On April 2nd, 2009, A jury returned a decision stating that Ward Churchill had been wrongfully fired from his position as a tenured professor at Colorado University. The cause stemmed from the publication of his now infamous essay ‘The Ghosts of 9-1-1: Reflections on History, Justice and Roosting Chickens’. After its initial publication, three years passed until a section of the esay entitled ‘Some People Push Back’ was brought to light by a college newspaper reporter that the essay came under public criticism and caused the circumstances under which Churchill was subsequently fired.
In the full text, Churchill contends that the events of September 11th, 2001 were made inevitable by a foreign policy that puts the rights of corporations inexorably in front of the rights of people, histories or environments, and that the systemic amnesia engendered and perpetuated within the system is its own form of culpability.
Citing the failures of popular movements to cease the sanctions in Iraq during the 1990s, abolish the WTO or its colluding powers at the IMF/World Bank, he charges the left with acquiescing to state powers in deference to that which is comfortable and secure. The phrase, ‘Little Eichmans’ is largely credited for having drawn attention to the essay, a curious objection as the phrase itself was borrowed from a John Zerzan article, published in 1997.
The jury found for Churchill’s suit and held CU liable for the costs of his legal team and an additional one dollar.
The proceedings come at a time of increased scrutinity of college professors. From Norman Finkelstein’s being denied tenure, to Dr. Cornell West’s somewhat fiery departure from Harvard for Princeton, the high halls of academia have held witness to more power struggles than usual of late. The common thread underlying them all though would seem to be a charge of anti-zionism leveled at all the actors involved here. Finkelstein wrote ‘Beyond Ghutspa: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History’ and West chose to leave Harvard after a public row with Larry Summers, a man who equates Anti-Zionism, the refusal of the State of Israel to exist, and Anti-Semitism, the racist bigotry towards a Jewish person. All three, Churchill, Finkelstein and West are all outspoken critics of US Foreign policy, vis-a-vis Palestine. All three have faced massive scrutiny that others in their fields are hardly ever subject to.
The case in point, Churchill was a tenured professor, but was abruptly demonized at the hint of equivalency of complicity of those who oversaw speculative investing and those who who punched tickets for Auschwitz victims. To be sure, there is a very real difference between the two, but what of those who ran the books for the SS? What of those who currently oversee the World Bank funding of dams that have flooded out perhaps 60 million people in India. Tens of thousands of these were farmers who have now committed suicide. What of the one million farmers displaced by US agribusiness in Mexico in the last 8 years who have no choice but to leave their villages and either enter a sweatshop or take the uncertain road north? The US does not send any of these people to be incinerated, but what level of collusion is acceptably equivalent? At what point will the American or even the progressive voices in America cease being voices and become actions in solidarity against such practices? Until Americans, and in particular those Americans who know something is wrong, answer this question, there will continue to be rhetoric, but no response, and the chickens are still out in the field, waiting to come home.
For Churchill, he has been proved triumphant against the school system that fired him. Unrelenting, he is now seeking the school to either reinstate him or award him one million dollars in damages. A Denver District Court Judge will decide within 30 days of the ruling whether additional damages will be awarded.
The (Former) Governor
Takes the Stand
by J. Robert Brown
Former Governor Bill Owens was on the stand for a couple of hours. Not long after the 9/11 essay surfaced, the Governor called on CU to fire Churchill.
David Lane’s main point was to show that the Governor, with line item veto authority over the University of Colorado, applied pressure to get the University to fire Ward Churchill.
The jury heard the former president of CU, Betsy Hoffman, describe a conversation with the Governor where she said he told her to fire Ward Churchill “tomorrow,” that his tone was “threatening,” and that if she didn’t he would “unleash his plan.”
Governor Owens did not specifically recall the conversation but doubted that it was not “in that tenor” and that he did not have a “plan.”
Later, when a partial transcript of an interview on the O’Reilly Factor was put up on the screen, Lane pointed to an exchange where Owens denied he had the authority to fire Churchill but then admitted: “I do have some budget authority over the budget.” Owens declined to admit that this was a threat, noting that its a true statement and repeated over and over that he had actually raised the CU budget during his administration.
On recross, Lane asked whether in fact Governor Owens had a “strategy” for CU if Churchill wasn’t fired. He answered in the negative. Lane then pointed to this exchange on the O’Reilly transcript:
- O’REILLY: One more question for you. You have basically a strategy, and I want to get this right. You’re not going to pay him off, so he’s not going to get the big bucks. You’re going to go through the lengthy process to prove that he did something that you can legitimately fire him [for], and then he goes — “See you.”
- OWENS: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. That process is starting. I think it will ultimately result in him being fired.
The quick denial followed by the reference in the O’Reilly Factor caused a slight stir in the courtroom. Governor Owens then repeated that he didn’t have a strategy and that he was merely acknowledging that based on the evidence that he knew, there was sufficient basis to fire Churchill.
Governor Owens did acknowledge in his testimony that he was glad the University had not heeded his advice and fired Churchill immediately after the 9/11 essay surface.
“Hau Mi Kola (Hello My Friends). The following missive which I am forwarding to you all, is nothing more than a mirror and this is for those that can think critically.”
The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak
[Note to TomDispatch Readers: This week, the website Foreign Policy In Focus, whose work I greatly admire and whose co-director John Feffer is a TomDispatch regular, will be using this piece to kick off its new strategic focus on empire. FPIF will be exploring the question of whether the Obama administration is likely to wind down our empire or will simply try to implement a somewhat kinder and gentler version of the same. Its weekly e-newsletter, World Beat, is particularly useful and can be subscribed to by clicking here. Tom]
The Imperial Unconscious
Afghan Faces, Predators, Reapers, Terrorist Stars, Roman Conquerors, Imperial Graveyards, and Other Oddities of the Truncated American Century By Tom Engelhardt
Sometimes, it’s the everyday things, the ones that fly below the radar, that matter.
