Professor Ward Churchill has a dubious reputation in academia, accused of plagiarism, fabrication and falsification. Such academic misconduct, if true, is a gross violation of the sacred trust of a scholar. It is beyond the pale. Yet all of that is beside the point. The real issue is free speech in the Academy. That is why academics are compelled to defend Churchill “to the death,” as Voltaire put it.
Churchill, a tenured professor of ethnic studies, was fired by the University of Colorado in 2007 for telling the truth about 9/11. The university claimed the reason was academic dishonesty. But the real reason was giving chapter and verse about America’s sordid imperialist and militaristic history. Neither Churchill nor I rejoiced over the 9/11 deaths of 3,000 Americans and the destruction of the World Trade Center. But it was payback. It was, as Malcolm X said in another context, “the chickens coming home to roost.” In his 9/11 essay, Churchill pointed out that the attacks were provoked by U.S. policy: constantly pro-Israel to the detriment of the Palestinians, the suffocating presence of American military bases in the Middle East and the economic embargo of Iraq. He also referred to the “technocratic corps” working in the trade center as “Little Eichmanns.” That remark was stupid. But that too is beside the point. You are not punished in America for stupidity. Churchill was absolutely right when he said after 9/1l that the United States has been killing people of other lands “as a matter of course, a matter of routine.” America, a war-besotted land, has rained death and destruction on so many people in so many nations and for so many decades.
The United States is a terrorist state, as Noam Chomsky points out in “9/11,” and a rogue nation, as William Blum notes in “Rogue State.”
Its aerial attacks have killed and maimed foreigners for 50 years. Cluster bombs. Napalm. Cruise missiles. White phosphorus. Sixty years before its foolish foray into Vietnam, America slaughtered and tortured Filipino insurgents in the Moro War. It dumped tons of Agent Orange on Vietnam. It gratuitously bombed Cambodia. It loosed missiles on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. It bombed Libya and invaded Panama and Grenada. Its Central Intelligence Agency has toppled governments and targeted foreign leaders for assassination. America intervened in 103 nations from 1798 to 1885. U.S. coups overthrew Mossadegh of Iran in 1953 because he nationalized oil, President Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954 after he expropriated United Fruit land and President Allende of Chile in 1973 because he was a socialist. The CIA engineered the assassination of Prime Minister Lumumba of Zaire in 1961. It devised numerous schemes to murder President Castro of Cuba. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said he saw no reason why Chile should be allowed “to go Marxist" simply because "its people are irresponsible." Democratically elected leftist governments are anathema to Holy Capitalism. Among the many international thugs the United States has supported are Marcos of the Philippines, Batista of Cuba, Hussein of Iraq, Somoza of Nicaragua, Pinochet of Chile, Noriega of Panama, Stroessner of Paraguay, Suharto of Indonesia, Duvalier of Haiti and Trujillo of the Dominican Republic.
America has so often ignored the wise words of Justice Louis Brandeis in a 1928 dissent: "Our government is the potent, omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example." It also teaches the world when U.S soldiers at the Baghdad prison, Abu Ghraib, tortured, raped and sodomized prisoners. U.S. soldiers in Vietnam raped and ravaged. It destroyed villages in Vietnam to save it. It perpetuated the My Lai massacre. Robert Jensen, journalism professor the University of Texas, Austin, writes: “When Ward Churchill sees injustice in the world, he does not react as a cold, dispassionate scholar hidden away in a protected office but as a human being outraged by injustices.” Jensen adds what might be the credo of the Left: “Left politics is fueled by anger at the world as it exists.”
Colorado University investigators complained that Churchill had published mostly in alternative presses. Which is precisely the problem. The mainstream, peer-reviewed journals would not print Churchill’s truths undercutting the legend of a sterling America. A Denver jury said Churchill was wrongly fired but a higher court reversed. That reversal is on appeal. But there is no appeal of Churchill’s First Amendment rights. Most Americans don’t want to hear the truths of their nation’s history. They certainly did want to hear Churchill’s truth on such a grim occasion as 9/11. Americans prefer myth, heroification, exceptionalism and glorification. It would be a stretch to echo French poet Rimbaud’s declaration that “everything we are taught is false.” But the truth of U.S history can be found in “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen. Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. .