After Colorado University (CU) professor Ward Churchill came under fire for his 2001 essay Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens (wherein he alleged that America’s long history of injustice and oppression had sown the seeds of foreign rage that eventually manifested itself in the 9/11 attacks), one of the most ardent supporters to rush to his defense was fellow CU faculty member Tom Mayer. A professor of sociology, Mayer shares Churchill’s belief that the United States is a nation whose history is an uninterrupted narrative of bigotry and imperialistic aggression. And like Churchill, Mayer too loathes capitalism, which he (as a Marxist) deems an exploitative system that causes immense human suffering. During Churchill’s ordeal, Mayer depicted his beleaguered colleague as an eloquent voice of truth capable of rallying resistance against America’s purportedly intransigent evil.
In a piece titled “The Vendetta Against Ward Churchill,” Mayer wrote: “Ward Churchill is a politically committed intellectual in the mold of Rosa Luxemburg, W.E.B. DuBois, Jean-Paul Sartre, Linus Pauling, Edward Said, and Noam Chomsky. Churchill has influenced how we think about indigenous people. In particular he has compelled us to entertain three interrelated propositions: (1) The genocide of indigenous people is not just a regrettable episode of bygone times, but an ongoing political and ecological reality. (2) The principal force behind this ongoing genocide is the voracious appetite of advanced capitalist societies for both profit and consumption. (3) Most Americans have, in one way or another, collaborated in the destruction of indigenous peoples and cultures. Thus Americans are likely to be targeted when forceful resistance movements emerge.”
This last statement is strikingly reminiscent of Churchill’s “little Eichmanns” reference, wherein he characterized the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11 as, by definition, guilty players in the drama of American tyranny.
On another occasion Mayer wrote, “Ward Churchill is . . . a unique and essential asset to the University of Colorado. Ward's writing and lectures illuminate the social conditions that made possible the genocide of the Native American people. His work also reveals the enduring influence of this genocide on American political culture. One such influence is the deep-seated conviction that Americans are better than other people, and that the United States is thus entitled to intervene economically or militarily virtually anywhere. Another belief at least partially traceable to the genocide of Native Americans is the idea that only American lives matter, and that death or destruction of foreign people is of no moral consequence. The insidious power of these prejudices in today's world is entirely obvious. The value of having Ward Churchill on the CU faculty should be equally apparent.”
In short, Mayer cast Churchill as precisely the kind of social critic – one who could point out America’s uniquely corrupt and villainous role in world affairs – whose excoriation of America might spur the country to mend its evil ways and recoup some lost affection from its aggrieved and righteously indignant enemies around the globe.
From his belief that the U.S. had brought the world’s wrath upon itself, it was but a short logical leap for Mayer to assert that the 9/11 al Qaeda attacks were not offensive in nature, but rather were defensive countermeasures against American aggression and exploitation. “The underlying source of the attack upon the World Trade Center is not Islamic fundamentalism but imperialist domination,” he explained. This remarkable statement casually turns a blind eye toward radical Islam’s well-documented history of violence and conquest long predating not only America’s alleged “imperialism,” but America’s very existence. So intense is Mayer’s desire to bludgeon America’s reputation with rhetorical blows, that he does not see – or he chooses not to see – that it is not America but radical Islam, rather, that strives (like communism and Nazism before it) to expand its empire across the globe, and to create a worldwide caliphate over which it can exercise unbridled dominion.
So convinced is Mayer that Muslim rage (and terrorism) against America is rooted in legitimate grievances over U.S. misdeeds, that he deems it unnecessary to pass even the barest shred of moral judgment on the many centuries of discrimination, persecution, and wholesale slaughters suffered by “infidels” at the hands of Muslim jihadists. He does not address the fact that, as the scholar Bat Ye'or explains, for non-Muslims through history jihad has quite clearly meant “war, dispossession, . . . slavery and death.” “The fate of Jews in Arabia,” Ye'or adds, “foreshadowed that of all the peoples subsequently conquered by the Arabs. The primary guiding principle was to summon the non-Muslims to convert or accept Muslim supremacy, and, if faced with refusal, to attack them until they submitted to Muslim domination. . . .The jihad developed into a war of conquest whose chief aim was the conversion of infidels. Truces were allowed, but never a lasting peace.” “The jihad,” writes Ye'or, “is a global conception that divides the peoples of the world into two irreconcilable camps. . . . [It] is the normal and permanent state of war between the Muslims and the [infidels], a war that can only end with the final domination over unbelievers and the absolute supremacy of Islam throughout the world.”
Notwithstanding radical Islam’s ugly and enduring legacy of hatred and conquest, Mayer can bring himself only to condemn the United States – ascribing to it responsibility for the creation of an Islamist supremacist mindset that preceded America’s nationhood by more than a thousand years. In his view, foreign grievances against the U.S. are invariably justified; by contrast, he does not hold the actions of America’s enemies – however barbaric those actions may be – to even the slightest moral scrutiny.