Here, according to Bloomberg News, is part of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s recent testimony on the Afghan War before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
“U.S. goals in Afghanistan must be ‘modest, realistic,’ and ‘above all, there must be an Afghan face on this war,’ Gates said. ‘The Afghan people must believe this is their war and we are there to help them. If they think we are there for our own purposes, then we will go the way of every other foreign army that has been in Afghanistan.’”
Now, in our world, a statement like this seems so obvious, so reasonable as to be beyond comment. And yet, stop a moment and think about this part of it: “there must be an Afghan face on this war.” U.S. military and civilian officials used an equivalent phrase in 2005-2006 when things were going really, really wrong in Iraq. It was then commonplace — and no less unremarked upon — for them to urgently suggest that an “Iraqi face” be put on events there.
Evidently back in vogue for a different war, the phrase is revelatory — and oddly blunt. As an image, there’s really only one way to understand it (not that anyone here stops to do so). After all, what does it mean to “put a face” on something that assumedly already has a face? In this case, it has to mean putting an Afghan mask over what we know to be the actual “face” of the Afghan War — ours — a foreign face that men like Gates recognize, quite correctly, is not the one most Afghans want to see. It’s hardly surprising that the Secretary of Defense would pick up such a phrase, part of Washington’s everyday arsenal of words and images when it comes to geopolitics, power, and war.
And yet, make no mistake, this is Empire-speak, American-style. It’s the language — behind which lies a deeper structure of argument and thought — that is essential to Washington’s vision of itself as a planet-straddling goliath. Think of that “Afghan face”/mask, in fact, as part of the flotsam and jetsam that regularly bubbles up from the American imperial unconscious.
Of course, words create realities even though such language, in all its strangeness, essentially passes unnoticed here. Largely uncommented upon, it helps normalize American practices in the world, comfortably shielding us from certain global realities; but it also has the potential to blind us to those realities, which, in perilous times, can be dangerous indeed. So let’s consider just a few entries in what might be thought of as The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak.
War Hidden in Plain Sight: There has recently been much reporting on, and even some debate here about, the efficacy of the Obama administration’s decision to increase the intensity of CIA missile attacks from drone aircraft in what Washington, in a newly coined neologism reflecting a widening war, now calls “Af-Pak” — the Pashtun tribal borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since August 2008, more than 30 such missile attacks have been launched on the Pakistani side of that border against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban targets. The pace of attacks has actually risen since Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, as have casualties from the missile strikes, as well as popular outrage in Pakistan over the attacks.
Thanks to Senator Diane Feinstein, we also know that, despite strong official Pakistani government protests, someone official in that country is doing more than looking the other way while they occur. As the Senator revealed recently, at least some of the CIA’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) cruising the skies over Af-Pak are evidently stationed at Pakistani bases. We learned recently as well that American Special Operations units are now regularly making forays inside Pakistan “primarily to gather intelligence”; that a unit of 70 American Special Forces advisors, a “secret task force, overseen by the United States Central Command and Special Operations Command,” is now aiding and training Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps paramilitary troops, again inside Pakistan; and that, despite (or perhaps, in part, because of) these American efforts, the influence of the Pakistani Taliban is actually expanding, even as Pakistan threatens to melt down.
Mystifyingly enough, however, this Pakistani part of the American war in Afghanistan is still referred to in major U.S. papers as a “covert war.” As news about it pours out, who it’s being hidden from is one of those questions no one bothers to ask.
On February 20th, the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger typically wrote:
“With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government… Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the Bush administration.”
On February 25th, Mazzetti and Helene Cooper reported that new CIA head Leon Panetta essentially bragged to reporters that “the agency’s campaign against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas was the ‘most effective weapon’ the Obama administration had to combat Al Qaeda’s top leadership… Mr. Panetta stopped short of directly acknowledging the missile strikes, but he said that ‘operational efforts’ focusing on Qaeda leaders had been successful.” Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal reported the next day that Panetta said the attacks are “probably the most effective weapon we have to try to disrupt al Qaeda right now.” She added, “Mr. Obama and National Security Adviser James Jones have strongly endorsed their use, [Panetta] said.”
Uh, covert war? These “covert” “operational efforts” have been front-page news in the Pakistani press for months, they were part of the U.S. presidential campaign debates, and they certainly can’t be a secret for the Pashtuns in those border areas who must see drone aircraft overhead relatively regularly, or experience the missiles arriving in their neighborhoods.
In the U.S., “covert war” has long been a term for wars like the U.S.-backed Contra War against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s, which were openly discussed, debated, and often lauded in this country. To a large extent, when aspects of these wars have actually been “covert” — that is, purposely hidden from anyone — it has been from the American public, not the enemies being warred upon. At the very least, however, such language, however threadbare, offers official Washington a kind of “plausible deniability” when it comes to thinking about what kind of an “American face” we present to the world.
Imperial Naming Practices: In our press, anonymous U.S. officials now point with pride to the increasing “precision” and “accuracy” of those drone missile attacks in taking out Taliban or al-Qaeda figures without (supposedly) taking out the tribespeople who live in the same villages or neighboring compounds. Such pieces lend our air war an almost sterile quality. They tend to emphasize the extraordinary lengths to which planners go to avoid “collateral damage.” To many Americans, it must then seem strange, even irrational, that perfectly non-fundamentalist Pakistanis should be quite so outraged about attacks aimed at the world’s worst terrorists.
On the other hand, consider for a moment the names of those drones now regularly in the skies over “Pashtunistan.” These are no less regularly published in our press to no comment at all. The most basic of the armed drones goes by the name of Predator, a moniker which might as well have come directly from those nightmarish sci-fi movies about an alien that feasts on humans. Undoubtedly, however, it was used in the way Col. Michael Steele of the 101st Airborne Division meant it when he exhorted his brigade deploying to Iraq (according to Thomas E. Ricks’ new book The Gamble) to remember: “You’re the predator.”
