by Samara Kalk Derby | The Capital Times | 2 March 2005
Ward Churchill was defiant. He was bold. He was passionate.
And he spent the better part of his 75-minute speech here defending controversial comments he made in a 3-year-old essay that has ignited a national firestorm in the past month.
The University of Colorado-Boulder professor of ethnic studies deconstructed the oft-quoted line in which he compared the "technocrats" who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, to Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann.
"I've got 24 books in print, 70 book chapters, about 100 journal articles, introductions, prefaces.... Of that, we are focused now on one less-than-20-page essay and within that essay, one phrase," he told a rapt capacity crowd of about 550 in UW-Whitewater's Hamilton Center.
Many of his critics, Churchill noted, have not even read the essay, which he wrote on the afternoon and evening of Sept. 11, 2001, to help explain to a confused country -- and himself -- who and what may have been responsible for the terrorist attacks.
"The little Eichmanns," he said. "Notice I didn't say Eichmann, I said the little Eichmanns."
Churchill said he used the expression symbolically to describe a "technocratic war of empire."
He was not talking about the food service workers, the janitors, the babies or the passers-by who died in the attacks, Churchill said.
His opponents like to bring up the innocents who perished to avoid talking about his real thesis, he said.
If Churchill made a mistake with his polemic, he said, it was to assume the general population would be conversant with who Eichmann was and what he did.
"Eichmann. Who the hell was Eichmann?" Churchill asked the crowd.
He cited Jewish scholar Hannah Arendt and her book on the Eichmann trial, "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil."
She wanted to report on the trial because to her Eichmann epitomized evil, but what she found was "the absolute nondescript reality of the man. Nothing distinguished him from the mass. He was a little gray mouse," Churchill said.
"No, he sat in a bureau in Berlin and arranged train schedules and logistics to make the Final Solution possible. He never directly killed anybody as far as I know. He was a nondescript little bureaucrat who was entirely proficient at his job, who didn't even believe in the policy he was implementing."
In fact, Eichmann took care of his family, was civic-minded, participated in charities, even learned Hebrew, Churchill said. "He knew more about Judaism than a lot of Jews."
And the people under him, "the little Eichmanns," did their jobs for personal security or belief in their fatherland no matter what their personal objections were, Churchill said.
"These were not monsters any more than the people in the twin towers were monsters."
Never in his essay, "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens," which he called a "gut response," did he advocate for the attacks of 9/11 or say they were justified, Churchill said.
The title is a reference to Malcolm X's response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy: "It's a matter of the chickens coming home to roost," an allusion to administration policies at the time.
Instead of chickens, Churchill said he preferred to think of ghosts or spirits, including those of a half million Iraqi children who died because of United Nations sanctions.
There are ghosts lingering from U.S. policies in the Middle East, Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Indochina and Korea, even from the overly extensive use of force in Germany and Japan at the end of World War II, Churchill said.
"We are all worried about weapons of mass destruction. We live in the only country that's actually used them," Churchill said.
Churchill was invited to speak six months ago, before the controversy ensued, as part of the university's third annual Native Pride Week. He touched only briefly on his original topic, "Racism Against the American Indian," when he talked about the extermination of indigenous Americans.
Wounded Knee was just a punctuation mark during an "uninterrupted stream of massacres -- wholesale and retail," he said.
America's history has been a "continuous, felonious slaughtering of the brown-skinned other" and it has been a part of U.S. enterprise militarily and financially even before the United States existed, Churchill said.
The American people occasionally oppose U.S. policies abroad but for the most part allow atrocities to be committed in their name. But when an attack on America is committed, it becomes an unforgivable atrocity, he said.
"What you put out, you will get back. The term is blowback."
America's response to 9/11 has been to increase security instead of examining the roots of the problem. As Churchill warned to overwhelming applause: "Get ready. The revolution's at hand. It's almost biblical when you break it down: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, OK?"
Afterward, UW-Whitewater history major Tom Bergen called it a great lecture. "His main theme is that the U.S. should adhere to international law and it would solve a lot of the problems we have today -- like terrorism and resentment for the United States."
"I think he's awesome," junior marketing major Erin Kendrick said, adding that she was glad Churchill focused on 9/11 and clarified the brouhaha surrounding what he had written.
"The media tend to make things untruthful by making things controversial," Kendrick said, adding that her father, a "huge neocon," hates Churchill, but she doubts he's read anything by him.
"He outsources his thinking," she joked about her father.
Crista Lebens, an assistant professor of philosophy at UW-Whitewater, said the talk helped people understand the background of Churchill's analogy.
However, she added, "we need to have more talk about racism against Native Americans."