Nicholas De Genova Explains What He Meant When He Called for a Million Mogadishus


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At a teach-in at Columbia University in March Nicholas De Genova, assistant professor of anthropology and Latino studies, said that he wanted Iraq to defeat the United States and that he hoped for a"million Mogadishus." His comment ignited a storm of protest. The president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, called the remarks"outrageous." After a story in Newsweek 104 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a petition demanding that he be fired. (He is untenured.) University alumni threatened to withold donations.

After the fracas Mr. De Genova kept a low profile. But he broke his silence on two occasions, first in a letter to the student newspaper, second in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

  • Click here to read his letter to the Columbia Spectator.

  • Click here to read an excerpt from his interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Letter to the Columbia Spectator

    To the Editor:

    Spectator, now for the second time in less than a year, has succeeded to quote me in a remarkably decontextualized and inflammatory manner. In Margaret Hunt Gram's report on the faculty teach-in against the war in Iraq (March 27, 2003), I am quoted as wishing for a million Mogadishus but with no indication whatsoever of the perspective that framed that remark. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that your Staff Editorial in the same issue, denouncing the teach-in for "dogmatism," situates me in particular as the premier example of an academic "launching tirades against anything and everything American."

    In my brief presentation, I outlined a long history of U.S. invasions, wars of conquest, military occupations, and colonization in order to establish that imperialism and white supremacy have been constitutive of U.S. nation-state formation and U.S. nationalism. In that context, I stressed the necessity of repudiating all forms of U.S. patriotism. I also emphasized that the disproportionate majority of U.S. troops come from racially subordinated and working-class backgrounds and are in the military largely as a consequence of a treacherous lack of prospects for a decent life. Nonetheless, I emphasized that U.S. troops are indeed confronted with a choice--to perpetrate this war against the Iraqi people or to refuse to fight and contribute toward the defeat of the U.S. war machine.

    I also affirmed that Iraqi liberation can only be effected by the Iraqi people themselves, both by resisting and defeating the U.S. invasion as well as overthrowing a regime whose brutality was long sustained by none other than the U.S. Such an anti-colonial struggle for self-determination might involve a million Mogadishus now but would ultimately have to become something more like another Vietnam. Vietnam was a stunning defeat for U.S. imperialism; as such, it was also a victory for the cause of human self-determination.

    Is this a tirade against "anything and everything American"? Far from it. First, I hasten to remind you that "American" refers to all of the Americas, not merely to the United States, as U.S. imperial chauvinism would have it. More importantly, my rejection of U.S. nationalism is an appeal to liberate our own political imaginations such that we might usher in a radically different world in which we will not remain the prisoners of U.S. global domination.

    Nicholas De Genova
    March 27, 2003

    Interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only) (April 17, 2003)

    Q. Were you surprised by the reaction to your speech?

    A. I certainly was not expecting anything on the scale of this controversy. ... It so happens that a single journalist from a tabloid newspaper who was interested in scandalmongering was present at the event. In a way that was fairly devious, he tried to solicit comments from me the following day, and in a manner calculated to generate the most inflammatory possible effect, quoted me out of context. ...

    Q. But many of those present have condemned your comments. One organizer of the teach-in called what you said "idiotic."

    A. I certainly would never deny that my perspective is controversial. My intervention was intended as a challenge among people who share a certain set of basic premises concerning the fact that this war is unjust. Unfortunately, there has been no dialogue concerning the substance of my speech and its meaning for the antiwar movement. To defensively denounce what I said as "idiotic" merely contributes to the pro-war campaign of vilification. There are people with a very vested interest in exploiting this issue and manipulating it for their own ends, and attacks against me are therefore attacks against the entire antiwar movement.

    Q. If that's the case, then didn't you play right into their hands?

    A. I think that it's healthy to generate debate and controversy if there is the possibility of clarifying positions, elucidating and elaborating positions in order to provoke more critical thinking. ...

    Q. So you would argue that your comments have been healthy and helpful?

    A. There is an impulse to jingoistic, patriotic hysteria during wartime that will seek to discredit the antiwar movement. And that is to be expected. Those of us in the antiwar movement need to confront the really concerted power, money, and resources that have been devoted to trying to narrow the range of possible speech. The real discussion of the substantive issues that I raised has yet to begin and is long overdue. In that sense, I don't think that there's any conclusive way to judge what the effect has been at this point, either for the antiwar movement or for the forces that would be invested in silencing us.