The Predator drone is armed with “only” two missiles. The more advanced drone, originally called the Predator B, now being deployed to the skies over Af-Pak, has been dubbed the Reaper — as in the Grim Reaper. Now, there’s only one thing such a “hunter-killer UAV” could be reaping, and you know just what that is: lives. It can be armed with up to 14 missiles (or four missiles and two 500-pound bombs), which means it packs quite a deadly wallop.
Oh, by the way, those missiles are named as well. They’re Hellfire missiles. So, if you want to consider the nature of this covert war in terms of names alone: Predators and Reapers are bringing down the fire from some satanic hell upon the peasants, fundamentalist guerrillas, and terrorists of the Af-Pak border regions.
In Washington, when the Af-Pak War is discussed, it’s in the bloodless, bureaucratic language of “global counterinsurgency” or “irregular warfare” (IW), of “soft power,” “hard power,” and “smart power.” But flying over the Pashtun wildlands is the blunt-edged face of predation and death, ready at a moment’s notice to deliver hellfire to those below.
Imperial Arguments: Let’s pursue this just a little further. Faced with rising numbers of civilian casualties from U.S. and NATO air strikes in Afghanistan and an increasingly outraged Afghan public, American officials tend to place the blame for most sky-borne “collateral damage” squarely on the Taliban. As Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen bluntly explained recently, “[T]he enemy hides behind civilians.” Hence, so this Empire-speak argument goes, dead civilians are actually the Taliban’s doing.
U.S. military and civilian spokespeople have long accused Taliban guerrillas of using civilians as “shields,” or even of purposely luring devastating air strikes down on Afghan wedding parties to create civilian casualties and so inflame the sensibilities of rural Afghanistan. This commonplace argument has two key features: a claim that they made us do it (kill civilians) and the implication that the Taliban fighters “hiding” among innocent villagers or wedding revelers are so many cowards, willing to put their fellow Pashtuns at risk rather than come out and fight like men — and, of course, given the firepower arrayed against them, die.
The U.S. media regularly records this argument without reflecting on it. In this country, in fact, the evil of combatants “hiding” among civilians seems so self-evident, especially given the larger evil of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, that no one thinks twice about it.
And yet like so much of Empire-speak on a one-way planet, this argument is distinctly uni-directional. What’s good for the guerrilla goose, so to speak, is inapplicable to the imperial gander. To illustrate, consider the American “pilots” flying those unmanned Predators and Reapers. We don’t know exactly where all of them are (other than not in the drones), but some are certainly at Nellis Air Force Base just outside Las Vegas.
In other words, were the Taliban guerrillas to leave the protection of those civilians and come out into the open, there would be no enemy to fight in the usual sense, not even a predatory one. The pilot firing that Hellfire missile into some Pakistani border village or compound is, after all, using the UAV’s cameras, including by next year a new system hair-raisingly dubbed “Gorgon Stare,” to locate his target and then, via console, as in a single-shooter video game, firing the missile, possibly from many thousands of miles away.
And yet nowhere in our world will you find anyone making the argument that those pilots are in “hiding” like so many cowards. Such a thought seems absurd to us, as it would if it were applied to the F-18 pilots taking off from aircraft carriers off the Afghan coast or the B-1 pilots flying out of unnamed Middle Eastern bases or the Indian Ocean island base of Diego Garcia. And yet, whatever those pilots may do in Afghan skies, unless they experience a mechanical malfunction, they are in no more danger than if they, too, were somewhere outside Las Vegas. In the last seven years, a few helicopters, but no planes, have gone down in Afghanistan.
When the Afghan mujahedeen fought the Soviets in the 1980s, the CIA supplied them with hand-held Stinger missiles, the most advanced surface-to-air missile in the U.S. arsenal, and they did indeed start knocking Soviet helicopters and planes out of the skies (which proved the beginning of the end for the Russians). The Afghan or Pakistani Taliban or al-Qaeda terrorists have no such capability today, which means, if you think about it, that what we here imagine as an “air war” involves none of the dangers we would normally associate with war. Looked at in another light, those missile strikes and bombings are really one-way acts of slaughter.
The Taliban’s tactics are, of course, the essence of guerrilla warfare, which always involves an asymmetrical battle against more powerful armies and weaponry, and which, if successful, always depends on the ability of the guerrilla to blend into the environment, natural and human, or, as Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong so famously put it, to “swim” in the “sea of the people.”
If you imagine your enemy simply using the villagers of Afghanistan as “shields” or “hiding” like so many cowards among them, you are speaking the language of imperial power but also blinding yourself (or the American public) to the actual realities of the war you’re fighting.
Imperial Jokes: In October 2008, Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, refused to renew the U.S. lease at Manta Air Base, one of at least 761 foreign bases, macro to micro, that the U.S. garrisons worldwide. Correa reportedly said: “We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorean base. If there’s no problem having foreign soldiers on a country’s soil, surely they’ll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States.”
This qualifies as an anti-imperial joke. The “leftist” president of Ecuador was doing no more than tweaking the nose of goliath. An Ecuadorian base in Miami? Absurd. No one on the planet could take such a suggestion seriously.
On the other hand, when it comes to the U.S. having a major base in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian land that not one in a million Americans has ever heard of, that’s no laughing matter. After all, Washington has been paying $20 million a year in direct rent for the use of that country’s Manas Air Base (and, as indirect rent, another $80 million has gone to various Kyrgyzstani programs). As late as last October, the Pentagon was planning to sink another $100 million into construction at Manas “to expand aircraft parking areas at the base and provide a ‘hot cargo pad’ — an area safe enough to load and unload hazardous and explosive cargo — to be located away from inhabited facilities.” That, however, was when things started to go wrong. Now, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has voted to expel the U.S. from Manas within six months, a serious blow to our resupply efforts for the Afghan War. More outrageous yet to Washington, the Kyrgyzstanis seem to have done this at the bidding of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has the nerve to want to reestablish a Russian sphere of influence in what used to be the borderlands of the old Soviet Union.
Put in a nutshell, despite the crumbling U.S. economic situation and the rising costs of the Afghan War, we still act as if we live on a one-way planet. Some country demanding a base in the U.S.? That’s a joke or an insult, while the U.S. potentially gaining or losing a base almost anywhere on the planet may be an insult, but it’s never a laughing matter.
