Thursday, January 04, 2007
Bush "The Decider" Knows How to Listen to the Men on the Ground. Huh?
Robert J. Elisberg Huffington Post
Mere weeks ago, Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander in Iraq, and other military leaders, said that increasing troops would not be wise.
It seemed likely therefore that President Bush would back off his plans for more troops. After all, the President has consistently insisted that he takes the advice of his generals and lets them decide.
"General [George] Casey will make the decisions as to how many troops we have there," Mr. Bush said this past July, referring to the Iraq commander: "He'll decide how best to achieve victory and the troop levels necessary to do so. I've spent a lot of time talking to him about troop levels. And I've told him this: I said, 'You decide, General.'"
(Coming as this does from The Decider himself, it appears a tad inconsistent.)
After his relentless insistence that the generals will decide, however, Mr. Bush went ahead and called for more troops.
And within weeks, reports have now trickled out that generals are slowly changing their thinking that just maybe it might possibly be conceivable, perhaps, to add more troops in Iraq.
What in the world could have caused the complete turnaround of these Deciders (Military Edition) in just a matter of days?
What in the world?
For starters, General Abizaid, arguably the top military voice against the increase, announced he was retiring.
Mind you, after having extended his tour at the request of then- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Abizaid's retirement was expected. So, the timing was merely coincidental.
Okay, sure, Abizaid was outspoken when testifying before the Senate on November 15, "I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem." And sure, his departure means his protective voice will no longer be heard. But his retirement is still just a coincidence, no doubt.
The same coincidence as reports that General Casey is being moved out of Iraq five months early, the same time the Administration is changing plans. You remember General Casey. He's the one who "will make the decisions" about troops in Iraq. Just a coincidence.
As was it when three-star general John Riggs (who had earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in Vietnam) was not only given 24 hours to sign his retirement papers in April, 2004, but demoted a rank after publicly commenting about how overstretched the armed forces were in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and that more troops were then needed.
(Riggs's sin was bad timing. If he'd just made the same suggestion today, he'd not only still be in active service, but would have been promoted as a hero. And given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.)
But it was merely a coincidence. Just like General Eric Shinseki, the first Asian-American four-star general in U.S. history, who testified before the Senate in February, 2003, that "something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would be needed in post-war Iraq. Four months later - he retired. It was scheduled, so of course it's just a coincidence. Never mind that no senior civilian officials attended his retirement to honor his long, noble service to the country. No doubt they coincidentally had other plans that day. Perhaps planting leaks about Valerie Plame.
If General Shinseki had just held his assessment until today, he'd probably have his face added to Mount Rushmore.
It's a coincidence too that Major General John Batiste, an Army division commander in Iraq - before being retired in 2005 - has been a vocal critic, telling "Good Morning America" that the United States "went into war with a flawed plan."
Army Major General Paul Eaton - who headed the training of Iraqi soldiers for two years - was equally critical of Donald Rumsfeld. Coincidentally, he's retired now.
And General Anthony Zinni, who lead the war's Central Command, told "60 Minutes" that "Heads should roll at the Pentagon - Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith and those who foisted the Iraq war on the U.S. despite my objections and those of most U.S. Generals including, Schwartkopf, Skowcroft, Clark, Shinseki and others." Oh, by the way, he's retired, too.
But it's just a coincidence.
It's all just a coincidence.
President Bush says he listens to his generals, and let's them decide what troops are needed. But let anyone disagree - at the beginning of the war saying we need more soldiers, or in the current fighting that we don't - and the Decider will coincidentally decide the United States no longer needs their service.
Of course the generals are now saying what the President wants. These are professional tacticians. They can read a battlefield and know when to retreat. When your commander-in-chief is mowing down anyone who coincidentally disagrees with him, you coincidentally tell him what he wants to hear. No matter if what he wants to hear is against your career-long knowledge and has coincidentally lead to the worst foreign affairs fiasco in American history.
In 1170, King Henry II pondered out loud, "Who wouldst rid me of this turbulent priest?," and not so surprisingly, Thomas Becket was murdered. Coincidentally.
Times have become so much more civilized.
History teaches us another lesson: When you get rid of everyone who will say no, all you get is a bucketful of yes.
Imperial President Push Claims He Can Open Your Mail Without a Warrant. I say that's bullshit. King George Acting like English Monarch from 1776.
BY JAMES GORDON MEEK
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
Thursday, January 4th, 2007
WASHINGTON - President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.
The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.
That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.
Bush's move came during the winter congressional recess and a year after his secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was first revealed. It caught Capitol Hill by surprise.
"Despite the President's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people's mail without a warrant," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill.
Experts said the new powers could be easily abused and used to vacuum up large amounts of mail.
"The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington.
"The danger is they're reading Americans' mail," she said.
"You have to be concerned," agreed a career senior U.S. official who reviewed the legal underpinnings of Bush's claim. "It takes Executive Branch authority beyond anything we've ever known."
A top Senate Intelligence Committee aide promised, "It's something we're going to look into."
Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval.
Yet in his statement Bush said he will "construe" an exception, "which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection in a manner consistent ... with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances."
Bush cited as examples the need to "protect human life and safety against hazardous materials and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection."
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming any new authority.
"In certain circumstances - such as with the proverbial 'ticking bomb' - the Constitution does not require warrants for reasonable searches," she said.
Bush, however, cited "exigent circumstances" which could refer to an imminent danger or a longstanding state of emergency.
Critics point out the administration could quickly get a warrant from a criminal court or a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge to search targeted mail, and the Postal Service could block delivery in the meantime.
But the Bush White House appears to be taking no chances on a judge saying no while a terror attack is looming, national security experts agreed.
Martin said that Bush is "using the same legal reasoning to justify warrantless opening of domestic mail" as he did with warrantless eavesdropping.
President Bush Still Without An Exit Strategy in Iraq. Tony Snow can't even fake answer a question anymore.
Asked about the possible troop increase Wednesday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush is "moving toward what he thinks is going to be the appropriate complex of policies to get that done."
"When the president announces the way forward, he will provide answers to a lot of questions that I'm not going to," Snow said.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
We are tempted to comment, in these last days before the war, on the U.N., and the French, and the Democrats. But the war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. It will reveal the aspirations of the people of Iraq, and expose the truth about Saddam's regime. It will produce whatever effects it will produce on neighboring countries and on the broader war on terror. We would note now that even the threat of war against Saddam seems to be encouraging stirrings toward political reform in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a measure of cooperation in the war against al Qaeda from other governments in the region. It turns out it really is better to be respected and feared than to be thought to share, with exquisite sensitivity, other people's pain. History and reality are about to weigh in, and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdicts.
Well, it's been almost four years since Kristol penned those smug, taunting words, and I think it's fair to say that history and reality have indeed weighed in. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Our invasion has destabilized the entire region (and not in a positive way) and has actually exacerbated the overall terrorist threat our country faces. We are no longer feared or respected, at least nowhere near the degree we were before the invasion. Over 3000 American soldiers have lost their lives (with many thousands more badly injured). Tens of thousands of Iraqis (perhaps hundreds of thousands) have been killed and millions more displaced. We've squandered billions of dollars, as well as our national credibility and mystique. And our armed forces are currently bogged down and stretched to the limit as they undertake the thankless task of policing an escalating civil war.
