Swans Commentary » swans.com September 26, 2005  



For Whom The Bell Tolls
Ward Churchill's On the Justice of Roosting Chickens


by Ken Freeland


Book Review



Churchill, Ward: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality, AK Press, 2003, ISBN 1-902593-79-0, 309 pages, $15.95 (paperback)


(Swans - September 26, 2005)   The first useful chronology of US war crimes was published by William Blum, initially his well-annotated Killing Hope in 1986, which gave us the country-by-country skinny on the history of US post-WWII interventions; then with his turn-of-the-millennium, more user-friendly Rogue State, which took a sort of weapon-by-weapon approach, offered a condensed country-by-country summary, a US war criminal-by-US war criminal summary, a chronology of blameworthy US actions at the UN, and in Chapter 17, a "Concise History of US Global Interventions, 1945 to the Present." What more could antiwar activists ask for?

Well, it seems that Ward Churchill set out to answer that question for us. But his tack is considerably different: what this highly controversial American Indian Movement activist cum college professor and author embarks upon in this 309-page tome is a grand iconoclastic Odyssey -- he is out to accomplish nothing less than to shatter the mythology of the "Good America," which has been exploited by leader after leader to provide cover for America's imperial bloodlettings, or, as these leaders prefer to term them, "humanitarian interventions." What are these myths?

The first is implicit, but we are all familiar with it: It is the old canard milked to death by warmonger-in-chief George W. Bush that "they hate us because of our freedom," etc. In other words, that the terrorism of 9/11 was a gratuitous act that had no karmic value for a freedom-loving, humanitarian people like Americans. This chapter is short, but the author scathingly indicts the functionaries of Wall Street and the World Trade Center as modern-day apparatchiks not qualitatively different than those who opportunistically pursued business as usual under Hitler's Nazis. This is, of course, the line of thinking that got him into so much hot water recently that his teaching position was seriously jeopardized. This is the comeuppance we all must expect in REAL America, when as Chellis Glendinning puts it in the title of his introduction, we engage in "speaking truth in the teeth of power." And of course, this is exactly the purpose of the book's title itself, the analogy of the "chickens coming home to roost" drawn as it is from Malcolm X's famous observation about the assassination of John F. Kennedy (who himself was complicit in the assassination of his appointed South Vietnamese counterpart Diem).

While the rest of the book can be considered a variation on this theme, there are two particular myths that Ward Churchill has in his gunsights: Chapter 2 is titled after the first -- that America is "the most peace-loving of nations." No one can possibly believe this after reading the careful chronology that begins with America's founding in 1776 and provides for each year, from 1776 to the present, an instance of US military action somewhere in the world. This is the book you want to give that smarmy Republican uncle of yours for Christmas! All the wind is let out of the sails of this mass delusion that America is a peaceful country, and war is the exception to the rule.

Chapter 3 takes on that other falsehood, that America is "A Government of Laws." Churchill's well-annotated chronology here demonstrates the opposite: For every year since World War II, the US has scofflawed Geneva Conventions, international agreements, UN resolutions, and provided diplomatic cover for a host of war crimes. It's all here, in black and white -- America is the launching pad of war crimes par excellence. There is some wit in his detailing all this, as when with pointed exaggeration he directs to "yet another" and "yet another" instance of the US running resistance at the UN for Ariel Sharon's band of terrorist war criminals which impudently called itself "Unit 101" ("in sardonic reference to the [UN Security Council] resolution condemning it").

And that's all there is to the book, but of course, that's all that's needed to explode these dangerous myths for once and for all:

Such issues must be faced straightforwardly, without dissembling, if Americans are ever to hold rightful title to the "good conscience" they've so long laid claim to owning. How they are to respond to what stares back at them from the proverbial mirror is an altogether different question, however. Transformation from beastliness to beauty can be neither instantaneous nor, in terms of its retroactive undoing, complete. There is no painless, privilege-preserving pill that can be taken to effect a quick fix of what ails the U.S., no petition, no manifesto, no song or candle-lit vigil that will suffice. The terms of change must and will be harsh, inevitably so, given the propensity of those who seek to prevent it to gauge their success by the rotting corpses of toddlers. This truth, no matter its inconvenience to those snugly situated within the comfort zones of political pretense, is all that defines the substance of meaningful struggle. (page 22)

Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for the myths of American innocence, that for too long have served as a fig leaf for some of the most perfidious foreign intervention in the annals of human history and for what intellectuals are coming to refer to as the apologetic politics of "fascist-liberals." Good riddance! And for those with ears to hear, argues Ward Churchill, 9/11 was a condign wakeup call.


· · · · · ·
Churchill, Ward: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality, AK Press, 2003, ISBN 1-902593-79-0, 309 pages, $15.95 (paperback)

You can purchase this excellent book directly from AK Press.

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About the Author

Ken Freeland is a lifelong peace activist, who currently resides in Houston, Texas, where he serves as a founding member of the Houston Coalition for Justice Not War, and co-edits the alternative newspaper Free Press Houston, in which this review will also be published on October 1, 2005.



Please, feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, please DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Ken Freeland 2005. All rights reserved.


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Published September 26, 2005