Friday, June 23, 2006


Ward Churchill’s Roosting Chickens [Politcal Affairs Archives]
By Thomas Riggins

Ward Churchill, former chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado/Boulder (he was forced to resign last week but remains a professor) is the latest victim of the ultra-right anti-first amendment crowd.

Professor Churchill has some opinions that differ from the usual yahoo unquestioning jingoism of the crypto-fascist Bush supporters, and as an American citizen he thought he had the right to express them.
But if Al Qaeda pulled off 9/11 because it "hates our way of life and our freedoms"-- then all those idiotic proto-fascists protesting against Ward Churchill’s right to give a speech are doing just what Osama bin Laden wants-- they are his agents. They are in fact more "anti-American" and "pro-terrorist" that they think Churchill is.

He was invited to speak last week at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York on the American Indian Movement or Native American political action, but, as The New York Times reports, over 6,000 e-mail protests were sent to the college-- furious messages and, as is usual with the fascist mind-set, many threatened violence (the only way the ultra-right can "win" arguments).

As the Bill of Rights was clearly under attack in this organized protest-- especially the freedom of speech (Professor Churchill’s views were only a pretext) the outcome of this confrontation was important.

What happened? Hamilton College turned its back on its students, on its invited guest’s right to free speech, and ultimately on what America claims to stand for. The College, in a cowardly act of appeasement, caved in to the home grown American terrorists and canceled Professor Churchill’s talk.

What was so upsetting about his views? In the first place, he considers the U.S. to be an imperialist government that has murdered and robbed native and third world peoples since its inception.

In the second place, more specifically, he has no sympathy, it appears, for the victims of 9/11-- calling them "little Eichmanns"-- a reference to one of the Nazi planners of the Holocaust.

This is, admittedly, emotionally loaded (and counter-productive) language. But if Al Qaeda pulled off 9/11 because it "hates our way of life and our freedoms"-- then all those idiotic proto-fascists protesting against Ward Churchill’s right to give a speech are doing just what Osama bin Laden wants-- they are his agents. They are in fact more "anti-American" and "pro-terrorist" that they think Churchill is.

As far as Hamilton College is concerned, instead of standing up for the rights and beliefs we claim to be fighting for around the world, the college administration has struck a blow in favor of Al Qaeda-- a deadly blow against the Bill of Rights. As a Hamilton College student said, quoted by the Times, "In the end, free speech couldn’t happen at Hamilton."

And that is the issue. It doesn’t matter if we agree with Professor Churchill or not (how many centuries is it going to take for this to catch on?). I must admit, after looking over his book (On the Justice of Roosting Chickens) and particularly the chapter "The Ghosts of 9-1-1", there is much to object to.

The "Ghosts" referred to are all the people all over the world, and at home, mostly women and children--millions of them-- who have been killed by the policies of U.S. imperialism. Churchill blames, in general, "the U.S. citizenry as a whole" (presumably he exempts himself) for the evils he sees being carried out by the U.S. government. This is a new twist to the German doctrine of collective guilt.

He seems to disdain both the "right" and "left" considering them both complicit in America’s killing machine. He maintains the "progressives" are more interested in issues such as installing "speed bumps" and "combating the imaginary health effects" of second hand smoke than in fighting imperialism. He says the drive to end smoking in public places was "launched" by "American yuppies."

Churchill also calls most of the protesters at the 1999 World Trade Organization Battle in Seattle "volunteer cops" because they tried to prevent the "Black Block anarchists" from smashing windows and "inflicting minor property damage." Professor Churchill, who poses on the cover of his book in a flack jacket and holding what looks like an AK-47, has obviously never heard of the role of police provocateurs at mass demonstrations.

The most profound analysis Churchill can come up with to explain 9/11 is "What goes around comes around" and, in the end "karma is unavoidable." He thinks the World Trade Center was attacked because of the suffering caused around the world by U.S. imperialism. Considering all the crimes of America, he asks "Why did it take ‘them’ so long to arrive?", and, even better, "Why, under the circumstances, did they conduct themselves with such obvious and admirable restraint?"

But 9/11 was not, as professor Churchill contends, "pay back" for all of our evil deeds. Osama bin Laden had limited goals such as getting American bases out of Saudi Arabia and ending the U.S. "tilt" in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians. These goals were high on his list, along with the repression of half the human race (women), destruction of "heathen" works of art, and forcing his religious views on others by waging jihad against the infidels.

Churchill becomes, in fact, pathetic when he justifies the killing of the WTC victims on the basis that while, regrettably, working people were killed (janitors, firemen, food service workers, etc.) there were many more "little Eichmanns"-- i.e., a "much larger number of corporate managers, stockbrokers, bond traders, finance and system analysts, etc., among those killed." This was justifiable "payback" (done with admirable restraint).

Well, Professor Churchill’s rights were trampled on. People have a right to hear what he has to say even if it is not much more than ranting. What is needed, however, is a class analysis and a viable political alternative to present to the American people. Posturing with guns on book jackets won’t cut it.

Ward Churchill, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections On The Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality, AK Press, 2003. 309 pages.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

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