Thursday, May 5, 2011

What's in a Codename?

So Osama was a huge news story with lots of spin offs. But one of them--the story about Native Americans being upset that "Geronimo" was used at the codename for Osama was one particular story I wanted to focus on. I'm sure I've mentioned this topic before on this blog, but I want to revisit it, because it's important. It's an issue that most people don't seem to understand.

I think the reaction most people have to this story is to call it political correctness gone to far. Or, worse, to remind people that the military uses lots of Native American names and imagery, such as Apache Helicopters in their lingo to bring respect to the fierceness and strength of Native Americans in battle. That sounds like a compliment, doesn't it?

I've even heard from the mouths of people I otherwise considered a friend, disgusting comments like, "The Native Americans lost. We won. They need to get over it."

Quite unfortunately, Hollywood has contributed to one of the greatest shames in the history of the United States: the myth that somehow American settlers and Native Americans engaged in great battles and that the "West was Won." This is not the case.

We have no accurate records on this issue, but of the millions of Native Americans that were killed by American settlers during the European Invasion, a tiny fraction of them were killed in battle. The vast majority of them were killed by small pox and other diseases, by starvation, by being gunned down and hunted, by being put into concentration death camps, and by good ol' round ups and firing squads. I'll go through these one at a time.

The rosie "First Thanksgiving," of the pilgrims and the Native Americans sharing a feast together--yeah, no. The first Thanksgiving went a lot differently from the myth. Squanto had seen his entire tribe killed by plagues brought by European contact. He was the only one still alive. He shared food from the harvest because there was no one else alive that he knew. His tribe, the Patuxet(yeah, I had to google it) along with many others, suffered a 100% mortality rate(minus Squanto), leaving much of the New England area blanketed by bodies of the dead. The Pilgrims didn't need to fire a shot to colonize America--only to share their small pox infested blankets in the first example of Americans using Biological Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Most scholars put the death rate of Native Americans to European diseases at about 90%, meaning 90% of the indigenous population of North and South America being wiped out, not by war, but by disease. It's impossible to know the exact numbers of what the total population of the Americas was prior to the European Invasion, but we at least know that this event caused the greatest loss of life in the history of the world--far more than the Black Plague of Europe and the World Wars including the Holocaust.

So we all know that Americans killed buffalo in an effort to destroy the food source for the plains indians. But what people might not know is that Americans did that elsewhere, regularly going into Native American farmland(yes, many were peaceful farmers), and destroyed their crops. Keep in mind, California Indians spoke three thousand separate languages alone. There isn't a "Native American People" any more than there is a "European People." America was essentially hundreds of thousands of little countries: each tribe having their own language, culture, and religion(and neighboring enemies). If a unified force of American settlers wanted to run your dinky tribe off your land and salt your fields, there wasn't anything you could do about it.

A particularly despicable fact in American history, our government paid people to kill Native Americans $5 dollars per scalp. There's a name for this term. It's called State Sponsored Genocide. Men, women, babies... it didn't matter. Americans slaughtered Natives for a living, bringing their piles of scalps to the post office to be paid, what in the 1800s would have been a fortune.

Death Camps
It was with great sadness that many Americans watched an entire people fall to disease. These were controversial times. You had the idea of Manifest Destiny, the idea that God had given this land to Christians and all they had to do was exterminate the pesky Native from them. But you also had the Christians that were heart broken to watch peaceful Natives wither. This massive guilt did two things. It caused Christians to want to blame Natives for their own sickness and it compelled them to want to convert Natives to becoming Christians before they died.

Spanish Missionaries took in Native Americans in large numbers. They forced them to do labor in exchange for finding God. The California Missions became death camps where Native Americans died by the hundreds through starvation or disease. The Spanish, no doubt troubled by spending all that time to convert them, only to watch them die, must have been confused. They didn't understand what stress, malnourishment, and physical labor did to an already weak immune system in a disease ridden environment.

Firing Squads
Have you ever heard of the Battle of Wounded Knee? Here's some history, because this is what passes as a "battle." So hundreds of Lakota were rounded up, taken to a ravine, and shot. Men, women, babies... it didn't matter. The 7th Cavalry was in the process of taking all the weapons away from the Lakota when the execution started early, meaning the only American Army personnel killed in the "battle" died from friendly fire.

Ok, what about Custer's Last Stand--the only battle ever named after the loser. Think from the Native American perspective. The White Man is a filthy, diseased ridden, violent brute. Just being near them can kill you. They will attack you on sight, and bring lots of friends. Wouldn't you be terrified? Well, Native Americans were. In nearly all cases, Natives simply ran. Now picture Post Civil War. The Yankees Army had just defeated the Confederates. Now what? A battle hardened Army with nothing to do. President Ulysses Grant, a general in the Yankee Army was now determined, as President, to take it to Native Americans as if they were one people, with one army, to fight against in battle.

Custer, seeing Grant's rise from an officer all the way to President, wanted to make a name for himself as well. He knew that Native Americans all ran. As he was tasked with bringing up the rear, he was convinced that by the time his regiment got to the field, the Indians would have all fled, leaving no glory for him. So he disobeyed orders, and ordered a forced march so that his troops would arrive first. His men, having marched two days straight with no sleep would find out that not only did the Lakota choose not to run this time, but there was a heck of a lot more of them. How many, we don't know since none of Custer's men survived the fight. But what is clear, The Battle of the Little Bighorn, as it would be later renamed, spelled the end of the American Indian wars. Now angry at a humiliating loss, the 7th Cavalry took their revenge, forcing them from their land, rounding them up in the ravine at Wounded Knee and massacring them.

Ok, so what's my point? I remember in high school, this one girl told me she hated covering Native Americans in History class. I asked her why. She said it was because it was so depressing. Every day was more bad news, more terrible things that happened to them. The worst part of that, is we think that's all in the past. It's not.

The state of Native Americans in this country is the biggest proof why Liberalism does not work. Here you have an entire ethnicity of impoverished people, dependent on the government. No amount of money will change that. In fact, the more money given, the more demoralized, defeated, and dependent Native Americans feel. I have to say, I know what it feels like to be taken care of and feel helpless because of it. It's tough to break that cycle.

But back on topic, you might wonder, how could Americans commit such horrible acts against Native Americans? Didn't anyone care about babies being gunned down? Someone had to have a conscious. There had to be outrage somewhere.

But here's the deal. There was a need to paint Native Americans as warriors, as savages... even, as animals. I mean, after all, they were just going to kill each other anyways because they're so war like. Despite some tribes being so peaceful that they didn't even have a word for war, all Native Americans were painted by the same propaganda brush--much in the same way that some would suggest that Muslims all want to subject us to Sharia Law and we need to fight for our existence against them. No doubt, the same movement persisted in America at the time. So the public was lied to through hegemony. Not any one person spread this lie or misconception. It was a general movement--much in the same way that feeds Islamaphobia today. We're a much more enlightened people these days, so it's a weak comparison to how bad it must have been a century or two ago, but you get the point.

When you see a Native American sports mascot with a tomahawk, you are seeing a relic piece of war propaganda, justifying State Sponsored Genocide against Native Americans and an easement of our guilt for causing the greatest and deadliest plague epidemic in the history of the world.

Once you understand that, only then will you see why sports mascots, Apache helicopters, and Operation Geronimo are offensive and why calling the controversy following them as "political correctness gone too far" makes you ignorant.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love this country. I'm proud to be an American. We have dark spots in our history. Every country does. No reason to beat ourselves up about it today. But it's important to at least understand the dark spots and the damage they continue to do.

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