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Public Theology: Telling Truth about Violence and Responsibility
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Telling Truth about Violence and Responsibility
Ward Churchill, an Indian activist and professor at University of Colorado, is being attacked by Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, supported by Kurt Nimmo and others.

2/10/05

Since writing the piece below there has been much more in the media about the Ward Churchill controversy. Kurt Nimmo writes an excellent article in CounterPunch, where he writes that the Ward Churchill affair reminds him "... of a scene in Fred Zinnemann's Julia, a horrific scene where Nazi brownshirts invade a university, beat up professors, and cheerily throw them from high balconies, presumably to their deaths. Of course, we are a long way from that sort of behavior in America ... or are we?"

Editors of my local paper, the Tacoma News Tribune say on 2/8/05: "Like a lot of people who think in crude generalizations, his first reflex is to compare people he criticizes to Nazis. That’s why those who died in the twin towers were “little Eichmanns.” Ironically, Churchill is a fervent believer in collective guilt – something the Nazis were also big on. Some notions are so hateful, so idiotic and so divorced from reality that they can be taken seriously only on the campus of an American university." They completely miss the point of what Churchill is trying to say and claim he is just a hater of America.

The same paper then a couple days later publishes an opinion piece by Edward Alexander, professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington in Seattle, which claims "Extremism is the order of the day on campus," one of the most "extremist" statements I have read in a long time. He then says Churchill and others on campus willing to criticize American foreign policy are all "uniform" in their thinking, it is all "anti-Americanism" charactized as "hysteria, bordering on mental imbalance."

This is the kind of talk that represents the mentality that, indeed, undergirded Hitler's brownshirts. Anybody who doesn't think so should read Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich, a straight, unbiased account of Hitler's Germany.

What Churchill is trying to say is that violence begets violence. This is a simple truth affirmed by anybody who thinks just a bit about human relations. But when applied to the United States it means this: if we as a country use violence in either its military or economic forms around the world we should not be surprised if violence is returned to us such as happened in 9/11. Churchill does not justify the violence but he wants us to deeply understand it. His use of polemic to make his point does not deny the basic truth of what he is saying.

Many Americans, of course, are not fully aware of the degree to which violence has been used by this country around the world. We prefer to think of ourselves as a benevolent and caring country. To face the facts I recommend a recent book by Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim - Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. The book demonstrates how the foreign policies of this country and the CIA over the past thirty years created the conditions which made terrorism possible as a political movement of Middle East radicals. Terrorism, in its current form was literally the creation of the CIA as it tried to put down nationalist movements during the Cold War especially in Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden was trained to lead the uprising against Russia.

Churchill's book, On The Justice of Roosting Chickens, is a history of how the United States has used violence to get its way in the world. Thoughtful and caring people will want to face the truth about violence if we want to be able to think and imagine a future of peace and justice.

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2/5/05

Conservative television host Bill O'Reilly has begun a campaign to get the University of Colorado to fire professor Ward Churchill for comments related to a book of his. It is outrageous in the first place that a television host should feel it within his power to decide what is appropriate to be taught a a public university. In the second place O'Reilly has not in the least attempted to grasp the significance of what Professor Churchill is saying concerning the history of this country in relation to other countries in the world.

At the heart of the controversy is an essay by Churchill called Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. At that website is much further information, including support letters and most recent news.

The essay is a very strong indictment of American use of military force and an in depth critique of America's economic power symbolized by the World Trade Towers. Written shortly after 9/11 before there was much information available Churchill's analysis is brilliant and chillingly on target in terms of the moral context of the attacks. It is hard for most Americans to read about their complicity in the death and destruction of others; few have the courage to tell the truth in this way. The truth of the history of American violence must especially be faced now that this country is more and more developing and using weapons of mass destruction.

Below is a statement of Ward Churchill about this whole affair:

-------------------------

January 31, 2005

Ward Churchill's statement

The following is a statement from Ward Churchill:

In the last few days there has been widespread and grossly inaccurate media coverage concerning my analysis of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, coverage that has resulted in defamation of my character and threats against my life. What I actually said has been lost, indeed turned into the opposite of itself, and I hope the following facts will be reported at least to the same extent that the fabrications have been.

  • The piece circulating on the internet was developed into a book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. Most of the book is a detailed chronology of U.S. military interventions since 1776 and U.S. violations of international law since World War II. My point is that we cannot allow the U.S. government, acting in our name, to engage in massive violations of international law and fundamental human rights and not expect to reap the consequences.

  • I am not a "defender"of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned. I have never said that people "should" engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy. As Martin Luther King, quoting Robert F. Kennedy, said, "Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable."

  • This is not to say that I advocate violence; as a U.S. soldier in Vietnam I witnessed and participated in more violence than I ever wish to see. What I am saying is that if we want an end to violence, especially that perpetrated against civilians, we must take the responsibility for halting the slaughter perpetrated by the United States around the world. My feelings are reflected in Dr. King's April 1967 Riverside speech, where, when asked about the wave of urban rebellions in U.S. cities, he said, "I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed . . . without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today my own government."

  • In 1996 Madeleine Albright, then Ambassador to the UN and soon to be U.S. Secretary of State, did not dispute that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of economic sanctions, but stated on national television that "we" had decided it was "worth the cost." I mourn the victims of the September 11 attacks, just as I mourn the deaths of those Iraqi children, the more than 3 million people killed in the war in Indochina, those who died in the U.S. invasions of Grenada, Panama and elsewhere in Central America, the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, and the indigenous peoples still subjected to genocidal policies. If we respond with callous disregard to the deaths of others, we can only expect equal callousness to American deaths.

  • Finally, I have never characterized all the September 11 victims as "Nazis." What I said was that the "technocrats of empire" working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of "little Eichmanns." Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies. * 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. Again following U.S. military doctrine, as announced in briefing after briefing, those who did not work for the CIA but were nonetheless killed in the attack amounted to no more than "collateral damage." If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these "standards" when the are routinely applied to other people, they should be 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 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 bottom line of my argument is that the best and perhaps only way to prevent 9-1-1-style attacks on the U.S. is for American citizens to compel their government to comply with the rule of law. The lesson of Nuremberg is that this is not only our right, but our obligation. To the extent we shirk this responsibility, we, like the "Good Germans" of the 1930s and '40s, are complicit in its actions and have no legitimate basis for complaint when we suffer the consequences. This, of course, includes me, personally, as well as my family, no less than anyone else.

  • These points are clearly stated and documented in my book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, which recently won Honorary Mention for the Gustavus Myer Human Rights Award for best writing on human rights. Some people will, of course, disagree with my analysis, but it presents questions that must be addressed in academic and public debate if we are to find a real solution to the violence that pervades today's world. The gross distortions of what I actually said can only be viewed as an attempt to distract the public from the real issues at hand and to further stifle freedom of speech and academic debate in this country.

    Ward Churchill
    Boulder, Colorado
    January 31, 2005








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    Date Added: 2/4/2005 Date Revised: 2/10/2005 12:01:36 PM

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