    Q. Your comment about wishing for "a million Mogadishus" has attracted the most attention. I read your letter in the "Columbia Daily Spectator," which gave some more context, but I have to confess I don't see how the context changes the meaning of that statement.

    A. I was referring to what Mogadishu symbolizes politically. The U.S. invasion of Somalia was humiliated in an excruciating way by the Somali people. And Mogadishu was the premier symbol of that. What I was really emphasizing in the larger context of my comments was the question of Vietnam and that historical lesson. ... What I was intent to emphasize was that the importance of Vietnam is that it was a defeat for the U.S. war machine and a victory for the cause of human self-determination.

    Q. I'm a little hazy on the rhetorical connection between Mogadishu and Vietnam.

    A. The analogy between Mogadishu and Vietnam is that they were defeats for U.S. imperialism and U.S. military action against people in poor countries that had none of the sophisticated technology or weaponry that the U.S. was able to mobilize against them. The analogy between Mogadishu and Iraq is simply that there was an invasion of Somalia and there was an invasion of Iraq.

    Q. Just so we're clear: Do you welcome or wish for the deaths of American soldiers?

    A. No, precisely not. That's one of the reasons I am against the war. I am against the war because people like George Bush and his war cabinet are invested in needlessly wasting the lives of people who have absolutely no interest in perpetrating this war and should not be there. And any responsibility for the loss of their lives will rest in the hands of the warmakers on the side of the U.S.

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    More Comments:

    asdf - 12/11/2003





    Jane Liu - 11/6/2003

    Dr. De Genova, my graduate professor of anthropology is one of the most empathic and sympathetic academics I know. In his determination to stand for what is right, he has taken great risk to support people of the developing world by confronting immense criticism for his anti-U.S. stance. Inappropriate criticism came from many sources (c'mon, a congressman tell Columbia University how to manage its employees?). Dr. De Genova has also received unwarranted death threats from individuals whose words smack of blind jingoism.

    Having taken a class with Dr. De Genova, I knew him to be a soft-spoken individual with strong ideals who genuinely cared about his students and the process of learning. His research into the culture of rap and hip hop music underscores his desire to bring a legitimate voice to a subculture often dismissed as violent and superficial. He was always open to students' ideas and encouraged everyone to participate, even undergraduates who floundered in his academically rigorous graduate classes.

    Knowing this about Dr. De Genova, I find it impossible to interpret his comment as desiring the death of U.S. troops. I know he is aware that those American troops who are at the frontlines of war are typically people who are socially and educationally disadvantaged in many ways. Joining the army is often a choice made for a lack of better alternatives. These are among the people Dr. De Genova is most concerned about, not the war mongers in Washington.

    Even prominent economists like Jeffrey Sachs, advisor to the secretary general of the United Nations, and Democratic presidential candidates have denounced the U.S. war machine headed by George W. Bush. Dr. De Genova's comments simply expressed his desire to see the end of U.S. imperialism, and not the death of American lives. I know he would prefer not to see American soldiers lay down their lives fighting senseless and cruel wars against civilians in Somalia, Vietnam, or Iraq.

    Dr. De Genova did us a great service by courageously challenging what economist Jeffrey Sachs has referred to as a climate of jingoism and fear. No American should be afraid of criticizing the U.S. government. And Dr. De Genova's comments should not be misconstrued as desiring the death of American soliders but as desirous of the end of U.S. imperialism in soverign nations.

    Jan-Cees Bron - 9/19/2003

    Dear readers,

    I sincerely believe mr. De Genova was completely right as he states that the U.S. war in Iraq was unjust. The cause of the current suffering of the Iraqi people is an American one. Whatever the brutal violations of human rights: these were not the reason for attacking Iraq. After all many regimes that the U.S. loves to support, like the Pakistani and Saudi dictatorships, are equally 'evil'. It's surprising how people buy this propaganda that the U.S. wanted to help the Iraqi people. Right on the moment Saddam was murdering Kurds (who, btw, helped the Iranians in that complicated war) the U.S. helped Saddam. Yes, ESPECIALLY when he was massmurdering his enemies the U.S. used it's veto to stop U.N. security council-members (like France) with any decency from condemning the use of biological or chemical weapons by Saddam.

