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The Destruction of the Pomo Tribe
April 4, 2007 10:12 AM   Subscribe

The Bloody Island Massacre: "[W]e hope that the government will render such aid as will enable the citizens of the north to carry on a war of extermination until the last redskin of these tribes has been killed. Extermination is no longer a question of time - the time has arrived, the work has commenced, and let the first man that says treaty or peace be regarded as a traitor." (Wiki)
posted by anotherpanacea (66 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
What? They were good links.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:12 AM on April 4, 2007


For some strange reason there is no mention of this in the park literature when you camp at Clear Lake.
posted by 2sheets at 10:18 AM on April 4, 2007


History is written by the victors.
posted by dazed_one at 10:29 AM on April 4, 2007


Somebody ought to do a Google Maps of all the Native American massacres that took place in North America. I wonder just how many quaint American towns have an organized campaign to wipe out a tribe in their genesis.

And when you read texts like:

"Now that general hostilities against the Indians have commenced we hope that the government will render such aid as will enable the citizens of the north to carry on a war of extermination until the last redskin of these tribes has been killed. Extermination is no longer a question of time - the time has arrived, the work has commenced, and let the first man that says treaty or peace be regarded as a traitor".

It really makes you wonder if this sort of highly organized, widely popular, politically driven genocidal campaign was actually an American innovation that other modern nation-states picked up on after seeing how well it could work.
posted by nixerman at 10:32 AM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, that's a mission statement. :oP Imagine if we went into a foreign country and did that. (Irony much?)

(I wasn't really upset about the original FPP's perceived low quality, but never having heard of the incident or the instigators, I was bummed that it went away before I could investigate those links more fully.)
posted by pax digita at 10:32 AM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the Pomo believe in reincarnation.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 10:33 AM on April 4, 2007


Sadly this incident is not unique in world history. On six continents and countless islands, Genocide, not football, is the worlds favorite sport.
posted by Megafly at 10:33 AM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm too busy to read that Wikipedia link right now -- any volunteers?

Seriously, though, panacea, thanks for salvaging the links from the deleted fpp.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:36 AM on April 4, 2007


Waddayaknow, someone wrote up a Wikipedia entry! (Nice do-over, btw.)
posted by miss lynnster at 10:38 AM on April 4, 2007


Not to Godwinize the thread unnecessarily, but there is some evidence that the Nazi's got their concentration camp idea from the US.

And yes, the treatment of the Indian tribes by the government and by citizens alike has been whitewashed from American history. And it wasn't all that long ago.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:43 AM on April 4, 2007


Someone should write a Wikipedia article 'Listing Native American massacres that took place in North America'.. and FPP about it.
posted by stbalbach at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2007


More Indian Massacres
posted by Pastabagel at 10:47 AM on April 4, 2007


Now that we have this new entry, perhaps someone could add an entry for the Bloody Island Massacre to the main list?
posted by Pastabagel at 10:49 AM on April 4, 2007


pax digita--You do know that you can still click on the link in the MetaTalk and go to the original post. Also, you can visit Lofi.Mefi and see the post still there on the front page (although you still can't comment).
posted by OmieWise at 10:50 AM on April 4, 2007


Not to Godwinize the thread unnecessarily, but there is some evidence that the Nazi's got their concentration camp idea from the US.

Last year, I read the first half of Robert Fisk's tome and he covers the Armenian genocide in Turkey and he makes a case that this is where the Nazis got their ideas and methods. There were even German officials on hand during the Armenian genocide.
posted by NoMich at 10:50 AM on April 4, 2007


It really makes you wonder if this sort of highly organized, widely popular, politically driven genocidal campaign was actually an American innovation...

Only if they also invented time travel. Haven't invaders traditionally done this kind of thing back to the Hittites?
posted by DU at 10:51 AM on April 4, 2007


My favorite lines from the era are from Frank Baum (Oz author) who said "I find no reason we should not exterminate the indian race."
and the infamous TR (bully!) who called for "complete extermination" as the domestic policy towards all native peoples.

But let's add in Poe, for a change of perspective, who insisted we call 'Murika, "Appalachia", because "in employing this word we do honor to the Aborigines, whom, hitherto, we have at all points unmercifully despoiled, assassinated and dishonored."

In Minnesota, my oh so liberal former home, until 1922 the state gave a reward for all proof (ie scalp -which was a settler invented practice btw) of killing a native. But MN is also where AIM began.

Yes, the only thing more brutal, murderous and disgusting than 20th century american history, is 19th american history.

See, my anthro degree comes in handy once every 10 years or so.
posted by sarcasman at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2007


Last year, I read the first half of Robert Fisk's tome and he covers the Armenian genocide in Turkey and he makes a case that this is where the Nazis got their ideas and methods. There were even German officials on hand during the Armenian genocide.

Hitler cited, at various times, three main inspirations for his "final solution":

1. The Armenian genocide by Turkey; reportedly, Hitler even comforted his generals that the Holocaust would go well by asking, "Who remembers the Armenians?"
2. American war crimes, including concentration camps, in the Philippines.
3. The massacres and reservations set up by the United States for Native Americans

Obviously, the U.S. isn't the only country to do things like this, and Hitler had plenty of history to learn from, but these are the sources I've seen cited explicitly in his rationale. Two out of three is ... well, sobering.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2007


Not to Godwinize the thread unnecessarily, but there is some evidence that the Nazi's got their concentration camp idea from the US.

I've never heard this before, and I wonder if you're confusing that notion with the well-documented adoption by the Nazis of eugenics laws that were on the US books. See Daniel Kevles book for more on this.
posted by OmieWise at 10:59 AM on April 4, 2007


I didn't specifically mean the genocide, but rather that the Nazis got the concentration camp idea, the organization, mass removal of people, etc from the camps set up in the 18XX's, and I think it was specifically the camps to which the Cherokee were sent during the Trail of tears incident. But the facts are fuzzy, as high school was a long time ago.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:00 AM on April 4, 2007


But let's add in Poe, for a change of perspective, who insisted we call 'Murika, "Appalachia", because "in employing this word we do honor to the Aborigines, whom, hitherto, we have at all points unmercifully despoiled, assassinated and dishonored."
posted by sarcasman at 1:56 PM on April 4


Emerson's Letter to President Van Buren regarding Cherokee removal.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:02 AM on April 4, 2007


Haven't invaders traditionally done this kind of thing back to the Hittites?

Most invaders take the easier route of turning your existing government into a province of their own. Most invaders don't care what you do, so long as the taxes are forthcoming. Others, like the Inka or the Hellenistic Greeks, take a more concerted interest in exporting their own culture and suppressing your old one, but no, wiping out whole populations is not only difficult and expensive, it's usually counter-productive. The U.S. didn't invent it, we just picked up where the Europeans left off, but this kind of genocide is really something you first see post-1492, though not just in the Americas. European empires took it to Africa, Asia and Australia, too.

Yes, the only thing more brutal, murderous and disgusting than 20th century american history, is 19th american history.

