Monday, April 9, 2007

Speaking of Churchill

Here's something I wrote a couple years ago, that I think is every bit as relevant as it was then:
Basically he's an easy target for the start of a right-wing purge. Professor Churchill's main thought crime as near as I can reckon is this: he dared to not only question or challenge a core assumption held by the vast majority of Americans, but thoroughly tramples it. That core assumption is fairly simple: the American government in its dealings with others outside its borders (as well as with its own people within its borders) has noble intentions. If one accepts that as a starting point, then the parameters of debates regarding foreign and domestic policy are well-defined. One might question the consequences of policies but not of their intentions - we're the nice guys spreading democracy and freedom around the globe. Professor Churchill refused to accept that core assumption, and in the process argues that not only have the consequences of the US government's actions been awful for many both inside and outside its borders but that those actions by the government were not even well-intentioned actions to begin with. From the former perspective, terrorist attacks, like the ones experienced a few Septembers ago, are senseless. From the latter perspective, taken by Churchill, such attacks are perfectly understandable. One may or may not agree with the tactics of slamming a Boeing into a highrise, but one can at least have some idea of why someone might be motivated to take such actions (note: for the record, while I find the 9-11 attacks as understandable I also found them abhorent; much as I find the Dresden-style air raid on Fallujah perpetrated by our government abhorent). Churchill's argument, if given serious consideration, has high potential to introduce a great deal of cognitive dissonance. His words, and the meaning behind those words, simply make folks too uncomfortable. The easy way out, and I've seen plenty of self-styled "liberals" who really should know better, is to dismiss the argument without considering its merits and to distance oneself from those who make that argument - even if it means standing idly by while the angry mob tries to silence Churchill, or perhaps to grab a pitchfork and join that mob.

A few Septembers ago, in the days after the 9-11 attacks, a friend of mine made the statement that "the birds had come home to roost." My immediate reaction to his words was very negative, to say the least. But it didn't take long before I began to reconsider and reread the works of Chomsky and others and ask some rather uncomfortable questions regarding my own assumptions. I can not in good conscience consider our government's treatment of others to be well-intentioned. The evidence to the contrary, if one is willing to look outside of the "official" history is simply to great to ignore. The gulf between the noble words found in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution and the actions of our elected leaders is simply too wide for comfort. Those noble words, however, to the extent that a few thoughtful people still take them seriously, give me hope that the US can do better. That certainly won't happen in the immediate future (not with the current makeup of the White House and Congress), but perhaps down the road. Until Americans face their demons, both past and present, meaningful change will not happen. Hence, the importance of the work of the likes of Chomsky, Zinn, Churchill, and others, and hence my willingness to stand up and be counted on to defend their freedom to continue their important work. As a scholar and citizen I am increasingly trying to face those dark truths - sometimes feeling like another voice in the wilderness.

Like it or not, the birds have started coming home to roost. There are those who would prefer we remain ignorant of that basic fact: but ignorance in this case is far from bliss. Ignorance, as we have seen, can be quite lethal. We owe ourselves and our children much better.
To an extent, I could probably write something similar regarding Finkelstein's situation. His primary "sin" appears to be that of challenging the prevailing orthodoxy regarding one facet of American political and social discourse.

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