While the fires still burned on Sept. 11, a professor named Ward Churchill wrote an essay celebrating the terrorist attacks and comparing the workers in the World Trade Center to notorious Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann.

As contemptible as I find his views, count me among those who don't think he should be fired for having them. Churchill is a mean character, and the current fascination with him, as Richard Fernandez of Belmont Club writes, "may not be with Ward Churchill himself but with the Leftist demimonde glimpsed briefly through him." But the University of Colorado made its mistake when it hired him. To fire him now would only turn a bully into a martyr.

Evan Coyne Maloney and his organization have the right idea on what ought to be done:

We find these comments reprehensible. But we also believe that the best way to combat Professor Churchill is by opposing him with more speech. Creating an environment where tenured professors can be fired for controversial remarks is a dangerous precedent to set.
Right. Jefferson said much the same thing; we are not afraid to tolerate any error, "so long as reason is left free to combat it." The point of free speech is not that certain things never get said, but that truth has enough skating room to ride them into the boards. Hard.

Churchill's "Chickens coming home to roost" explanation of 9/11 was hardly unique to him, though he may have been one of the first to rush it into print. It's hardly perceptive, either. It ignores a great deal for the sake of a tunnel-vision world where Everything is America's Fault.

It's fair to look at the attacks, the rise and appeal of Osama, in light of America's unique power position in the world. And it's even fair to let Churchill air his blunt, blind bile, the better to show it up for the mere temper tantrum puffery it is. I haven't read every scholarly paper ever published, but I don't recall too many in which this figured as a key part of the argument:

"Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break."
A lot of people, like me, probably will read that and easily recall how we felt on the day he wrote that, when presumably he was seeing the same images we all saw. The plane into the building, over and over, so many times that it ought to have numbed you, you prayed it would numb you, but somehow it never did. I wonder, where does that sort of reaction come from? This wasn't a dead-ender in a refugee slum in Gaza; this was a comfortable university professor in the heart of the country, watching the immolation of what, for all he knew, were his former students, or parents of his current ones.

The "self-loathing" charge that has been leveled against Noam Chomsky, on the left, and Michelle Malkin, on the right, is easy and empty. It presumes ethnicity as identity, and identity as the only basis for political thought. Some people are bigger than that.

And some are much smaller. What you learn reading very far into Ward Churchill is that he identifies the United States as a brutal, irredeemable authoritarian power, and he counts himself among the oppressed but dignified "other" that confronts it daily. He does this from his position as an American Indian.

But it turns out that even his self-identification as an American Indian is open to serious question. As "Indian Country Today" explains:

Churchill's Indian status is not verifiable in the usual ways of checking into tribal membership. We are expansive here from a national position on recognized and non-recognized tribes, southern nations and global indigenous people, but the question of relations and proper belonging in the tribal circles in the United States and Canada is generally verifiable for Indian observers and such appears to be completely lacking in Churchill's case. He has claimed membership in the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, but reliable representatives from the tribe deny Churchill is or ever was, or has blood relatives on their rolls. He was granted an "associate certificate" by a former leader of the tribe (later impeached) for services supposedly rendered, not due to blood relations - but even the tribe declines to exactly identify what that means.

Discerning indigenous identity is not an exact science, but it has its rules. It would not be a primary issue relative to research and writing of producers from any quarter, except Churchill represents himself as a major spokesman for Indian people through his participation in a branch of AIM and his claim to Cherokee origins. So far, nothing whatsoever has surfaced that gives evidence to Churchill's claims to having Cherokee Indian origins. Given the intense antagonism and attention focused on Churchill, his biography in this context is likely to be further scrutinized by the University of Colorado, the media, and others who were led to understand he was an American Indian professional at the time of his hiring.

Churchill has pushed, pulled, and bullied over the years to establish himself as a member of this particular ethnic group. It isn't a casual deception; it's the core of his identity. Unless he's cloaked in the "indigenous" garb, his wrath is just some sort of personal tic. But it seems the only place he's indigenous to is the faculty lounge.

It brings to mind other cases, such as antiwar activist Micah Wright who attacked his opponents from the unimpeachable position of a veteran of intense military service, only to have to confess that he never got closer to martial heroism than gazing wistfully at the recruitment posters.

Or Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis telling his students and the media he was so repulsed by what he saw as a war-hero in Vietnam that he joined the peace movement, when in fact he never left the States.

I once dated a woman who was passionate about animal rights. And at the same time she often spoke of how she had been really bullied by her parents. It sounded like an awful childhood, especially for a sensitive person. But I also could sense her identification with, say, lab research animals, as an outgrowth of her personal struggle.

It doesn't mean lab research on animals was right or wrong, simply because she was that way. It didn't invalidate a cause she might join. There may be good and sensible and compassionate reasons for animal rights beyond her personal psychology. But in her case, those didn't seem to matter.

She didn't lie about anything. She didn't claim to have been the child of a Revlon heir who had seen things first-hand, etc. She was more honest than Churchill, Ellis, Wright, et al. Yet at the same time she didn't get the platform they claimed. Theirs was resume-padding on the grandest level. The need to be something so badly that you'd rewrite your own life story to become what you're not. Can you trust a picture of the world from someone who would Photoshop his own life?