Hear, hear. When people tell me that "Dubya" is the worst president ever, I start mentioning some of the highlights from Teddy's biography. Of course, even in the 19th century, we were largely in the little leagues compared to the European empires. Most of the terrible things we're doing in the world today, we do simply as an extension of Europe's legacy. People sometimes accuse me of blaming America first; I tell them that's not true at all, I mostly blame Britain.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2007


There were even German officials on hand during the Armenian genocide.

There's also the Herero "Wars" (!904-1907).
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2007


I think a big problem of perception exists with America and Indian massacres. It is not necessarily the actions (which are bad enough), but the scale of the actions. Smaller scale societies pretty regularly, and intentionally killed off and enslaved large percentages of other nearby small scale societies, however the real numbers of these attacks where small. Whereas, when we start hearing of intentional, large percentages AND large numbers it sounds a lot worse, and we feel outraged, sad... whatever.
While genocide has gone on for awhile it will continue as long as war is considered a legitimate means of settling disputes, because essentially that is what it is, war. Whether we are talking Sudan, Nazi Germany or the Trail of Tears. The separation of whole social/political classes people into those who deserve to live, and deserve to die is a political issue that is a kernel at the heart of such things
posted by edgeways at 11:07 AM on April 4, 2007


the treatment of the Indian tribes by the government and by citizens alike has been whitewashed from American history.
Such statements mystify me. Who here was not raised hearing about Native American massacres, the Trail of Tears, deplorable reservation conditions, etc.?
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:07 AM on April 4, 2007


edgeways-

My frustration with pithy and wholly incorrect statements like "the only thing more brutal, murderous and disgusting than 20th century american history, is 19th century American history" is that American history of any century pales in comparison to European or Asian history. That Indian massacre lists casualties at most in the low hundreds. By contrast 2 million Americans killed each other in the civil war. How many died in Europe's wars in that century - the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, etc?


But with respect to the Indian tribes, the problem is that the existence of the tribes was already fragile to begin with, and the tribal culture of many smaller tribes has been completely lost as a result. It's one thing to leave behind 10% of a tribe that has 10,000 members, it's another thing entirely to leave 10% of a tribe that only had 1000. Below a certain number, the tribe can no longer sustain itself.

Furthermore, to the U.S. credit, the contemporary intellectual community seemed to be aware and vehemently opposed to these actions. The government committed a lot of these in secret (many of these massacres predate the telegraph) or otherwise controlled the story, and in other cases the government committed the worst kind of lowest common denominator pandering. (See TR's reprehensible comments).
posted by Pastabagel at 11:16 AM on April 4, 2007


Smaller scale societies pretty regularly, and intentionally killed off and enslaved large percentages of other nearby small scale societies, however the real numbers of these attacks where small.

That's certainly the conclusion of, say, Lawrence Keeley, and many have built on his work in recent years, but I find the evidence somewhat lacking. The spread of smallpox wiped out some 90% of the American population before Europeans even saw most of the continent's inhabitants, leading to migrations, refugees, and a general billiard-ball effect as tribal boundaries were rearranged. Then the Europeans began moving in, en masse, causing further chaos. This, naturally, was a pretty violent period, as such transitional periods generally are, and for this era, your assessment probably applies. But where's the archaeological evidence to suggest that this was the case in 1491? I think we have a real epistemological problem in our understanding of other societies, in that by the time we have contact with them, other impacts from our own spread have already turned their world upside down.

Such statements mystify me. Who here was not raised hearing about Native American massacres, the Trail of Tears, deplorable reservation conditions, etc.?

Heard of, yes. But that's different from really internalizing it. Germans have internalized the Holocaust. Talking about Germany as a moral exemplar to the world falls somewhat flat, because everyone there bears a certain amount of shame for what's happened before. In the U.S., you get in trouble for not believing the government is a moral exemplar to the world. We know about how we got this continent, but we've never really incorporated it. It's almost considered irrelevant, or a fluke, or like it wasn't really us and we don't directly benefit from it today.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:17 AM on April 4, 2007


But with respect to the Indian tribes, the problem is that the existence of the tribes was already fragile to begin with, and the tribal culture of many smaller tribes has been completely lost as a result.

Wait ... did a citizen of a 200-year-old country just call a 10,000 year old culture "fragile"? These weren't "fragile" at all; these were some of the most resilient cultures the world's ever seen, but there's yet to be a culture that can withstand genocide. Bear in mind, most of these cultures had already been wiped out by European contact long before they ever saw a European, through things like smallpox. Tribes of 1,000 people were simply what remained. The Native world the Europeans observed was really, in a lot of ways, downright post-apocalyptic for them.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:20 AM on April 4, 2007


Hitler cited, at various times, three main inspirations for his "final solution":

Of course Hitler wouldn't mention what the British did to the Germanic Boers during the 2nd Boer War, where English first gained the word "concentration camp."

The British, recognizing an effective strategy when they saw it, after WWII employed concentration camps to control the Kikuyu people in Kenya from whence the term "to Mau Mau" originates.
posted by geos at 11:28 AM on April 4, 2007


Pastabagel:

There is a lot of confusion the genesis of the concentration camp and the reserve/bantustan system. Both actually originate with the British colonial exercise, and link North America to South Africa in interesting ways.

Concentration camp was a term originally used to describe the re-settlement of Afrikaners in controlled camps during the Boer War, and were seen primarily as a temporary wartime measure to separate guerrillas from the civilian populations that supported them. The reserve system (as well as the use of passes for indigenous people outside of reserves) originated in western Canada as a means of isolating the native population from European settlers, ostensibly as a means of preserving Native autonomy.

While mass death was a feature of pre-WWII concentration camps (primarily as a result of disease or malnutrition), the degree to which this was an intentional feature is debated. It was the Nazis that explicitly transformed them into death camps.

The reserve system in Canada was typically the result of treaties made with the crown, in which, as a condition of the government honoring its obligations, Native peoples were required to remain in a particular place. This system was adopted by South Africa following the war, and many were rechristened "Bantustans" after 1948 and given nominal independence within South Africa.

Concentration camps, in turn, were revived by the British in Malaysia and Kenya after WWII, and by America in Viet Nam (the "fortified hamlet" program).

The reservation system in the US, while similar to the reserve system in Canada, was more the result of a hodge-podge of treaties made with various federal and local bodies (often following massacres such as the one described in the FPP, or leading up to them). Often the intended outcome of reservations was that the residents would either assimilate and adopt individual land tenure (a goal formalized by the Dawes Act), or eventually die out. This is not to say that there weren't conditions that we'd now associate with concentration camps at various reservations and agencies (Standing Rock for instance), or that many administrators favored the second outcome and tried to help it along.

