Sunday, February 06, 2005


Using Those 1st Amendment Liberties

The news in the past week has been filled with two freedom-of-speech controversies of note. First, from the world of radical academics, comes Ward Churchill, and his essay "Some People Push Back". He seems to think that the blame for the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks lies squarely on the shoulders of the capitalists working in the WTC that morning:

There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on
September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military
targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center . . .
Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they
were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a
technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the
"mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has
always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to
"ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less
than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any
of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were
involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute
refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying,
incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power
lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of
sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of
infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of
visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns
inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in
hearing about it.

Ya know, Ward makes some interesting points in his essay - that the American public are woefully unaware of the "inconvenience" they place on the rest of the world with their demand for cheap energy and products, that there exists an impersonal killing apparatus that we've built up and unleashed on occassion (actually, it's more like we've been using it at a continuous and more-or-less low level ever since the first Gulf War), that the Sept. 11th attackers may have been justified in their actions when viewed from a perspective incomprehensible to the average American. He's justified in all of those theories.

But he looses me completely on two points, and I hope that anyone with any sense of logic and reality feels the same way. First, in the section preceding the above-quoted passage ("The Politics of a Perpetrator Population"), he dismissing the vast majority of the US as unconcerned, and even takes a swipe at those who protesting the bombing of Iraq through the mid- and late-90s. But then he proceeds to accuse those working in the WTC as being part of a "technocratic corps", and doing so "willingly and knowingly". I don't think that these two accusations can co-exist, even though he attempts to give himself an out with the statement "To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see." Because of this, I think his statement that these people were - as he puts it - "little Eichmanns" is ludicrous, and as such I think he deserves much of the scorn heaped upon him in the past week. It's really quite sad from a purely acedemic standpoint, as he might be attempting to make a valid statement, but his inability to express himself in anything but the most outragious - and some might say, truly infantile - terms preludes him from ever obtaining any sort of real consideration for his theories.

The second point where he goes off the deep end is while attempt to characterize what "evil" really is:

Which takes us to official characterizations of the combat teams as an
embodiment of "evil." Evil – for those inclined to embrace the
banality of such a concept – was perfectly incarnated in that malignant toad
known as Madeline Albright, squatting in her studio chair like Jaba the Hutt,
blandly spewing the news that she'd imposed a collective death sentence upon the
unoffending youth of Iraq. Evil was to be heard in that great American hero
"Stormin' Norman" Schwartzkopf's utterly dehumanizing dismissal of their
systematic torture and annihilation as mere "collateral damage." Evil, moreover,
is a term appropriate to describing the mentality of a public that finds such
perspectives and the policies attending them acceptable, or even momentarily

What he says is fair enough - I can understand why he might have that viewpoint. But then to be fair, it must also be concluded that the perpetrators of the Sept. 11th attacks and the public that supported them (witness the celebrations in the streets that have been noted, particularly by the anti-Muslim crowd) are similarly evil.

In conclusion, I find the essay somewhat interesting, but it reads more like something I'd expect from an confused and angry teenager than I would from a tenured professor. As for those calling for his resignation, I agree, but not for the obvious sin of relating the 9/11 victims to Nazis. No, I think he should resign for an inability to express himself on a level beyond that of the typical Internet troll. Perhaps he should be starting flame wars on bulletin boards instead of drawing a fat paycheck.

Moving on to someone on the other side of the War On Terror, we've got what can only be described as "candid" comments from Marine General James Mattis:

According to an audio recording, Mattis had said, "Actually, it's a lot of
fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. ... It's fun to shoot some
people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling."

He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around
for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't
got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

You know, as the saying goes, "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men are ready to do violence on our behalf", and Gen. Mattis is certainly the sort of guy that I'd prefer to have on our side than on the other. Was what he said appropriate for a representative of the US government in public? Perhaps not. But was what he said wrong? I don't think so. If he wants to find that sort of joy in his work, fine, and it's virtually impossible to argue that what the Taliban was in any way deserving of something other than removal from this earth.

Hey, if nothing else, what each man said was far more interesting that the President's SOTU address or the Democrat's rebuttal, and for that, each deserves credit.

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