    About the weapons of mass-destruction I can be short: have you seen any yet? So apparently the Bush-administration lied. Hans Blix (another 'traitor' from Sweden?) even said that the U.S. was falsificating the 'evidence' like they did before in the cases of Tonkin-bay, Pig's Bay or even worse...the 14-month massmurder (even 500.000 dead civilians are okay to be called 'collaterol damage?) on the Cambodian people without informing the Congress.

    And the link of Al-Qaida with Saddam? *LOL* Every expert knows Osama has always been on Iran's side, never on Iraq's.

    So...we must conclude this war was wrong and unjust, just like the occupation of Poland by Hitler, or Mussolini's attack on Abessinia. And IF we say that war is sometimes jsutified...and so is killing...then, in this case, we must be support the Iraqis. There's only one conclusion left then: the soldiers, who have chosen to protect corporate/military America, must be driven away from Iraq, dead or alive.

    That is the consequence of war... A war that the USA wanted. I can't feel sorry for them. I just pity their ignorance.

    Call me a traitor, call me a European bleeding heart, but at least my government is not a fascistoid bunch of liars driving my country into war on the waves of a fictitious War on Terror. Like that Pakistani protestor wrote on his sheet:

    'America: think about why the whole world hates you'

    But that is, of course, precisely what the U.S. government DOESN'T want.

    Unto the next All-American Superboooooooowl!!!!

    Yours sincerely,

    Jan-Cees Bron

    (et mr De Genova: la vie n'est pas une chocolat!)

    Wade Starbuck - 9/10/2003

    You belong in a toilet Nicholas De Genova.You are a disgrace to all the young men in our history that died to protect your right of free speech, from the American Revolution to the present. Don't ever find yourself in my presence,as your tonge may get sewed to your rectum,......to recycle your own bullshit!!!!!!!!!!

    Letter To America - 5/28/2003

    Recently, it has been brought to my attention that two Ivy League professors have been abusing their position by using the classroom as a political platform to campaign against the United States of America.

    Nicholas De Genova, a Columbia University assistant professor of anthropology and Latino studies, shocked students and faculty at a campus anti-war teach-in on March 26 when he expressed his wish that Iraq would defeat the United States and that there would be "a million Mogadishu’s." This last comment was meant to refer to a 1993 incident in Somalia when 18 U.S. soldiers were killed during a military operation.
    De Genova further insulted America's men and women in uniform by declaring that "the only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military," and accused patriotic citizens of being white supremacists.

    Associate Professor Mazin Qumsiyeh of Yale University appears to have a major role in coordinating boycott petitions. Professor Qumsiyeh is also running a boycott of Israeli goods and services as well as a boycott of businesses that do business with Israel. He heads the Palestine Right To Return Coalition's Media Committee. He writes, “We blame Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice who are so wedded to special interests and money (oil and military industries) that they maybe willing to sacrifice American, Iraqi, and Palestinian lives in quest for more power. If you have not noticed the killing of Palestinians continued unabated with 30 killed in the past week and dozens of homes demolished (all using our tax money). Do we blame the nine-mega corporations owning most of our media and calling the shots on what we see or hear in America? Does this media keep the American public in the dark about what is really going on in Iraq and Palestine as we continue to alienate the whole world. Does this group (with special interest agenda) manage to regularly implant thought patterns that have little to do with reality but much to do with gaining support for policies of war mongering, domination, and civil rights violations.”

    Such conduct is highly inappropriate for the classroom regardless of our liberty of free speech. A professor’s role in society is to teach students in a nonbiased manner enabling students to formulate their own opinions. I am outraged by this new academic epidemic. Law does not forbid the spread of anti-American propaganda, nor should it impede upon our right to free speech. However, there is a time and a place to express ones personal and political views, this location should not include the classroom. These professors should teach the subjects they are employed to teach, as opposed to giving daily lesson regarding “evil America.”

    Thank you,
    David Wentworth


    April 17 - At Columbia University, several graduate teaching assistants used departmental e-mail listserves to promote an on-campus anti-Israel rally. Several faculty members cancelled their classes to allow students to attend. One graduate student was sanctioned for misuse of departmental lists and one of the faculty members has since apologized. Yet was not fired.


