Sunday, April 22, 2007
Genocide in America?
A man named Blair made some interesting comments about genocide, in reference to some earlier posts about Sand Creek, Aravaipa Creek, and other massacres of Indians by Euro-Americans. Blair's post is going to be reprinted below my rap.
"Genocide is a crime of intent." Yes—but did the Turks deliberately set out to kill all the Armentians? If they didn't, then there wasn't any Armenian genocide, right? Genocide is defined as offing a specific ethnic/religious population. According to Blair, since there wasn't any specific national policy to liquidate all Indians, then there wasn't any genocide. That's interesting. At Sand Creek, the command was to kill all the Indians, including children—"nits make lice" is a famous statement of that era. That command was given by a member of the U.S. military; in terms of national policy, Sand Creek may not have been "genocidal" by Blair's terms. Maybe "ethnic cleansing" sounds better, but the outcome was the same: the intent was to kill all the Indians encountered. The same thing happened at Aravaipa Creek/Camp Grant: the idea was to kill all the Indians encountered—but that was simply an act of private citizens, so, I guess, it wasn't genocidal. Then the murders in Darfur or Rwanda weren't genocidal either because there were no specific orders from on high.
"The only good Indian is a dead Indian," according to General Phil Sheridan, U.S.A..
The question of genocidal wars between Indian nations before the European conquest, isn't settled by Blair's fiat. We do know, beyond reasonable doubt, that wars of extermination between Indian nations were stimulated and often encouraged by the European occupiers. To say the Indians have always fought each other to the death, intending to utterly destroy the other nation is bullshit, pure and simple. All that is is an attempt to excuse what happened here after the conquest: "They did it first!" Sort of the Laurel and Hardy Theory of History—"Now see what you made me do?"
Population figures? If it hadn't been for diseases, the Pilgrims, among others, would not have been able to settle; much of America was depopulated, that is, vast die-offs happened, not because of inter-tribal warfare (or God's planning for the future America), but because of introduced diseases. Read the early descriptions of the bodies and empty villages by the first Euro explorers. FWIW, Peru suffered massive die-offs of European diseases long before the 18th Century—in fact, before Pizarro. Can disease be a co-conspirator of genocide? I think so. As far as the "infected blankets" go, smallpox would have killed millions and millions of native people regardless of how it got to them. There was no immunity conferred by past outbreaks. It was the same with measles or any other Old World disease.
Blair has given us the standard argument that what happened here was what happened everywhere else, so therefore what are Indians whining about. Yeah. Let's get a grip and become good Americans, forgive and forget.
I think I'll go barf.
My name is Blair. I am posting anonymously because my Google password doesn't seem to be working.
Genocide is a crime of intent. No mainstream historian agrees that Europeans intentionally used smallpox as a biological weapon against Native Americans. Smallpox was a global contagion that orginated in Africa and killed up to 500 million people around the world. The smallpox pandemic that did the most damage to Native Americans orginated in the Valley of Mexico around 1780 and spread north along traded routes to the Pueblo villages along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. Plains Indians trading with the Pueblos took the virus home with them. From the plains, the virus spread west over the Rockies and east across the Mississippi. Most Native Americans who died of smallpox never encountered a white man.
All the smallpox blanket myths but one have been debunked. Still at issue is a letter written by a British colonial official in which he suggested British soldiers might give smallpox infected blankets to a New England tribe. The letter exists, but there is no evidence that the British soldiers followed up on the suggestion. Even if all the smallpox blanket myths were true, they would have had little impact on the spread of a virus as infectous as smallpox.
The Euopeans settlers were also deathly afraid of smallpox, which decimated towns and wiped out entire families. Smallpox vaccinations were not available in the United States until June 1800, but the public was almost as afraid of the vaccination as they were of the disease. By 1830, the federal government established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans, something it would not have done had it been intent on genocide.
Combat between Native Americans and whites produce far few casualties than most American assume. From 1511, when colonists first arrived in what is now the United States, to the closing of the frontier in 1890, about 16,349 people died from atrocities committed by Native Americans against European Americans or by European Americans against Native Americans. About 9,156 people died from atrocities perpetrated by Native Americans while 7,193 people died from atrocities perpetrated by whites. This works out to just over 29 whites a year and just over 22 Native Americans. These figures are hardly genocidal. (By comparison, about 200,000 died in four years of fighting during the American Civil War.)
Some people compare Native American reservations to Nazi death camps, but the Native American population on reservations grew dramatically while the population of Nazi concentration camps shrank dramatically. For example, the Navajo grew from about 8,000 in the 1860s, when they were first forced onto a reservation, to about 250,000 today.
The smallpox pandemic and epidemics killed between one to two thirds of the Native American population, about the same percentage of the European popluation that perish during the “Black Death.” It took the European population nearly four centuries to recover from the bubonic plague; the Native American population of North America rebounded to about its pre-Columbian level in less than two centuries.
The Native American tribes waged genocidal warfare against each other prior to and after the arrival of the Europeans. The purpose of this warfare was to exterminate or drive rival tribes for their lands. As a percentage of population, casualites were higher than during the European wars of the 20th century. To offset their combat lossess, Native Americans tribes practiced polgyamy and raised children captured from other tribes as their own. Today, the Native American population is much larger than it was prior to European contact, in part because the Europeans stopped inter-tribal warfare.
Intent is easy to prove. In "Native America Discovered and Conquered," by Robert Miller, he quotes documents by Thomas Jefferson calling for the annihilation of the Indians...repeatedly. Then Chivington, like my friend here mentioned. Sheridan's actions especially in destroying the buffalo (see article 2c, UN Convention on...Genocide).