At a certain point however, many of these distinctions become academic- whether or not the population in question was indigenous, presence of a state of war, and the degree to which the associated mass death was "intentional" or "accidental" (insufficient provisioning, poor sanitation, corrupt contractors and administrators). Some western Canadian reserves, often in spite of government efforts, managed to become self-sufficient, at which point they were usually broken up or otherwise sabotaged. However, in most cases, the common factor seems to be "mass death," so perhaps your original conflation of concentration camps and reserves is not so far off.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:40 AM on April 4, 2007


but there's yet to be a culture that can withstand genocide. Bear in mind, most of these cultures had already been wiped out by European contact long before they ever saw a European, through things like smallpox

If a large percentage were wiped out by disease, it isn't genocide. 15th-19th century medicine was, to put it politely, atrocious, and there was little understanding or appreciation of contagion, viral mutation, etc. at that time. As you correctly point out, by the time there even was a United States that set itself to settling the center and west of the country, much of the multimillion person native population was already dead.

Also, from a biological standpoint, the death from disease is quite interesting because there was no reciprocal effect. The Indians had no unknown diseases that killed off Europeans. The intermingling, travel and trade that defines much of European history from Egypt to the 15th century caused their immune systems to develop quite robustly.

In this sense, the restlessness of that civilization may have afforded it a distinct biological advantage.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2007


TheWhiteSkull: The practice of concentration camps and reserves goes back much further than the nineteenth century, to the original encounter of the Portuguese with the blacks of Sierre Leone in the fifteenth century, and the subsequent massacre of the Khoikhoi (Hottentots) by the Dutch Boer colonists in the eighteenth century. The English simply applied a strategy that had long been applied to native peoples to their fellow Europeans when they decided they had 'gone native.'
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:47 AM on April 4, 2007


did a citizen of a 200-year-old country just call a 10,000 year old culture "fragile"? posted by jefgodesky

Aren't you confusing "country" and "Culture"?

Anyway you yourself say that it wasn't the Europeans that destroyed the Natives... it was some microbes.
posted by Megafly at 11:52 AM on April 4, 2007


jefgodesky, there is some interesting stuff cited in the last edition of Dyer's War that addresses the level of conflict between smaller scaled societies a fair ways back. I don't have it handy with me but the statistics where somewhere in order of of a rate on average 60% of document-able societies became extinct or assimilated per century until fairly recently (yeah, bad phrasing, sorry I'll try and grab the book tonight so I can be more precise). In addition I'd have to say there is plenty of archaeological evidence to at least make such a claim plausible. Now I am not just talking about America, or the American continent, but more global. I would venture as well that by the time of initial European contact NA societies had moved from small to at least medium scale, the plagues the Europeans brought may well have knocked many of them back scale wise, but much of the forceable assimilation of smaller tribes/groups had already occurred prior to European arrival.

The 90% mark is on the high side of estimates, I don't dispute it, but the range is somewhere like 60% - 90%, pretty severe even at the low end.

The thing I am working on is comparing different scale societies and the effects of war on those societies. In smaller groups whole societies may be wiped out relatively easily and quickly, but you only kill a hundred or so, conversely WWII resulted in massive numbers of deaths ~73 million, 16% of all of Poland was killed. But, as much as things changed it didn't result in the total elimination of any ethnicity, or base society.


It's not a horse race and we shouldn't get into "well who should we feel more sympathy towards", rather an observation of how things change.

The Native American tribes, and the American government at the point of this FPP occupy one of the intermediate steps between small scale and global, which bring different characteristics to the conflict.

bah, gotta go do work now....
posted by edgeways at 11:55 AM on April 4, 2007


If a large percentage were wiped out by disease, it isn't genocide.

Except where things where helped along, smallpox blankets
posted by edgeways at 11:58 AM on April 4, 2007


edgeways,

I'm referring to this article which states:

One reason this death toll was overlooked (or downplayed) is that disease, according to the widely held theory, raced ahead of European immigration in many areas, thus often killing off a sizable portion of the population before European observations (and thus written records) were made. Many European immigrants who arrived after the epidemics had already killed massive numbers of American natives assumed that the natives had always been few in number.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2007


Concentration camp was a term originally used to describe the re-settlement of Afrikaners in controlled camps during the Boer War, and were seen primarily as a temporary wartime measure to separate guerrillas from the civilian populations that supported them.

from wikipedia

"The conditions in the camps were very unhealthy and the food rations were meager. The wives and children of men who were still fighting were given smaller rations than others. The poor diet and inadequate hygiene led to endemic contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery. Coupled with a shortage of medical facilities, this led to large numbers of deaths — a report after the war concluded that 27,927 Boers (of whom 24,074 [50% of the Boer child population died] were children under 16) and 14,154 black Africans had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps."

Surely the British noticed all the dead kids. It's pretty simple: keep fighting us and your wife and kids are going to die. Arguing about whether it constitutes genocide if you kill only half of the children is missing the forest for the trees.

And then to repeat the exercise with the Kikuyu suggests that it was careful policy and not the emergency of war. There is a widely held view among Anglo-Americans that the British Empire was a largely benign enterprise: it was founded on mass-murder as all empires are.
posted by geos at 12:06 PM on April 4, 2007


Except where things where helped along, smallpox blankets

the other side to the British Empire is that one of the selling points of the American Revolution was the ability to exterminate the natives without interference from the British.

Exterminating the brutes is one of the founding ideas of the U.S. along with slavery. Our freedoms such as they are don't rest on the wisdom of the founders but alot of struggle to right what was very wrong to start with.
posted by geos at 12:09 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Native Americans in the Gold Rush
posted by homunculus at 12:20 PM on April 4, 2007


If a large percentage were wiped out by disease, it isn't genocide.

Yes, but it wasn't the disease that finally wiped them out--it was the massacre. The "fragile" cultures in question survived epidemics with 90% or higher mortality. It was the genocide that finally did them in.

Also, from a biological standpoint, the death from disease is quite interesting because there was no reciprocal effect. The Indians had no unknown diseases that killed off Europeans. The intermingling, travel and trade that defines much of European history from Egypt to the 15th century caused their immune systems to develop quite robustly.

More importantly, the domesticated animals. Nearly all of our really nasty diseases are zoonotic. Very few animals in the New World were domesticable. They actually had flourishing cross-continental trade (just take a look at Cahokia), often beyond that of the Old World. But they didn't have the diseases, because they didn't have the livestock, so the infection was largely one way.

In this sense, the restlessness of that civilization may have afforded it a distinct biological advantage.

Not restlessness at all. If territorial expansion is "good," and human life doesn't count for much, then the fact that the overpopulated, disease-ridden farmers were constantly dying of plague finally did some "good."

Aren't you confusing "country" and "Culture"?

No, I made the distinction. Only one of the cultures in question has countries, though. Even so, by even the most generous allotment, American culture is only 1,500 years old, and that only if you can seriously maintain that Hengest and Horsa shared the same culture with "the Donald." Fact remains, we're in some of the shortest-lived, volatile cultures humans have ever lived in--I don't think we've got a lot of room to call others "fragile." All it takes to wipe us out is a few degrees hotter around the world and watch just one year's wheat crop fail.

I don't have it handy with me but the statistics where somewhere in order of of a rate on average 60% of document-able societies became extinct or assimilated per century until fairly recently (yeah, bad phrasing, sorry I'll try and grab the book tonight so I can be more precise).