“The bombing of the World Trade Center emerges from more than five decades of history,” Mayer proclaims, “a history which most Americans do not know about or would prefer to forget. During the last twenty years alone, the United States bombed Libya, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Yugoslavia. These direct applications of American military force are only the tip of the interventionist iceberg. . . . The basic causes of the September 11 bombing are clear enough. A huge number of people in a band of countries from Morocco to Afghanistan are furious at the United States and have been for a long time.. . . the policies of the United States towards the Middle East since World War Two have provoked more than the usual anger among many Middle Eastern people. These policies include ruthless preoccupation with oil, almost carte blanche support of Israel, indifference to the welfare of Arab people, hostility towards and overthrow of truly nationalist governments, backing of reactionary rulers (e.g. shah of Iran, emir of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban) whenever it serves American purposes, and liberal use of military force to obtain these objectives. . . . To millions of people in the region from Morocco to Afghanistan, the perpetrators of [the 9/11] massacre were not conscienceless fanatics, but brave soldiers trying to avenge the humiliation of Middle Eastern societies.”
When he examines America’s foreign policy and international relations, Mayer sees only a country determined to exploit and oppress vulnerable peoples – particularly Muslims – all over the world. He does not mention the fact that the U.S. effectively rescued the Islamic nation of Egypt by forcing a cease-fire agreement upon Israel when the 1973 Arab-Israeli War ended. Neither does he bother to note that nine years later in Beirut, the U.S. saved Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from Israel, arranging safe passage for him and pressuring Tunisia to give him sanctuary. Nor does he observe that the U.S. has worked tirelessly on behalf of a peace process whose ultimate goal is the creation of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. He chooses not to credit America for having earmarked, in very recent years, military and financial resources for the tasks of saving Afghan Muslims from Soviet invaders, saving Kuwaiti and Saudi Muslims from Iraqi invaders, and saving Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo from Yugoslavia. He is similarly unmoved by the fact that in other conflicts, the U.S. has sided with Muslim Pakistan against India, and with Muslim Turkey against Greece. He is presumably unimpressed by America’s leadership in Somalia during the 1990s, where our country led the world in providing humanitarian aid to a Muslim population that was defenseless against the unbridled violence of competing warlords. As Barry Rubin recently pointed out in Foreign Affairs, “During the last half-century, in 11 of 12 major conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims, Muslims and secular forces, or Arabs and non-Arabs, the United States has sided with the former group. One U.S. backing for Israel has been the sole significant exception to this rule.”
But in Professor Mayer’s moral calculus, America’s dealings with the Muslim world have been marked exclusively by injustice and exploitation – the alleged seeds of Muslim anti-Americanism and the animating force behind 9/11.
Because Mayer viewed 9/11 as an entirely logical response to America’s persistent depredations, he opposed military retribution against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime which for years had harbored al Qaeda leaders and the terrorist training camps they oversaw. Moreover, he was of the opinion that military actions could produce no lasting beneficial outcomes. In a September 17, 2001 article titled “An Appropriate Response,” he wrote, “Violence alone will not prevent any large collectivity from committing violence.” But Mayer’s implication – that the Bush administration viewed military retribution as the sole and sufficient means of reacting to the 9/11 attacks – bore no resemblance to reality. Indeed, President Bush made it clear that his multi-pronged approach would include also diplomacy, education, improved intelligence, and the erection of barriers to the funding of terror networks worldwide.
More significantly, Mayer ignored the lesson of World War II, wherein the military efforts of the U.S. and its Allies saved the free world from falling under the shadow of totalitarian darkness, and forced the Axis Powers to abandon their aspirations for conquest and join the civilized world. In short, Mayer is free today to pontificate about the evils of military measures only because of the Allies’ military response to the aggression of Nazi Germany and Japan. But now, from the lofty, sheltered perch secured for him by the sacrifices of American soldiers, Mayer lectures: “If violence prevented violence, the history of the last century would have been entirely different. On the contrary, the use of violence without addressing grievances typically deepens the resolve to commit yet further violence.”
In “An Appropriate Response,” Mayer outlined his belief that 9/11 should be dealt with as a criminal-justice, rather than a military, matter; as a violation of law rather than an act of war. Consequently, he suggested that the correct course of action would include “apprehending the living persons directly responsible for the World Trade Center atrocity (likely a small group)”; “reevaluating – and hopefully changing – the policies that systematically antagonize people of the Middle East”; and “retreating from the arrogant unilateralism characteristic of America’s international role in the recent past.” The theme was most familiar: It’s all America’s fault, and the sooner we acknowledge our moral failings, the sooner we might persuade our righteous foes to magnanimously grant us a measure of forgiveness – however undeserving we may be.