And especially, in the case of Churchill, the need to be the underdog, the righteous afflicted one, even when you find yourself in a place of power and authority, as a modern U.S. professor certainly does. The need to maintain the fictional identification that allows your world to persist in the most simplistic terms.

It's a shame because American Indian cultures -- I'm not an expert, but I know this much -- set aside a place of reverence not for those who stayed simple and rebellious while their hair turned gray, but for those who accepted and understood the complexities of life and spoke with the wisdom of elders.

The danger of lying used to be explained as something that started in the tongue but corrupted the heart. But in many cases the heart's corruption is the root of it.

It may get you a soapbox, but once you get up on it, what comes out of your mouth will be offensive nonsense. Like Janeane Garoffalo's comparison of Americans' ink-stained fingers, a gesture of solidarity with Iraqi voters, to the Nazi salute. (The full exchange, with the context, is worth reading; it's here).

Which brings to mind another thought from Jefferson:

"He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him."

I want to show you how little Ward Churchill knows about Adolph Eichmann.

His ignorance is revealed in the now-notorious essay, and in an AP interview he gave after the storm broke. There, Churchill said he did not mean to say the World Trade Center "technocrats" were Nazis but were, like Eichmann, bureaucrats who participated in an immoral system: "He did not necessarily agree with the goals of the Nazis with regard to the Jews, but he performed his functions brilliantly."

Eichmann was not a civilian, "of a sort." He served as an SS corporal at Dachau concentration camp. He wanted something more exciting, so he took a job in Heydrich's SD, the powerful SS security service. Eventually he held the rank of lieutenant colonel (Obersturmbannführer).

Eichmann was not "ignorant." He was assigned to the Jewish section, which collected information on prominent Jews. He immersed himself in the job, studied Jewish culture, attended Jewish events, visited ghettos, and even learned to read some Hebrew and speak Yiddish.

Eichmann was not some passive participant in someone else's system. He designed the systems and ran them. After the Nazis annexed Austria, Eichmann was sent to Vienna where he set up the Central Office for Jewish Emigration. Its sole purpose was to allow wealthy Jews to leave the country, in exchange for all their wealth. It became the model for such offices in the Reich before the war.

In 1939, he was called back to Berlin and put in charge of a special Gestapo section with the mission of implementing Nazi policies toward Jews. This was his job for the remainder of the war.

As the Germans rolled up victories over Poland and in the USSR, they became rulers of millions of Jews. Eichmann was told, so he testified, that they were to be exterminated. He went to work with a will.

The desultory massacres by firing squad and mass burning had killed tens of thousands. By experiment, he evolved an efficient system of genocide -- a word invented to describe what Eichmann created -- that killed millions.

In January 1942 Eichmann helped Heydrich organize the Wannsee Conference in Berlin during which Heydrich and Eichmann along with 15 Nazi bureaucrats planned the extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe and the Soviet Union, estimated at 11 million persons.
He wasn't a cog in the machine. He was the engine.

Auschwitz was not something he was "ignorant" of, either. It was his pet project. He visited there many times, and helped select the site for the gas chambers. He approved the use of Zyklon-B, and he witnessed it at work.

In March 1944, when the Hungarian Jewish population (725,000) fell under German control, Eichmann rolled up his sleeves and went to work harder than ever. By mid May, he was moving them to Auschwitz. Again, Eichmann personally oversaw and the extermination process at Auschwitz.

If Churchill has any evidence that Eichmann "did not necessarily agree with" the goals of the Nazis, I'd like to know what it is. By the end of 1944, the Allies were closing in, and some of the top Nazis began to have second thoughts about how all this was going to look after the fall of the Reich. Himmler ordered Eichmann to stop deportations. Eichmann ignored this and had another 50,000 Hungarian Jews rounded up and forced on an eight-day death march to Austria.

Let that soak in. Himmler -- Himmler! -- told him to stop killing Jews. Ordered him to stop. And he kept right on, pushing dying women and children at gunpoint into the snows and mountains, to wear them to death.

You could say a lot of things about someone who does that. "Did not necessarily agree with" is not one that comes readily to mind.

Eichmann did not work in a steel and glass tower, "out of sight, mind and smelling distance" from the stench of death. Eichmann visited the east to see this at work. He watched a mass killing in Minsk, and saw the results of one in Lvov. During his trial after the war, Eichmann described the scene. The execution ditch had been covered over with dirt, but blood was gushing out of the ground "like a geyser" due to pressure from the bodily gasses of the dead.

Eichmann knew exactly what he was doing, knew the results of his actions and policies. He thought he was doing good for the world. There was no ideology gap between his view of things and Hitler's. He woke up every day from 1941 to 1945 and thought about how to be more effective at creating piles of corpses.

So how are those dead WTC employees like him?


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© February 1, 2005 Douglas Harper Moe: "Say, what's a good word for scrutiny?" Shemp: "uh ... SCRUTINY!"