Sounds like Keeley, but if you look at Keeley more closely, his examples are mostly horticulturalists, and the foragers are generally groups like the Plains Indians--refugees formed from waves of impact prior to contact, like smallpox, Spanish horses, and guns. The key is "documentable societies," which usually means ones we've observed and have ethnographic records of. Thing is, a lot of these societies have just been through, for lack of a better term, the holy-shit apocalypse, right before the ethnographers arrive. As I said, it's an epistemological problem, but it really highlights the importance of archaeological data to try to reach back before European contact.

In addition I'd have to say there is plenty of archaeological evidence to at least make such a claim plausible.

I'd love to see it, because the evidence I'm familiar with tends to match pretty closely with the spread of food production, in both time and geography.

I would venture as well that by the time of initial European contact NA societies had moved from small to at least medium scale, the plagues the Europeans brought may well have knocked many of them back scale wise, but much of the forceable assimilation of smaller tribes/groups had already occurred prior to European arrival.

You're probably talking even more large-scale than that, but that doesn't imply forceable assimilation. The Iroquois were big about that, yes, and there were plenty of fierce chiefdom-level societies around the Americas prior to Columbus' arrival, but I don't think you can say that was universal.

The 90% mark is on the high side of estimates, I don't dispute it, but the range is somewhere like 60% - 90%, pretty severe even at the low end.

I find Mann's argument in 1491 fairly convincing, and there's increasing evidence that most of the Americas was a pretty well-tended, continuous garden. The Amazon, for instance, shows signs of being largely man-made (at least as we currently know it). In his estimates, 90% is on the low end. We may even be talking about 95% or 99%.

The thing I am working on is comparing different scale societies and the effects of war on those societies. In smaller groups whole societies may be wiped out relatively easily and quickly, but you only kill a hundred or so, conversely WWII resulted in massive numbers of deaths ~73 million, 16% of all of Poland was killed. But, as much as things changed it didn't result in the total elimination of any ethnicity, or base society.

I'd take a look at the context of those conflicts, though. In most of the cases I know, both the exterminated and the exterminators had very recently been brought to the brink of extinction by some outside factor (usually the expansion of a food-producing neighbor who noticed and recorded the conflict), and what was at stake was which one of them was going to be annihilated. It happens, and it's terrible, but taking this for typical behavior would be akin to taking polar bears for cannibalistic, suicidal swimmers, without any regard for how global warming might be changing their more ordinary state of affairs. The fact that it's so difficult to observe a culture without impacting it complicates the question, to be sure, but it's something vital to bear in mind.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:27 PM on April 4, 2007



Smallpox champion, U S of A
Give natives some blankets
Warm like the grave
This is the pattern cut from the cloth
This is the pattern designed to take you
Right out, right out, right out

This is the frontier with winter's so cold
Greed informs action where action makes bold
To take all the cotton that's cut from the stalk
Weave the disease that's gonna take you
Right out, right out, right out

What is good for the future?
what was good for the past?
What is good for the future?
Won't last

Bury your heart, U S of A
History rears up to spit in your face
You saw what you wanted
You took what you saw
We know how you got it
Your method equals
Wipe out, wipe out, wipe out

The end of the frontier and all that you own
Under the blankets of all that you've done
Memory serves us
To serve you yet
Memory serves us
To never let you
Wipe out, wipe out, wipe out

Cha-cha-cha-champion
You'll get yours.

Fugazi - Smallpox Champion
posted by furtive at 12:37 PM on April 4, 2007


...what the British did to the Germanic Boers during the 2nd Boer War

The Boers were no more 'Germanic' than were the British. What kinship Germany and the Afrikaners might have had was a shared enemy.
For what it's worth, when my ancestors emigrated from Germany to South Africa - while the Boer War was going on - they immediately joined the English-speaking community.
posted by Flashman at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2007


Frank Baum (Oz author) who said "I find no reason we should not exterminate the indian race."

This should be put into context of where it was said, when, and who he said it too. Once you know all those things, it is not the damning quote it appears to be. Like all quotes taken out of context, be careful.
posted by stbalbach at 12:40 PM on April 4, 2007


jefgodesky - I think you're - wait for it - whitewashing the history of a lot of pre-industrial societies for ideological reasons. The primary reason that many pre-industrial societies didn't utterly wipe out neighbors is because they didn't have the ability. In cases where they did have the ability they had no compunction about doing so.

Witness the Mongols; if you resisted, they would exterminate your entire population without batting an eye. Witness the treatment of the Cathars. And so on.

What changed in the 19th and 20th centuries wasn't morality; it was ability.
posted by Justinian at 12:42 PM on April 4, 2007


Frank Baum (Oz author) who said "I find no reason we should not exterminate the indian race."

This should be put into context of where it was said, when, and who he said it too. Once you know all those things, it is not the damning quote it appears to be. Like all quotes taken out of context, be careful.


OK, stbalbach, I'm all ears. Please give us the context in which a call to genocide is not a damning quote.
posted by Rumple at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2007


anotherpanacea:

I'm not sure what your point is. It's not until the mid 19th century that you start to see power and population differentials in the Americas and Africa that allowed whole indigenous groups to be effectively sectioned off, as a matter of policy, ostensibly for their own benefit. This is distinct from practices such as slavery, involvement in intercene warfare, establishment of military outposts and trading forts, outright massacres and other hallmarks of earlier colonial periods.

As I recall, the so-called "Hottentots" (a blanket term applied to a number of SE African peoples) were simply hunted like animals (in a similar fashion to the Tasmanian Aborigines).

What makes both reserves and concentration camps distinct is the combination of official approval with supposedly altruistic motives (or at least military necessity), and the characterization of the resulting mass death as "accidental" or "unfortunate."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:54 PM on April 4, 2007


This should be put into context of where it was said, when, and who he said it too. Once you know all those things, it is not the damning quote it appears to be. Like all quotes taken out of context, be careful.

It's plenty damning, but not of an individual. It's damning of a place and time in human history.

whitewashing the history of a lot of pre-industrial societies for ideological reasons.

You're perfectly entitled to that opinion, and I'm sure you could find evidence for it if you were so inclined, but by the same token, I could say that you're predisposed to ignore evidence to the contrary for equally ideological reasons. All the more reason to stick to the evidence itself as much as possible, I say. We can debate evidence and what it means far more clearly than we can one another's ulterior motives. I'd be happy to change my mind if I could find some evidence of this kind of widespread warfare in the pre-agricultural world, but what evidence I know of cleaves pretty closely to food production and its ramifications.

Witness the Mongols; if you resisted, they would exterminate your entire population without batting an eye.

Jack Weatherford's Savages and Civilization included a very interesting discussion of the Mongols' place on the civilized periphery, as a non-agricultural society nonetheless fundamentally formed by the ramifications of agricultural societies around it.

Witness the treatment of the Cathars.

Well the Cathars were full-blown farmers themselves....

What changed in the 19th and 20th centuries wasn't morality; it was ability.

