BEAT THE DEVIL
Ward Churchill and the Mad Dogs of the Right
The Nation, February 3, 2005
by Alexander Cockburn
When it comes to left and right, meaning the contrapuntal voices of sanity
and dementia, we're meant to keep two sets of books.
Start with sanity, in the form of Ward Churchill, a prof at the University
of Colorado. Churchill is known as a fiery historian and writer, often on
Indian topics. Back in 2001, after 9/11, Churchill wrote an essay called
"Some People Push Back," making the simple point, in a later summary, that
"if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad,
we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned."
That piece was developed into a book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.
About those killed in the 9/11 attacks, Churchill wrote recently, "It is
not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office
was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which U.S.
Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target
selection in places like Baghdad, this placement of an element of the American
'command and control infrastructure' in an ostensibly civilian facility
converted the Trade Center itself into a 'legitimate' target."
At this point Churchill could have specifically mentioned the infamous bombing
of the Amariya civilian shelter in Baghdad in January 1991, with 400 deaths,
almost all women and children, all subsequently identified and named by
the Iraqis. To this day the US government says it was an OK target.
Churchill concludes, "If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these 'standards'
when they are routinely applied to other people, they should not be surprised
when the same standards are applied to them. It should be emphasized that
I applied the 'little Eichmanns' characterization only to those [World Trade
Center workers] described as 'technicians.' Thus, it was obviously not directed
to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by
killed in the 9-1-1 attack. According to Pentagon logic, [they] were 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." I'm glad he puts that gloss in about
the targets, thus clarifying what did read to some like a blanket stigmatization
of the WTC inhabitants in his original paper.
A storm has burst over Churchill's head, with protests by Governor Pataki
and others at his scheduled participation in a panel at Hamilton College
called "Limits of Dissent?" In Colorado he's resigned his chairmanship of
the department of ethnic studies, and politicians, fired up by the mad dogs
on the Wall Street Journal editorial page and by Lord O'Reilly of the Loofah
on Fox, are howling for his eviction from his job (Loofah? See O'Reilly's
Why should Churchill apologize for anything? Is it a crime to say that chickens
can come home to roost and that the way to protect American lives from terrorism
is to respect international law? I don't think he should have resigned as
department chair. Let them drag him out by main force.
So much for the voice of sanity. Now for the dementia of the right. The New
Republic's Tom Frank (not the Frank, please note, who just wrote a book
about Kansas) describes in TNR how he recently sat in on an antiwar panel
Frank listened to Stan Goff, a former Delta Force soldier and current organizer
for Military Families Speak Out, who duly moved Frank to write that "what
I needed was a Republican like Arnold [Schwarzenegger] who would walk up
to [Goff] and punch him in the face." Then upon Frank's outraged ears fell
the views of International Socialist Review editorial board member Sherry
Wolf, who asserted that Iraqis had a "right" to rebel against occupation,
prompting TNR's man to confide to his readers that "these weren't harmless
lefties. I didn't want Nancy Pelosi talking sense to them; I wanted John
Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round
everyone up for an immediate trip to Gitmo, with Charles Graner on hand
for interrogation." After Wolf quoted Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati
Roy's defense of the right to resist, Frank mused, "Maybe sometimes you
just want to be on the side of whoever is more likely to take a bunker buster
to Arundhati Roy."
Now suppose Churchill had talked about Schwarzenegger's war on the poor in
California and called on someone to punch the guv in the face, or have a
jovial Graner force Pataki to masturbate what remain of Schwarzenegger's
steroid-shriveled genitals, or have Ann Coulter rub her knickers in his
face or get blown up by a bomb? He'd be out of his job in a minute.
Right-wing mad dogs are licensed to write anything, and in our Coulter-culture
they do, just so they can burnish their profiles and get invited on Fox
or CNN talk shows. Why else would Tony Blankley call on the Washington Times
editorial page for Hersh to be imprisoned or shot for treason? But it's
a PR game only right-wingers are allowed to play.
After savaging Churchill, the mad dogs of the right turned their sights on
Shahid Alam, a professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston.
Alam, author of the excellent Poverty From the Wealth of Nations, wrote
a column for the CounterPunch website in December in which he argued that
the 9/11 attacks were an Islamist insurgency, the attackers believing that
they were fighting--as the American revolutionaries did, in the 1770s--for
their freedom and dignity against foreign occupation/control of their lands.
Second, he argued that these attacks were the result of the political failure
of Muslims to resist their tyrannies locally. It was a mistake, Alam said,
to attack the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Now he has been labeled "an
un-American" professor by Fox News, and there's an Internet campaign to have
him stripped of his faculty position. So write to all the appropriate names,
defending Churchill and Alam; and if you feel like an outing to execrate
Frank and The New Republic, there'll be a demonstration sponsored by the
DC Anti-War Network, the DC chapter of the ISO and others at 5 pm on Friday,
February 11, outside TNR's DC editorial offices at 1331 H Street NW