Now, you would think that being so incredibly wrong about such an important subject might hurt your career prospects, and that would probably be true in any other field. But in the world of Washington punditry, being consistently and catastrophically wrong about everything is apparently not an obstacle to advancement. As David Corn reports, TIME Magazine has invited Kristol to become one the magazine's new "star" columnists.
I can see why TIME wanted Kristol so badly. His track record over the last few years is rather remarkable. Here's a sampling of some of Kristol's most impressive contributions to our political discourse over the last few years:
August 26, 2002:
Reading the Scowcroft/New York Times "arguments" against war, one is struck by how laughably weak they are. European international-law wishfulness and full-blown Pat Buchanan isolationism are the two intellectually honest alternatives to the Bush Doctrine. Scowcroft and the Times wish to embrace neither, so they pretend instead to be terribly "concerned" with the administration's alleged failure to "make the case."April 4, 2003:
"There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular."April 28, 2003:
The United States committed itself to defeating terror around the world. We committed ourselves to reshaping the Middle East, so the region would no longer be a hotbed of terrorism, extremism, anti-Americanism, and weapons of mass destruction. The first two battles of this new era are now over. The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably. But these are only two battles. We are only at the end of the beginning in the war on terror and terrorist states.March 22, 2004:
[T]here are hopeful signs that Iraqis of differing religious, ethnic, and political persuasions can work together. This is a far cry from the predictions made before the war by many, both here and in Europe, that a liberated Iraq would fracture into feuding clans and unleash a bloodbath. The perpetually sour American media focus on the tensions between Shiites and Kurds that delayed the signing by three whole days. But the difficult negotiations leading up to the signing, and the continuing debates over the terms of a final constitution, have in fact demonstrated something remarkable in Iraq: a willingness on the part of the diverse ethnic and religious groups to disagree--peacefully--and then to compromise. This willingness is the product of what appears to be a broad Iraqi consensus favoring the idea of pluralism.July 26, 2004:
What the Bush administration did say--and what so many reporters seem to have trouble understanding--is that Iraq and al Qaeda had a relationship that, by its very existence, posed a potential threat to the United States.October 29, 2004 (column titled "Politicizing the bin Laden Tape"):
Is there any development in the war on terror, however grave, that the Kerry campaign won't try to exploit for partisan advantage?November 1, 2004: (column titled "Bin Laden v. Bush")
Osama bin Laden's videotape is an attempt to intimidate Americans into voting against President Bush.March 7, 2005:
Just four weeks after the Iraqi election of January 30, 2005, it seems increasingly likely that that date will turn out to have been a genuine turning point. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, ended an era. September 11, 2001, ended an interregnum. In the new era in which we now live, 1/30/05 could be a key moment--perhaps the key moment so far--in vindicating the Bush Doctrine as the right response to 9/11. And now there is the prospect of further and accelerating progress.
April 4, 2005 (re: Terri Schiavo)
After all, we are a "maturing society," as the Supreme Court has told us. Perhaps it is time, in mature reaction to this latest installment of what Hugh Hewitt has called a "robed charade," to rise up against our robed masters, and choose to govern ourselves. Call it Terri's revolution.November 7, 2005:
Last week the Bush Administration's second-term bear market bottomed out.
November 30, 2005 (column titled "Pelosi's Disastrous Miscalculation"):
All this made me think the 2006 elections could result in a Speaker Pelosi. I now think that unlikely. Pelosi's endorsement today of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq makes the House Democrats the party of defeat, the party of surrender. Bush's strong speech today means the GOP is likely to be--if Republican Congressmen just keep their nerve--the party of victory. Now it is possible that the situation in Iraq will worsen over the next year. If that happens, Bush and the GOP are in deep trouble. They would have been if Pelosi had said nothing. But it is much more likely that the situation in Iraq will stay more or less the same, or improve. In either case, Republicans will benefit from being the party of victory.December 26, 2005 (column titled "Happy Days!"):
If American and Iraqi troops continue to provide basic security, and if Iraq's different sects and political groups now begin to engage in serious, peaceful bargaining, then we may just have witnessed the beginning of Iraq's future.
April 4, 2006:
What was striking, following the mosque bombing, was the evidence of Iraq's underlying stability in the face of attempts to undermine it. The country's vital institutions seem to have grown strong enough to withstand even the provocation of the bombing of the golden mosque.I could go on and on, but you get the idea. If you want to succeed as a conservative pundit in Washington, the key appears to be amassing a mile-long track record of wildly inaccurate predictions and disastrously bad advice. Congratulations, Bill Kristol. You truly are a "star".
Keith Olbermann on "Sacrifice"
Finally tonight, a Special Comment about "Sacrifice."
If in your presence an individual tried to sacrifice an American serviceman or woman, would you intervene?
Would you at least protest?
What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them?
What if he had already sacrificed 3,003 of them — and was then to announce his intention to sacrifice hundreds, maybe thousands, more?
This is where we stand tonight with the BBC report of President Bush's "new Iraq strategy" and his impending speech to the nation, which it quotes a senior American official, will be about troop increases and "sacrifice."
The President has delayed, dawdled, and deferred for the month since the release of the Iraq Study Group.
He has seemingly heard out everybody… and listened to none of them.
If the BBC is right — and we can only pray it is not — he has settled on the only solution all the true experts agree, cannot possibly work: more American personnel in Iraq, not as trainers for Iraqi troops, but as part of some flabby plan for "sacrifice."
More American servicemen and women will have their lives risked.
More American servicemen and women will have their lives ended.
More American families will have to bear the unbearable, and rationalize the unforgivable — "sacrifice" — sacrifice now, sacrifice tomorrow, sacrifice forever.
And more Americans — more even than the two-thirds who already believe we need fewer troops in Iraq, not more — will have to conclude the President does not have any idea what he's doing - and that other Americans will have to die for that reason.
It must now be branded as propaganda — for even the President cannot truly feel that very many people still believe him to be competent in this area, let alone "the decider."
But from our impeccable reporter at the Pentagon, Jim Miklaszewski, tonight comes confirmation of something called "surge and accelerate" — as many as 20-thousand additional troops — for "political purposes"…
This, in line with what we had previously heard, that this will be proclaimed a short-term measure, for the stated purpose of increasing security in and around Baghdad, and giving an Iraqi government a chance to establish some kind of order.
This is palpable nonsense, Mr. Bush.
If this is your intention — if the centerpiece of your announcement next week will be "sacrifice" — sacrifice your intention, not more American lives!
As Senator Biden has pointed out, the new troops might improve the ratio our forces, face relative to those living in Baghdad (friend and foe), from 200 to 1, to just 100 to 1.
A drop in the bucket.
The additional men and women you have sentenced to go there, sir, will serve only as targets.
They will not be there "short-term," Mr. Bush; for many it will mean a year or more in death's shadow.
This is not temporary, Mr. Bush.
For the Americans who will die because of you… it will be as permanent as it gets.
The various rationales for what Mr. Bush will reportedly re-christen "sacrifice," constitute a very thin gruel, indeed.
The former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, says Senator McCain told him that the "surge" would help the "morale" of the troops already in Iraq.
If Mr. McCain truly said that, and truly believes it, he has either forgotten completely his own experience in Vietnam… or he is unaware of the recent Military Times poll indicating only 38 percent of our active military want to see more troops sent… or Mr. McCain has departed from reality.