Imperial Thought: Recently, to justify those missile attacks in Pakistan, U.S. officials have been leaking details on the program’s “successes” to reporters. Anonymous officials have offered the “possibly wishful estimate” that the CIA “covert war” has led to the deaths (or capture) of 11 of al Qaeda’s top 20 commanders, including, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, “Abu Layth al-Libi, whom U.S. officials described as ‘a rising star’ in the group.”
“Rising star” is such an American phrase, melding as it does imagined terror hierarchies with the lingo of celebrity tabloids. In fact, one problem with Empire-speak, and imperial thought more generally, is the way it prevents imperial officials from imagining a world not in their own image. So it’s not surprising that, despite their best efforts, they regularly conjure up their enemies as a warped version of themselves — hierarchical, overly reliant on leaders, and top heavy.
In the Vietnam era, for instance, American officials spent a remarkable amount of effort sending troops to search for, and planes to bomb, the border sanctuaries of Cambodia and Laos on a fruitless hunt for COSVN (the so-called Central Office for South Vietnam), the supposed nerve center of the communist enemy, aka “the bamboo Pentagon.” Of course, it wasn’t there to be found, except in Washington’s imperial imagination.
In the Af-Pak “theater,” we may be seeing a similar phenomenon. Underpinning the CIA killer-drone program is a belief that the key to combating al-Qaeda (and possibly the Taliban) is destroying its leadership one by one. As key Pakistani officials have tried to explain, the missile attacks, which have indeed killed some al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban figures (as well as whoever was in their vicinity), are distinctly counterproductive. The deaths of those figures in no way compensates for the outrage, the destabilization, the radicalization that the attacks engender in the region. They may, in fact, be functionally strengthening each of those movements.
What it’s hard for Washington to grasp is this: “decapitation,” to use another American imperial term, is not a particularly effective strategy with a decentralized guerrilla or terror organization. The fact is a headless guerrilla movement is nowhere near as brainless or helpless as a headless Washington would be.
Only recently, Eric Schmitt and Jane Perlez of the New York Times reported that, while top U.S. officials were exhibiting optimism about the effectiveness of the missile strikes, Pakistani officials were pointing to “ominous signs of Al Qaeda’s resilience” and suggesting “that Al Qaeda was replenishing killed fighters and midlevel leaders with less experienced but more hard-core militants, who are considered more dangerous because they have fewer allegiances to local Pakistani tribes… The Pakistani intelligence assessment found that Al Qaeda had adapted to the blows to its command structure by shifting ‘to conduct decentralized operations under small but well-organized regional groups’ within Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Imperial Dreams and Nightmares: Americans have rarely liked to think of themselves as “imperial,” so what is it about Rome in these last years? First, the neocons, in the flush of seeming victory in 2002-2003 began to imagine the U.S. as a “new Rome” (or new British Empire), or as Charles Krauthammer wrote as early as February 2001 in Time Magazine, “America is no mere international citizen. It is the dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome.”
All roads on this planet, they were then convinced, led ineluctably to Washington. Now, of course, they visibly don’t, and the imperial bragging about surpassing the Roman or British empires has long since faded away. When it comes to the Afghan War, in fact, those (resupply) “roads” seem to lead, embarrassingly enough, through Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Iran. But the comparison to conquering Rome evidently remains on the brain.
When, for instance, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post recently, drumming up support for the revised, age-of-Obama American mission in Afghanistan, he just couldn’t help starting off with an inspiring tale about the Romans and a small Italian city-state, Locri, that they conquered. As he tells it, the ruler the Romans installed in Locri, a rapacious fellow named Pleminius, proved a looter and a tyrant. And yet, Mullen assures us, the Locrians so believed in “the reputation for equanimity and fairness that Rome had built” that they sent a delegation to the Roman Senate, knowing they could get a hearing, and demanded restitution; and indeed, the tyrant was removed.
Admittedly, this seems a far-fetched analogy to the U.S. in Afghanistan (and don’t for a second mix up Pleminius, that rogue, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, even though the Obama-ites evidently now believe him corrupt and replaceable). Still, as Mullen sees it, the point is: “We don’t always get it right. But like the early Romans, we strive in the end to make it right. We strive to earn trust. And that makes all the difference.”
Mullen is, it seems, the Aesop of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and, in his somewhat overheated brain, we evidently remain the conquering (but just) “early” Romans — before, of course, the fatal rot set in.
And then there’s the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks, a superb reporter who, in his latest book, gives voice to the views of Centcom Commander David Petraeus. Reflecting on Iraq, where he (like the general) believes we could still be fighting in “2015,” Ricks begins a recent Post piece this way:
“In October 2008, as I was finishing my latest book on the Iraq war, I visited the Roman Forum during a stop in Italy. I sat on a stone wall on the south side of the Capitoline Hill and studied the two triumphal arches at either end of the Forum, both commemorating Roman wars in the Middle East… The structures brought home a sad realization: It’s simply unrealistic to believe that the U.S. military will be able to pull out of the Middle East… It was a week when U.S. forces had engaged in combat in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — a string of countries stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean — following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, the Romans and the British.”
With the waning of British power, Ricks continues, it “has been the United States’ turn to take the lead there.” And our turn, as it happens, just isn’t over yet. Evidently that, at least, is the view from our imperial capital and from our military viceroys out on the peripheries.
Honestly, Freud would have loved these guys. They seem to channel the imperial unconscious. Take David Petraeus. For him, too, the duties and dangers of empire evidently weigh heavily on the brain. Like a number of key figures, civilian and military, he has lately begun to issue warnings about Afghanistan’s dangers. As the Washington Post reported, “[Petraeus] suggested that the odds of success were low, given that foreign military powers have historically met with defeat in Afghanistan. ‘Afghanistan has been known over the years as the graveyard of empires,’ he said. ‘We cannot take that history lightly.’”
