The Mind in Chains
The latest efforts by folks in support of two well known university professors to either receive tenure or retain it is a little foreign to me but I’m workin’ with it. I’m from the generation that shut down universities during college strikes in the 1960’s. I can’t recall anybody chanting during demonstrations for professor so and so to get tenure. We were urging professors to drop out like everybody else and join in resisting a ludicrous war. Times change. But we’re still in a war.
What struck me about Ward Churchill’s essay that caused the stir leading to his current troubles, "The Roosting of Chickens" and the thing about little Eichmanns was that it was not that radical a piece of writing. (Something I bet he admits). It was catchy though. Telling Americans they’re like Nazis is like saying frog. They’ll jump.
When he wrote his essay I thought the analogy was already a little thread-bare. Using Germany or the "good German" as stereotypes of evil whether ultimate or banal strikes me as a little too easy. We’ve got plenty to work with by comparing ourselves to ourselves.
From the first grade on and up through the university system citizens are systemically taught not to judge for themselves. We are taught we have freedom of speech but we are trained not to think. We think we have academic freedom because we are trained to believe we are free. The ultimate goal of our educational system, the dogmatic smothering of minds is overseen by the Department of Education, state boards of regents and the university education departments. Universities are one of the most policed sectors of the State. Should a university professor happen to defy the knowledge factory he has defied the State which aggrandizes itself through the university system. That’s why so few do. It’s why we have people like Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of our foremost court historians to show us how the game is played.
Get sued for a million dollars for plagiarism and your academic cronies will protect you if you quickly produce a worshipful book about one of our most revered presidents, Abraham Lincoln. When countries all over the world were ending slavery by peaceable means Lincoln needed to kill seven hundred thousand Americans to do it. One of the most important myths coming out of the university system is sustaining the Lincoln Mythos which underpins our Democracy Mythos. Very few people educated in the U.S. school system think Lincoln was anything except a hero, our Great Emancipator. We don’t stop to examine that the slaves he emancipated were in states that already had seceded from the Union so "emancipating" them didn’t do them much good. Let alone that up until Lincoln’s presidency States had the right to secede from the Union until he took that freedom away making the states themselves enslaved to a centralized government. If we think about Lincoln other than how we are taught professors alert us that we are "state rights’ wackos" or something.
Another myth straight out of our schools is the notion that slavery existed for "ninety years" replaced by Jim Crow as if slavery wasn’t really slavery until the Constitution was ratified. Who then were those people in chains two hundred and fifty years before the Civil War? We are taught that our "founding fathers" ran America with an institutionalized system of slavery until a turn in consciousness made people realize that slavery was bad. That’s odd. Millions of people knew in the 1600’s that slavery was bad, namely the slaves. I guess it only counts if white people figure it out.
It is interesting that Ward Churchill’s essay dealt with the fact that if we have a bad foreign policy like the one after 1945 we might get it thrown back in our faces sooner or later. But our foreign policies had been resisted long before 9/11. Native Americans fought a courageous war against the whites for four hundred years. When they formally surrendered, they were thrown into concentration camps euphemistically called "reservations" where they’ve been ever since. See what I mean about comparing ourselves to ourselves? What do we need the Germans for?
We need Germany as the ultimate evil because if Germany is the ultimate evil the U.S. is less evil. That could be one of the reasons that the university system supported Steven Spielberg’s project to bring in thousands of computers as instructional tools teaching the German Holocaust to students of color. Black and Hispanic kids are taught that if they think they had it bad look at the Jews they had it worse. Two hundred and fifty years of chattel slavery undermined. The American Mythos preserved.
There is a pamphlet called "The Chickens of the Interventionist Liberals Have Come Home to Roost" by Harry Elmer Barnes. Written in 1973 it was directed against the liberals who thought nothing about smearing or destroying the lives and the reputations of the old liberal academics who wrote prescient books in the 1930’s about the policies of FDR, what the consequences of those policies might mean for us and for the world. Barnes’ screed meant to remind these people who were bitter about eventually getting McCarthyized that they once had been just as vicious against free speech when it served their purposes, war. Chickens roosting he wrote.
I admire Norman Finkelstein and Ward Churchill for writing what they did. They pissed off the wrong people. The universities are reacting as if their corns have been stepped on.
Yet the essential myths that comprise the American dream remain undisrupted.
EVA LIDDELL lives in the Pacific Norfthwest.