Then there is the argument that to take any steps towards reducing troop numbers would show weakness to the enemy in Iraq, or to the terrorists around the world.
This simplistic logic ignores the inescapable fact that we have indeed already showed weakness to the enemy, and to the terrorists.
We have shown them that we will let our own people be killed, for no good reason.
We have now shown them that we will continue to do so.
We have shown them our stupidity.
Mr. Bush, your judgment about Iraq — and now about "sacrifice" — is at variance with your people's, to the point of delusion.
Your most respected generals see no value in a "surge" — they could not possibly see it in this madness of "sacrifice."
The Iraq Study Group told you it would be a mistake.
Perhaps dozens more have told you it would be a mistake.
And you threw their wisdom back, until you finally heard what you wanted to hear, like some child drawing straws and then saying "best two out of three… best three out of five… Hundredth one counts."
Your citizens, the people for whom you work, have told you they do not want this, and more over, they do not want you to do this.
Yet once again, sir, you have ignored all of us.
Mr. Bush, you do not own this country!
To those Republicans who have not broken free from the slavery of partisanship — those bonded still, to this President and this Administration — and now bonded to this "sacrifice" — proceed at your own peril.
John McCain may still hear the applause of small crowds — he has somehow inured himself to the hypocrisy, and the tragedy, of a man who considers himself the ultimate realist, courting the votes of those who support the government telling visitors to the Grand Canyon that it was caused by the Great Flood.
That Mr. McCain is selling himself off to the irrational Right, parcel by parcel, like some great landowner facing bankruptcy, seems to be obvious to everybody but himself.
Or, maybe it is obvious to him — and he simply no longer cares.
But to the rest of you in the Republican Party.
We need you to speak up, right now, in defense of your country's most precious assets — the lives of its citizens who are in harm's way.
If you do not, you are not serving this nation's interests — nor your own.
Last November should have told you this.
The opening of the new Congress tomorrow and Thursday, should tell you this.
Next time, those missing Republicans, will be you.
And to the Democrats now yoked to the helm of this sinking ship, you proceed at your own peril, as well.
President Bush may not be very good at reality, but he and Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rove are still gifted at letting American troops be killed, and then turning their deaths to their own political advantage.
The equation is simple. This country does not want more troops in Iraq.
It wants fewer.
Go and make it happen, or go and look for other work.
Yet you Democrats must assume that even if you take the most obvious of courses, and cut off funding for the war… Mr. Bush will ignore you as long as possible, or will find the money elsewhere, or will spend the money meant to protect the troops, and re-purpose it to keep as many troops there as long as he can keep them there.
Because that's what this is all about, is it not, Mr. Bush?
That is what this "sacrifice" has been for.
To continue this senseless, endless war.
You have dressed it up in the clothing, first of a hunt for weapons of mass destruction, then of liberation… then of regional imperative… then of oil prices… and now in these new terms of "sacrifice" — it's like a damned game of Colorforms, isn't it, sir?
This senseless, endless war.
But it has not been senseless in two ways.
It has succeeded, Mr. Bush, in enabling you to deaden the collective mind of this country to the pointlessness of endless war, against the wrong people, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
It has gotten many of us, used to the idea — the virtual "white noise" — of conflict far away, of the deaths of young Americans, of vague "sacrifice" for some fluid cause, too complicated to be interpreted except in terms of the very important sounding, but ultimately meaningless phrase, "the war on terror."
And the war's second accomplishment — your second accomplishment, sir - is to have taken money out of the pockets of every American, even out of the pockets of the dead soldiers on the battlefield, and their families, and to have given that money to the war profiteers.
Because if you sell the Army a thousand Humvees, you can't sell them any more, until the first thousand have been destroyed.
The service men and women are ancillary to the equation.
This is about the planned obsolescence of ordnance, isn't, Mr. Bush? And the building of detention centers? And the design of a 125-million dollar courtroom complex at Gitmo complete with restaurants.
At least the war profiteers have made their money, sir.
And we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.
You have insisted, Mr. Bush, that we must not lose in Iraq, that if we don't fight them there we will fight them here — as if the corollary were somehow true, that if by fighting them there we will not have to fight them here.
And yet you have re-made our country, and not re-made it for the better, on the premise that we need to be ready to "fight them here," anyway, and always.
In point of fact even if the Civil War in Iraq somehow ended tomorrow, and the risk to Americans there ended with it, we would have already suffered a defeat — not fatal, not world-changing, not, but for the lives lost, of enduring consequence.
But this country has already lost in Iraq, sir.
Your policy in Iraq has already had its crushing impact on our safety here.
You have already fomented new terrorism and new terrorists.
You have already stoked paranoia.
You have already pitted Americans, one against the other.
We… will have to live with it.
We… will have to live with what — of the fabric of our nation — you have already "sacrificed."
The only object still admissible in this debate, is the quickest and safest exit for our people there.
But you — and soon, Mr. Bush, it will be you and you alone – still insist otherwise.
And our sons and daughters and fathers and mothers will be sacrificed there tonight, Sir, so that you can say you did not "lose in Iraq."
Our policy in Iraq has been criticized for being indescribable, for being inscrutable, for being ineffable.
But it is all too easily understood now.
First, we sent Americans to their deaths for your lie, Mr. Bush.
Now we are sending them to their deaths for your ego.
If what is reported is true — if your decision is made and the "sacrifice" is ordered — take a page instead from the man at whose funeral you so eloquently spoke this morning — Gerald Ford: Put pragmatism and the healing of a nation, ahead of some kind of misguided vision.
Sacrifice, Mr. Bush?
No, sir, this is not "sacrifice." This has now become "human sacrifice."
And it must stop.
And you can stop it.
Next week, make us all look wrong.
Our meaningless sacrifice in Iraq must stop.
And you must stop it.
Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, found himself under attack last month when he announced he'd take his oath of office on the Koran -- especially from Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, who called it a threat to American values.
Yet the holy book at tomorrow's ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance. We've learned that the new congressman -- in a savvy bit of political symbolism -- will hold the personal copy once owned by Thomas Jefferson.
"He wanted to use a Koran that was special," said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by the Minnesota Dem early in December. Dimunation, who grew up in Ellison's 5th District, was happy to help.
Jefferson's copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jefferson's collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isn't the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies -- the Library has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions.
Ellison will take the official oath of office along with the other incoming members in the House chamber, then use the Koran in his individual, ceremonial oath with new Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Keith is paying respect not only to the founding fathers' belief in religious freedom but the Constitution itself," said Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert.
One person unlikely to be swayed by the book's illustrious history is Goode, who released a letter two weeks ago objecting to Ellison's use of the Koran. "I believe that the overwhelming majority of voters in my district would prefer the use of the Bible," the Virginia Republican told Fox News, and then went on to warn about what he regards as the dangers of Muslims immigrating to the United States and Muslims gaining elective office.
Yeah, but what about a Koran that belonged to one of the greatest Virginians in history? Goode, who represents Jefferson's birthplace of Albemarle County, had no comment yesterday.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Bring On The Draft!
I think the draft order should look something like this:
First: Anyone who is a child, grandchild or niece or nephew of anyone who works for the U.S. government and is between the ages of 18 and 35 should go first. Sign up the Bush Twins.
Second: Anyone who is the child or grandchild of ANYONE WHO GOT A DEFERMENT DURING ANY PREVIOUS DRAFT should go next. This would drag in the children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of all the chickenhawks Rush (anal pimple deferment) Limbaugh.