Of course, he’s worrying about the graveyard aspect of this, but what I find curious — exactly because no one thinks it odd enough to comment on here — is the functional admission in the use of this old adage about Afghanistan that we fall into the category of empires, whether or not in search of a graveyard in which to die.
And he’s not alone in this. Secretary of Defense Gates put the matter similarly recently: “Without the support of the Afghan people, Gates said, the U.S. would simply ‘go the way of every other foreign army that’s ever been in Afghanistan.’”
Imperial Blindness: Think of the above as just a few prospective entries in The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak that will, of course, never be compiled. We’re so used to such language, so inured to it and to the thinking behind it, so used, in fact, to living on a one-way planet in which all roads lead to and from Washington, that it doesn’t seem like a language at all. It’s just part of the unexamined warp and woof of everyday life in a country that still believes it normal to garrison the planet, regularly fight wars halfway across the globe, find triumph or tragedy in the gain or loss of an air base in a country few Americans could locate on a map, and produce military manuals on counterinsurgency warfare the way a do-it-yourself furniture maker would produce instructions for constructing a cabinet from a kit.
We don’t find it strange to have 16 intelligence agencies, some devoted to listening in on, and spying on, the planet, or capable of running “covert wars” in tribal borderlands thousands of miles distant, or of flying unmanned drones over those same borderlands destroying those who come into camera view. We’re inured to the bizarreness of it all and of the language (and pretensions) that go with it.
If The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak were ever produced, who here would buy it? Who would feel the need to check out what seems like the only reasonable and self-evident language for describing the world? How else, after all, would we operate? How else would any American in a position of authority talk in Washington or Baghdad or Islamabad or Rome?
So it undoubtedly seemed to the Romans, too. And we know what finally happened to their empire and the language that went with it. Such a language plays its role in normalizing the running of an empire. It allows officials (and in our case the media as well) not to see what would be inconvenient to the smooth functioning of such an enormous undertaking. Embedded in its words and phrases is a fierce way of thinking (even if we don’t see it that way), as well as plausible deniability. And in the good times, its uses are obvious.
On the other hand, when the normal ways of empire cease to function well, that same language can suddenly work to blind the imperial custodians — which is, after all, what the foreign policy “team” of the Obama era is — to necessary realities. At a moment when it might be important to grasp what the “American face” in the mirror actually looks like, you can’t see it.
And sometimes what you can’t bring yourself to see can, as now, hurt you.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the American Age of Denial. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site and an alternative history of the mad Bush years.
[Note: In thinking about a prospective Dictionary of American Empire-Speak, I found four websites particularly useful for keeping me up to date: Juan Cole's invaluable Informed Comment (I don't know how he stays at day-in, day-out, year after year); Antiwar.com and the War in Context, where editors with sharp eyes for global developments seem to be on the prowl 24/7; and last but by no means least, Noah Shachtman's Danger Room blog at Wired.com. Focused on the latest military developments, from strategy and tactics to hunter-killer drones and "robo-beasts," Danger Room is not only a must-follow site, but gives an everyday sense of the imperial bizarreness of our American world. Finally, a deep bow of thanks to Christopher Holmes, who keeps the copyediting lights burning in Japan, and TomDispatch eternally chugging along.]
Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt
Right Wing Attempting to Bankrupt Ward Churchill
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Professor Churchill was fired after a 30 month long “investigation” by the University of Colorado where they dug into all 4,000 pages of his published works and combed through his over 12,000 footnotes! In the end, the investigation finds 7 alleged errors and/or plagiarism.
Since his firing, Ward has mounted a full-scale lawsuit against the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado and now his coffers are nearly empty. PROTECT YOUR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS!
Detailed Chronology of Events:
Sept. 12, 2001 Prof. Churchill writes an op-ed piece published online by Dark Night Field Notes, giving a “gut reaction” to possible causes of the Sept. 11 attacks. This is later expanded and published as On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality (AK Press, 2003). Neither receives much public attention.
January 26, 2005 A Syracuse, NY newspaper discusses Prof. Churchill’s scheduled lecture at Hamilton College sponsored by the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture. The Kirkland Project had already been targeted by various rightwing organizations, including Lynne Cheney’s American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and David Horowitz’ Center for the Study of Popular Culture and its spin-off, Students for Academic Freedom. A well-coordinated campaign at Hamilton had recently succeeded in forcing cancellation of a class which was to have been taught by former political prisoner Susan Rosenberg (who was to speak on a panel with Prof. Churchill).
Within a few days the story, which focused on two words (“little Eichmanns”) taken out of context from the 2001 op-ed piece, had been picked up by AP, newspapers around the country, and highlighted by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who urged viewers to contact Hamilton College. Both Ward Churchill and Hamilton College soon received thousands of calls, letters and e-mails, including threats of violence and death.
Despite initial vows to protect freedom of speech, Hamilton College President Joan Hinde Stewart cancels the program on January 31. She attributes it to security concerns, but it later becomes clear that threats from alumni to withdraw financial support play a major role in the decision. The director of the Kirkland Project is soon removed and the Project threatened with de-funding.
January 27, 2005 With total disregard for the CU’s written policies on academic freedom, Interim Chancellor Philip DiStefano immediately denounces Prof. Churchill’s statements as “abhorrent” and “repugnant.” Two days later Colorado Congressman Bob Beauprez demands Prof. Churchill’s resignation. Beauprez later boasts on the radio that he has discussed the Churchill case with President Bush on Air Force One. Within the week Gov. Bill Owens demands that Prof. Churchill be fired, and both chambers of the Colorado legislature pass resolutions condemning Prof. Churchill and threatening to withhold funds from CU.
February 3, 2005 The CU Board of Regents convenes an emergency meeting. Although billed as a “public meeting,” an undergraduate is immediately arrested for attempting to read a brief statement on behalf of the students. His charges were eventually dropped, but community activist Shareef Aleem faces a sixteen-year prison term for allegedly assaulting officers who attempted to forcibly eject him when he asked why the students were not being allowed to speak.
