Wednesday, June 7, 2006 04:54 am
A double standard
Why we need to pay attention to critics such as Ward Churchill
One of the most heated academic controversies in America today involves Ward Churchill, a central-Illinois native and Sangamon State University graduate. A May 17 article in the State Journal-Register discussed the charges of plagiarism against Churchill and reminded readers that he once likened some 9/11 victims to Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. More needs to be said about this case. Eichmann’s crimes, Churchill’s writing, and double standards in academia make this a fascinating story. Adolf Eichmann served as a transport administrator for the SS in Poland and Hungary during World War II. He had a talent for scheduling trains and moving freight. There is no evidence that he ever killed anybody, but his trains hauled hundreds of thousands of people to Auschwitz. For this he was hanged in Israel in 1962. At his trial, the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote, Eichmann was “terribly and terrifyingly normal” — a conformist, a joiner, the most average of men. Eichmann looked like a bespectacled bureaucrat, tired after a day of crunching numbers at his desk. The key points in his trial were that he was aware that his actions caused people to die and that it was inexcusable to argue that he was merely following orders It is here that Churchill picks up the story and develops his thesis about the financiers and military personnel who were targeted on 9/11. Churchill is careful to distinguish between these people, who he refers to as “little Eichmanns,” and the janitors, cooks, and other working-class citizens who perished on that day — people whom Donald Rumsfeld might describe as “collateral damage.” In his book On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, Churchill writes, “Little Eichmanns — that is, a cadre of faceless bureaucrats and technical experts who had willingly (and profitably) harnessed themselves to the task of making America’s genocidal world order hum with maximum efficiency . . .” These are words that Americans did not want and still are not willing to hear. Churchill has been deluged with death threats, and Gov. Bill Owens of Colorado has launched a campaign to have him fired. Like a sharp ax biting into green wood, Churchill attacks our national myths: American history is more than 1945. America does not support freedom and democracy abroad. Innocent people in poor countries have been slaughtered by our military/capitalist machine. These are uncomfortable truths that, if acknowledged and acted on, have the power to save our democracy and perhaps prevent future 9/11s from occurring. Churchill has been charged with plagiarism and will likely lose his job at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It’s possible that Churchill is guilty, but more interesting is the political context of the accusations. Two of America’s most famous and conservative scholars, the recently deceased Stephen Ambrose and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, have systematically plagiarized, yet the corporate media has rarely mentioned this and no legal action has ever been taken. Ambrose, who made a career churning out flag-waving hagiography, plagiarized passages of The Wild Blue, Citizen Soldiers, and Nixon: Ruin and Recovery. Dershowitz lifted whole sections of a book by Joan Peters for his The Case for Israel. It’s unlikely that the State Journal-Register will ever report on these cases. Scholars who exalt power in this country are treated differently than those who question it. This is dangerous not only for our democracy but also for our physical safety. If we are not willing to listen to criticism and change our behavior accordingly, we can look forward to a future of repeat attacks and further vilification abroad. The most expensive military force the world has ever seen is now being ground down in Iraq and Afghanistan. America no longer has the ability to intimidate the rest of the world. We would do well to pay attention to critics such as Ward Churchill.