Third: The children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of anyone who benefited from the Republican Tax Cuts during the past 6 years. This will bring in the children of the wealthy, who have been disproportionately absent from the fighting of this war. Paris Hilton in Fallujah.
Fourth: College Republicans. We can call them the Yellow Elephant Brigade.
Fifth: Everybody else.
Just my thoughts.
Hugs and Kisses,
[Continuing a ten-part series.]
Parts I, II, III and IV.
Part V: 'Nits Make Lice'
For much of their early history on the American continent, white Europeans saw the Enemy as being Wilderness: the implacable, alien, deadly swamp whose subjugation it was their mission to impose.
The European conception of wilderness which white immigrants brought to the Americas was complex and shaded, but it was ultimately rooted, as I discussed in Part II, in a worldview that placed Europe and Christian civilization at the center of the world, the source of civilization and light. The wilderness was the embodiment of sinfulness and evil -- and so were its inhabitants. And their elimination was an essential component of the conquest.
This was true not merely of the human inhabitants, but its animals as well. Threatening creatures -- cougars, bears and wolves especially -- were hunted to near-extinction. Even wild food sources such as salmon were wantonly harvested and their habitat destroyed, especially as dams were erected on every river on the Eastern Seaboard they inhabited. Stocks were not only depleted but intentionally wasted.
Lt. Campbell Hardy, an officer of the Royal Artillery in New Brunswick, observed the mentality in action in Nova Scotia in 1837, where once-plentiful salmon stocks were already plummeting:
- "The spirit of wanton extermination is rife; and it has been well remarked, it really seems as though the man would be loudly applauded who was discovered to have killed the last salmon."
Perhaps even more symbolic was the fate of the grizzly bear, which at one time ruled both the Plains and the mountain ranges of the open West. But between 1850 and 1920, grizzlies were systematically and ruthlessly exterminated everywhere humans came into contact with them, effectively eliminated from 95 percent of their traditional range.
The same was true of the native peoples who dwelt in this wilderness. It was common for colonists to view the wilderness as capable of overwhelming civilized men, even from within, turning them into "savages" and "wild men," while the people who had lived there for centuries were commonly viewed as no less than vile beasts themselves.
This was not uniformly the case, of course. There were white Europeans who believed fully in the Indians' humanity. Some of them even defended them as cultural equals, though not many. Even among the natives' defenders, it was not uncommon, while acknowledging that they were intelligent humans with souls, to still consider them savages whose redeemability was an open question.
One of these, as it happened, was the most renowned Indian fighter, a Civil War hero named George Armstrong Custer, who in his bestselling 1872 book, My Life on the Plains, described as "erroneous" the view "which regards the Indian as a creature possessing the human form but divested of all other attributes of humanity," but also observed:
- We see him as he is, and, so far as all knowledge goes, as he ever has been, a savage in every sense of the word ... one whose cruel and ferocious nature far exceeds that of any wild beast of the desert.
Nonetheless, the prevailing view was that as "savages" they were indistinguishable from beasts. This is reflected in the 1850 Census, which found that there were 19,553,068 white people living in the United States, along with a "free colored population" of 434,495 and 3,204,313 slaves. It also observed that "the Mestizo is the issue of the Indian and the Negro, and has all the disabilities of the mulatto." But nowhere was there an accounting of the native American in that Census, nor in any succeeding Census until 1890, which found that there were 325,464 Indians remaining in the United States and its territories. Until then they hadn't counted. Ten years later, there were only 266,760.
So the actual population numbers of the Indian population in 1850 are guesses at best, though the guesses run to as high as a million and a half people. What we do know is that in that year, fully a generation after the Indian Removal Act, well over half of the land that would eventually constitute the lower 48 states was considered Indian Territory, the vast wilderness officially designated the "permanent Indian frontier." Within 30 years, it was all but gone.
You can see this clearly in the following graphic, taken from The Native Americans:
Whatever sympathy some humanitarian whites may have had for the natives, they were utterly ineffectual in stopping the wave of murderous bigotry that swept away all their good intentions along with the Indians themselves, fueled by the prevailing view of Indians that equated them with the beasts they encountered in this wilderness.
These encounters increased, of course, because the "permanent Indian frontier" turned out to be a very flexible concept indeed. As the Americans' thirst for land and for gold grew, so did the borders of the frontier shift ever westward, consumed by treaties that often were mere ruses for outright land theft. A promise made to an Indian was innately nonbinding. The murder of an Indian was considered, if not a non-event, cause for celebration; but any retaliatory murder of whites provoked indiscriminate slaughter and justified the genocide of entire peoples.
Missionaries were often the forerunners of this push westward, establishing trails and outposts that became way stations and provided a kind of social foundation for the pioneer travelers. Most of them were well-meaning humanitarians, but like Custer, they had little to the lowest regard for native culture, and indeed were intent on overthrowing it in the process of Christianizing them. Their view of the value of their charges' souls often depended on their willingness to submit to the missionaries' personal dictates.
These included characters like Henry Spalding, missionary to the Nez Perces who eventually took to whipping and beating his converts. His friends, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, were similarly high-handed, and their clumsy mishandling of relations with the local Cayuses resulted in the notorious Whitman Massacre of 1847, committed by a small band of angry Cayuses who blamed the Whitmans for the smallpox epidemic that had ravaged their tribe.
That in turn, as Alvin Josephy detailed in his landmark text The Nez Perce and the Opening of the Northwest, provoked a wildly disproportionate response from the newly arriving whites who now claimed these lands as their territory. The Cayuses were stripped utterly of all their lands and dispossessed; and in ensuing years, the remaining Northwest tribes systematically stripped of their lands as well, most often through intentionally provoked wars and resulting treaties that were themselves later intentionally broken.
Fresh on the missionaries' heels were waves of settlers, many of them in search of free land, others trying to strike it rich by finding gold. The Oregon Trail and California Trail were especially popular after the discovery of gold in California in 1848.
Fairly typical of the settlers' views were those voiced by Robert A. Anderson, a California rancher who lived in northern California in the 1860s. Like most of them, he equated the "savages" with the wild beasts they also encountered. Theodora Kroeber describes him in her account of the Yana people in Ishi: In Two Worlds:
- He matched wits and physical prowess with Indians and grizzlies alike; both, in his opinion, "infested" the region and should be cleared out. He and Good, Anderson says, used to argue at length about how the clearing out was to be done. Good was for leaving the women and children alone; Anderson believed that immolation was the only effective way to be rid of Indians, and grizzlies too, no doubt.
Anderson, together with his longtime companion Hiram Good, organized a systematic program of extermination of the Yanas from their traditional lands in 1863-65. Some bands of the Yana, finding their traditional food sources being wiped out by invading settlers, had attacked whites in force in 1862, and had been committing lesser depredations, including the murders of several ranchers and their wives and children.
The ranchers in response, led by Anderson and Good, who had become expert trackers, embarked on a program of complete extermination, built on a paid bounty for Yana scalps that were then obtained by self-proclaimed "guards" who were essentially local riffraff hired to hunt down and kill any Yana they could find. Kroeber describes this campaign in some detail in Ishi [pp. 74-77]:
- [I]t was the murder of two women, Mrs. Dirsch and Mrs. Allen August, 1864, somewhere in the vicinity of Millville and Balls Ferry, which triggered the unwontedly concentrated and bloody activity of Anderson and Good's men among the Yana.
