Genocide Against the American Indians?–“The term “genocide” was coined in 1944 by a Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959)…”
by Bill Lockwood
Part of the hate-America program designed to erase our cherished ideals of freedom is the continual program that portrays early American white settlers and the United States Government itself as having committed planned genocide against the American Indian. For these “historical crimes” Americans are now being called upon to pay “reparations” to the noble Red Man.
For example, in the DePaul Law Review (2002), appeared a piece entitled The Need for Accountability and Reparation: 1830-1976, the United States’ Government Role in the Promotion, Implementation, and Execution of the Crime of Genocide Against Native Americans, author Lindsay Glauner argues that in the “colonization” of America, our ancestors engaged in one of the most heinous acts of criminality against mankind—Genocide. This “international crime,” Glauner insists, now demands reparation.
Writer S.L.A. Marshall, an acclaimed military historian, reminds us in Crimsoned Prairie (1972), however, that this is all simply vogue. It is the bash-America curriculum fashionable at multi-levels of education. “Not all Indians were virtuous and trustworthy, and not all white men were greedy and unscrupulous.”
It is true that the United States government and individuals many times grievously wronged the tribes of Indians on this continent. But a balanced view of history is not so one-sided. The wars of the West were unavoidable, not because of the greedy white man, but because of a complete clash of cultures. And, far from falling into a category of systematic extermination or even planned genocide, our government had a multi-faceted and changing approach to the West, seeking to adapt itself to an increasing volatile situation.
The term “genocide” was coined in 1944 by a Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), who documented Nazi government policies of “systematically destroying national and ethnic groups, including the mass murder of European Jews.” The term “genocide” combines the Greek term geno, meaning tribe or race, with the Latin suffix –cide, meaning “to kill.” Lemkin defined the term as a “coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”
Official United States’ policy toward the Indian was never one of planned systematic extermination. Thoughtful reflection on the root causes of the Indian Wars of the West shows that the causes were multiple and on the whole, unavoidable.
Marshall observes that,
The wars were not the poison fruit of bureaucratic negligence, nor were they strictly the evil consequence of white exploiters cheating the Plains Indians of his lawful property, though all too frequently they were given that appearance with Government giving its backing to the exploiters. Rather, violence beset the western frontier and lasted and lasted because the fundamental interests of the two sides were so wholly irreconcilable as to leave little or no room for compromise.
Consider the following.
First, before the coming of the white man to the Great Plains, life was not an idyllic existence and the “spirit of live-and-let-live” did not exist—in spite of what popular opinion may be. Pawnees killed hundreds of Navajo’s, Comanche’s made war on the Apache’s, The Sioux hated the Pawnee and the Crow. The territory of the Northern States occupied by the Sioux and earlier the Blackfeet belonged traditionally to other tribes which they displaced by incessant war.
“Intertribal warfare developed out of the desire to dominate the richest game land, enlarge the pony herds, and loot weapons.” The Indian tribes continued aggressively to push one another all over the map. The “ancestral lands” belonging to particular tribes and villages was continually changing. To believe that European settlers introduced wars to the Great Plains and were the Great Perpetrators of violence is to ignore history.
“Greedy whites may be guilty of many crimes against the Indian and so may the army, but neither one nor the other may be rightly accused of making warlike the Sioux Confederation.”
Added to that is that the structure of Indian society, frequently misunderstood by the white man, did not lend itself to making treaties. The United States Government was not able to control the flowing population of settlers moving West and neither was a chief of an Indian tribe able to bind braves to a council decision to which the chiefs had agreed.
As a matter of fact, Indian males “achieved status and political importance from their deeds in war or from their feats of as plunderers, either actual or what they could make others believe they had done. For extra claiming and great boasting were expected of them.” These deeds were accomplished on an individual basis. One of the outstanding unusual features of the Oglala Sioux warrior Crazy Horse was the fact that he did not participate in self-congratulation of deeds accomplished. So peculiar was this to Indian society that it is noted by all of his biographers.
Second, official U.S. Government policy continued to change as time moved forward. In the 1820’s, for example, a line of ten small forts was built, “running from Minnesota in the north to Louisiana in the south. These lightly manned and insignificantly armed garrison points were intended to serve as a Western World ‘Great Wall of China.’ Their placement established what was officially termed the ‘Permanent Indian Frontier.’” That it was impossible to maintain this boundary of westward expansion can readily be seen. Encroachment began in earnest in the 1840’s by American moving west, but it was hardly a planned program of Indian extermination which inaugurated it. The country was open country and tribal territory only by force of numbers. There is nothing evil about settlers roaming the West as had the Indians for decades and centuries.
This brings us to a third consideration, which is the fact that the inevitable traffic flow that moved toward the Pacific coast is what caused friction—not government policy. Differences between white and red men were “moving to a dead end.” The clash of cultural concepts in this movement was inevitable. “It was no more possible for Indians to keep their hand off of a carelessly guarded horse corral or a vulnerable herd of cattle,” writes Marshall, “than it was for the white man to abandon the rule that private property was sacred.”
“The Indian knew no law against raiding. Horse stealing or the running off of someone else’s beeves was to his mind an achievement, a stroke to his credit, a coup. The two scales of values were as unlike as crimson and cream and totally irreconcilable.” Government bureaucracies may have been blind to these realities, but they were hardly the conniving villains they have been made out to be.
In this clash of value-systems the white settlers naturally called upon the U.S. Government for protection. In turn, deployed protection forces by the United States Army pushed deeper and deeper into Indian territory.
On the subject of flow of traffic across the Great Plains, the Indian culture might be called what Marshall refers to as a “rootlessness.” “It was the freedom of movement, the privilege of ranging far and wide seasonally, that gave his life meaning and dignity. Once that freedom became threatened, his culture, his creature habits and customs, his manner of providing for his family, all of these were imperiled.”
The white man’s way of limiting him to a piece of ground upon which to settle was to suggest “to him the loss of everything that made his spirit proud.” The migratory manner of living being curtailed, it was only a matter of time that this pressure point would explode into open warfare.
In conclusion, Gen. Marshall offers this. “So we are speaking of wars that virtually had to be, though the notion that there is always a viable and less violent alternative is today no less popular than is the theme that the Plains Indians were without sin and were made the victims of predatory whites.”
While I myself lament the Indian Wars of the West it is well to remember that American Western history is not so lopsided as to render the government or the American people as culpable of genocide. Even less to consider the Indian wars on the whole as monstrous crimes against humanity.