As an undergraduate alumnus of the University of Colorado, I have taken a particular interest in the developing case of Ward Churchill, the UC professor who infamously compared the dead of the World Trade Centers to "little Eichmanns" while extolling the gallantry of the "combat teams" who flew airplanes full of civilians into buildings full of civilians (as well as into the Pentagon).
The University of Colorado has long had a reputation for knee-jerk leftism. Fittingly, about a decade ago, the school decided to name its central-campus fountain area after Dalton Trumbo, a Stalinist hack from the 1950s. This latest episode, however, was so thoroughly beyond the pale that I briefly considered tearing up my diploma and mailing it to the Board of Regents in disgust.
There is now a move afoot to fire Churchill, who could not possibly be less aptly named.
On one hand, his own attitude has made it exceedingly tempting to support his firing. At a recent rally attended by 1,000 of his supporters, he remarked defiantly that "I do not work for the taxpayers of the state of Colorado," a claim that might come as quite a surprise to many of those taxpayers, who are undoubtedly under the illusion that their taxes are paying his salary. Instead, according to Churchill, "I work for you." Perhaps this interpretation of his employment status should be codified, and his 1,000 supporters, who reportedly responded with "thunderous applause," could be made personally responsible for his remuneration.
On the other hand, firing Churchill could set a precedent that will boomerang in ways that those most upset by his comments would find highly problematic. After all, though Churchill is now on the hot-seat, his opinions, or some slightly moderated version of them, are a dime a dozen in the academic world. He is, though he will hardly confess it, a rather tedious commonplace. In the long run, it is people on the other side who have the most to lose if unpopular commentary becomes grounds for firing.
Instead of being fired, perhaps he should be studied and examined, much as one might probe the victim of a once-rare psychiatric disorder that has become rampant. Ward Churchill might be more valuable to the opponents of the academic left employed than unemployed.
Above all, he can serve as a living window into the intellectual, moral, and political bankruptcy of the left.
For one thing, his continuous stream of commentary exposes the utter lack of self-reflection at the heart of the left’s posturing. After enduring several days of sharp criticism, Churchill allowed that, like the mutual funds salesmen who were repressing the world from the 104th floor of the World Trade Center, he himself was "complicit. I’m not innocent." He had, it turns out, not done enough to "change the system." Was that the system that had acted on behalf of the Afghan Muslims, the Somali Muslims, the Bosnian Muslims, the Kosovar Muslims, and the Kuwaiti Muslims in the 15 years before 9/11, all while pressuring Israel to give the Palestinians a homeland? More to the point, does Churchill’s "complicity" mean that he won’t complain if the next heroic "combat teams" to enter America should find him sitting at his desk? He is perhaps wiser than he knows. The rhetoric he spouts to gain an audience on the left will not protect him, for in the eyes of the terrorists he really is as guilty as anyone else. Zarqawi would sooner separate Churchill’s top from his bottom than spend an afternoon chatting about American imperialism in the faculty club.
Churchill’s description of 9/11 illuminates another point that many on the left are loath to admit publicly. We are in a war. As the professor put it, our enemy recruited "combat teams" who struck at the very financial and military targets that one would expect in a war. The innocent janitors—to be distinguished from the "little Eichmanns"—represented "collateral damage."
Unlike many of his allies, who will go to any length (often quite disingenuously) to deny that America is at war, so as to deny the legitimacy of any internal or external response by the Bush administration, Churchill takes a stand that is both more straightforward and more shocking. His publicized position undoubtedly is shared privately by many of those allies, lurking behind their seeming refusal to face reality.
We are at war, and Churchill hopes that we will lose.
His argument lays bare a disorder that has seeped into the academic left since Vietnam, and that now has such a strong hold that it is hardly noticed any longer: A treason of the heart that wishes ill to one’s own country, that actively hopes for the success of its enemies, that gives no benefit of the doubt to its free government and every benefit of the doubt to the Ho Chi Minhs, the Saddam Husseins, and the Mohammed Attas of the world. It is, in the end, a nihilistic impulse not only unwilling to distinguish between the good (or even the merely decent) and the evil, but incapable of doing so. After all, the only real fascists in this tale—the only real Eichmanns, little or big—are the radical Islamicists and radical Arab nationalists, al Qaeda and the Baathists.
That Ward Churchill would embrace such a position—favoring real fascism while decrying the imaginary "fascism" of the American system—is bad enough, though no one who has followed his commentary at UC over the previous decades could be much surprised. It was a stunning demonstration of the intellectual bankruptcy of the left that he would embrace that position and then run scurrying for cover under the freedom of speech and the rule of law offered by that system.
Americans are thus engaged in a grand experiment, seeing whether for the first time in history a nation can survive when its intellectual class is either ambivalent about or hostile to its survival. It is an interesting and disturbing question whether the treason of the heart that now defines the intellectual left will have as its primary effect the neutralizing of its own influence as more Americans simply tune out its rantings, or the enervating of America as the disorder spreads though the body politic through the indoctrination of the young. Half a century ago, James Burnham remarked that "liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide." The same, of course, could have been said of the farther reaches of the left, but more so. The difference between then and now is that today, suicide isn’t just the consequence of leftism, it seems to be the goal.
If Ward Churchill can help Americans understand that, it might be worth doubling his salary just to keep him around.
Andrew E. Busch is a Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center.