In a space of less than five months, between August and December, 1864, three quarters of the remaining task of extermination of the Yana was accomplished. To this end two fully armed companies of guards combined the ridges, streams, and meadowlands from Deer Creek in the south to Montgomery Creek in the north. One of Waterman's informants recalled the year 1866, but this date was from oral memory fifty years later. The 1864 date has the confirmation of Jeremiah Curtin whose account is detailed and circumstantial as far as it goes, and was gathered and written down only twenty years after the events it describes ...
Curtin's account has to do with those Central and Northern Yana who were by then on a wide and exposed front vis a vis white settlers, and who, whether willingly and freely or not were in fact working for white ranchers and drawing pay for their work. Many of them lived on the ranches where they worked, sometimes in the ranch house itself as domestics, or in near-by bunk houses if they were field workers or were the old people occasionally attached affectionally and familially to younger workers.
Curtin estimated from the figures given him that in January, 1864, there some three thousand of these Yana, counting the women, the old, and the children, and that by the end of the same year their massacre was complete except for the remnants of families or bands, or for single individuals. ...
Curtin's account of the massacres agrees with Waterman's composite story obtained between 1911 and 1914 from old timers ... In both, the murder of the same two women is alleged as the inciting cause; both mention the organization of a second company of guards; Waterman notes that the organization meeting was again held at Pentz's ranch; both say that no effort was made to fix guilt for the murders, and that extermination was the objective. Curtin tells more about the guards below the leader level. They were, he says, a miscellany of the foot-loose, the semicriminal, the hangers-on of saloons and bunk houses. Anyone who wanted to come along was taken, so that among the ragtag of both companies drunkenness, looting, and violence for the sake of violence obtained and were tolerated. His account emphasizes the wantonness of the killings and the opposition of most of the ranchers to it.
The guards stole and sometimes literally tore children and half-grown girls from the arms of their white friends or employers, murdering them in view of anyone who was present except when enough men were at home and heavily enough armed to beat them off. "We must kill them big and little," one of the guards is quoted as saying, "nits will be lice." Curtin recounts some unpleasantly specific details of these encounters. They are of this sort: three Yana men were murdered out of hand while at work in a hay field belonging to a rancher who regularly employed them but who was not at home at the time. His pregnant wife could do nothing to save the Indians, but when the guards came to the house to get their wives the rancher's wife threw herself in front of the three women. The opposition even at its most rash hesitated to get three further victims at the cost of manhandling a white woman. Later, the rancher and his wife managed somehow to secrete the three women in a place of safety; how they did it or where they took them they never told.
... Sadism entered into the violence also. There was one young Yana woman, unusually popular with the white people who knew and employed her, who was dragged by force out of the white man's home where she lived. Her old aunt and uncle who were there with her were also taken, and the three of them pumped full of bullet holes on the spot. Curtin's informant had counted eleven bullet holes in the breast of the young woman. The man who killed her, and who was well "likkered up," was not satisfied. "I don't think that little squaw is dead yet," he is reported as saying. To make sure, he smashed in her skull with his revolver.
The record piles up -- an Indian woman and her baby killed here, three women at another place, twenty Yana of both sexes in the settlement of Cottonwood, and three hundred who were attending an autumn harvest festival at the head of Oak Run. Curtin's informants estimated the number of surviving Yana of pure and mixed blood to be about fifty persons by the time the avenging parties were through with their work in December.
The extermination continued unabated until the last surviving bands were tracked down and massacred. The culmination, as Kroeber details (pp. 84-85], occurred late in 1864:
- Neither Robert Anderson, Hiram Good, nor any other of the guards participated in the final mass massacre of Yahi. A party of four vaqueros, J.J. Bogart, Scott Williams, and Norman Kingsley, were camped at Wild Horse Corral engaged in a roundup of cattle from the Yana hills. One morning toward the end of the roundup they came on a trail of blood. Guessing that it was a wounded steer, they followed the blood trail which led them in the direction of upper Mill Creek. They found a broken arrow and, a little beyond, the remains of the carcass of a steer. The hunters who had killed the steer had been too pressed to skin it in their usual fashion, and had instead hurriedly hacked off chunks of meat, as much as they could carry, and thrown the rest into the brush to be retrieved no doubt if there was opportunity later.
Having found this much, the vaqueros went back to their own camp, but the next day, with dogs this time, they picked up the trail again and followed it into Mill Creek and upstream to a large cave. In this remote and seemingly safe spot were gathered more than thirty Yahi including young children and babies, well supplied with food, even to fresh and dried meat. They were helpless against the four armed men who forthwith killed them all. Norman Kingsley, as he explained afterwards, changed guns during the slaughter, exchanging his .56-caliber Spencer rifle for a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, because the rifle "tore them up so bad," particularly the babies.
This pattern repeated itself almost endlessly. Rather than even endure contact with "savages" they fully expected to turn against them and murder them, the settlers moving westward in the end always chose to act preemptively and slaughter Indians as they found them. This was particularly the case wherever gold entered into the picture.
And always, this spasm of eliminationist violence was preceded by eliminationist rhetoric. Before there was action, there was talk. And the talk not only rationalized the violence that proceeded, but actually had the function of creating permission for it.
The same year the Yana were exterminated, settlers in Colorado, where gold had been discovered in 1858, embarked on a similar program. In this case, the tribes against whom they were arrayed, particularly the Cheyenne and Sioux, were considerably larger and more warlike than the Yana. Thus the conflicts with whites were even more inevitable, and again, the pattern repeated: depredations by whites provoked violent, often murderous retaliation from Indians, which in turn sparked wanton slaughter of any Indian in the vicinity.
The Rocky Mountain News in Denver led the campaign to wipe out local Indians, editorializing in March 1863: "They are a dissolute, vagabondish, brutal, and ungrateful race, and ought to be wiped from the face of the earth." After a series of skirmishes and killings, the News, in August 1864 proclaimed that August 1864 settlers and troops must "go for them, their lodges, squaws and all."
Enter John Chivington, a Methodist minister and self-proclaimed Indian hater, who helped Colorado Gov. John Evans organize a "volunteer militia" constituted once again of "concerned citizens" whose characters were formed more by saloons than by churches. As Dee Brown notes in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Chivington made a public speech in Denver while organizing this militia in which he "advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, even infants: 'Nits make lice!' he declared."
With his volunteer army in place, Chivington set out "on the warpath," as he put it, ordering his men: "Kill all the Indians you come across." When Indians attempted to negotiate, he was implacable, saying that he was not instructed to make peace, but only war.
When Cheyenne chief Black Kettle's peaceful band (which included some Arapahoes) traveled through Colorado en route to their new reservation in Oklahoma, they reported to Army officials at Fort Lyon, intent on avoiding conflict. Encamped at a site along a stream called Sand Creek, Black Kettle himself traveled to the fort in mid-November in hopes of securing their safe passage. The fort's new commander, Major Scott J. Anthony, met with Black Kettle in what appeared to be a friendly exchange.
As Brown describes it, "Several officers who were present at the meeting between Black Kettle and Anthony testified afterward that Anthony assured the Cheyennes that if they returned to their camp at Sand Creek they would be under the protection of Fort Lyon."
