The Distortions of Acumen:
Liberals Trash Ward Churchill
By Joshua Frank
Press Action, February 4th 2005
I am sure you’ve heard of Ward Churchill’s latest tribulations—so I’ll save
you the repetition. However, I bet what you didn’t know was that liberals
were running hand in hand with conservatives in hopes of clothes-lining the
In a recent CommonDreams.org column titled “Ward Churchill’s Banality of
Evil” Anthony Lappé argues that Churchill’s critique of 9/11, along
with his calling the workers in the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns,”
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
To start, Churchill never actually said that WTC workers should be legitimate
targets. What he did say was that using the US governments’ 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 writes in his now infamous essay
“Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens”:
They [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.
Now where Lappé really gets off track is when he implies that Churchill
somehow condones the WTC attack, let alone the attack on the Pentagon. In
Churchill’s own words I think he spells it out quite clearly in response
to misinterpretations such as Lappé’s:
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 9-1-1 attack. According to Pentagon logic, 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. 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 is really
getting at. And Churchill’s rejoinder to critics was only clarifying his
early position, not backpedaling as Lappé contests. Indeed, Churchill
sees the WTC attack as “ugly” and “hurtful.” It was. He also thinks such
militaristic conceptions, when applied to other US ventures such as Iraq
and Palestine, for example, 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 government.
Churchill simply took the WTC massacre and looked at it through the lens
of the US military establishment, 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. It wasn’t right, but evil and iniquitous. Churchill’s
larger parallel is what liberals like Lappé cannot seem to stomach:
that the US “military” interventions can also be classified as “terror”.
Lastly, if you are a taxpaying American (yes I am a taxpayer) you certainly
are a “little Eichmann” in a very real sense. Especially if you do not speak
out against the actions of our government and the corporations that run the
Nevertheless, this complicity by no means implies we should be all bombed
in our apartments and homes, or forced to jump from a flaming skyscraper.
And I certainly have never gotten the impression in any of Churchill’s writings
that would indicate he would condone such horrific acts.
In fact I think Ward Churchill would say that such an act of terror is just
as evil as bombing “selective targets” in Iraq.
Joshua Frank is the author of the forthcoming
book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W.
Bush, to be published by Common Courage Press. He can
be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org