February 10, 2005

The what of evil?

What is it with this man called Ward Churchill? (No link, because I don't want to point to him from here. Call it irrational. You can find him via Google). There are some things that should be beyond the pale, and the horrific crimes of the Nazis are good examples. So if a comparison is made to those atrocities, it had better be some horrific crime too. If a comparison is made to the Nazis, it had better be some serious mass-murderers too.

This Churchill made such a comparison. In an article from three years ago, he referred to "little Eichmanns." Not something to be lightly done, given who Adolf Eichmann was. So you'd expect Churchill had found some ordinary folks doing extraordinarily evil things, which is just what Hannah Arendt made of Eichmann as she watched his trial in Jerusalem a generation ago. That was the dichotomy that led her to write so famously of the banality of evil.

Churchill indeed meant some ordinary folks: the people who worked in the World Trade Centre towers, people who died flaming deaths when two planes slammed into those towers one September morning. These were no innocent victims, according to Churchill. "Civilians of a sort", yes, he wrote. "But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire."

And therefore, "little Eichmanns."

Takes your breath away. You can disagree with US policies, with the great engine of capitalism that the towers stood for. Sure, do it. But "little Eichmanns"? Give me a break. Give us all a break. Get lost.

Yet you read about this and you get the feeling that it would have driven Hannah Arendt to coin her phrase all over again. When a man compares everyday Americans -- who died without even knowing how -- to Adolf Eichmann, you know: the banality of evil lives on somewhere in there. In that mind.


Yazad Jal said...

Yes. These comparisons are truly odious. I'm glad you unequivocally denounced Ward Churchill.

And refusing to link is also a good step. It's not in any way irrational. It's very rational to boycott or not to want to be associated with a person or his views.

Shanti Mangala said...

I think what is going on is a contest between both extremes in the US - who can out-extreme the other? It is sad, but I think it will hopefully help the cetrists find some common ground regardless of party affiliations.

The Tobacconist said...

allow me to disagree with you on this. i agree that churchill's description of the technocrats as little eichmanns is extreme. However this is not all there is to the article.

I guess most people are judging him based on the phrase he used rather than going through what he actually wrote. The context of when he wrote the article and his motivations are explained in some of the interviews he has given since the controversy broke out.

I know words carry a lot of weight and are of significant consequence. However when these words reflect on the gross injustice and double standards that engulf us in the world today I believe we should understand the whole import. We shouldn't dwell on how the message is delivered. An effort to understand the message itself should be made.

This is an interesting article and it is not isolated. It represents one of the two extremes of American Thought. If the right can throw around phrases like "collateral damage" to justify killing civilians so can the left!


Dilip D'Souza said...

Sanky, again: I do agree with Churchill on this point -- that chickens do come home to roost, and it is impossible to separate 9/11 from US foreign policy and resentment of the US. I understand that he was trying to describe that he saw the people in the WTC as the suits of what he calls "empire", part of the machinery of that empire.

But "Eichmann", now that's a fantastically loaded word. Sure Eichmann didn't commit the Nazi mass-murders himself, but in his nondescript bureaucratic way, he made smooth the machinery that did the massacring. That was what Hannah Arendt found so alarming.

So for me, when I see someone compared to Eichmann, I'm expecting he'll be someone like that: a guy whose everyday doings contributed directly to great horrors. Instead, here I find Churchill referring to the people in the towers. That's an unforgivable comparison.

The Tobacconist said...

dear dilip,

like i said i totally agree with you on the eichmann issue. however i feel the whole message is being obfuscated in by highlighting this one phrase. The phrase isn't the article. you need to see what is happening here in the US. The man can't talk and media has lauched a campaign so loaded with bias that it makes you question the validity of anything you have heard before.


Shanti Mangala said...

Sanketh, what media campaign? Ward Churchill is reaping what he sowed. What did he say in defense of his column? That the US deserved more 9/11s. If you think that man is somehow the voice of reason and it is his opponents are shrill, you are letting your ideology get in the way of your reasoning.

Dilip D'Souza said...

> you are letting your ideology get
> in the way of your reasoning.

Sanketh, you are doing nothing of the sort. Please go right ahead with your reasoning, even though you know what I think about the use of "little Eichmann".

The Tobacconist said...

Shanti the whole media has but focused on that one phrase. Taking things out of context is their speciality.

Quite frankly I don't have a definite idealogy. I just hate it when a life in Sudan isn't worth the same as a life in the Western World. I think we need to recognize these double standards and stop toeing the line that these administrations will have us believe is the open field of freedom.

Thank you Dilip for your comment. I believe the world needs to be a lot more tolerant than what it is today.


Anonymous said...


Shanti is right. Churchill's entire article is nothing but a justification of those 3000 deaths, and of 9/11, and even without that phrase, it is repulsive. As Dilip says, evil does reside in that mind, and any mind like that.

Besides, not that it has any import to the piece, but the fellow is a pathological cheat, who falsified his qualifications to get university tenure, and falsely claimed to be an American India which, it later emerged, he was not. See these links:





In other words, the worst kind of scum imaginable, peddling the most obnoxious ideology, based on - and his essay is full of them - false facts.

Find a better cause to fight.

Arjun Das

The Tobacconist said...

dear arjun,

if a professor, with an opinion and questionable roots, is the worst possible scum imaginable .. then this planet would be a much better place to live on.

i am sorry about digressing there, i want to reiterate if Ward Churchill's equating victims of 9/11 to Eichmann raises hackles then so should the US' branding of the killing innocent civilians as "collateral damage". Sure that is a fancy term and even worthy of a movie. Why on earth doesn't the killing of civilians in military attacks raise questions?

I see scathing attacks at Churchill where as the world over more people are being killed in an unjustified war. What lessons have we learnt from Nam? Is history without consequence?

Listen I totally understand that 9/11 is a sensitive issue and it gets to people. The truth however is there have been hundreds of similar incidents the world over orchestrated by the myopic vision of previous governments. The US is not the only one to blame but we can't help but recognize that it carries a burden of the blame.

You are entitled to your opinion nonetheless.

As am I.