Whether Anthony was aware of Chivington's intentions or not -- and the evidence suggests he was -- his assurance had the effect of making Black Kettle's band sitting ducks. So certain were they of their security that they did not even set out watchmen to guard the camp at night.
Geoffrey Ward, writing in The West, describes what happened next:
- Chivington and some 700 volunteers arrived at Fort Lyon on November 26, 1864, eager for a fight before their hundred-day term of enlistment ran out. Some officers protested that to attack the peaceable encampment would betray the army's pledge of safety. "Damn any man that sympathized with Indians," Chivington said. "I have come to kill Indians and believe it right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven ..."
At dawn on November 29, 1864, Chivington and seven hundred men, many of them full of whiskey they had swallowed to keep them warm during the icy all-night ride, reached the edge of Black Kettle's sleeping camp. "Kill and scalp all," Chivington told his men, "big and little; nits make lice." His men needed little encouragement.
One of William Bent's sons, Robert, was riding with them, commandeered against his will to show the way to the Cheyenne camp. Three of Bent's other children -- Charles, Julia, and George -- were staying in it. George Bent watched the soldiers come:
From down the creek a large body of troops was advancing at a rapid trot ... more soldiers could be seen making for the Indian pony herds to the south of the camp; in the camps themselves all was confusion and noise -- men, women, and children rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at the sight of the troops; men running back into the lodges for their arms ... Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and was standing in front of his lodge, holding the pole, with the flag fluttering in the gray light of the winter dawn ...
All the time Black Kettle kept calling out not to be frightened; that the camp was under protection and there was no danger.
Robert Bent was watching it too:
I saw the American flag waving and heard Black Kettle tell the Indians to stand around the flag, and they were huddled -- men, women, and children. This was when we were within fifty yards of the Indians. I also saw a white flag raised. These flags were in so conspicuous a position that they must have been seen ... I think there were six hundred Indians in all ... [T]he rest of the men were away from camp hunting ...
The volunteers began firing into the lodges. Warriors did all they could to defend their families. "I never saw more bravery displayed by any set of people on the face of the earth than by these Indians," a regular soldier recalled. "They would charge on the whole company singly, detemined to kill someone before being killed themselves ... We, of course, took no prisoners."
"After the firing," Robert Bent remembered,
the warriors put the squaws and children together, and surrounded them to protect them. I saw five squaws under a bank for shelter. When the troops came up to them they ran out and showed their persons to let the soldiers know they were squaws and begged for mercy, but the soldiers shot them all. I saw one squaw lying on the bank whose leg had been broken by a shell; a soldier came up to her with a drawn saber; she raised her arm to protect herself, when he struck, breaking her arm; she rolled over and raised her other arm, when he struck, breaking it, and then he left her without killing her. There seemed to be indisriminate slaughter of men, women and children. There were some thirty or forty squaws collected in a hole for protection; they sent out a little girl about six years old with a white flag on a stick; she had not proceeded a few steps when she was shot and killed. All the squaws in that hole were killed. ...
"In going over the battleground the next day," a regular army lieutenant testified later,
I did not see a body of a man, women, or child but was scalped, and in many instances their bodies were mutilated in the most horrible manner. ... I heard one man say that he had cut out a woman's private parts and had them for exhibition on a stick; I heard another say that he had cut the fingers off an Indian to get the rings on his hand; according to the best of my knowledge and belief these atrocities that were committed were with the knowledge of J.M. Chivington, and I do not know of his taking any measures to prevent them; I heard of one instance of a child a few months old being thrown in a feedbox of a wagon, and after being carried some distance left on the ground to perish; I also heard numerous instances in which white men had cut out the private parts of females and stretched them over the saddle-bows and wore them over their hats while riding in ranks.
Chivington and his men returned to Denver in triumph, claiming to have killed five hundred warriors -- instead of ninety-eight women and children and a handful of mostly old men. The Rocky Mountain News pronounced it a "brilliant feat of arms." "All did nobly," Chivington said, and one evening during intermission at the Denver opera house, one hundred Cheyenne scalps were put on display while the orchestra played patriotic airs and the audience stood to applaud the men who had taken them.
As word of these atrocities got out, there was a perhaps predictable outcry from white Americans with some vestige of human decency; but their outrage, as always, had no effect. The killers were downright gleeful about their "victory." David E. Stannard, in American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, notes that the Rocky Mountain News declared that "Cheyenne scalps are getting as thick here now as toads in Egypt. Everybody has got one and is anxious to get another to send east."
Still, there was an outcry in Congress, and a Senate report eventually declared Chivington's "battle" what it really was: "a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the veriest savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty." As Stannard notes [p. 134]:
- One of them, a senator who visited the site of the massacre and "picked up the skulls of infants whose milk-teeth had not yet been shed," later reported that the concerned men of Congress had decided to confront Colorado's governor and Colonel Chivington openly on the matter, and so assembled their committee and the invited general public in the Denver Opera House. During the course of discussion and debate, someone raised a question: Would it be best, henceforward, to try to "civilize" the Indians or simply to exterminate them? Whereupon, the senator wrote in a letter to a friend, "there suddenly arose such a shout as is never heard unless upon some battlefield -- a shout almost loud enough to raise the roof of the opera house -- 'EXTERMINATE THEM! EXTERMINATE THEM!' "
The committee, apparently, was impressed. Nothing was ever done to Chivington, who took his fame and exploits on the road as an after-dinner speaker. After all, as President Theodore Roosevelt said later, the Sand Creek massacre was "as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier."
Trusting the word of such men was obviously a foolhardy proposition, but the Indians had little choice if they chose not to fight. As Black Kettle had found, making peace and trusting the word of white men was a mistake with broadly fatal consequences.
Incredibly, Black Kettle managed to survive the Sand Creek massacre, and his wife managed to survive nine gunshot wounds. But four years later, in 1868, they did not manage to survive their encounter with General Custer.
It was Custer's first venture out West, serving under General Phil Sheridan, who was leading a campaign to battle Cheyenne depredations in Kansas. Some of the warriors had come from Black Kettle's band. After orders were made for all non-hostile Indians to move to a designated area along the Washita River, Black Kettle moved his camp there, hoping to be designated a friendly band.
Anxious to avoid a repeat of Sand Creek, the chief had traveled to Fort Cobb to seek the protection of the army under the command of Gen. William B. Hazen; Hazen, according to Brown, "assured Black Kettle that if his delegation would return to their villages and keep their young men there, they would not be attacked."
Black Kettle returned to his camp on the evening of November 26. The next morning, Custer's troops attacked, in what came to be known as the Battle of the Washita.
James Welch, in Killing Custer [p. 62], describes the massacre that ensued:
- The "battle" in the village was short, barely fifteen minutes. The soldiers drove the people from their lodges basefoot and half naked, shooting them in the open. Many of the warriors managed to reach the treees, where they began to return fire; a few of them escaped, but after a couple of hours, the firing ceased and 103 Cheyennes lay dead in the snow and mud. Custer reported that they were fighting men, but others said that ninety-two of them were women, children, and old people. Black Kettle, the sixty-seven-year-old leader of the band, and his wife, Medicine Woman Later, who had survived nine gunshot wounds at the Massacre of Sand Creek four years before, had been shot in the back as they attempted to cross the Lodge Pole or Washita River. Their bodies, trampled and covered with mud, were found in the shallow water by the survivors.