Absolutely. I see an exponential growth curve starting with the Agricultural Revolution, and reaching its inflection point in the 20th century, charting increasing complexity, organized violence, and human population, since all of these things are interrelated. What I'm skeptical about is whether this trend pre-dates the agriculture that seems to fuel it, i.e., the claim that this is "human nature." I simply don't see the evidence for that. My ideological stance stems from that. I'd be happy to re-evaluate that in light of new evidence, but I do need new evidence to do so.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:55 PM on April 4, 2007


Nearly all of our really nasty diseases are zoonotic...Not restlessness at all. If territorial expansion is "good," and human life doesn't count for much, then the fact that the overpopulated, disease-ridden farmers were constantly dying of plague finally did some "good."

You are imposing value judgments on something which is value neutral - biological advantage. And it is an advantage - one genetic strain survived the diseases, another didn't.

Secondly, territorial expansion is biologically beneficial because it allows the species to survive sudden changes in any given environment.

Finally, the single most significant hallmark of European civilization isrestlessness. The culture back to its earliest days was inquisitive and acquisitive, which is based on a very sophisticated internalization of uncertainty - what is here now may not be here in the future, therefore we must prepare now for a variety of possible futures.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:55 PM on April 4, 2007


You are imposing value judgments on something which is value neutral - biological advantage. And it is an advantage - one genetic strain survived the diseases, another didn't.

And that's why there are no Native Americans anymore? Both strains survived, so your assessment needs some ammendment.

Secondly, territorial expansion is biologically beneficial because it allows the species to survive sudden changes in any given environment.

Not if you also have a homogeneous population making that expansion. That's true when a species is moving into a new territory for the first time. If, instead, it's territory the species already lives in, but you're replacing great diversity of the species with just one variety, then you've greatly reduced the ability to survive sudden changes. Drastically.

Finally, the single most significant hallmark of European civilization isrestlessness. The culture back to its earliest days was inquisitive and acquisitive, which is based on a very sophisticated internalization of uncertainty - what is here now may not be here in the future, therefore we must prepare now for a variety of possible futures.

That "significant hallmark of European civilization" is common to all cultures, and on that score, most cultures outdo Europe. While the Silk Road was letting just a trickle into Europe from China, Native Americans were trading fully across the continent. I can understand being impressed with Europe's restlessness, but if you think it was unique or even particularly strong, then you haven't been paying much attention to what the rest of the world was up to.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:01 PM on April 4, 2007


I'd be happy to change my mind if I could find some evidence of this kind of widespread warfare in the pre-agricultural world, but what evidence I know of cleaves pretty closely to food production and its ramifications.

Okay, I'm starting to see a trend in your comments across a lot of threads, in which you implicitly or unintentionally replace disciplines more relevant and informative to the topic at hand with anthropology, which I guess is you're baliwick.

Warfare, or any conflict between groups, is an extension of politics, which is an extension of economics. Economics is the science of scarcity. When food and water are plentiful, all groups can draw from the commons without competition over resources, so there is little reason to go to war. If food and water are continuously plentiful for generations, there will be no reason to develop institutions capable of making war.

Furthermore, your notion of evidence:

what evidence I know of cleaves pretty closely to food production and its ramifications is scientifically flawed.

There were anywhere between 6 million to 100 million native americans in North America before the Europeans showed up in the 15th century. How many native remains have we found dating from before the 15th century? 100? a thousand? Ten thousand? Are the remains and settlements we have found a valid statistical sample of what there was?

Whatever evidence you have is not a statistically valid sample of what existed. However, humans everywhere, all being human, have the same instincts, and that instinct is to acquire food - to survive - by any means necessary when food is scarce. This is as close to axiomatic as is possible in psychology.

You discuss indigenous cultures in this thread and the one from the other day in an almost idyllic manner, pointing aout all the negative aspects of western culture that they don't have.

These cultures don't have war, concentration camps, brutal conflict for the same reasons they don't have clocks, compasses, physics, bridges, or satellites. Again, if you impose a value judgment on some of it you have to value rank all of it.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:18 PM on April 4, 2007


Wow! Amazing the difference a FPP's wording can make in how seriously it's taken and how its comments evolve!
posted by miss lynnster at 1:19 PM on April 4, 2007


That Indian massacre lists casualties at most in the low hundreds.

This is what people mean by whitewashing. Amazing. Look into General Sherman's post civil war endeavors, for example. Pastabagel's notion of American settlers entering and civilizing a vacant already epidemically depopulated continent has been repudiated so many times over, it is breathtaking anyone still holds on to it.

Here's a good start for those interested in this part of american history, from a more scholarly perspective, instead of some guy on the internet's uninformed opinion.
posted by sarcasman at 1:27 PM on April 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Not if you also have a homogeneous population making that expansion. That's true when a species is moving into a new territory for the first time. If, instead, it's territory the species already lives in, but you're replacing great diversity of the species with just one variety, then you've greatly reduced the ability to survive sudden changes. Drastically.

This makes no sense. My comment Secondly, territorial expansion is biologically beneficial because it allows the species to survive sudden changes in any given environment. means that species X lives in place A. Then, it spreads to B also. If something happens at A (fire, asteroid, disease, evolution of killer prawns, whatever) the species is going to survive it because even if X is wiped out at A, it's still at B. Now replace 'species' with 'genetic line'.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:29 PM on April 4, 2007


Pastabagel's notion of American settlers entering and civilizing a vacant already epidemically depopulated continent has been repudiated so many times over, it is breathtaking anyone still holds on to it.

Well, I haven't read the obviously balanced book that you mention, but the wikipedia article I linked above states this:

Disease began to kill immense numbers of indigenous Americans soon after Europeans and Africans began to arrive in the New World, bringing with them the infectious diseases of the Old World. One reason this death toll was overlooked (or downplayed) is that disease, according to the widely held theory, raced ahead of European immigration in many areas, thus often killing off a sizable portion of the population before European observations (and thus written records) were made. Many European immigrants who arrived after the epidemics had already killed massive numbers of American natives assumed that the natives had always been few in number. The scope of the epidemics over the years was enormous, killing millions of people—in excess of 90% of the population in the hardest hit areas—and creating "the greatest human catastrophe in history, far exceeding even the disaster of the Black Death of medieval Europe."

Was it empty? No, but I never said that it was vacant. It was depopulated. I was simply describing the massacres in that list. Obivously there were others, 4000 died on the trail of tears alone. But those who died from disease were not killed by Europeans as that term is understood to apply to a massacre or a war.

And the same wikipedia article suggests the smallpox blanket story may be in error.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:36 PM on April 4, 2007


That "significant hallmark of European civilization" is common to all cultures, and on that score, most cultures outdo Europe.

I agree. In fact there is no single positive aspect of human existence in which European civilization doesn't lag way behind other cultures.

