Professor in 9-11 controversy says he mourns both American and Iraqi dead
BOULDER – The University of Colorado professor who set off a firestorm when he compared some of the World Trade Center victims to a Nazi war criminal said Tuesday he mourns for everyone killed on Sept. 11 and conceded that he could have explained himself better.”I wouldn’t retract it. I would explain it better,” Ward Churchill said during a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.Churchill made the comparison in an essay written hours after the 2001 attacks and later revised for a book. He called some victims “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who organized the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jews.Churchill said he was referring to “technocrats” who participate in what he calls repressive American policies around the world. He said those include Iraqi trade sanctions after the first Gulf War that have been blamed for the deaths of 500,000 children.”Maybe I could have made that clearer. I didn’t mean the floor sweepers, the passers-by, the children,” Churchill said.”If someone were to ask me, ‘Do you feel sorrow for the victims of 9-11,’ of course I do,” he said. “Let’s begin with the children. Yes, they were innocent. And I mourn them. But they were not more innocent than those half-million Iraqi children.”Sipping coffee and chain-smoking, the 6-foot-5 Churchill sat in a book-lined corner of his home as he discussed the essay and a wave of threats that has prompted several schools to cancel his speaking engagements. Colorado backed off a threat to postpone a Tuesday night speech, saying students who claimed there were death threats had changed their stories.Churchill said he did not mean to suggests the World Trade Center “technocrats” were Nazis but were, like Eichmann, bureaucrats who participated in an immoral system.”He did not necessarily agree with the goals of the Nazis with regard to the Jews, but he performed his functions brilliantly,” Churchill said. “This is Eichmann: He’s integral. The Holocaust could not have happened without him.”Churchill said he shares some guilt because he participates in the system he accuses of wrongdoing: “Where would you go not to be a participant? To a tepee above tree line (in the mountains)?”A longtime American Indian Movement activist, he said he is also culpable because his efforts to change the system haven’t succeeded.”I could do more. I’m complicit. I’m not innocent,” he said.The essay, “Some People Push Back,” attracted little notice until last month, after Churchill was invited to speak at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. A professor found the essay on the Internet and tipped off the campus paper, which ran a story on the details.The essay outraged New York Gov. George Pataki and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who called for his firing. The school has begun investigating whether the tenured professor of ethnic studies can be fired. Someone painted swastikas on the back of his pickup truck.Churchill said Owens was “flagrantly out of line” in calling for his firing and had intruded on the authority of the university’s Board of Regents. He said the university investigation concerns him more because of the threat it poses to academic independence.”I never intended to be a poster boy for academic freedom,” he said.Churchill brushed off allegations that he is not Indian at all, attributing them to critics trying to discredit him. He says he is three-sixteenths Cherokee but not a member of a tribe.He said his activism stems in part from his military service in Vietnam, where he heard hostile territory referred to as “Indian country.””So those guys are the Indians? … What am I?” he said.Churchill said he began to study treaties in Vietnam and concluded the United States was violating its commitments there – just as it violated its commitments to American Indians.He credits his avid reading as a child and a Creek mentor, Phillip Deere, with helping him identify his roles in life: insisting on the rule of law and giving a voice to indigenous people.Churchill sees that as “speaking the truth as you understand it, and never, never back off. That doesn’t mean you can’t grow, you can’t change your mind.”
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