In Montana, 200 Piegans were massacred in a similar manner in 1870 in the so-called "Battle of Marias River," in which soldiers once again descended upon an unsuspecting camp comprising mostly women and children, the warriors once again away at the hunting grounds, and fired upon them mercilessly.
The massacre was widely reviled in the eastern press (the Chicago Tribune called it "the most disgraceful butchery in the annals of our dealings with the Indians") while the local press widely celebrated it for its "salutary effect on the other tribes."
This effect included an eagerness on the part of most Indians to attempt to make peace, often in the form of abject surrender. But this only invited more contempt from whites, which was often voiced as a wish to simply exterminate.
After the Washita massacre, as Brown describes [p. 166], many of the warring tribes completely submitted to Sheridan. His response became famous:
- Yellow Bear of the Arapahos also agreed to bring his people to Fort Cobb. A few days later, Tosawi brought in the first band of Comanches to surrender. When he was presented to Sheridan, Tosawi's eyes brightened. He spoke his own name and added two words of broken English. "Tosawi, good Indian," he said.
It was then that General Sheridan uttered the immortal words: "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." Lieutenant Charles Nordstrom, who was present, remembered the words and passed them on, until in time they were honed into an American aphorism: The only good Indian is a dead Indian.
This implacable racial hatred, combined with their dim view of the Indians' intelligence and skill at battle, led to further tragedies for both sides. George Armstrong Custer, who returned to Indian wars in 1874 after gold was discovered in the Black Hills of the Dakotas, also happened to believe -- given his experience in such "battles" as the Washita massacre -- that Indians could not withstand a charging cavalry and would retreat under such an attack every time. So it was with such hubris that, in 1876, he charged the largest encampment in the history of the Plains Indians -- over a thousand Indians -- with a force of about 600 men, including his own detachment of about 200, in what was to be the most famous of all the Indian battles, the Little Bighorn. Custer and his men were entirely wiped out.
But the defeat only further inflamed the whites, who over the course of the next year tracked down and defeated or captured nearly all of the Indians who had been involved in the battle, including the chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
However, trying to accommodate the whites, as Black Kettle and many others had found, was no guarantee of safety. Even the most famous peacekeeper among the Indian chiefs, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, whose tribe had aided Lewis and Clark and who had a long history of cooperation with whites, found himself on the wrong end of settlers' ambitions. In 1877, they found themselves at war with the U.S. Army, and Joseph led his band of some 800 Nez Perce on a remarkable retreat that nearly succeeded before they were caught just short of the Canadian border.
The last of the Indian wars, the Sheepeater War of 1879, was scarcely even a skirmish, and arose under the sketchiest of circumstances. Having seen the profits that came to the Oregon towns of Lagrande and Baker City for having hosted the Army's campaign in the Nez Perce war, a number of ambitious merchants in the newly opened Yankee Fork mining district in central Idaho decided an Indian war might help them prosper as well. So when a group of Chinese miners -- whose presence was widely hated by whites anyway -- were found massacred, it was initially blamed on the Sheepeaters (though it was later established the killings were by whites, not Indians), which became a pretext for calling in the Cavalry. The ensuing chase over the rugged mountains of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River proved so exhausting that the Army nearly gave up before it finally located a ragtag band of Indians they then took prisoner. The commanders declared victory and packed for home.
The coup de grace, as it were, was finally delivered some 11 years later. The mounting misery of the scattered remnants of tribes produced among them a last, dying spate of messianic movements that produced some hope of redemption for their people and their heritage. One of the most prominent of these, involving the ritual of the Ghost Dance, spread widely among the Siouxan peoples of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
But reservation officials feared the movement could become grounds for a last-gasp Indian uprising, and they undertook to suppress it with arrests. The resulting discord culminated in the assassination of Sitting Bull, who had taken up residence at Pine Ridge. Soon, the reservation faced outright unrest, and so the soldiers were called in.
There have been many detailed accounts of what happened then, perhaps none as eloquent as Brown's account in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Peter Nabokov's account in The Native Americans [pp. 365-366] is succinct:
- Along Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Seventh Cavalry Troops, having rounded up a band of Hunkpapa Sioux suspected of potential trouble (fully two-thirds of them were women and children), herded the Indians for the night into a tight group surrounded by five hundred soldiers, their normal armament reinforced with four Hotchkiss guns. In the morning, the Sioux men were culled out, lined up, and disarmed. Someone is said to have discharged a weapon. Immediately, the Hotchkiss guns opened fire, and most of the men were killed in the first five minutes.
The Hotchkiss guns, carefully trained on the milling, terrified people, continued to fire. Some Indians fought back with whatever they had, stones or sticks or bare hands (leaving twenty-nine soldiers dead), while others tried to flee. Within an hour some two hundred Indians were dead or dying. A few women got as far as three miles away before being caught and killed. The rest, about one hundred souls, fled and later froze to death in the hills.
Afterwards, the American Indians were reduced to virtual nonentities. Their children were forcibly shipped off to >boarding schools whose main purpose was to eradicate any vestige of their "savage" heritage and completely "civilize" them; most of these schools eventually descended into horror, and their larger effect only left behind generations of damaged Indians who had been stripped of their heritage.
Even those who had managed to find ways to thrive, such as the Osages -- whose oil rights from their treaty lands in Oklahoma led to tremendous economic riches in the 20th century -- had their wealth taken from them. Beginning in the early '20s, a handful of scheming whites successfully undertook to steal land rights away from the Osages by murdering them. The scheme, which became known as the Osage Reign of Terror, typically involved white men marrying women who held the rights, and then surreptitiously having them killed and their murders officially covered up.
At every step of this systematic extermination, whites justified their brutality with eliminationist rhetoric that referred always to the savagery of the Indians, who indeed were not hesitant to shed blood and to do so in brutal fashion that, as it often was with whites, was intended to send a message. The entire history of the Indians' dealings with American settlers fit this pattern.
Yet even the most avid of the eliminationists among them often recognized that the original fault nearly always lay with the invading whites. Kroeber notes that Robert A. Anderson, who led the extermination of the Yana, nonetheless observed retrospectively in his memoirs the following:
- It is but just that I should mention the circumstances which raised the hand of the Mill Creeks against the whites. As in almost every similar instance in American History, the first act of injustice, the first spilling of blood, must be laid at the white man's door.
Such reflection, however, rarely led to the perpetrators to wonder if their murderousness had been anything more than an unpleasant necessity -- because, regardless of the fault, in their view the Indians were nonetheless savage beasts for whom the only means of "civilization" was elimination.
At the turn of the century, the Indians were no longer a threat to white Americans, and so the eliminationist rhetoric was gradually replaced with romantic "noble savage" mythology that made them seem distant and harmless, which in fact they were. By then, anyway, they had found a new "threat" and a fresh object for elimination: black people.
Next: Strange Fruit
USA Today Editorial
Keith Ellison's election to the House, as the chamber's first Muslim, provides the United States with a grand opportunity to showcase its credentials as a nation of opportunity, equality and diversity.
What a great story to tell the Muslim world. Five years after 9/11, voters in America's heartland elected Ellison, an African-American who grew up in Detroit and converted to Islam in college, to one of the nation's highest offices. The 43-year-old Democrat took 56% of the vote in his Minneapolis-area district.
Ellison upped the chance to polish America's image for religious tolerance, as well, when he said he'd use Islam's holy book, the Quran, at his ceremonial swearing-in this week.
