. leading branch.”

    We are still apart on the depth of the problem with US policies. Terrorism is a tactic the the US employs in our name.

  21. sharon said on July 18th, 2007 at 8:21am #

    I’m getting in on this discussion a little late–wish I’d gotten in earlier, as the complicity issue is one I’ve considered a lot, struggled with myself.

    Our complicity is deeper and more complex than we think….not just in the violence of the these wars, but in the evils of the whole society.

    I grew up in a town whose only really decent jobs were at the local army ammunition plant. Both of my parents worked for this facility–which assured me of a secure and happy childhood.

    For the people who worked for these contractors, the endless succession of wars meant job security. Local support for wars of aggression was a foregone conclusion. This is a (somewhat) extreme example of complicitous support for the war machine based on simple local economics–but how many of the jobs in this country depend on the machinery of aggression and oppression? All the good ones, I suspect.

    It’s tough to live innocently in this country. If you take into account our lifestyles–with all the necessities of life produced by slave labor and transported vast distances–you can see that we can hardly make a purchase at the grocery store or turn on the A/C without complicity.

    From adolescence on, I vowed I would never go to work for the army ammunition plant–or at any other job that would clearly violate my beliefs and values. But where does that leave you, in this society? Where are the options for living a truly innocent life? There are a few jobs where such complicity with corporate America and its crimes is minimal. But “minimal” is about the best you can do, without joining an IC or turning Amish. Even if you were to work for a grocery store, you would be supporting the corporate machinery. To choose minimal complicity means living poorly and precariously–and making a choice in which our children will be living poorly and precariously.

    If most of the people in this country were both informed and people of principle, we could not have a war machine, the machinery of corporate oppression, or our abominable judicial system and economic system. People would politely decline careers as doctors and lawyers and military men and CEOs, because they couldn’t square it with their consciences. They would decline to go to work in a gas station or grocery store or for government.

    Maybe more to the point, people would both demand and create an economic basis for life that would enable them to live innocently. They would be actively considering how this was to be done.

    Complicity has its roots in the consciousness that has been invaded and occupied–that feels hatred and resentment against other people and other groups, that feels itself in competition (and, hence, enmity) with all our neighbors–even our nearest ones–that feels a drive for all the tokens of status and prestige that symbolize our victory over others, that demands more and more of these tokens in the form of excessive consumption.

  22. AhClem said on July 25th, 2007 at 1:20pm #

    MaxShields, thanks for the link!

  23. martes said on August 3rd, 2007 at 7:06pm #

    Very well said, Sharon. Among other things I think its a gross failure of the education system and curriculum in this country ( and practically worldwide ) that common people do not realize the economic, environmental and sociocultural consequences of their consumption. For instance, lunch trash…millions of americans buy lunch from downtown takeouts in styrofoam containers and plastic bags which end up in trash baskets. Not many people have an idea of the energy and raw materials required to make these, and the environmental costs these may have.
    In comparison to a hundred years ago, we use a staggering amount of resources that has been putting immense pressure on ecosystems worldwide. Global climate change is just one outcome of this. But our caring is just lip service. We just elect the government that promises cheaper energy and goods, never mind what happens to the other parts of the world that are “forced” to subsidize our lifestyle ( no doubt a few foreign capitalists make big bucks too ). So, to just live our life we are all complicit to different degrees. But its not just americans.. its urban folk worldwide who are increasingly being complicit in actions against their rural brethren and other forms of life, as their appetite for motor scooters, cars, refrigerators, color TVs etc grow…

  24. DamnedIdiots.Com said on August 5th, 2007 at 11:23am #

    This person, DeadBeat, has some sort of thing against the Israeli state, and somehow has blamed everything in his heart, even 9/11, on it, I am afraid. He contends that we who deny that are part of the problem. I disagree, and think that people like Deadbeat are part of the problem.