Tattletales for an Open Society | The Nation


Tattletales for an Open Society

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Not realizing the gravity of my remarks to the 100 or so students in my American Government and Society class, I neglected to accurately record either the time and date of those, now unfortunate, observations nor their exact wording. However with my new understanding of my responsibilities as a loyal, patriotic American I have assigned a student the task of recording my every word in order that I (or you) may report them with accuracy and alacrity to Dr. Cheney, Senator Lieberman and those other loyal, patriotic guardians of American virtue and academic freedom at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni(ACTA).

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As near as I can recall, sometime after the terrible events of September 11, 2001 I made the following, often intemperate, remarks

1. Ari Fleischer's remark that "people were going to have to watch what the say" reminded me of McCarthyism, Nazism and totalitarianism (perhaps not in that order)and that it was exceeded only by later censoring the remark from the transcript as an exercise in Orwellian historical revision. Goebbels would have approved.

2. The corporate media, most noticeably CNN and other TV networks, were waving the flag and acting as propagandists and cheer leaders for the government, rather than fulfilling their putative function as purveyors of accurate information and incisive criticism for citizens to use in making political judgments. In this connection, I am also guilty of indicating that students could partially correct for this by 1. ignoring TV news generally; 2. reading skeptically the elite media, especially the New York Times and Washington Post, which were flacking for the White House; 3. reading the "alternative press," especially The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, In These Times and the LA Weekly, as well as the foreign press, which has a decidedly different "take" on events; 4. listening to KPFK and other Pacifica network radio stations. I also indicated that, much to my surprise, the Los Angeles Times, alone of the top newspapers in the country, was regularly carrying op-ed pieces and columns opposing the "war on terrorism" including pieces by Howard Zinn, Barabara Kingsolver, Arundhati Roy and others.

3. I criticize myself especially (mea maxima culpa) and beg forgiveness for stating that I believed and do believe that John Ashcroft and George Bush pose a great threat to civil liberties because they seem to have no understanding and respect for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and that imprisoning 900 or a thousand "suspects" and holding them incommunicado in unnamed locations, while eavesdropping on their conversations with their lawyers (when permitted) threatens the rights of all of us, not just noncitizens. I also said military tribunals were contemptible and that if the government couldn't make its case in the federal court system, perhaps its case was not so strong. I also opined that the Republican Party was best understood not as a conservative party but as a radical right-wing party that would be only a quasi-lunatic fringe party in European politics, e.g., Le Pen's party in France and Haider's party in Austria. (I did say my remarks were sometimes intemperate.)

4. I also beg forgiveness for believing that the war on terrorism is killing innocent people and the government seems to be adopting the policy of "kill them all and let God sort them out." While this last remark is a bit broad, it is an accurate record of my beliefs and should be reported to the proper authorities. I also said that we needed to guard against racism and not hate people who are Arabs, who look like we think Arabs look like, etc., and that the same holds true for Moslems, generally. I also said that the government would use this situation to broaden its attack on Iraq and as a pretext for stationing more troops in the Middle East and (before his announcement) that the President would probably ask for billions more for "defense."

5. Finally, I also stated that in times of national stress governments often do bad things and, our government being no exception, that we should try and stop them from doing these bad things in our name, rather than lament them in later years, but that often such belated lamentation may be centuries in coming, e.g., recognizing that killing Native Americans was not such a good thing after all and that Columbus murdered many, many people. Accordingly, it will probably not be until the year 2500 that we will recognize as as a nation the millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian civilians American bombs killed during the period now know as the Vietnam War. So, by comparison, a few thousand dead Afghan civilians is probably not too big a deal for American sensibilities.

As can be seen from the above, admittedly incomplete, recounting, I believe I have a good case to be included in the list compiled by ACTA and would certainly accept whatever judgment you choose to make in this matter. Thanking you in advance for your careful consideration I remain a loyal Nation subscriber, member of the appropriate suspect organizations, ACLU, California Faculty Association, AFL-CIO. Perhaps, I should that tomorrow at 11 AM and again at 6:30 PM I am scheduled to participate in a roundtable discussion with four other professors, titled "The Politics and Implications of the 9/11 Terrorism Incidents." (My part is called "Critical Thinking in a Time of Strife." While I do not feel free to name the other participants, I should point out that the event is sponsored by the Department of Political Science, so perhaps that should incriminate the entire department, and since it is being held on our campus, in my class in fact, perhaps the entire university (students as well as faculty, but not, obviously administrators and trustees) should be included in the list. However, I defer to your judgment in this regard.

Department of Political Science, UCLA


I write you to self-rat. I teach anthopology at a community college in California. After 9/11, I organized a series of forums and workshops (teach-ins) on the whole mess and, while deliberately encouraging open, free speech, I invited like minds to speak and host. Like minds that proclaimed, among other things, that Bush's war was a sham--a device to build popularity and to secure pipeline routes, that Ashcroft was (is) a menace to free speech and other constitutionally guaranteed liberties, and that, in general, the Bush Administration is nothing more than a fraudulent front organization for the American Empire and the oil/gas industry. Come and get me!