Those silly Europeans, bumbling around all day with their symphonies and their cancer research! They're like cavemen, really.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:52 PM on April 4, 2007


FYI: Web sites hosted at geocities.com have an hourly data transfer limit of just over 4 MB and can't be expected to endure the MeFi gaze.
posted by taosbat at 1:55 PM on April 4, 2007


TheWhiteSkull: You know, I've been looking at Hannah Arendt's account of the 'boomerang effect,' where she makes this argument about the administrative and bureaucratic methods of colonialism being brought back to bear on European populations in the twentieth century, and she makes a similar claim. I'm clearly wrong about the dating of the first concentration camps, which Arendt actually ties to the diamond mining camps used in Kimberley. Still, there's something to the Heart of Darkness claim that Europeans started by mistreating and enslaving blacks, and having tarnished their sense of human dignity, promptly turned around and enslaved their fellow whites.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:15 PM on April 4, 2007


Okay, I'm starting to see a trend in your comments across a lot of threads, in which you implicitly or unintentionally replace disciplines more relevant and informative to the topic at hand with anthropology, which I guess is you're baliwick.

Indeed it is, but forgive me if I'm wrong, isn't this primarily an anthropological question? What discipline would be more relevant or informative here? The question at hand (or at least, the question that I'm interested in here) is essentially to what degree human societies can be accurately described as "warlike," whether warfare is commonplace or exceptional. That lands smack-dab in the middle of anthro-land, as far as I can see. There are plenty of times when I tend to take an antrhopological perspective to, say, economics, or politics, and I think antrhopology often brackets these discussions from universals to "in this culture" with sufficient counter-examples to keep us away from assigning too much to "human nature," but I fail to see how the current situation illustrates that.

Warfare, or any conflict between groups, is an extension of politics, which is an extension of economics. Economics is the science of scarcity. When food and water are plentiful, all groups can draw from the commons without competition over resources, so there is little reason to go to war. If food and water are continuously plentiful for generations, there will be no reason to develop institutions capable of making war.

That's actually very much at the heart of my argument, and why I don't believe that warfare was very common until the Agricultural Revolution, when scarcity became an issue. But since we're talking about the "warlike" nature of human societies (or lack thereof), I think that means we necessarily must test that hypothesis against other cultures under other circumstances to see if it holds up. That makes it an anthropological inquiry, no?

Furthermore, your notion of evidence ... is scientifically flawed.

That's not my "notion of evidence," that's the evidence I know of. All the evidence I know of illustrates warfare among food producers. I do not know of any evidence for regular warfare except for among food producing societies, and societies impacted by them. If there's evidence out there to the contrary, I've not heard of it, and that would change my thinking on the matter--if I heard of it.

There were anywhere between 6 million to 100 million native americans in North America before the Europeans showed up in the 15th century. How many native remains have we found dating from before the 15th century? 100? a thousand? Ten thousand? Are the remains and settlements we have found a valid statistical sample of what there was?

Some have a vested interest in pushing the number down; others, a vested interest in pushing it up. Archaeology always involves a good deal of interpretation. In this case, the consensus is tending to agree with the higher numbers. The discovery of evidence for widespread burning in, for instance, the Great Plains and the Amazon, indicate that before the Europeans arrived, the Native Americans were engaging in some truly incredible terraforming projects on vast, continental scales. That suggests larger, horticultural societies, and makes the higher population numbers much more likely. See Mann's 1491, where the evidence is discussed in much more detail.

Whatever evidence you have is not a statistically valid sample of what existed.

Well that's just not true. We have lots of archaeological evidence. Granted, abscence of evidence and all that, but the transition is certainly striking. To believe in light of the evidence we have that warfare is simply part of the human condition, we need to believe that before the Agricultural Revolution, all evidence was fastidiously hidden. It was actually quite common, but of all the skeletons and campsites we've found, they very carefully removed all signs of combat, never buried those who had been killed or wounded in combat with the rest of the villages, etc. Then, almost as soon as the Agricultural Revolution happened, they started painting scenes of war in caves (which, one supposes, was simply taboo before), stop carefully dismantling their forts so that we can suddenly start finding them, and began to bury their war dead along with everyone else, so we could start finding the evidence. It's possible, but at this point Ockham's Razor pretty clearly suggests that there simply wasn't that much warfare before agriculture. If there was any, it must have been much less, because we haven't found any of the evidence for it happening, so the very fact that it simply explodes on the scene all of a sudden suggests that at the very least, things got a lot more violent, even if war existed before that.

However, humans everywhere, all being human, have the same instincts, and that instinct is to acquire food - to survive - by any means necessary when food is scarce. This is as close to axiomatic as is possible in psychology.

I'll agree with that, but that's somewhat begging the question, isn't it? Is violence and warfare a natural part of human psychology, or is it the way human psychology reacts in a particular cultural context? More important still, I think, is the prescence of the scarcity that precipitates warfare, as you mentioned before.

These cultures don't have war, concentration camps, brutal conflict for the same reasons they don't have clocks, compasses, physics, bridges, or satellites. Again, if you impose a value judgment on some of it you have to value rank all of it.

Indeed--but I'm afraid I don't put too much value on clocks, compasses, bridges or satelites! We do greatly underestimate the scientific and technological accomplishments of so-called "primitives" on a regular basis, but I'll readily admit that they are quantitatively much less complex.

On the other hand, I think my view of "old growth" human cultures is a pretty natural implication of evolutionary theory: we're talking about the context of human evolution, the form of society we co-evolved with. It suits us. It adapted to us as we adapted to it. One would expect us to do best in that environment, the same way you'd expect a fish to do best in water. Taken out of that context, we'll need a few hundred thousand years to adapt to it, naturally.

But all in all, this is hardly germane to the question of whether or not warfare is endemic to human society. My view of "old growth" cultures stems from the evidence on this question and many related questions. Saying that I have a point of view is true, but largely irrelevant. I do, and I've made no secret of it. I've even laid it out, along with the evidence that convinced me, in a fairly comprehensive manner (that's important when you have a very different point of view--it provides a basis for further inquiry when you might not necessarily share much common ground in usual assumptions). This is the latest of several world-views I've gone through. You'll have a succession like that when you're willing to change your mind in light of new evidence. So if you're interested in my point of view or changing it, then addressing the question at hand with some contrary evidence would be the best way to start.

If something happens at A (fire, asteroid, disease, evolution of killer prawns, whatever) the species is going to survive it because even if X is wiped out at A, it's still at B. Now replace 'species' with 'genetic line'.

Yes, unless you have a variety in A and B. Before, if something wipes out the variety in A, the variety in B survives, but if something happens to both A and B that only affects the people in B (as is much more likely; meteor impacts are rare, but pathogens are not), the variety in A survives. But if the variety in A wipes out the variety in B, the survivability of the geographically-oriented catastrophe remains the same, while the survivability of genetically-oriented catastrophe plummets.

The key here is that there is no genetic line--there's just a political line. We interbreed freely.

I agree. In fact there is no single positive aspect of human existence in which European civilization doesn't lag way behind other cultures.