That's when the chance to shine was tarnished by a few ugly voices. The loudest belongs to Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., who used the occasion to take a crude swipe not only at Ellison and the Quran, but at all Muslims.
In a letter to a constituent that later leaked out publicly and reeks with bigotry, Goode railed that "if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the" Quran. Goode expressed "fear" that in the next century "we will have many more Muslims" in the USA.
Goode's pinched prescription? Essentially to shut the nation's doors: Stop illegal immigration, reduce legal immigration and end a program designed to draw people from countries with otherwise low U.S. immigration rates.
Other critics of Ellison's desire to carry the Quran, a holy book meaningful to him, ranted that the Bible and only the Bible is the basis of America's values.
They couldn't be more wrong about the essence of the nation's values. Nor could Goode about what the nation has to fear.
They're even wrong on their facts.
As Goode, who is starting his sixth term, surely knows, House members are officially sworn in without any religious book. They simply raise their hands in a mass ceremony in the chamber. In unofficial ceremonies later, they re-enact the oath, often with a Bible, for commemorative photos.
Some Jewish members and others have chosen holy books other than the Bible. Even presidents have strayed from using the Bible when taking the oath of office.
In 1825, John Quincy Adams reportedly used a law volume. News accounts say Theodore Roosevelt used no Bible in taking his first oath of office, in 1901. It's Ellison's constitutional right to choose a book that's meaningful to him.
Tolerance and religious freedom are at America's heart. So is the nation's embrace of people from all countries and cultures.
Several million Muslims live in the USA. It is to the nation's credit that one of them will join Congress this week. And if Goode is worried about Muslim immigrants, he's about 260 years too late in Ellison's case. Ellison traces his ancestors to Louisiana in 1742.
Goode and other critics could learn something from the man whose actions they've vilified. Asked about the controversy on CNN last month, Ellison refused to be drawn into a battle over different holy texts.
"Let's focus on the text that binds us together," Ellison said. "That's the Constitution. That's a great document."
Monday, January 01, 2007
I love those year-end roundups—ubiquitous annual lists of greatest films and albums and lip glosses and tractors. It's reassuring that all human information can be wrestled into bundles of 10. In that spirit, Slate proudly presents, the top 10 civil liberties nightmares of the year:
10. Attempt to Get Death Penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui
Long after it was clear the hapless Frenchman was neither the "20th hijacker" nor a key plotter in the attacks of 9/11, the government pressed to execute him as a "conspirator" in those attacks. Moussaoui's alleged participation? By failing to confess to what he may have known about the plot, which may have led the government to disrupt it, Moussaoui directly caused the deaths of thousands of people. This massive overreading of the federal conspiracy laws would be laughable were the stakes not so high. Thankfully, a jury rejected the notion that Moussaoui could be executed for the crime of merely wishing there had been a real connection between himself and 9/11.
9. Guantanamo Bay
It takes a licking but it keeps on ticking. After the Supreme Court struck down the military tribunals planned to try hundreds of detainees moldering on the base, and after the president agreed that it might be a good idea to close it down, the worst public relations fiasco since the Japanese internment camps lives on. Prisoners once deemed "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth" are either quietly released (and usually set free) or still awaiting trial. The lucky 75 to be tried there will be cheered to hear that the Pentagon has just unveiled plans to build a $125 million legal complex for the hearings. The government has now officially put more thought into the design of Guantanamo's court bathrooms than the charges against its prisoners.
8. Slagging the Media
Whether the Bush administration is reclassifying previously declassified documents, sidestepping the FOIA, threatening journalists for leaks on dubious legal grounds, or, most recently, using its subpoena power to try to wring secret documents from the ACLU, the administration has continued its "secrets at any price" campaign. Is this a constitutional crisis? Probably not. Annoying as hell? Definitely.
7. Slagging the Courts
It starts with the president's complaints about "activist judges," and evolves to Congressional threats to appoint an inspector general to oversee federal judges. As public distrust of the bench is fueled, the stripping of courts' authority to hear whole classes of cases—most recently any habeas corpus claims from Guantanamo detainees—almost seems reasonable. Each tiny incursion into the independence of the judiciary seems justified. Until you realize that the courts are often the only places that will defend our shrinking civil liberties. This leads to ...
6. The State-Secrets Doctrine
The Bush administration's insane argument in court is that judges should dismiss entire lawsuits over many of the outrages detailed on this very list. Why? Because the outrageously illegal things are themselves matters of top-secret national security. The administration has raised this claim in relation to its adventures in secret wiretapping and its fun with extraordinary rendition. A government privilege once used to sidestep civil claims has mushroomed into sweeping immunity for the administration's sometimes criminal behavior.
5. Government Snooping
Take your pick. There's the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program wherein the president breezily authorized spying on the phone calls of innocent citizens, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The FBI's TALON database shows the government has been spying on nonterrorist groups, including Quakers, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Veterans for Peace. The Patriot Act lives on. And that's just the stuff we know about.
4. Extraordinary Rendition
So, when does it start to become ordinary rendition? This government program has us FedEx-ing unindicted terror suspects abroad for interrogation/torture. Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen, was shipped off to Afghanistan for such treatment and then released without charges, based on some government confusion about his name. Heh heh. Canadian citizen Maher Arar claims he was tortured in Syria for a year, released without charges, and cleared by a Canadian commission. Attempts to vindicate the rights of such men? You'd need to circle back to the state-secrets doctrine, above.
3. Abuse of Jose Padilla
First, he was, according to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, "exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or 'dirty bomb,' in the United States." Then, he was planning to blow up apartments. Then he was just part of a vague terror conspiracy to commit jihad in Bosnia and Chechnya. Always, he was a U.S. citizen. After three and a half years, in which he was denied the most basic legal rights, it has now emerged that Padilla was either outright tortured or near-tortured. According to a recent motion, during Padilla's years of almost complete isolation, he was treated by the U.S. government to sensory and sleep deprivation, extreme cold, stress positions, threats of execution, and drugging with truth serum. Experts say he is too mentally damaged to stand trial. The Bush administration supported his motion for a mental competency assessment, in hopes that will help prevent his torture claims from ever coming to trial, or, as Yale Law School's inimitable Jack Balkin put it: "You can't believe Padilla when he says we tortured him because he's crazy from all the things we did to him."
2. The Military Commissions Act of 2006
This was the so-called compromise legislation that gave President Bush even more power than he initially had to detain and try so-called enemy combatants. He was generously handed the authority to define for himself the parameters of interrogation and torture and the responsibility to report upon it, since he'd been so good at that. What we allegedly did to Jose Padilla was once a dirty national secret. The MCA made it the law.
Whenever the courts push back against the administration's unsupportable constitutional ideas—ideas about "inherent powers" and a "unitary executive" or the silliness of the Geneva Conventions or the limitless sweep of presidential powers during wartime—the Bush response is to repeat the same chorus louder: Every detainee is the worst of the worst; every action taken is legal, necessary, and secret. No mistakes, no apologies. No nuance, no regrets. This legal and intellectual intractability can create the illusion that we are standing on the same constitutional ground we stood upon in 2001, even as that ground is sliding away under our feet.
What outrage did I forget? Send mail to Dahlia.Lithwick@hotmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless otherwise stipulated.)
Wishing you and yours a happy, and freer, New Year.
A version of this piece appears in the Washington Post Outlook section.