Instructor, Anthropology
Cabrillo College, Aptos, CA


I am a Lutheran Pastor who follows the readings appointed in the ledtionary common to many churches. On more than one occasion recently when the appointed readings for the day have mentioned "justice," I have said that "justice is not a dead terrorist."

In response to President Bush's State of the Union Address and the verse in one of the readings this week, "to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God," I will say again, "God's justice is not a dead terrorist."

Christ the Redeemer Lutheran Church (ELCA)
Erie, PA


Please submit my name as a nominee for the ACTA blacklist. Do they have an auxiliary group for high school educators? Although I have often expressed reservations concerning our alleged "war on terrorism," my real "crime" is encouraging my students to think. Thinking--now that is truly a subversive activity. I guess that while you are at it, you had better include my students on that list of nominees. They are guilty of questioning a wide variety of statements and opinions, including mine. How dare they question me or any other person in authority! If they are allowed to continue this type of behavior, they might actually become active participants in the democratic process. How ironic that so many conservatives and libertarians, who have continually expressed their distrust of government, are now demanding that all US citizens, in fact all people of the world, march in lock step behind our government and its leaders.

Marion High School, Marion, Michigan


I'm not from academia but I've never missed an opportunity to educate many in my wide circle of friends, acquaintances and coworkers about the evils of the Bush Administration.

And I did it before it was 'officially' open season on liberals, attending and even organizing a number of pro-democracy election protests dating back as far as November 11, 2000. As the group photographer, I have hundreds of pictures to prove it. Letters to the editor, discreet gatherings with other dissidents, the whole nine yards.

I've said since the beginning that as they seized power so shall they rule. We're seeing that come to pass as the Bush crowd does as they please regardless of the laws. Evidently they are the law.

Though I plead guilty to dissent, I have no remorse. It's my job as a citizen not to stop talking about it.

(Boy, that truth serum really has me singin' like a songbird.)

Photographer, Blaine, Minnesota


I taught an Intro to Lit course at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the fall 2001 semester. One of the items on our syllabus was Melville's "Benito Cereno," the story of an American ship's captain stumbling across a slave insurrection; I encouraged my students to draw parallels between Captain Delano's benign perception of himself as an American and our own, and our blissfully willful ignorance of any reasons that murderous rage might be leveled at us. I actually lectured on September 11, about an hour after both WTC buildings had collapsed--classes had not yet been officially canceled. I talked about my own studies on the subject of terrorism and revolt, my work with John Brown as a dissertation subject, and about the fact that George Washington could be described as "the Father of American Terrorism" (a title occasionally conferred on Brown) for his post-Christmas raid on a camp of unarmed, hired-out cannon fodder. I also encouraged my students to look beyond the alternately sentimental and pornographic coverage of the disaster to think about not only what the attack might mean, but how the American media would create a meaning sanctioned by the government.

The FBI, and the Bush Administration, should be happy to learn, however, that so successful is the American education industry in discouraging creative and critical thought that by the time a student reaches college age, they are often very poorly equipped for the kind of skeptical inquiry such questions demand.

Instructor, Doctoral candidate, University of Illinois at Chicago


The American Council of Trustees and Alumni's effort to intimidate professors as "weak links" in the war on terrorism is an utter disgrace. We need more, not less, questioning of the government's policies--especially in the nation's classrooms--and ACTA's effort to curb this smacks of a form of tyranny.

Frankly, Ms. Cheney's role in this is to be expected, given her right-wing political views. But Senator Lieberman, a professed thoughtful Senator, owes us an apology for being part of a runaway, self-appointed group of anti-intellectuals and political "Talibans."

I am only sorry that I did not know in advance of Professor Sherwin's letter so that I might have affixed my signature to it. Meanwhile, I stand with him, and invite Ms. Cheney or Senator Lieberman to come to my classes at any time to listen to my questions about past and present nature of US foreign policy.

Arnold A. Offner
Cornelia F. Hugel Professor of History, Lafayette College


I confess that I was not aware of how critical my personal actions were to the upholding of the Party Line on the War on Terrorism. Being ignorant of my role as an essential link, I allowed myself to be quoted in the local newspaper as a member of the Copper Country Peace Alliance. I have also told my students that fundamentalism is dangerous in all its guises, whatever religion it claims to be wearing.

Now that I realize how important my link is, I will be much more careful about my activities. In fact, I will start by unlinking completely from the chain of Official Doctrines. To remind myself and others how dangerous those chains can be I have posted the following quote from Mark Twain on my office door.

"Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country--hold up your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
--Mark Twain, "Papers of the Adam Family"

Professor of Chemistry
Michigan Technological University


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