When it comes to left and right, meaning the respective voices of sanity and dementia, we're meant to keep two sets of books.

Start with sanity, in the form of Ward Churchill, a tenured professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and, until a few minutes ago of this writing, chairman of the department of ethnic studies. Churchill is known nationally as an eloquent radical writer on Native American issues.

Back in 2001, after 9/11, Churchill wrote an essay called "Some Push Back," making the simple point, in his words, that "if U.S. foreign policy results in widespread death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned."

That piece was developed into a book, "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens," most of which is a detailed chronology of U.S. military interventions since 1776 and U.S. violations of international law since World War II. Of his posture toward 9/11, Churchill says, "My feelings are reflected in Dr. King's April 1967 Riverside speech, where, when asked about the wave of urban rebellions in U.S. cities, he said, 'I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed Ö without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government Ö '

"I mourn the victims of the September 11 attacks, just as I mourn the deaths of those Iraqi children, the more than 3 million people killed in the war in Indochina, those who died in the U.S. invasions of Grenada, Panama and elsewhere in Central America, the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, and the indigenous peoples still subjected to genocidal policies. If we respond with callous disregard to the deaths of others, we can only expect equal callousness to American deaths."

The bottom line of Churchill's argument is that the best and perhaps only way to prevent 9-11-style attacks on the United States is for American citizens to compel their government to comply with the rule of law. "The lesson of Nuremberg is that this is not only our right, but our obligation."

What's wrong with any of this? The late Susan Sontag said much the same sort of thing in the New Yorker shortly after 9/11, and though there was some huffing at the time, her sentiments seem to be commonsensical, as in these words:

"Where is the acknowledgement that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed super-power, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?"

But now a storm has burst over Churchill's head, provoked by protests at Hamilton College at his scheduled participation on a panel called "Limits of Dissent." He's been forced to resign his chairmanship of the department of ethnic studies, and now, politicians are howling for his blood.

The Board of Regents will hold a special meeting Thursday to address Churchill's comments and his future at the university, U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Arvada, thunders that "This is way beyond the bounds of moral clarity, of right and wrong, of good and evil."

U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, said he was more concerned about Churchill apologizing than leaving the chairmanship. "I think this is certainly a step in the right direction," Udall said. "I still hope that Professor Churchill would apologize."

Why should Churchill apologize for anything? Is it a crime to say that chickens can come home to roost and that the way to protect American lives from terrorism is to respect international law?

So much for the voice of sanity. Now for the dementia of the right. The New Republic's (TNR) Tom Frank (not the Frank, please note, who just wrote a book about Kansas) describes in the online edition of TNR how he recently sat in on an anti-war panel sponsored by the International Socialist Organization, the Washington Peace Center, the D.C. Anti-War Network and other groups.

He listened to Stan Goff, a former Delta Forces soldier and current organizer for Military Families Speak Out, expressing sentiments like "We ain't never resolved nothing through an election." This moved Frank to write that "What I needed was a Republican like Arnold [Schwarzenegger] who would walk up to [Goff] and punch him in the face."

International Socialist Review editorial board member Sherry Wolf asserted that Iraqis had a "right" to rebel against occupation, prompting Frank to confide to his readers that "these weren't harmless lefties. I didn't want Nancy Pelosi talking sense to them; I wanted John Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round everyone up for an immediate trip to Gitmo, with Charles Graner on hand for interrogation."

When Wolf quoted Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy's defense of the right to resist, Frank mused, "Maybe sometimes you just want to be on the side of whoever is more likely to take a bunker buster to Arundhati Roy."

Now suppose Churchill had talked about Schwarzenegger's war on the poor in California and called on someone to punch the California governor in the face, or have Graner force him into simulated sex acts with his senior staff or get blown up by a bomb? He'd be out of a job in a minute.

Sontag, in that New Yorker article, wrote about "the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators" and how "the voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public Ö the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality."

Ward Churchill asked people to accept the burden of reality. These days, that's a risky thing to do.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.