Banning Ward Churchill in Oregon

by GEORGE BERES

I never met Oregon’s gadfly senator of the mid-20th century, Wayne Morse. I’m told he never squirmed. But today he might be squirming in his grave.

In some ways, were Morse with us, he would be having a field day. He’d be his old self, angry and outspoken about what is happening in Washington, D.C., and Iraq. But something in his old back yard of Eugene would stir in him an emotion foreign to his lifetime: embarrassment. How, he would ask, could the center bearing his name at the University of Oregon Law School turn away an invited speaker, depriving him of something always vital to Morse: freedom of expression?

That’s what has happened at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics. It has disinvited Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado professor at the center of a national controversy. Churchill was to share with his wife, Colorado professor Natsu Taylor Saito, a luncheon address at a conference co-sponsored by the Morse Center.

Churchill, an ethnic studies professor, is controversial because of an essay he wrote in 2001 suggesting there was some justification for the 9/11 attacks. The UO decision to remove him from the Morse program followed action by Hamilton College of New York to cancel his appearance there.

There is irony in the announcement of Churchill being dropped from a UO event coming a month to the day before scheduled reopening of the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza at the Lane County building in downtown Eugene. On March 15, the remodeled plaza will be opened with the unveiling of a life-size statue of Oregon’s most famous senator.

As a board member of the Morse Corp., I’ve seen the statue. It has the senator in a typical pose, gesturing vigorously with a forefinger. From what I know of the man, today he would be pointing that finger directly at the center that bears his name.

Many were the times citizens — including those in his home state — did not want to hear what Morse had to say. But he had the courage and freedom to say it. Prime example is his early opposition to the war in Vietnam, as one of only two U.S. senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that illegally expanded the war.

Churchill’s essay — written more than three decades and three wars later — used extreme language. He described some victims in the World Trade Center as "technocrats" and "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who executed Hitler’s plan to exterminate Jews during World War II. True or not, his words stirred a lot of anger, just like Morse’s statements that went counter to government policy.

Margaret Hallock, director of the Morse Center, said she believes that in the aftermath of the controversy growing around Churchill, his presentation with his wife would "overshadow two days’ worth of other presentations." What would add to Morse’s anger is the assumption that the center agrees with Colorado’s governor, who said Churchill holds "pro-terrorist views."

At issue is Churchill’s written statement: "On the morning of 9/11, a few more chickens — along with some half-million dead Iraqi children — came home to roost in a big way at the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center."

In response, Churchill has said: "I am not a defender of the 9/11 attacks, but simply pointed out if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned."

Morse might have used different words. But his willingness to speak the unpopular when it needed to be heard would have resulted in his saying the same thing. Were he to disagree with Churchill, Morse still would insist on the man’s right to express his views.

If Churchill ever does make it to Eugene, there’s at least one venue where he could freely speak: The Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.

GEORGE BERES is a board member of the Wayne Morse Corp. The views expressed here are his own.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman