Ward Churchill and the Mad Dogs of the Right

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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 lewd fantasies: www.counterpunch.org/cockburn11272004.html).

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. …