Mayer opposes not only U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq. In February 2003, the month preceding Saddam’s overthrow and the fall of Baghdad, Mayer participated in a “Books, Not Bombs” teach-in with a number of fellow Colorado faculty and staff who spoke against the war and U.S. foreign policy generally. A member of North Boulder Progressives, in September 2005 Mayer co-organized a petition drive calling for the removal of the U.S. military from Iraq within six months. “We are hoping to get 10,000 signatures and then present it to the City Council, local civic organizations and maybe even get a committee to go to Washington,” he said. “We are going to be handing out the petition in public places, presenting it to local organizations, going door-to-door, and it’s online.”
On the domestic front, Mayer views the United States as a nation rife with racism, a perspective he makes clear to his students at CU. “I have spoken to my classes about the concept of white privilege, by which I mean the automatic advantages a white person gets by being white. Some of my students are highly skeptical about this concept. They think ‘white privilege’ is a verbal trick to instill undeserved guilt in well meaning white students.”
In a November 2005 article titled “White Privilege Is Real, So Come Learn About It,” Mayer elaborates: “Consider an example of white privilege, the privilege of staying alive. According to the most recently available statistics, a white baby born in the United States can expect to live 5.5 years longer than a black baby. . . . Most of the health and mortality gaps between white and black people apparently result from the stress imposed upon African Americans by living in a society saturated with racism.” Yet Mayer does not address the fact that other ethnic groups actually outlive whites in this land where nonwhites allegedly suffer the life-shortening effects of persistent, virulent racism. For example, in 1999 life expectancy for Americans of Hispanic origin was 77.1 years among men and 83.7 years among women, exceeding the corresponding figures for white men and white women by 2.4 years and 3.6 years, respectively. Meanwhile, Asian American men and women outlived their white counterparts by 6 years and 6.5 years, respectively.
Mayer’s ploy is to focus solely upon those statistics that seem to buttress his predetermined conclusion: that white racism is omnipresent and its effects are far-reaching. Thus does the professor lament “the blissful ignorance of my students about the very existence of white privilege probably increases the health-related (and other) burdens endured by black students on the CU campus.” “Conservatively estimated,” Mayer adds with confidence, “white privilege in the realm of health that is the longevity bonus merely for being white amounts to about three years of extra living.”
Mayer further informs his readers that “[a] black male is about two-thirds more likely to die between the ages of 18 and 22 than a white male.” Presumably we are to react with gasps of horror. But what Mayer does not mention is that this statistic is quite unrelated to racism’s purported effects on people’s physical well being. Among young black American males, homicide is now the leading cause of death, and of all black homicide victims in the United States, some 94 percent are slain by other blacks. But Professor Mayer’s calculus does not compel him to let anything as mundane as a fact interfere with his self-satisfied indulgence in moral preening and conspicuous racial humility.
Quite plainly, Mayer finds it all but impossible to say anything positive about the allegedly imperialistic, violent, unjust, and racist nation where he resides. Thus we may reasonably conclude that his contempt for America was on display again in April 2002 when he hosted, in his home, a fundraising reception for the Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC), a foundation headed by Robert Meeropol, the youngest son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Meeropol had come to Colorado, as his press release put it, to “warn that similarities between the anti-communist fervor of the 1950’s, and today’s crackdown on civil liberties amidst the war on terrorism, could spawn more miscarriages of justice.”
Meeropol’s foundation professes a commitment “to provide for the educational and emotional needs of children whose parents have suffered because of their progressive activities and who therefore are no longer able to provide fully for their children.” The implication of this mission statement, like that of Meeropol’s press release in the preceding paragraph, is that the Rosenbergs were unjustifiably punished for nothing more sinister than their participation in “progressive activities.” But in fact they were, beyond any doubt, traitors who broke American laws against espionage. In the 53 years since their execution, the evidence of their guilt has become ever-clearer.
The foundation that bears the Rosenbergs’ name features Leonard Peltier, the American Indian Movement activist who murdered two FBI agents in 1975, on its Advisory Board. The RFC website refers to Peltier, who is currently serving two consecutive life terms in federal prison, as a “political prisoner.” The RFC also claims close relationships with convicted terrorists Linda Evans and Tom Manning. Peltier, Evans, and Manning – who all promote themselves as artists as well as revolutionaries – have periodically donated such items as sketches, paintings and handmade quilts to RFC fundraising events.
Such is the nature of the foundation that Professor Mayer so avidly supports. And such are the values of a professor entrusted with educating young men and women at Colorado University.
Born September 27, 1937 in Frankfurt, Germany, Mayer earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Oberlin College in 1959, and a Ph.D. in sociology from Stanford University in 1964. He has taught sociology ever since (from 1964-1969 at the University of Michigan, and from 1969 to the present at UC Boulder. Mayer has authored the books Mathematical Models of Group Structure (1975), and Analytical Marxism (1994). He also co-edited two books: Changes in the State: Causes and Consequences (1990), and War and Its Consequences: Lessons from the Persian Gulf Conflict (1994).
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