Obviously, that would require us to identify what's a "positive aspect." You mentioned (fairly sarcastically) symphonies, but Europe only reached the polyphonic complexity of Pygmy songs in the 14th century. (Medicine is something much trickier, and I'll try to dodge the derail here, and simply point out that I've taken it into full consideration in the link above). Being generally of European extraction ourselves, we, like any other culture, ethnocentrically believe our own culture to excel beyond all others in most areas. In fact, most cultures are lucky if they're "the best" at anything except making a living in their particular ecosystem (which is generally what I'd consider the most laudable cultural achievement of all). There are areas where European societies exceeded, though, such as social complexity and stratification, and dense population. If you consider these "positive aspects," then they exceeded in those. There's plenty to find that's commendable in European society, but little of it is unique to Europe alone.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:29 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


stbalbach: This should be put into context of where it was said, when, and who he said it too.

Er, do you know what the context is? I haven't been able to find the quote online--if you know something about it that diminishes sarcasman's point, it would be better to just say what you know, rather than coyly hinting at it.

From some Googling around, my own best guess is that it's a misquote of something from one of these two editorials. Whether or not they're what sarcasman was alluding to, they're interesting reading. I would say they're still plenty damning of Baum, but they are offering something more complex than plain racial hatred and calls for genocide.
posted by moss at 3:17 PM on April 4, 2007


About the infamous L. Frank Baum quote, see here, with additional quotes. It's in context, but not less damning.
posted by elgilito at 3:18 PM on April 4, 2007


I must suggest doing schorlarly research using first hand material, published material, or anthropolgical ethnographic research instead of looking at the highly inaccurate anyman's wikipedia, which for all its merits would never be allowed as evidence in any academic paper anywhere.

No one could make such highly dubious claims such as "america was depopulated" or claim there were only a 1000 inhabitants on this continent when america was founded, who has done even a day's worth of research on the subject -not using suspect internet resources, but research materials written by experts in the field. This is shoddy revisionsim at best.

my sarcastic hand is forced by such -yes racist- ignorance:
PB: go to a fucking library.
posted by sarcasman at 3:46 PM on April 4, 2007


No one could make such highly dubious claims such as "america was depopulated" or claim there were only a 1000 inhabitants on this continent when america was founded, who has done even a day's worth of research on the subject -not using suspect internet resources, but research materials written by experts in the field. This is shoddy revisionsim at best.
my sarcastic hand is forced by such -yes racist- ignorance:
PB: go to a fucking library.
posted by sarcasman at 6:46 PM on April 4


If you can find where at any point in this thread I wrote that there were 1000 inhabitants in North America when the US was founded or America was colonized, I will pay you $10,000 dollars. In fact, no one at all has said this. So where the hell are you getting the idea that I said it?

In fact, I cited the wikipedia entry which (a) discusses and dismisses the Stannard book that you linked to, and (b) appears to be based in part on a later book by Cook, which states that at the time the Europeans showed up, there were between 6 million and 100 milllion people in north America. That isn't me saying it, that's the author of the book.

In sum, what the hell are you talking about, sarcasman?

On to other matters:

The question at hand (or at least, the question that I'm interested in here) is essentially to what degree human societies can be accurately described as "warlike," whether warfare is commonplace or exceptional.

That wasn't the topic of the thread. The topic was genocide/massacre of the Indians, which you'll note I agreed was egregious. Unfortunately I made the unforgivably horrible mistake of suggesting that in sheer numbers the Americans weren't the worst, and that perhaps they didn't slaughter as many indians in the 19th century as they did of each other (recall how many wars with europe were fought in the 19th century) as well as Europeans slaughtered of each other.

I suppose a society would be described as warlike if they fought a lot of wars? That seems to be an argument over a definition that is pointless. My point was that the Europeans can't be blamed for bringing disease to the Americas which in turn killed millions, because they brought over pathogens (a) unknowingly, and (b) that didn't make the Europeans themselves sick.

And here's where things took a turn for the weird from my perpsective - I pointed out that it was interesting that the epidemic effect only worked against the natives, and that the Europeans constant interchange with other cultures, other climates, other places over the centuries gave them a robust immune system which turns out to have worked to their biological advantage when they came to North America. Therefore, one could conclude that their culture conferred on them a biological, and hence evolutionary advantage. That would be an interesting question at the intersection of anthropology and biology/genetics - but you didn't take that one up.

Instead, you fashioned a rather contorted argument that somehow domestication of animals which lead to many farmers dying was a bad thing (you wrote the opposite, but sarcastically), and that it implied that European civilization did not value human life as much as the native cultures at which point you went off on a tangent about war.

Here's the mistake you make: Indeed--but I'm afraid I don't put too much value on clocks, compasses, bridges or satelites!

That's fine, it's your opinion and you're entitled to it. It is absolutely as equally valid as an American in the 19th century not putting too much value on Indian culture or the natives themselves. It is, however, a post hoc judgment. Why is pygmy polyphonic music predating European polyphonic music proof of European culture lagging native culture, when bridges and satellites are not proof of the reverse? Again, this is all after the fact - you've come up with a worldview, and you redefine everything to fit within it.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:08 PM on April 4, 2007


Heard of, yes. But that's different from really internalizing it. Germans have internalized the Holocaust.

I find this a curious assertion. How do you know? How does one judge internalization? What test may be performed to determine whether Americans have sufficiently internalized their early history? What evidence, if found, would convince you they have?
posted by scheptech at 8:52 PM on April 4, 2007


Heard of, yes. But that's different from really internalizing it.

And there's a big difference between "heard of" and "have extensive knowledge of". In my experience, a lot of Native issues do not tend to get a lot of high-profile news coverage, it's generally only the really sensationalistic stuff like the Red Lake shootings that get front-page, national headlines; more often than not, land claims and protests and tribal government scandals and the like get relatively little coverage outside of the immediately affected area. A particular school system may have a more-extensive curriculum focused on Native groups from their region, but in general it seems to me, from all the non-Native folks I've talked to throughout my life, that the typical school coverage is just sort of a pre-Columbus up to 1960s AIM protests broad-brushstrokes overviews. So everybody "knows" about conquistadors and Pocahontas and Squanto and the Trail of Tears and smallpox blankets and AIM, they "know" reservations are often poor and there are lots of substance abuse problems...but for folks who don't live near an area with a larger Indian population, or who haven't pursued more in-depth studies in college, this broad-brushstrokes stuff is pretty much all they know; deeper explorations of historical issues, or broader knowledge of contemporary conflicts, seems to be much more uncommon. Whereas with other Native friends -- yes, that's internalized in a very different way. It's one thing to know about stuff because you get a few chapters on Indian history in American Studies class, it's a totally different ballgame when you grow up hearing things every day from your own family.

