More From Alder's Ledge

November 9, 2012

Manifest Destiny or Lebensraum

Genocide in America

(Wounded Knee Massacre)

In America we tend to think of genocide as a war crime committed by people in Germany or maybe Rwanda. But few people today think of genocide as a part of what built this great nation. It is hard to stomach the thought that genocide played any role in American history let alone the fact that it helped define America's rise from an experiment to a modern nation. 

So for those of you who are still reading let me explain what I mean and how this horrific part of our past can help us stop this sin of our fathers from ever occurring again.

It is little secret that before the Europeans arrived their existed upon this soil cultures that were complex and rich in arts, language, and architecture. These societies rose and fell on their own accord before the first contact with Spanish, Dutch, French, or English. They waged war differently from the whites who came later. They communicated differences in a manner different from the Europeans. And it was this culture that evolved on its own that stood in such contrast to that of Europe that it was shocking to the invaders who first landed in Haiti and the Gulf region of America. 

Prior to the invasion of America the cultures that had developed practiced war in measured degrees. Some wars could last a matter of hours, others might turn bitter and deaths may occur in larger numbers. Yet in all the wars history has been able to record none would have prepared the Native people for the invasion that was about to come.

Upon arrival the first attack on the Natives may not have been intentional. Through initial contact the Native Americans were exposed to diseases that would ravage their populations in plague proportions. Small pox, yellow fever, and cholera were just a few that spread rapidly wherever the Europeans went. Christopher Columbus may have very well been the first European explorer to note this as he often exploited the issue to gain control over what is now Haiti.

The next issue that quickly became apparent to soldiers and settlers alike was that the Native people had not developed weapons on the same scale as their European counterparts. In contrast the Native Americans of North America were often seen at first as using tools of the hunt to fight rather than the weapons of war developed over ages in Europe. Not to say that Native peoples didn't quickly adjust and even become rather ingenuitive in their attempts to fight back. On the contrary the Native peoples willingness to adopt weapons of the Europeans occurred without must hesitance. It was always the lack of understanding on the Native Americans' part of European warfare that left them as the underdogs.

As genocidal efforts to remove the Native Americans began in the North America it is important to note that the Spanish genocide of Latin America had almost completely destroyed the cultures that existed prior to Spanish occupation. Inca, Mayans, Aztecs... anything that came before the Spanish was now obliterated as the Spanish set out to destroy the Native peoples' languages, way of life, and even their art and architecture. The Spanish took on a way of subjugation that would be repeated under the Young Turks as they forced "Turkification" upon the Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontiac Greeks.

In the British occupied areas, especially the area soon be called the Thirteen colonies, the occupation was hallmarked by the removal of Native peoples and the ethnic cleansing of the region. The only minorities allowed to stay were those cast under the yolk of slavery. And in what is now Florida and Georgia, this did include some Native Americans.

For a period of time the Appalachian Mountains seemed to him-in the European settlers. Though traders and soldiers could be found wandering the rest of North America, for this period of time the use of ethnic cleansing was employed.

Ethnic cleansing in America was not carried out in the same manner as it was in Bosnia, though at times it did mirror later versions of it. In the British controlled areas the use of treaties and the loosely worded promises amongst tribes and Europeans were used to dwindle the populations. Once the targeted community was small enough to annihilate without much loss of European lives they were often removed or killed off. At times other Native American tribes did engage and even help the Europeans in this conquest. Though it does appear that these tribes did so under the impression that this act of appeasement would save them from the same fate. In rarer cases there were tribes that took the opportunity to take revenge upon a competing tribe.

As the American settlers took control of their own destiny the Native Americans lost more control of their own. In the French and Indian War the Native Americans lost the least of to evils as the British and Americans claimed victory over the French. This meant the mild exploitation of the French was not to shift to the all out genocide the British and American forces favored. This turn for the worse would only be highlighted as the Americas broke with Britain. A point at which many of the Native Americans along the Canadian border fled north under the naive assumption that the Canadians would be more humane.

As the United States grew out of its adolescence the political nature of the genocide grew with it. In the years leading up to World War One in Germany a political and social philosophy developed out of the science of the day (eugenics). This idea stated that it was the natural right of a people to spread outward from their cultural nucleus and claim more land as their society grew with them. The need was perceived that a developing society and growing population was constantly in need of new sources of food and natural resources. Thus the more developed a society became the more space it required. Mixing this with Darwin's evolutionary theory many justified this claim by stating that only the most developed societies would survive while the backward societies were forced to assimilate or face extinction. More openly racist views stated that the more developed races would spread their society while the sub-races would be forced into subjugation or mass extinction... a view many Germans of the day were not directly opposed to despite the fact that slavery in Europe was illegal.

We call this theory today Lebensraum. It was the exact theory that drove Germany to commit the first genocide of the 20Th century in Namibia against the Herero and Namaqua. It would also be used to justify the Nazi ambitions of the Final Solution and the conquering of Europe. In America we called this theory Manifest Destiny.

This version of lebensraum was used to justify the Louisiana Purchase. It was then used by the Democrat party to justify expansion beyond the Louisiana territory and into areas that had been left for the Native American tribes whom had been pushed West. And in 1840 the Democrats used it again to go to war with Mexico so as to claim more territory in around the area of Texas (including California). The Democrats again pushed the idea as they forcibly pushed Texas into the Union so as to allow slavery to expand westward with them.

But for the Native Americans still left on the Great Plains this idea of manifest destiny was nothing more than the final nail in their coffin. The whites were already coming west. The land upon which the Native Americans sat was said to be "needed" by the United States to fulfill its destiny. And in the end the Indian Wars would amount to the creation of concentration camps and death squads roaming the west to root out the targeted victims of genocide.

Manifest destiny was never a valid claim to expansion. Even in modern times there are vast sections of America left open and free. The only difference is that the people who used to live on those lands have been assimilated or killed in the largest genocide of recorded history. Modern time has forgotten that this claim by the fledgling United States was nothing less vile than the claim of lebensraum by the founders of the Nazi party. Both were used to lend their moral superiority to the outright slaughter of people deemed unwanted, undeveloped, or less than human.

In America we have a long history with genocide. We committed it, we have covered it up, and at times we have romanticized it. Perhaps it is this love affair with out own genocide that keeps us from recognizing the genocides other cultures have suffered. It has been nearly a hundred years since the Armenians were forced to suffer the horrors of genocide. Yet here we are today unable as a country to admit to it. Both for the Armenians and the Native Americans alike.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment, just keep it on topic.