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All Fools Day

the Churchill psychodrama handed to jury

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 01, 2009.

Just as our recent world-wide financial collapse has exposed bubbles and frauds and fantasies, as well as mere greed and power lust, so has the Ward Churchill trial here to those observant enough - or concerned about history enough - to recognize them in this much smaller sphere. Both crises were fueled by ignorance and allowed to build by institutional failures to enforce existing laws, procedures, and rules. The University of Colorado wants to rid itself of Churchill, whose presence and elevations violated all scholastic procedures. Once pushed forward as an example of diversity in the new Department of Ethnic Studies, he is now damned as an example of academic fraud.

Ethnic Studies is such a fragile academic bubble that, unlike Jay Cutler, Churchill has no trade value, much as his students have small prospect outside the academic world of Ethnic Studies. This is not saying that areas of minority study aren’t important, nor am I denying they have been shamefully neglected through much of our academic history. But flensing them off into little compartments where demagogues can arise arguably unobserved, play, and become like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness has proven dangerous. Like the Conrad story, history is talked about without many ever reading it themselves. For most readers today, Joseph Conrad is too confusing, dense, and intricate a writer. For most students today, history has become too confusing and dense, and due to our excellent teachers they don’t see the relevance. For them, the likes of Churchill provide the sound bytes and images that reduce it all down to simple false narratives, much like the Billy Jack movies of Tom Laughlin did in past decades from the same political depth. Mistaking his small congregation as representative of hordes, Churchill initiated legal action that, currently, seems no more helpful than Oscar Wilde’s sally into court.

His case is in the hands of jurors after closing arguments today. It should have been a slam dunk for the University, but, as they have so often, the Regents present as absurd characters from Sinclair Lewis and our more demented Rotary organizations, the expensive legal team typically isn’t doing all that well, and there is nothing mutually exclusive between the charges of both sides. Churchill says he was fired, in essence, for his politics and protected comments on 9-11. The University says he came to their attention because of that but he was fired for his own lousy scholarship. Both can be correct.

It is clear that some of the Regents, perhaps a majority, wanted Churchill fired because of his essay on 9-11, and this because they were Chickenhawk Republicans showing public devotion to Lapel Pin Patriotism. Some chose to perform as tough he-men on various media when it became a national scandal, and their words and actions came back to haunt them under oath to general hilarity. Former Governor Bill Owens looks as bad as any of them, since he and they find themselves damned not only by their previous remarks but by the former President of the University, Elizabeth Hoffman. Hoffman, herself a curious exercise in dubious ability, claimed several Regents as well as Owens threatened ….well, something if Churchill wasn’t fired. As even conservative, neo-con legal minds agree that Churchill’s remarks were totally protected, Owens and these regents look moronic denying their fueling motivations now. And, they’ve been caught in the lie.

Through the years, Churchill’s defense against accusations of academic fraud, theft, and plagiarism has included everything from denial to intimidation attempts, to saying everyone does it, to saying if true it doesn’t matter and, anyway, his detractors are just pathetic, setting his fans to prancing on the balls of their feet in glee. I’d bet that those fans would nod if I said only winners write the history, because it certainly applies to The Conquest of the New World. But they’d be annoyed if better put to say that the side that knows how to write wins in the end and mostly from the start. Where both sides write, there are far more examples of the opposite as the supportive, at least in Western civilizations.

But Churchill, despite his lies about military service and bomb making for the Weather Underground, really taught victimhood where the victims were to look to him, and this without mentioning that if the Europeans were another Indian tribe, rape and cultural genocide would be understood by the losers since they all practiced it. And, he teaches vengeance without mentioning that the tribes lost by their own cultural incompetencies and standards, and have existence and power today by the cultural advances of the victors alone.

Ward Churchill - Kurtz facing a dark future – provided us with a trial of bad theater and distorted backstory. Nobody looked good. His legacy is no more than screams of "The horror! The horror!"