Just earlier tonight, I was chatting with a LJ friend who's taking a Native American Literature college class, and found myself running down a condensed history of the Métis Nation, the rise of the modern Mohawk Warrior Society and their involvement in the tense and occasionally violent Iroquois land rights disputes like Ipperwash, the Oka crisis and the ongoing Kahnonstaton occupation. She hadn't heard of any of this stuff. I wasn't surprised; she lives far away from the Canadian border, and far away from any Iroquois population centers. When the Cherokee Freedmen vote went on, I spent a couple of hours venting my disgust and frustration to another very patient friend, and in order to put into context why I was so upset I wound up spending a big chunk of time running down a sort of Cliff's Notes version of everything from the history of the Freedmen to the Dawes Rolls and the quirks of Cherokee enrollment policy, to the aftermath of the allotment policy, the earlier Seminole Freedmen vote and scandals in tribal politics. Again, all stuff she was totally unfamiliar with, and I wasn't surprised; she's nowhere near Cherokee or Seminole lands. And this sort of thing happens time and time again. Really, at this point I'm not really surprised or even particularly disappointed when folks don't know a great deal about Indian history and current affairs, so long as they realize that their knowledge is pretty shallow and they're interested in learning more; I save my ire for the folks who have that same paper-thin sort of "everybody knows" knowledge, yet seem to think that makes them experts. Anyone outside of the appropriate tribal elders who thinks they can go around making pronouncements on what "real Indians" should be like, well, to steal a line from Sherman I want to slap them across the mouth, statistically speaking.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 10:45 PM on April 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


elgilito's link still doesn't put it into context.

1. Baum had just moved to a newly founded small town in SD with his family from Syracuse NY where they didn't have (dangerous) Indians. He had no experience or exposure to Indians other than what he read and heard about, which was all negative.

2. This town had had a number of settlers attacked and killed. They were a real threat to him and his families life, as well as the rest of the town.

3. This small town, of a few thousand people, had something like over 100 newspapers. It was like blogging, anyone and everyone could buy a cheap printing press, set it up in the garage, and say whatever they wanted. Baum owned the paper, it was basically a vanity press that never made any money. The intended audience of his "editorial" were his immediate friends and neighbors who were all in the same boat as he was re: Indians. Scared and angry.

4. Baum was completely unknown, he had yet to write anything that would make him famous, he was a shoe salesman I think.

Basically, would you like to be beholden to something you said in your early 20s on USENET back in 1985 for the rest of your life?
posted by stbalbach at 4:10 PM on April 5, 2007


That wasn't the topic of the thread. The topic was genocide/massacre of the Indians, which you'll note I agreed was egregious.

Yes, but we moved onto wider matters some time ago. I'm glad you agree that genocide is egregious; I'd hate to think there might be someone here who thinks otherwise. Which is why the discussion turned to wider matters some time ago.

Unfortunately I made the unforgivably horrible mistake of suggesting that in sheer numbers the Americans weren't the worst, and that perhaps they didn't slaughter as many indians in the 19th century as they did of each other (recall how many wars with europe were fought in the 19th century) as well as Europeans slaughtered of each other.

I actually agreed with you on that, way upthread. Which is why the discussion moved on to wider matters.

I suppose a society would be described as warlike if they fought a lot of wars?

Or, for our purposes, simply if war was a regular cultural activity, something any given generation could be expected to have at least some experience with. If, on the other hand, wars only occur during catastrophic socio-ecological breakdowns, like the Europeans invading, then I would say no, that's not a society that has much endemic experience of warfare.

My point was that the Europeans can't be blamed for bringing disease to the Americas which in turn killed millions, because they brought over pathogens (a) unknowingly, and (b) that didn't make the Europeans themselves sick.

Perhaps; assigning blame isn't an exercise I have much patience for. Wiping out such a huge swath of humanity was one of the greatest catastrophes in our species' history, and the Europeans--knowingly or not--were responsible for it. Whether or not that translates into "blame" is neither here nor there; if that doesn't cast a particularly odious pallor on European culture, then we must be more far gone than even I thought.

And here's where things took a turn for the weird from my perpsective - I pointed out that it was interesting that the epidemic effect only worked against the natives, and that the Europeans constant interchange with other cultures, other climates, other places over the centuries gave them a robust immune system which turns out to have worked to their biological advantage when they came to North America. Therefore, one could conclude that their culture conferred on them a biological, and hence evolutionary advantage. That would be an interesting question at the intersection of anthropology and biology/genetics - but you didn't take that one up.

That's because trade didn't have nearly as much to do with that as domestication. Native Americans traded as much, and perhaps more, than Europeans. The problem was, the Americas had very few animals to domesticate, so they were healthy populations trading with other healthy populations. Trade was more or less a constant across both hemispheres. What differed was animal domestication. In Eurasia, there were plenty of animals to domesticate, so instead you had diseased populations trading with other diseased populations, and trading ever more deadly pathogens. Each epidemic raised the stakes, as humans developed more immunities and the pathogens needed to become more virulent. The "solitary, nasty, brutish and short" lives of Europeans brewed up a batch of plagues that the Native Americans never really stood a chance against, but that wasn't because they traded so much more, it was because of their domesticated livestock.

Instead, you fashioned a rather contorted argument that somehow domestication of animals which lead to many farmers dying was a bad thing (you wrote the opposite, but sarcastically), and that it implied that European civilization did not value human life as much as the native cultures at which point you went off on a tangent about war.

Hardly a tangent in a thread originally about genocide, but as I already pointed out, assigning this to trade is fallacious because Native Americans traded as much as Eurasians did. Let me not leave it to implication, though: Europeans valued life more cheaply, much more cheaply. Europeans lived miserable, diseased lives that barely ever reached a fourth decade. Native Americans lived longer and were healthier. This is simply a matter of historical record, no value judgment is needed here. It was the cheapness of European life that brewed the sweeping epidemics that decimated the Americas and made their conquest possible, though. I don't take that as a particularly thrilling victory for humanity, but those are the simple facts of the case. How you make sense of that, and what kind of narrative you weave out of those data points, is up to you.

It is, however, a post hoc judgment.

It is--as was the post hoc judgment you made that it responded to, that these things are of such enormous value that they make European culture so much better, and make one of the largest losses of human life, over all, a "good thing," because they allowed for such things.

Why is pygmy polyphonic music predating European polyphonic music proof of European culture lagging native culture, when bridges and satellites are not proof of the reverse?

It's proof that "lagging behind," or "better" or "worse" are terms that don't have much meaning when comparing two cultures. It's proof that you need to ask what variable you're trying to maximize for. Quality of life? Material production? Population? Without deciding precisely what criteria we're interested in, we can never say which culture is "more" or "less" "advanced."

I find this a curious assertion. How do you know? How does one judge internalization? What test may be performed to determine whether Americans have sufficiently internalized their early history? What evidence, if found, would convince you they have?

I never said it was a scientific assessment. I've met plenty of Germans that experience deep-seated shame over the Holocaust, even if their own families not only weren't Nazis, but actively participated in the German Underground. By contrast, I know of very few white Americans who experience the same kind of shame over the displacement of the Indians. I don't think it's particularly healthy in the Germans I've known, and I don't necessarily wish it on Americans either, but it does illustrate the difference between the manner in which we "know about" the Holocaust, and we "know about" the Trail of Tears. No, I haven't quantified this, but it's a qualitative phenomenon worth noting.

Basically, would you like to be beholden to something you said in your early 20s on USENET back in 1985 for the rest of your life?

I really take it as more damning of the social context that printed, published and embraced Baum's views, rather than damning of Baum personally. I thought most people took it that way, too.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:34 AM on April 10, 2007


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