Like that lie you tell yourself about smallpox blankets. Again, I will mention Jeffrey Amherst. As well, numerous oral histories from indigenous folks.
Yes, there was indeed a vaccine for smallpox, created by Zabdiel Boylston, Cotton Mather's doctor. And yes, the documentation I read did indeed say folks were afraid of taking it. And documentation does indeed say that there was a program of vaccination for indigenous folks in the 1830's. And documentation also states that the vaccines were not distributed.
Genocide is being enacted against the Iraqi's (Schwarpzcopf wanted to kill all humans within the borders of Iraq according to a 1992 CNN interview: "a battle of complete annihilation"). The U.S. committed genocide in South East Asia. The U.S. complicit in genocide done by the Nazi's (also heavily documented). U.S. was complicit in the genocide of East Timor, as well as Rwanda.
Yeah, Blair, we'd all like to live in a sweet and wonderful nation. Many folks will lie to themselves and others to make this nation seem as sweet as its folks like to believe. They, however, are not. In fact, many allege that this nation, the U.S., is one of the most genocidal nations to have ever existed.
Jeffery Amherst was the Britsh officer who, during Chief Pontiac's War, wrote the famous letter that I mentioned in my previous post. He wrote to a subordinant suggesting he "consider the possiblity" of giving small-pox infected blanket to the Indians. The letter is famous because its the closest anyone has come to documented a smallpox blanked incident. There is not evidence that the subordinant acted on the suggestion. Besides the tribes in the area already had smallpox.
What the letter justifies is saying that "A British officer suggested in a letter that smallpox-infected blankets might possibly be considered."
I think the United States was stupid to go into Iraq, but it's not trying to exterminate the Iraqi people. It appears our invasion has set off what might turn out to be a genocidal civil war between Shias and Sunnis.
Odd comment about Iraq, especially considering Schwarpze's comment: "A battle of complete annihilation. But that's not genocide. And, especially considering that Iraq is now destroyed culturally and economically.
Hey, have you read the UN convention on...genocide. Using your definitions of what is and isn't genocide, it wasn't the Nazi's intent to kill all the Jews, either, well documented. That wasn't genocide then. It wasn't the Turks intent to kill all the Armenians, it was more of an ethnic cleansing, therefore, not genocide. Tell me Blair, since we could easily excuse all genocidal crimes, what is your definition of genocide and how have you become such an expert on the crime as to know what it is and isn't?
Just like the U.S. government has made it legal for the U.S. government to commit torture (with the help of Alberto Gonzales), it has made it legal for the U.S. to commit genocide as well. Why do you think they would do that Blair? Do you think it is because they have never committed genocide just like they don't torture?
Just like the Nazi's at Nuremburg used the defense of not breaking any German laws and therefore not guilty of genocide, the U.S. doesn't break any U.S. laws in committing genocide.
Shit, Blair, you'd make a good member of the U.S. administration. Do you work for them?
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, racial or religions group:
A. Killing members of the group;
B. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
C. Deliberately inflicting on the group the conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
D. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the groups;
E. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
When Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf made his “battle of complete annihilation” he was referring to Iraqi military forces occupying Kuwait, not the Iraqi people, and it was nothing but rhetoric. During Operation Desert Storm, forces under his command took hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers as prisoners of war; they didn’t try to annihilate them. It’s easy to find statements by individuals that seem to indicate genocide intent, but actions are what count.
The United Nations supported and furnished troops for Operation Desert Storm (the first Gulf War) and for Operation Iraqi Freedom (the second Gulf War). Since the intent is obviously not to destroy the Iraqi people, these wars are obviously not genocidal. (I don’t support the war in Iraq because I think it’s goals are not achievable.)
In every war, there are war crimes. During every war, the United States has prosecuted members of its own orces for war crimes. During WW II, the U.S. Army executed hundreds of American soldiers for crimes such as rape against noncombatants. At the moment, U.S. soldiers and marines are on trial now for killing Iraqi noncombatants and will almost certainly be convicted. The military is seeking death sentences for some of them. Since I don’t support capital punishment, I hope they get life sentences. Let’s hope they don’t get pardons like the one President Nixon gave to Lt. William Calley during Vietnam.
During WW II, the Germans were guilty of genocide. They tried to drive out or kill all European Jews. The Nazi leaders were not charged with genocide at Nuremburg because the crimes had not yet been defined. They were hung as war criminals for violating the Geneva Convention. Comparing Indian reservations to Nazi death camps, by the way, reveals U.S. policy was not to exterminate Native Americans. Millions died in Nazi death camps, but Native American populations grew dramatically on reservations. Fore example, the Cherokee population grew from less than 20,000 in the mid-1860s to more than 250,000 in four generations.
Applying 20th or 21st century ethics and morality to previous centuries makes any racial or ethnic group or nation seem inhumane. For example, God is obviously guilty of genocide by ordering the Hebrews to drive people of other nations out of the “Promised Land.” The Bible also offers straightforward rules for slavery.
“As for your males and female salves whom you may have: you may buy males and female salves from among the nations that are round you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to you sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever; you may make slaves of them, but over your brethren the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another, with harshness.”
Native Americans waged genocidal wars against each other, destroyed cultures, enslaved people, conducted mass human sacrifices, routinely tortured prisoners to death as a communal exercise, practiced ritualistic cannibalism, and stole children from their parents. They boast about this in their oral histories.
Taking cultures, ethnic groups, races or nations to task for crimes centuries old is a game anyone can play. Why should Europeans be the only target?