The Regents issue a blanket “apology” to the entire country for Prof. Churchill’s statements, and accept Chancellor DiStefano’s proposal that he, CU Law dean David Getches, and Arts & Sciences dean Todd Gleeson convene an “ad hoc” committee to determine within 30 days whether any of Prof. Churchill’s public writing or speeches “crossed” some undefined boundary of protected speech. The Regents’ own rules on academic freedom and CU’s internal faculty procedures – to say nothing of the First Amendment – are completely disregarded. CU posts DiStefano’s statements prominently on its website.
February 8, 2005 CU-Boulder students sponsor a speech by Ward Churchill on campus. Interim Chancellor DiStefano attempts to cancel it at the last minute, citing “security” concerns, but the possibility of a federal court injunction persuades him otherwise. More than 1500 people attend; they are orderly and extremely supportive of Prof. Churchill.
Despite on-going efforts by Bill O’Reilly, David Horowitz and his “Students for Academic Freedom,” and even personal communiqués from Governor Bill Owens to College Republican around the country to have his speeches cancelled, during the spring Ward Churchill speaks to large and overwhelmingly supportive audiences at the University of Hawai’i, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the University of California-Berkeley, Reed College, Pitzer College, the University of California-Monterey Bay, and at numerous public events in Denver and the San Francisco Bay area. President Jordan of Eastern Washington University, then vying for a job in Denver, cancels a talk; he is unanimously rebuked by his faculty and his students bring Ward Churchill to speak anyway. Ironically, only the very “liberal” Antioch College and Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon actually cancel scheduled appearances.
February 25, 2005 Nearly 200 tenured faculty members at UC-Boulder take out an ad “demanding that school officials halt their investigation of Ward Churchill’s work. On March 22 this is followed by a full-page open letter endorsed by hundreds of scholars across the country, demanding that the Regents’ and administration’s “utterly gratuitous and inappropriate action[s]” be reversed. During this period thousands of individuals sign petitions supporting Prof. Churchill and hundreds write letters of protest to CU officials.
March 3, 2005 CU President Elizabeth Hoffman warns an emergency session of the Boulder Faculty Assembly of a “new McCarthyism,” pointing out that there is “no question that there’s a real danger that the group of people [who] went after Churchill now feel empowered.” Within 5 days she announces her resignation.
Mid-March 2005 Having bought time with its “ad hoc” investigation of his every word, the University negotiates with Prof. Churchill. He is willing to take early retirement for nominal compensation, but only on the condition that the Regents formally and publicly affirm the University’s processes of academic review and their own rules on academic freedom. They refuse.
March 24, 2005 Interim Chancellor DiStefano, who has never consulted Ward Churchill or even officially informed him of the investigation, publicly announces the findings of the “ad hoc” committee. The Interim Chancellor has discovered, apparently to his surprise, that all of Prof. Churchill’s writings and speeches are protected by the First Amendment. But in the meantime, he states, other allegations have surfaced which require further investigation.
Spring 2005 Beginning in late January the “Churchill controversy” is highlighted by O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Joe Scarborough, and other neoconservative media personalities; a Denver Clear Channel radio station (closely aligned with Fox News) begins devoting 6-8 hours a day to disparaging Ward Churchill, and The O’Reilly Factor highlights Professor Churchill in over 40 segments. The two major Denver newspapers as well as the two Boulder dailies (three of the four now owned by Scripps-Howard) engage in uniformly negative coverage, running 400 stories in the next two months.
This “news” coverage rapidly turns into an all-out attempt at character assassination. The opinions of an ex-wife, former in-laws, and long-term political adversaries are highlighted. Ward Churchill’s driving record, credit history, employment and military record, high school football team, and even baby pictures are scrutinized. One week the theme is vague accounts of heretofore unreported “intimidation” supposedly occurring a decade or two earlier; then supposed misrepresentations of his academic credentials; then claims that he attempted to incite violence. As each set of claims was proven false, reporters simply moved on to another.
The Interim Chancellor now decides to invoke existing faculty procedures and refers numerous allegations culled from this media barrage to CU’s Standing Committee on Research Misconduct (SCRM). One set of allegations concerns Prof. Churchill’s interpretation of the U.S. Army’s participation in the spreading of smallpox to Indians and about the implementation of “blood quantum” requirements pursuant to the 1887 General Allotment Act and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. A second set is widely characterized as “plagiarism,” although it is primarily devolves from a claim that Prof. Churchill wrote material published under someone else’s name. In addition, Chancellor DiStefano instructs SCRM to investigate Prof. Churchill’s American Indian identity. Disregarding the University’s own rules on confidentiality, the allegations are released to the press even before Prof. Churchill receives them.
Prof. Churchill protests the investigation as pretextual punishment of protected speech and contests the convening of a racial purity board, but provides SCRM with evidence countering each allegation, including evidence that he meets three standard federal definitions of “American Indian.”
April 25, 2005 Predictably the media feeding frenzy (as well as organized rightwing writing campaigns) has resulted in a barrage of e-mails, telephone calls and letters to Prof. Churchill and the Department of Ethnic Studies. For several weeks the Department cannot otherwise function. While many express support, Prof. Churchill and the Department each receive several thousand hostile and usually virulently racist e-mails. Students of color on the Boulder campus experience a heightened level of racist hostility. Prof. Churchill receives a steady stream of death threats and his home is vandalized. The University ignores all of this; the racist attacks are not condemned and the Department receives no additional support or security. The Ethnic Studies faculty finally sends an Open Letter to the Regents and all of the relevant University administrators, requesting support and attaching excerpts of e-mails which are racist, homophobic and threaten violence. Interim Chancellor DiStefano apparently finds these neither “abhorrent” nor “repugnant.” The Department never receives acknowledgment of its Open Letter from any University official.
May 17-19, 2005 The office of the Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Tahlequah, Oklahoma is overwhelmed by media inquiries concerning Prof. Churchill’s status. On May 17 Prof. Churchill learns that, in the face of this pressure, the Band has issued a statement falsely asserting that he was never on the band rolls. Prof. Churchill issues a response documenting his May 1994 enrollment as an Associate Member; on May 19 the Band confirms this fact.
