By Liza Minno
Ward Churchill, Ethnic Studies professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a radical writer on indigenous rights, attacked white Americans and New School President Bob Kerrey in a two-hour speech he delivered without notes to a full Swayduck Auditorium at The New School on December 11.
Churchill is best known for the public furor over an essay he wrote in 2001 entitled “Some People Push Back,” in which he called those who died in the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns,” because they were “technocrats” working to support an evil, imperialist empire. After the 9/11 article, the University of Colorado attempted to fire him, and it is currently investigating him for academinc misconduct and plagiarism. Kerrey has publicly advocated for Churchill’s dismissal, calling his academic freedom defense “a perversion of the idea of freedom.”
The New School’s Women of Color Organization invited Churchill. One member of the group, Lang Junior Jamila Thomson, said in her introduction that offering Churchill a venue at which to speak gave a voice to the underrepresented in America. According to Lang Senior Jeremy Syrop, co-coordinator of the event, over 200 people were in attendance and about 100 more were turned away.
Churchill entered the auditorium flanked by a half-dozen Black Panthers, lending a dramatic agitation to the mixed crowd of students and middle-aged activist types, all of whom had to pass through airport-style security.
The thesis of his talk, entitled “Sterilizing History: The Fabrication of Innocent Americans,” was that the “media” and writers of history have brainwashed the general public into believing that there is such a thing as an “innocent American” and have, therefore, made it easier to justify colonialism and war in America’s name.
“Oral history is always more reliable than written history,” he said.
Churchill began with an acidic indictment of Kerrey, whom he called a “war criminal” for his involvement in a massacre in the Mekong Delta village of Thanh Phong during the Vietnam War, adding that Kerrey presiding over the New School has the moral equivalency of having Charles Manson serve as the school’s leader.
Like Kerrey, Churchill served in Vietnam, but he has spent the majority of his adult life trying to apologize for his actions, he said. His apology has taken the form of writing in advocacy of indigenous persons’ rights. Churchill claims Creek and Cherokee ancestry, although a Rocky Mountain News investigation found no evidence of a single Indian ancestor.
Over the course of the evening, Churchill offered comprehensive reappraisal of American history, which he described as a veritable orgy of hypocrisy and human rights atrocities. For instance, he noted that Iraq’s violation of 13 UN sanctions was cited by the United States as a rationale for its invasion, even though Israel, which he called “the 51st State” because of U.S. funding, is in violation of over 70.
As he has done before, Churchill compared Malcolm X’s response to the JFK assassination—”It appears to be a case of chickens coming home to roost”—to his own response to 9/11, suggesting that 9/11 was an inevitable result of U.S. foreign policy.
The crowd applauded whenever Churchill raised his voice or used a phrase like “academic freedom.”
At the end of the speech, he received a standing ovation.
“What Mr. Churchill said is important to be heard at an institution that is in no way innocent in the brutal perpetuation of U.S. capitalism and bureaucracy,” said Syrop of the speech.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
By Liza Minno