    De Genova is the Anti-Christ - 5/20/2003


    NEW YORK — The controversy over a Columbia University assistant professor who called for the bloody defeat of U.S. troops in Iraq refuses to die, with critics heaping scorn and supporters saying he has gone into hiding after receiving numerous death threats.

    A graduate student told the Columbia Spectator that Nicholas De Genova and his wife were "fearing for their lives" after receiving some 1,000 threatening phone and e-mail messages. The threats led De Genova to nix his two classes on Tuesday, according to the student newspaper.

    De Genova told a campus "teach-in" last Wednesday that he wanted to see the U.S. defeated in Iraq and suffer "a million Mogadishus" — a reference to the 1993 Somalia ambush that left 18 Americans dead.

    "The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military," he said at an anti-war event attended by students and faculty.

    A school senior whose father is an Army colonel serving in Kuwait was among those who slammed De Genova's remarks.

    "A Columbia professor wished death upon the father of a Columbia University student and possibly [on the parents of] other students," William Pratt told the New York Post, adding he was "appalled and devastated" by De Genova’s harsh remarks.

    "What really pushes me over the edge is when a professor basically wishes for the slaughter of U.S. military men and women who gave him the right to free speech and to make those disgusting comments," Pratt told the Post.

    University President Lee C. Bollinger released a statement distancing himself and the school from De Genova, who was apparently a last-minute add-on to the teach-in lineup.

    "I am shocked that someone would make such statements. Because of the university’s tradition of academic freedom, I normally don’t comment about statements made by faculty members. However, this one crosses the line and I really feel the need to say something. I am especially saddened for the families of those whose lives are at risk," Bollinger said in his Friday statement.

    The university has not publicly said if De Genova’s job as an assistant professor is in jeopardy over the scandal. De Genova does not have tenure.

    Though most university officials and trustees declined to comment on the controversy when contacted by Fox News, one said he supported Bollinger’s statement.

    "My mind turns with admiration to the deaths and wounds and countless other sacrifices suffered by tens of thousands of brave U.S. military people to establish and protect American rights of free speech ... even free speech as outrageous, insensitive, thoughtless and offensive as that reportedly uttered by Professor De Genova," said attorney Stephen Case.

    Some students defended the professor. About two dozen of his students took part in a silent protest on Tuesday, as they sat quietly outside in the rain to show their support of De Genova and their displeasure with the university’s handling of the matter.

    "We feel that the university has failed to protect Nick," anthropology grad student Ayca Cubukcu told the Spectator.

    only the law won't allow it... - 5/19/2003

    This bastard is stimulating a movement of verbal saditious conspiracy against the US govermant.

    Nicholas De Genova MUST BE REMOVED FROM COLUMBIA! - 5/17/2003


    Please refrain from purchasing any French products:

    We ask that you assist in spreading this message to all your friends and
    family, this action may seem extreme at first, however as this month
    unfolds, a boycott of all French products will seem to be more of an
    American duty then an outlandish attack.

    Thank you for your time,
    -The Anti-France Campaign

    Jerry - 5/9/2003

    Well said. If someone said something like this at Columbia they WOULD be fired, no questions asked.

    Tom Sheehy - 4/29/2003

    We the American Public wish a million Texas Towers and Charles Whitmans on De Genova.

    George Boyles - 4/29/2003

    Yes, I'm resting a little easier since I now feel that De Genova's remarks will not simply fade off like the next day's morning fog. I made several posts initially and wrote letters to newsprint. (The response to my letter to De Genova from Columbia was, I believe, from responder # 13.) De Genova's vile comments were a wakeup call.

    The general disgust with this twerp is rightfully ongoing. May his remarks ever serve as a reminder of the trash who are in some cases in charge of final molding of our young people's ideals as they go on into the real world. I am certain that the majority of Columbia's alumni do not share De Genova's views and will continue to make that fact known as they help their own budding college freshmen decide where to attend classes and also where they send their financial support.

    I'll be first to agree that American policy is not 100% on the mark all the time but by far it beats that of any other country in the world that does anything for the betterment of humanity except sit on the bench.

    Anti-Michael More - 4/29/2003


    Please refrain from purchasing any French products:

    We ask that you assist in spreading this message to all your friends and
    family, this action may seem extreme at first, however as this month
    unfolds, a boycott of all French products will seem to be more of an
    American duty then an outlandish attack.