Summer 2005 Having taught an overload during the spring semester, Prof. Churchill also teaches a Maymester course. He wins a 2005 teaching award, voted on by students, but its sponsor (the CU alumni association) withholds the award “pending the outcome of the investigation,” despite the fact that the allegations have nothing to do with teaching.
Early June 2005 The Rocky Mountain News, having put at least 5 reporters on “special assignment” for several weeks, runs a 5-part, multi-page series with its conclusions on each allegation being investigated by the SCRM in its purportedly “confidential” process. The University spokesperson says that only allegations from individual complainants, not news reports, can be investigated. Immediately thereafter, Interim Chancellor DiStefano, as complainant, sends 59 pages of stories downloaded off the Rocky Mountain News website to the SCRM, which forwards the entire package to Prof. Churchill with instructions to answer “any new allegations.”
Late June 2005 Prof. Churchill files a formal grievance with the faculty Privilege and Tenure (P&T) Committee concerning the pretextual nature of the investigations against him and the University’s violations of his academic freedom, First Amendment, and due process rights. He subsequently files additional grievances concerning the University’s persistent violations of confidentiality and its refusal to grant him a sabbatical. He is eventually informed that the P&T Committee will only consider the grievances about the investigative process after the process has been completed.
August 19, 2005 The SCRM completes its “inquiry” phase. It drops or disregards numerous allegations, including the charge of “ethnic fraud,” but forwards seven allegations for “investigation.” These involve matters of historical interpretation (Prof. Churchill’s attribution of intentionality with respect to two smallpox epidemics and his characterization of the blood quantum requirements of the 1887 General Allotment Act and the 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act) and questions of attribution of authorship regarding three articles (one he never claimed authorship of; another a pamphlet which a long-defunct political organization had asked him to use; the third a piece which he readily acknowledged to have ghostwritten).
Late August, 2005 Denver newspapers report that Prof. Churchill is scheduled for a sabbatical in the spring semester of 2006. Interim Provost Susan Avery immediately announces that although Prof. Churchill’s sabbatical had been approved by Dean Todd Gleeson almost a year earlier, she had never forwarded it to the Regents for approval. Prof. Churchill files a grievance and, pending its outcome, announces his intent to “un-bank” two of the six overload courses which he had already taught and for which he was owed the equivalent of “comp time.” In October Dean Gleeson refuses to allow Prof. Churchill to un-bank more than one course in the spring. He states that this is because Prof. Churchill needs to be present on campus, but then contradicts himself by suggesting that Prof. Churchill take an unpaid leave. After Prof. Churchill notifies University officials that he will file suit, they concede that he can un-bank courses in the spring and fall of 2006.
Fall-Winter 2005 The SCRM appoints the investigative committee. Because of the poisoned atmosphere within the University, Prof. Churchill requests an entirely external committee including experts in his field of American Indian Studies. Given the prior actions of law dean David Getches, Prof. Churchill specifically objects to the inclusion of CU law faculty. SCRM chair Joseph Rosse appoints a committee dominated by 3 CU insiders and chaired by a CU law professor. The two outside members include an American Indian Studies expert and a native professor of federal Indian law. Local media pundits immediately begin bashing the two outsiders for having previously made general statements acknowledging the importance of Prof. Churchill’s work. Within 48 hours the two outside members resign, leaving the committee without an expert in the field and without any persons of color. Two additional members are eventually appointed, a white federal Indian law scholar and a Chicano anthropologist. The committee proceeds without any American Indian scholars or experts in American Indian studies.
Winter-Spring 2006 Prof. Churchill submits voluminous responses to and meets with the investigative committee. Because of the committee’s lack of knowledge of the field, much of his time is devoted to basic questions of history and methodology. Four American Indian scholars appear as witnesses to confirm his interpretation of historical matters, as well as the methodology and standards employed in American Indian Studies and in native oral traditions. The committee refuses Prof. Churchill’s repeated requests for extensions of time to submit responses, and only allows him to question witnesses – even his own – by typing questions and e-mailing them.
May 16, 2006 The investigative committee issues an obtuse 124-page report which, despite its many concessions to the flaws in the process, concludes that Prof. Churchill did engage in research misconduct on the seven allegations. Contradicting the evidence presented by all of the American Indian witnesses, the entirely non-Indian committee accuses Prof. Churchill of “disrespecting” American Indian oral traditions. The committee concludes that these are offenses for which a tenured faculty member can be fired, and the members recommend that Prof. Churchill be terminated or suspended for several years. The severity of recommended sanctions appears to be a result of what the report describes as Prof. Churchill’s “bad attitude.” The report was immediately criticized on many grounds, substantive and procedural. (Click here for problems with the report.)
June 16, 2006 Interim Chancellor DiStefano, who has thus far publicly condemned Prof. Churchill, convened an inquiry into “every word” he has published or publicly uttered, solicited allegations and then forwarded them to the SCRM as “complainant,” now serves as sentencing judge, sanctioning the investigative committee’s report and recommending that Prof. Churchill be fired. DiStefano, too, cites Prof. Churchill’s “attitude.”
Prof. Churchill files an internal appeal with the Privilege & Tenure Committee.
April 11, 2007 A review panel convened by CU’s Privilege & Tenure (P&T) Committee concludes that but for the “controversy” over Ward Churchill’s statements regarding 9/11 the investigation would not have occurred. It also finds that the SCRM Investigative Committee “exceeded its charge” in a number of cases, and that the University failed to meet its burden of proof on others, including the claims about misrepresenting the blood quantum requirements of the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the 1990 Indian Arts and Craft Act.
Nonetheless, the P&T Panel concludes that Prof. Churchill engaged in research misconduct on some specifics concerning the 1837 smallpox epidemic, and failed to comply with (unspecified) standards concerning author attribution. The majority of the Panel recommends a 1-year suspension.
