Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Controversy in Colorado

In case you live under a rock (or in Beloit) the country is up in arms over some words by a little known professor in a university in Colorado.

Prof. Ward Churchill defended the terrorist attacks on 9/11, comparing the trade and technology workers at the WTC to Nazis, though he admits others (firefighters, passerbys) were genuine victims. The controversy seemed to come out of no where—the paper he wrote when he first compared the “technicians of Empire” to Adolf Eichmann (who crafted the Holocaust) was back in 2001, just after the attacks. I think he recently refused to apologize (conservative radio shows have been complaining about him since the essay), igniting the current media frenzy.

I don’t agree with Churchill on a lot of levels. Trade and technology aren’t elements of Empire, they counter it (Hitler’s speeches were stuffed with communist language and free trade creates free societies). No one deserves what happened to us on 9/11. It was not just, it was not suitable.

But he has a right to be wrong. He even has a right to be loud. The First Amendment is one of this country’s greatest gifts to its citizens. It shouldn’t be limited to uncontroversial speech, as many people seem to think.

But conservatives have a point—Churchill works for a state university; taxpayers pay (according to Churchill) seven percent of his salary. In part, he is employed by the people, so shouldn’t he soften up just a bit if they want him to? Setting aside the inherent corruption and inefficiency that comes with state spending conservatives point to yet another reason to shrink the government. When taxes pay for services rendered, then any who benefit can be put under the most severe of public scrutiny and have their freedoms slowly stripped away.

The great irony is, Churchill uses the First Amendment to claim the country is oppressing its citizens (and other citizens) through capitalism. Oppressive empires don’t have freedom of speech, Ward. That’s why they’re called "oppressive."

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