Recently, Dr. Ward Churchill has been getting a lot of media attention for his book “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.”
The section of the text garnering the most negative press is Churchill’s analysis of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, in which he compares workers killed in the World Trade Center with Nazis.
However, his argument is far more complex than one of simple name calling, and is too important to be dealt sub par lip service. At worst, Churchill has polarized people, prompting both reactionary and radical responses.
At best, his words have raised the level of public debate concerning our roles as individuals in provoking violent backlash for U.S. policies, attitudes and actions.
Churchill’s comment that the “technocrats of empire” working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of “little Eichmanns” was an intentionally provocative statement.
We as Americans often view ourselves as just victims. A common perception seems to be that “the world hates us because we are free,” that we are targets of violence for no reason. This belief reflects how insulated many of us are from the harms our actions and policies have on the rest of the world.
Churchill poses specific grievances regarding U.S. trade practices, cultural imperialism, military actions, and abuse of power that fostered and continues to foster resentment in the world. By highlighting the targets of the Sept. 11 attacks — the Pentagon (a military target), the CIA office in the World Trade Center (a military target), and the economic-based companies in the two towers, Churchill is recontextualizing the attacks.
Sept. 11 was a senseless act of violence. But there is a cause, which means there is also a potential solution. Part of that cause, Churchill explains, was the unconscious effects of given policies and unintended consequences of globalization. The solution must be the conscious and intentional reconciling of those past and present mistakes. The way to do that is to raise consciousness as Churchill is doing with his work.
Were those who were so brutally murdered on Sept. 11, 2001, really as guilty and complacent in injustice as the Nazis who organized the train schedules that led to millions of Jews being systematically killed?
I don’t think so. I have trouble attributing the level of hate, and the malicious, overt and intended extermination of a whole people to those who may not have grasped the consequences of their work.
But what if Churchill is right? What if the comparison is a fair one? Many believe it isn’t. What if that’s what it feels like to some? Isn’t that worthy of consideration?
During the next month, Churchill will be considered for dismissal by the chancellor of the University in Colorado, where Churchill holds a tenured faculty position. It is being reported that even Colorado’s governor is calling for Churchill to be fired. But those who know him best are defending him in force, including his students.
According to the Los Angeles Times, dozens of his students attended the Board of Regents meeting and protested for their professor’s right to free speech and academic freedom. I have never met Churchill, but I still count myself as one of his students. His books and articles have taught me a lot. His writings are unconventional at times, but worthy of reading and consideration. His arguments are not popular, but are also not grounds for dismissal.
According to the Rocky Mountain News, University of California at San Diego Professor Emeritus Chalmers Johnson, who also serves as the president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, has something in common with Churchill. He too has made similar claims. Johnson explores the cause of Sept. 11, and “has had no one call for his college position.” So why is Churchill the scapegoat?
Perhaps Churchill’s choice to use Nazis in his comparison was in poor taste. But we must admit it was very effective. His one comparison has spurred international debate. Even if we don’t agree with Churchill’s analysis, we can’t ignore the value in his statement, if only because it has fostered important discussion. Churchill has explained that his critique of the U.S. government is based on the “massive violations of international law and fundamental human rights” that the U.S. government is guilty of.
Churchill is guilty of being a provocateur. But isn’t that what our teachers are supposed to do — provoke thought? That seems far from deserving of dismissal.
Rachel Levitt is a senior communication studies major and is president of the CSUN Forensics Team.