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Debunking Churchill’s Weasel Words

by Jim Paine

Since the re-emergence of Ward Churchill’s notorious essay “Some People Push Back” a great deal has been made of Churchill’s likening of the victims of the 9/11 attacks as deserving of their fate because they were “little Eichmanns” (referring to the Nazi bureaucrat who oversaw the logistics and planning of moving jews and other human cargo to and from the concentration camps and of course, the death camps.

Of late, Churchill complains that he is being taken out of context. He offers the weaselly explanation that it is the “technocrats” he refers to in a preceding sentence who he is really calling little Eichmanns. He makes a specific point to rule out the food service workers, the janitors, and other low-level personnel from the little Eichmann group. He claims a parsing of his words will reveal that he intended only to include the “technocrats”—the bankers, the government workers, etc.

Let’s take a look at what he said, then, and see if his latest meaning can be parsed:

There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center . . . 

Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. [emphasis mine]
Parsing… parsing…. Nope, I see no exclusionary text wherein Churchill pardons the janitors, et al. His “they” in the second paragraph refers to his “those” in the first (“As to those in the World Trade Center…”) And those can only be interpreted to mean (in the context of Churchill's essay) everyone. Churchill would now have us believe that he was referring to the actual technocrats. Nope. The “technocratic corps” he refers to is made up of, Who, class? Anyone? Bueller? It refers to they, which in turn refers to those, as in “those in the World Trade Center…” The construction of his sentences is such that it is logically impossible to draw the conclusion that those is a subset of technocratic corps; quite the opposite, the technocratic corps is a subset of–in fact, is synonymous with–those.

Moving on, here’s the money quote (and this section is sequentially contiguous to the above quote):
Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it. [emphasis mine]
Ah, here, Churchill seemingly saves his hash. He finally defines the all-encompassing “they” as “this relatively well-educated elite.” Now, I’ve known plenty of janitors, even worked as one myself, and I believe I can speak for most people in that I never considered myself or any other janitor a member of “this relatively well-educated elite.” But does that phrase automatically exclude the janitors, et al? I’ve also known plenty of educated food service workers; many waitresses and cooks at restaurants are kids working their way through college. Surely Churchill, a college professor with over a decade of experience teaching would know this, as well. Also, it can reasonably be said of everyone in this country that they are “relatively well-educated.” So are the janitors okay, but the waiters and waitresses and bus-boys are little Eichmanns? Or is it the other way around? Maybe we should just get the resumes of all of the World Trade Center dead, and have Churchill give us his pronouncement on the "little Eichmann-ity" of each on an individual basis.

No. Back on point, I don’t think Churchill gets a pass on this one. Let’s move on.

“[…]befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns[…]” Here we could pretend that the little Eichmanns he refers to are a new group, completely separate and different from the “they” and the “those” he refers to earlier, but no such luck. Construction of the sentence insists that the “little Eichmanns” are identical and one-and-the-same as the “their” in “their participation.”

One last minor weasel to deal with....Churchill has also pointed out that his essay was written "from the gut" in the 24-hour period immediately following the 9/11 tragedy. That he makes this statement implies strongly that he wants us to know that had he had more time, he might have constructed his reasoning better. But the man has published at least a dozen books, the footnotes of which alone would fill several more. Ask any reporter you meet if time constraints give them a free pass on grammar errors.

So, conclusion? Churchill meant exactly what he said, his later weaseling notwithstanding. And what he meant was that those in the World Trade Center were little Eichmanns who deserved “some penalty.” There's no other way to parse it.