Don't Silence Ward Churchill, Sack Him*
"All great truths begin as blasphemies," said Bernard Shaw." But not all blasphemies are the beginnings of great truths, a distinction worth remembering when it comes to Ward Churchill.
The chairman of the ethnic studies program at the University of Colorado gained notoriety for calling the victims of 9/11 "little Eichmanns." By this he meant that those murdered in the Twin Towers were not innocent, but deserved what they got. "They were civilians of a sort," wrote Churchill in an essay titled Some People Push Back.
"But innocent? Gimme a break:
"They 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."
"Payback can be a real motherfucker," this subtle chap gloated. For al-Qaeda, Churchill had only compliments. They were "combat teams" and "secular activists" who made "gallant sacrifices."
An impenitent Churchill later pardoned food-service workers and janitors; apparently the glib Nazi metaphor was intended only for stockbrokers, bankers, and the likes. You see, Marxists hate the division of labor—the hallmark of civilization, prosperity, and individuality. Churchill's ilk also refuse to believe that "Pizza Hut opening an outlet in Lima is not the modern equivalent of Pizarro descending on the Incas," to quote Henri Astier. Churchill's claptrap caused one impressionable 9/11 victim to distance himself from the peaceful, productive commerce his (deceased) father had conducted on the 104th floor of the north tower.
For placing Churchill and his frothy verbiage on center stage, we have Hamilton College's Nancy Rabinowitz to thank. The professor had invited Churchill to speak about "American Indian activism" (his field of "expertise"), as part of the college's Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture. (Churchill is the author of tracts such as Fantasies of the Master Race, and From a Native Son.)
The Project was founded to "help women, gays, blacks and Hispanics on a predominantly male campus." Since gays are men too, and some blacks and Hispanics are saddled with the Y chromosome, this original mission statement is confusing but unambiguous. Translation: the "pale, patriarchal, penis people," and what's left of western civilization, are the targets of The Project's agitprop. Similar programs proliferate on campuses across the country, including the University of Colorado.
Churchill, who has also served as the acting director of the American Indian Equal Opportunities Program at CU, may not be a real Indian chief, but he takes the lead when it comes to reducing everything to a discourse of the 'excluded' and 'oppressed.' He is joined by all the other mediocre minds in the country's cultural studies departments—Ethnic, Women, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies—and in the humanities and comparative literature enclaves, where they manufacture dogmas about victims and oppressors. Government commissions have gleefully codified these dead-wrong doctrines into law, giving blacks, women, Indians, and gays (the list is still under construction) the power to displace and destroy unprotected species (white men, for instance).
And the torchbearer for this "tradition" dares to defile the free traders of the World Trade Center? The temerity!
Before Churchill, the Kirkland cretins had courted another PR disaster by inviting Susan Rosenberg, a 1960s radical and a convicted felon, to be "artist/activist-in-residence." I realize there are conflicting views about Rosenberg's culpability in the crime for which she was convicted. The point is immaterial to my argument, which is that Rosenberg, like Churchill, is a political agitator, not a scholar. When Hamilton administrators called her "an award-winning writer," they were referring to the PEN award for prison writing. When they dubbed her "a teacher who offers a unique perspective as a writer," they were crediting her criminal record. Some résumé requirements!
Unlike Rosenberg, Churchill is not violent, but he is a fraud and an imposter. He lies about his ancestry (his impressive hairline is the only Indian thing about him), his paratrooper's pedigree, and his service in Vietnam. He also appears to be a plagiarist. A perusal of his and Rosenberg's piss-poor prose (she also dabbles in poetry) is enough to establish that UC, to say nothing of an elite liberal arts college like Hamilton, owes its students a lot better.
The Churchill contretemps illustrates the need to distinguish between academic freedom and free speech, as Roger Kimball has done, with reference to the work of sociologist Edward Shils.
"Academic freedom is not the freedom of academic individuals to do just anything, to follow any impulse or desire, or to say anything that occurs to them. It is the freedom to do academic things: to teach the truth as they see it on the basis of prolonged and intensive study, to discuss their ideas freely with their colleagues, to publish the truth as they have arrived at it by systematic methodical research and assiduous research.
Although Academic freedom includes political freedom, it is nonetheless desirable that teachers should not expound their own political or moral preferences and values in their classes ... academic freedom is the freedom to seek and transmit the truth. It does not extend to the conduct of political propaganda in teaching."
Libertarians should, naturally, reject Kimball's view that the law circumscribe free speech. Only the owner of the proverbial crowded theater can permit or forbid his patrons to disrupt a screening with bogus cries of "fire." Hamilton is a private establishment (although "private" is a misnomer in contemporary America, as taxpayers pay for Federal and State Assistance Programs). It's up to Hamilton's proprietors and patrons to decide the limits—or lack thereof—of free speech and academic freedom. When alumni begin to protest and potential students and donors scuttle, the Kirkland kooks (and CU, for that matter) will be forced to contemplate their errant ways.
This is not to say that Churchill's tirades are bereft of any truth. He makes some good points, the one about the American people's torpidity being an example. But, unless one is a magpie, one doesn't rummage through garbage in search of bright objects.
Churchill is not the answer to getting university students to think critically about American foreign policy; a rigorous, unpoliticized, liberal education that teaches law, history, philosophy, and literature is. This was once a tradition on American campuses. The tradition is dead. Its killers—Churchill and company—are at large in the ideology-driven, unscholarly covens across America's campuses, where they indoctrinate rather than educate.
* For this column, at once libertarian and patriotic, the writer was fired from Antiwar.com, for which she had been a fortnightly, regular contributor.
©2005 Ilana Mercer