Ben Whitmer: Why I Support Ward Churchill


[Ben Whitmer is a long time supporter of Indigenous struggles and has been at the forefront of the local campaign to support Ward. Currently, he maintains the Ward Churchill solidarity blog,]

I’ve spent four years defending Ward Churchill in every way I could think to do so.‭ ‬And not because of any esoteric principle of academic freedom.‭ ‬If my time in universities has taught me anything,‭ ‬it’s that trying to inject principle into academia is as worthwhile as trying to train geese to shit indoors.‭ ‬Likewise,‭ ‬though I’m about as vehement a proponent of the human right to free expression as you’re likely to meet,‭ ‬I find the idea that it’s routinely abrogated‭ – ‬both by the right and the ‘left’‭ – ‬about as shocking as the daily sunrise.

I defend Ward Churchill because he was the first to write the obvious about the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September‭ ‬11,‭ ‬2001.‭ ‬That the technocrats on the upper levels of the World Trade Center weren’t targeted because they provided some symbolically metaphysical representation of American power‭; ‬they were targeted because they made their living on the bodies of Arab children.‭ ‬This is not to say that everyone in the World Trade Center was a‭ “‬little Eichmann‭”‬,‭ ‬a point Churchill made clear.‭ ‬He used a different term for the service workers and children in the World Trade Center,‭ ‬one popularized by the US military.‭ ‬They were‭ “‬collateral damage‭”‬,‭ ‬a miraculously precise and objective term that,‭ ‬as the reaction to Ward Churchill’s essay evidences,‭ ‬is divested of all precision and objectivity when one is staring at the corpses of their own dead.

In other words,‭ ‬I defend Ward Churchill because,‭ ‬not in spite,‭ ‬of his little Eichmann metaphor.‭ ‬It does everything a good metaphor should do.‭  ‬It manages to convey new meanings to both the subject and the object,‭ ‬and to expand the discourse surrounding both.‭ ‬From Churchill we learned a new way to perceive the technocrats at the top of the World Trade Center,‭ ‬just as we learned a new way to perceive Eichmann.‭ ‬And from these perceptions,‭ ‬many of us learned something indispensable about the bureaucratic functioning of power.

Churchill’s essay captured the national discourse in a way I can’t remember a piece of writing doing in my lifetime.‭  ‬That conservative talk shows from O’Reilly on down spent a three-month chunk of airtime feverishly denying Churchill’s metaphor,‭ ‬only speaks to its uncomfortable aptness.‭  ‬And one wasn’t able to open a leftist publication for months after the scandal broke without finding dozens of essays,‭ ‬letters to the editor,‭ ‬and opinion columns that‭ (‬1‭) ‬stated general agreement with Churchill on principle,‭ (‬2‭) ‬provided a typically tepid criticism of US foreign policy,‭ ‬and then,‭ (‬3‭) ‬moved to eviscerate him for the imperfection of his metaphor.‭  ‬Of course,‭ ‬these betrayed more about the authors‭’ ‬misunderstanding of metaphor than Churchill’s misuse of it.‭  ‬A metaphor is imperfect by its nature.‭  ‬That’s the point.‭  ‬A perfect metaphor,‭ ‬after all,‭ ‬would be a synonym.

That’s why I defend Ward Churchill,‭ ‬because his imperfect metaphor that was far more apt than any of the grotesque gibbering about heroism and innocence that flooded the nation after‭ ‬9/11.‭ ‬Because his was the only voice to question the sanctification of the economic interests that the World Trade Center represented.‭ ‬To quote Mumia Abu Jamal,‭ “‬it is not enough for us to merely,‭ ‬dumbly intone that Churchill has the right to write what he does.‭ ‬No we must do more,‭ ‬we must insist that Churchill is right,‭ ‬and no one,‭ ‬not some rabid talk show parrot,‭ ‬nor political whore like governor Bill Owens,‭ ‬has a right to demand what is wrong.‭”

In other words,‭ ‬I defend Ward Churchill because,‭ ‬as RAIM has so eloquently put it,‭ ‬I defend the right to call little Eichmanns little Eichmanns.

1 Comment

Filed under Agitation Statements, Ward Churchill

One response to “Ben Whitmer: Why I Support Ward Churchill

  1. Pingback: CU Cultural Studies Professor Ben Whitmer: “Why I Support Ward Churchill”

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