May 10, 2007 Research misconduct complaint against the SCRM Investigative Committee filed by 11 professors, including 2 experts in American Indian Studies alleging deliberate falsification and fabrication in their Report. (Never investigated by CU.)
May 28, 2007 Another set of research misconduct allegations filed against the SCRM Committee by 5 professors and 2 attorneys. (Never investigated by CU.)
June 7, 2007 CU President Hank Brown refuses to recuse himself from Ward Churchill case despite his longstanding ties to ACTA. He then overrides the P&T Panel to recommend to the Regents that they fire Ward Churchill.
July 10, 2007 A P&T review panel belatedly addresses a grievance filed by Ward Churchill in September 2005 regarding the University’s violations of its own rules on confidentiality. The panel concludes that “the actions by the University regarding the SCRM process and press releases/conferences violated Churchill’s confidentiality. In addition, the panel finds that further harm to Churchill’s reputation was done by the delay in hearing his grievance by the Privilege and Tenure Committee.”
July 10, 2007 Churchill fired by Board of Regents
This finding, of course, comes too late to redress any of the harm caused by these breaches of University rules.
July 12, 18, and 19, 2007 Still more research misconduct complaints are filed against the SCRM Investigative Committee. (Never investigated.)
July 24, 2007 The Regents of the University of Colorado vote 8-1 to fire Ward Churchill. Only Regent Cindy Carlisle votes to accept the P&T Panel’s findings.
July 25, 2007 David Lane immediately files suit to vindicate Ward Churchill’s rights under the First Amendment.
March 9-27, 2009: Churchill v. University of Colorado scheduled for trial in Denver State Court.
There are three points of view when it comes to the federal government:
1) Everything is more or less going along just fine. Sure we have some problems but we’ll work them out.
2) It’s too cumbersome and intrusive, taxes are excessive, the national debt is a disgrace, and our foreign policy is long on machismo and short on goodwill. The Democrats and Republicans got us into this mess and probably can’t get us out.
3) If you ignore it, it will go away.
Our recent presidential election took place in November of 2008. As usual, our so-called democracy basically gave us two choices.
The Democrats want an extensive, intrusive federal government to engineer social change and redistribute wealth. Higher taxes and more government involvement (intervention), thereby suffocating free enterprise and diminishing individual freedom. Their goal is to nurture (control) their subjects from cradle to grave.
The Republicans want a strong federal government to engineer endless economic growth and support a vast military-industrial complex. Increased military expenditures and more self-appointed international police action, thereby contributing to global strife and tarnishing our relationship with the rest of the world.
Both of these philosophies are extremely costly. Democrats and Republicans have driven our national debt up to nearly $12 trillion, and it continues to rise. Future generations will bear the burden for this insane federal spending recklessness.
If you’re enthusiastic about one of these two options, by all means stay the course.
But if you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to choose the lesser of two evils, perhaps it’s time to unscrew your head back out of the sand and seek an alternative. Even though the media will try to convince you that a vote for anyone other than a Democrat or a Republican is a wasted vote, there are other alternatives.
The election process is meant to give the voters the illusion of a free democracy without actually having one.
The two major candidates for president, one Democrat and one Republican, are basically chosen by a handful of small states (the New Hampshire Primary, the Iowa Caucuses, etc.), then each of the candidates personally selects their respective running mate and potential successor.
To maintain their position of power and control, the two major political parties enacted election laws that have given them a decisive advantage over any emerging alternative philosophies.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have awarded matching campaign funds to the two major political parties (themselves) while making it difficult for third parties to qualify for them. The candidates of these two parties are automatically placed on ballots in every state, while third party candidates must contend with legal quagmires on a state by state basis to get on ballots. And so on.
To anyone with a brain larger than a pinto bean this doesn’t seem like much of a democracy.
To make matter worse, the mass media focuses only on the two major political parties, as if they’re the only two points of view, further diminishing a free democracy.
There aren’t many choices when there are only two alternatives.
This unbalanced, unfair system wasn’t the result of evil intent. But government operates on endless compromise and those in power tend to manipulate the system to favor those in power. And the mass media goes along with it to maintain a positive relationship with those in power in order to obtain access.
Basically, the system is rigged.
The two parties in power have made it difficult for a third party to compete and the mass media has become their ally by promoting an illusion of a democracy, encouraging everyone to participate in the process under the mistaken premise that the public is apathetic rather than disgusted.
So the masses turn out every four years to do their civic duty and vote for the lesser of two evils. But a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil and an illusion of a democracy is only an illusion.
A two-party system is not a democracy – it’s a closed system tightly controlled by the two parties in power. Anyone who enthusiastically supports such a system is perpetuating a narrow, unjust form of government.
Every citizen has three choices:
1) You can participate in a rigged system, giving legitimacy to that system, by voting for one of the two major candidates as usual. Be sure to pat yourself on the back for doing your civic duty.
2) You can vote for a third party candidate, preferably one that seeks to limit the power and scope of government, sending a message to the two major parties and the mass media that politics as usual is unacceptable. Be sure to pat yourself on the back for having a mind of your own.
3) You can choose to ignore your enslavement by ever increasing government forces and bang your head against the wall. Be sure to pat yourself on the back so you don’t swallow your gum.
Choose wisely. The fate of eternity is in your hands.
Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist and author of four novels. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Oops, now it looks like we’re in WAY over our heads. Twenty-One U.S. States discussing secession! Russ has been warning us for years that this would come, but now that it’s here, it’s so ugly, so pathetic. You still have a choice! You can still be free!
Listen to Russell and Alex Jones tell the Truth. It hurts, but we must learn about what corporate USA has done, we must prepare. Have you read about Posse Comitatus and what its extinction means to our liberty? Learn about the hideous scope of what’s being planned and implemented by our “government:” FEMA camps, forced relocation, massive unemployment and inflation. The internet is the last bastion of free speech left so be sure to share this video with your friends and families. They may not like the message, the warnings, but even less will they like waking up one morning and being shocked to discover that our precious America is truly changed, nay destroyed, forever! CLICK TO VIEW VIDEO