    Thank you for your time,
    -The Anti-France Campaign

    HC Carey - 4/27/2003

    First of all, who are these "ultraliberals" whoi have rushed to his defense of made him a hero? I don't know of a single one. In fact, the guy's entire fame rests on the endless attacks which have been made on him for his boneheaded and stupid remarks. He is no one's hero

    Is he an "advocate" rahter than a teacher? Maybe, but I don't think you can be a teacher without advocating something--an ideal of justice, of freedom, or right and wrong--you have to make conclusions, and your conclusion is in effect advocacy. I teach at a university with a fmaous libertarian econ department, and they advocate the free market enegretically and in every class. They advocate against government programs, regulations, and attempts to adjust income levels. Students come into my clases with a very clear sense of the New Deal as an era of unbridled near socialism; they see FDR as a dictator who caused the depression. Fine--they are advocates and they are entitled to their learned opinion. No one is attacking the econ department for being one sided; there is no public outcry about the rightist academy and its refusal to teach both sides.

    it doesn't really matter--students, like all humans, stubbornly resist all attempts to control their thinking and insist on forming their own opinions. i have had students come up to me years later and tell me how much they loved my class, and then tell me what they learned in my class. Most of the time, it has no relation to what i thought I was teaching. They were inspired by the class to reach their own conclusions. Happens all the time. Relax

    Leif Skodnick - 4/25/2003

    Folks, DeGenova is the new breed, and as a recent grad, I find this pretty alarming. The movement among professors to engage in so-called "advocacy teaching" is alarming, and this talentless clown is going to be a hero to all the ultra-liberals in the academy. What is really alarming is that, because individuals like this refuse to teach both sides of an issue, they effectively brainwash and/or force students into beliving what the professors are telling them to believe, using grades as leverage. This endangers the freedom of thought by students as well as the concept of the liberal education in the academy, yet it seems many of our administrators are too gutless to act in the best interests of students.

    Jerry - 4/25/2003

    I may not agree with what Genova has to say but I'll defend to the death his right to say it. That's my standard response to this kind of thing but his statements are so asinine or, perhaps, assinine, that I'll make an exception in his case. I agree that he dug his hole even deeper with his latest comments and though I believe in free speech, I think his world view is so warped that he shouldn't be poisoning young minds with HIS prejudices. Therefore, he should be fired immediately.

    Joe Fitzharris - 4/24/2003

    Genova is typical of too many in our profession, ignore the facts, full ideology ahead. One small example, he says in his "Spectator" letter that a "disproportionate majority of U.S. troops come from racially subordinated and working-class backgrounds and are in the military largely as a consequence of a treacherous lack of prospects for a decent life." Numbers please sir. The evidence to the contrary is public.

    We need a "regime change" in the academy - an elimination of the ideologically formed peurile blathering that is passed off as analysis, and its replacement by fact-respecting and fact-based analysis, with theory/ideology taking the fall.

    marte hall - 4/24/2003

    Two remarks: One, a quote from HNN's republication of the interview of de Genova in the Chronicle of Higher Education, deletions and editings noted with dots: "To...denounce what I said as 'idiotic' merely contributes to [a] ... campaign of villification." Two, another post on today's HNN on-line page asks do Yale students need lessons in manners? My question: Do HNN members posting comments need lessons in manners?

    John Kipper - 4/24/2003

    How does an idiot so out of touch with reality like this even become a professor?

    Easy. He merely conforms to, and parrots back, the teachings of other idiots who are already professors and who sit on the dissertation committees. Is it real or is it Memorex?

    Ron Turner - 4/21/2003

    Geez, talk about digging a bigger hole for himself. Now he wants another Vietnam, equates that with human self-determination (as if the Vietnamese are free right now), and doesn't even like calling himself an American.

    How does an idiot so out of touch with reality like this even become a professor?

    Frank Lee - 4/21/2003

    Some people apparently don't know how to jump off a ship which they themselves have sabotaged.

    George Bush's speech writers could hardly have asked for a better example of "for us or against us" thinking.

    The neo-con fanatics running Washington would have U.S. citizens believe that their only choice is between a world ruled by unilateral and hypocritical U.S. militarism or one dominated by terrorism and dictatorship of the likes of Saddam. Nothing professor Genova says here contradicts that absurd notion.