because the power structure that guards against discursive transgression are increasingly accepted – even embraced – by the citizens. It is understood by these citizens that to speak of certain things is to put oneself outside the bounds of civilized behavior, and beyond the protection of the State.
It is taboo to suggest that the
There are many other examples that anyone living in the
Conservative media picked up the story, and began stroking it for all it was worth. The Colorado Assembly piled on and passed a resolution denouncing Churchill, eventually pressuring
of pretty colors on the TV. But for those of us whose business it is to interrogate the implications of the Churchill affair, we need to reconstruct what Churchill said, and what he meant.
While Churchill has never retracted his ‘little Eichmanns’ statement, he has stated that he wished he had phrased it differently. Let’s see if we can’t manage to do the job for him, constructing a coherent framework of his ideas that will draw on various interviews that Churchill gave during the height of the controversy.
Churchill’s project revolves around the idea that the attacks of September 11 are not unprovoked assaults on an innocent people, but as the consequences of years of
‘All I've done is make a pronouncement comparable to what is done every day at the
Pentagon with regard to massive civilian fatalities here, there and everywhere... I did a
framing that was comparable in its purported insensitivity to what the Pentagon does as
business as usual with no complaint at all from the American public. In order to get at the target, the dead bystanders were ‘worth the price,’ to quote directly from Madeline Albright. [The terrorists] used the exact same logic used by Pentagon planners and
Churchill criticizes the American people for their breathtaking ability to avoid thinking about these issues. To think about them would force the average American to confront his or her passive -- and, at times, active -- complicity in these policy objectives and methods.
Churchill does not accept the concept of the ‘innocent civilian’. The idea that American civilians could be unaware of their country’s actions a bit suspect. ‘You will not ignore this, purport to innocence while applauding genocide. You may not be directly culpable, but you're not innocent.’ He sees the
Churchill argues that the civilian population of
In a country where no one is innocent and the simple act of being part of the system is de facto complicity, Churchill is enraged that the functionaries are able to so blithely avoid ‘the taking of responsibility for the outcome of the performance of one's functions. That's exactly what it is that is shirked here, and makes it possible for people to, from a safe remove, perform technical functions that result in (and at some level, they know this,
they understand it) in carnage, misery, the death of millions ultimately. That's the Eichmann aspect. He symbolized all of these people who didn't directly kill anybody, but performed functions and performed those functions with a certain degree of enthusiasm and certainly with a great degree of efficiency, that had the outcome of the mass murder of the people targeted for elimination or accepted as collateral damage.’
It is clear that Churchill views the attacks of September 11 as military operations, rather than as the ‘senseless, horrific acts of terror’ framed by the American government and the American media. In his view, this was a counterattack against a superpower that had been committing equivalent acts against civilians around the world for decades. ‘It occurred to me at the time that somebody was finally kicking
Churchill ruthlessly refuses to endorse the premises that allow American citizens to gain ‘personal benefit and profit’ from
same sense that many Americans at the time felt that the civilians in
When Churchill moves from the descriptive to the prescriptive, things start to get a bit spooky, and one begins to wonder about Churchill’s ability to make sense. What he seeks, what he desires most devoutly, is for the
What’s on the map instead? Well let’s just start with territoralities often delineated in treaties of fact—territoralities of 500 indigenous nations imbued with an inalienable right to self-determination, definable territoralities which are jurisdictionally separate. Then you’ve got things like the internal diasporic population of African Americans in internal colonies that have been established by the imposition of labor patterns upon them.
You’ve got Appalachian whites, etcetera…’ It is when Churchill starts talking like that one realizes that one is dealing with a Romantic. And after Auschwitz, after
His ‘stream of consciousness’ essay that bought him his fifteen minutes is something that every radical intellectual really has an obligation to read. But not because of its insightful analysis and scholarship. It is essentially a disorganized rant, written with the simple goal of appearing to be ‘controversial’. A sloppy scholar, Churchill wraps his unbalanced and ill-formulated writings in the sort of ‘latte radical’ verbiage that continues to be popular in the
He is a very confusing and exasperating man, a man who flirts with transgression without any real sense of deep engagement with the consequences of that transgression. If it hadn’t been for the hysterical reaction by the Right, be would have deservedly remained a non-event. Sadly, he did not remain a non-event, and American intellectuals need to start figuring out what they’re going to do about the Churchill issue.
There seems to be a deep schism, bordering on schizophrenia, amongst the remnants of what might have once been called ‘American intelligentsia’. American intellectuals seem to have run aground on a simple matter: whether to defend Churchill on a pure free speech basis, or whether to also defend his message. As so often happens amongst American intellectuals on the Left, this sort of predicament puts them into a full blown funk of analysis paralysis. We saw this same problem in the months prior to the
wall in defense of his right to be unpleasant. The problem – and, let’s be honest, it really isn’t all that complicated – is to find methods for defending academic freedom without endorsing Churchill as a man or as an educator, and above all avoiding the itch to buy into the man’s view of himself as a martyr. Expressing ideas that many find despicable does not make one a martyr – it simply makes one an American citizen, exercising one’s
basic right to speak one’s mind in as inflammatory a manner as one chooses.
American intellectuals in particular have a vested interest in defending Churchill’s basic right in this affair. Churchill is on the money when he tells us that ‘all of these death threats, and the forced cancellations of gigs and stuff, has been under threat of violence. And that's terrorism … It's the opening round of a general purge of the academy of
people who say things they find to be politically unacceptable’. We need to understand that it is easy for those who are using Churchill to advance their agendas to start with him; because they know that very few Left intellectuals will stand in solidarity with someone who is so unsavory. They know that Churchill is standing essentially alone. He is indeed, as he astutely observed, ‘the kick-off.’
One would be hard-pressed to find a less attractive poster boy for the simple, fundamental right to speak one’s mind in
rants. Let me be clear on something: I don’t like Ward Churchill much. The more deeply I
looked into the man and his background, the more he seemed to be an intellectual fraud and a faux-ethnic. But the simple, frustrating fact of it is, to paraphrase a Rumsfeldism: sometimes you defend free speech with the poster boy you have, not the poster boy you would like to have.