Dec 18, 2014 - Justification for War and Acts of Violence By Gadudage
There are many examples of genocidal acts that the United States government committed against the indigenous population of North America. I want to focus on how Indian Policy changed overtime and how each stance involved actions that could be deemed as genocide. One of the strongest stances adopted by Euro-Americans on Native Americans is the idea of manifest destiny.
The term “Manifest Destiny” as it applies to Colonial expansion in the Americas has been examined and supported by historic accounts and documents. It is taught in American History classes across the nation. It was basically the governments way of convincing white settlers that is was their God given right to take land from Indians and treat them as inferiors. However, few authors have used documents from this time period as a comparison to structural violence and “Historical Trauma” as it relates to the past and present Native American or indigenous population.
In the article “Eight Points on War,” Brian Ferguson attempts to look at how biology is used as a justification for war. Ferguson argues “To persuade others, they convert practical self-interests into the highest applicable moral values—ideas of personhood, breaches of kinship, accusations of witchcraft, revenge—meaning, they started it.”(Ferguson: 5). In the case of the annihilation of Native Americans it was presented as “a God given right” or ethnocentric bias it became accepted as “fate.” Along with the argument that it was a God given right to push American Indian tribes off their land, many arguments were made that Native Americans were inferior to Europeans and therefore did not understand and/or deserve the land they lived on. In A Social History of Anthropology in the United States, Thomas C. Patterson explains “The anthropological tradition that developed in the United States in the wake of the Revolutionary War was shaped by three overriding concerns: creating a national identity, episodic westward expansion and settlement in the Indian territories, and consolidating a slave-based economy in the southern states” (Patterson 2001:7). He further argues that Americans came from the same social and cultural background as their contemporaries in Europe and therefore drew inspiration from the same writers and the Bible to gain their thoughts and beliefs. As a result Patterson states “Like many of their contemporaries, they tended to see peoples or nations distinguished from one another by differences of language, custom, and physical condition” (Patterson 2001:7). Clearly, the settlers in America did not view Native Americans as their equals. They instead viewed them as different which helped convince other settlers that it was morally and legally okay to disenfranchise the American Indian population because they were not the same and therefore should not be treated with the same rights they were entitled to receive. Further, while the United States did not officially declare war on the indigenous population nor do their actions fit the conventional definition of war, Ferguson believes that wars occur when conditions fit the above mentioned criteria.
When the people of America revolted against King George they spoke of the right to determine one’s own destiny. Thomas Jefferson spoke of dissolving the political bands and assuming the powers that the laws of nature and nature’s god entitled them. The leaders of the newly freed America were preordained to rule all of North America through “Manifest Destiny” (Andreas 2004:3). This led to the slaughter of Native American people and the number of dead has never been counted. The army took there land and confined them to reservations, the culture loss was devestaing. Those that resisted were broken physically or as Thomas Jefferson put it “exterminated” (Churchill 1997:211). Through “manifest destiny” the Native American population were decimated and slaughtered in genocidal wars and their lands seized. Untold counts of Native American casualties exist and are comparable to many acts of legally defined and prosecuted genocide. (Andreas 2004:4). This same Anglo-Saxon position on racial and cultural supremacy would later appear in Aryan Nazi beliefs and contribute to the infamous Holocaust. Additionally, Patterson assesses race and manifest destiny in Industrializing America from 1838-1879 in A Soclal History of Antropology. He gives examples of how anthropologists of that time used the discipline to support Anglo claims of intellectual dominance over other races namely the Native American population. He points out that “By 1840, many politicians and social commentators had come to believe that the cultural differences exhibited by Indians and Africans on the one hand and Anglo-Saxon Americans on the other were rooted in biology (Stanton 1960). In their view, the different races of humanity formed a natural hierarchy topped native-born, white Protestants. They argued the different races possessed varying degrees of intellect. For Charles Caldwell (1799-1851), America’s leading phrenologist in the 1830s, these differences were manifested in the shape and size of their crania and brains. (Patterson 2001:17). These studies were used to underpin behavioral differences, date the earth at less than 6,000 years old and discounted the mental capacities of Indians and their claim to their ancestral lands in the U.S.
The justification was well accepted by settlers in the “New World.” These justifications outlined above allowed for the theft of tribes’ land, property, women and children and ultimately led to mass killings of Indian peoples through warfare, violence, disease, relocation, and starvation. The degradation of American Indians established in colonial American continue to plague tribes today.
Andreas, Joel. Addicted to War: Why The U.S. Cant Kick Miltiarism. ATK Press, Oakland, 2004.
Churchill, Ward. A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the
Present. City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1997.
Ferguson, R. Brian. “Eight Points on War.” Anthropology News, 2007.
Patterson, Thomas C. A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford, New York
Gadudage is Eastern Band Cherokee and works as a Archaeological Field Tech. for his Tribal Historic Preservation Office.