Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 25, 2006

Thoughts on Ward Churchill

Filed under: indigenous,repression — louisproyect @ 8:31 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on May 25, 2006

I don't have much to add on the Ward Churchill case beyond what he already stated in his powerful rebuttal.

I do want to elaborate, however, on his observation that appears there near the end:

"I have published some two dozen books, 70 book chapters and scores of articles containing a combined total of approximately 12,000 footnotes. I doubt that any even marginally prolific scholar's publications could withstand the type of scrutiny to which mine has been subjected."

This is an important point. Generally speaking, if you don't rock the boat politically, there is little chance about losing your job for plagiarism or for faulty scholarship, as the continued presence of Doris Kearns Goodwin and Alan Dershowitz at Harvard University proves.

In the latest outrage, Douglas Feith, one of the chief architects of the war in Iraq, has been hired to work at Georgetown University:

NY Times, May 25, 2006
Washington Memo Faculty's
Chilly Welcome for Ex-Pentagon Official
By Jason DeParle

WASHINGTON, May 24 — Douglas J. Feith's table at the Georgetown University faculty club is shaping up as a lonely one.

The move to a teaching position at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown by Mr. Feith, a former Pentagon official, set off a faculty kerfuffle, with 72 professors, administrators and graduate students signing a letter of protest, some going as far as to accuse him of war crimes.

Some critics complain about the process. (He was hired without a faculty vote.)

Some complain about the war in Iraq. (Mr. Feith has been accused of promoting it with skewed intelligence.)

All say the open protest is unusual at a place that embraces former officials as part of its panache. A former secretary of state, Madeleine K. Albright; a former national security adviser, Anthony Lake; and a former director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, have joined the faculty without event.

But Mr. Feith, a former under secretary of defense for policy planning and analysis, is another story.

"I'm not going to shake hands with the guy if he's introduced to me," said Mark N. Lance, a philosophy professor who teaches nonviolence in the program on Justice and Peace and who organized the protest. "And if he asks why, I'll say because in my view you're a war criminal and you have no place on this campus."

The dispute can be read as — take your pick — an explosion of fury at a disastrous war, an illustration of the pettiness of academic politics or evidence of Mr. Feith's talent for attracting invective.

Gen. Tommy R. Franks of the Army, the top commander of the Iraq invasion, once referred to him as "the stupidest guy on the face of the earth."

So let's see if we can get this straight. Ward Churchill will be fired for alleging that the US Army killed American Indians without proper documentation while Douglas Feith gets a job despite killing Iraqis in great numbers. Sloppy footnoting trumps mass murder in late capitalist America apparently.

In the 1950s, you could lose your job if you were a member of the CP or even if you had been proved too friendly to the party during the turbulent 30's. Cognizant of the free speech battles that were won in the 1960s, today's witch-hunters focus more on "scholarship", which usually means scouring through a left scholar's output for fatal flaws. The more prolific and the more leftist you are, the more extreme the scrutiny.

In a Pressaction article, Rosemarie Jackowski pointed out:

Ward Churchill is under attack. Will he receive justice through a judicial process? No one knows. Has he ever made an error in any of his writings? I would assume so. A few years ago I planned to sponsor (as part of my activism) a contest. The purpose of the contest would be to get as many people as possible to read Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States. A monetary prize would be awarded to anyone who found a significant error of fact in the book.

I had a brief conversation with Zinn about my idea one day when he was speaking at a college near Albany, N.Y. I asked him what he thought about the contest. I will never forget his answer. He said, “Of course there might be a mistake in the book”. The point is this. Even the most highly respected authors and historians might not achieve absolute infallibility. Ancient history is hazy. Any author should be judged by the whole of his work. It would be helpful to also judge the press by the same standard. The accuracy of all history textbooks that are currently in use in our schools should also be re-evaluated

For example, in a Frontpage assault on Howard Zinn, Dan Flynn complains that Zinn suppressed evidence of Pequot Indian attacks on whites during the build-up to the New England wars of the 17th century. In Flynn's eyes, the Indians were just as bad as the colonists, a racist trope that the administration at the University of Colorado seemed determine to rectify when they hired Churchill. Autre temps; autre moeurs.

It wasn't just ultra-rightists who had Zinn in their gunsights. Michael Walzer, who heads up the anti-antiwar left at Dissent Magazine, describes Zinn as a propagandist rather than a historian:

Like most propagandists, he measures individuals according to his own rigid standard of how they should have thought and acted. Thus, he depicts John Brown as an unblemished martyr but sees Lincoln as nothing more than a cautious politician who left slavery alone as long as possible.

Get it, dear readers? Zinn is too soft on the bloodthirsty Pequots and John Brown. An objective historian would be more balanced. Just like the "revisionist" historians who emerged in Germany during the 1970s with their "Hitler was no worse than Stalin" analysis.

The rightwing hellhounds at the History News Network, a website sponsored by the neoconservative George Mason University, have been crying out for my friend Paul Buhle's scalp for years now, on much the same basis that they have gone after Churchill. Ralph Luker, a resident Satan, has charged Paul with crimes against Clio, the muse of history whom he stands on guard with bared fangs to protect:

When I mentioned Paul Buhle's name along with those of Stephen Ambrose, Michael Bellesiles, Joseph Ellis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Edward A Pearson in the OAH Newsletter two years ago, he had the opportunity to step up to the plate and answer the charges against him. Instead, he has studiously ignored them and continued to crank out deeply flawed work "at an alarming rate." The employers, peers, and publishers of all those others who were similarly accused forced a reckoning with the charges against them. They absorbed severe penalties. Why is Buhle sponsored by the OAH's Distinguished Lecturer Program? When will his employer, Brown University, and his publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, or his editor there force Paul Buhle to face the recklessness of his own work?

Paul, with his unerring instinct for avoiding pissing contests with skunks, which one is bound to lose, declined to answer Luker. (HNN showed Mr. Buhle an advance look at a draft of this article. He declined to offer a response.)

If the relationship of forces were worse for the left in the academy and if Zinn and Buhle did not have tenure, there is little doubt that they would be facing the same consequences as Ward Churchill.

Ward Churchill's sins were not plagiarism or inadequate scholarship. It was speaking his mind about 9/11. Even if he was wrong, his sins paled in comparison to Douglas Feith or his fellow professors in the School of Foreign Service. Like Madeline Albright who blandly assured Leslie Stahl that it was worth the death of 500,000 Iraqi children to accomplish US goals in the region. Or like George Tenet who belongs in the jail cell next to hers. Someone once said that history is written by the victors. No greater confirmation of that can be found by Churchill's ordeals and by the elevation of a common criminal and liar like Douglas Feith.

1 Comment »

  1. I agree with you 100%. The whole Feith thing has been under-reported by the Press. It is important that Churchill receive more open support during these dark days when nothing is as it appears to be. I would love to see a national debate on the writings of Churchill. It might shock some enough to wake them from their very deep sleep.

    Comment by rosemarie jackowski — May 25, 2006 @ 11:38 pm


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