In his in-depth and exhaustive work on the American Holocaust entitled A Little Matter of Genocide, author and political activist Ward Churchill distills the narrative of the embryonic American empire. In his 1782 plan, Washington advanced the unequivocal belief that, after all was said and done, the objective of federal policy should be to force the entire indigenous population east of the Mississippi River into the illimitable regions of the west, to which the United States was not yet pressing claims. Those who physically resisted such a fate in any way would have to be broken by force or, as Thomas Jefferson bluntly put it, exterminated.
This removal policy was in keeping with a sense of manifest destiny, an outlook founded in precisely the same matrix of virulent Anglo-Saxon supremacism that would later give rise to Nazi Aryanist ideology, already pronounced among American leaders and citizens alike. As the fledgling America grew, it seemed as if the country was drunk on the elixir manifest destiny. The culture at the time bristled with constant references.
Poet Walt Whitman was typical. Here, he weighs in on the march of civilization, clearly following the sun as it roared to the west in his poem, “Facing west from California shores.” Facing west from California shores, inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound. I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of maternity. The land of migrations. Look afar, look off the shores of my western sea. The circle almost circled, for starting westward from Hindustan, from the veils of Kashmir, from Asia, from the north, from the God, the Sage, and the hero, from the south, from the flowery peninsulas and the spice islands, long having wandered since round the earth, having wandered, now I face home again, very pleased and joyous.
White supremacy was well entrenched in almost every aspect of nineteenth-century American life. The foundation was deep and well-rooted, having started with Columbus hacking his way around the Caribbean, followed by the religious zeal oozing out of the Massachusetts Bay colony. And then it became official when the best and the brightest of colonial America made it gospel.
There was no doubt the sun of civilization was moving again, this time across a landmass made up of many nations with names like Shawnee, Choctaw, Cherokee, Apache, Sioux, Pawnee, Cheyenne, Crow, Blackfoot, Shoshone, Navajo, and Paiute, among many others. The Indian nations could not have known nor calculated what was about to hit them. But it would have a name: the American Holocaust. From the screenplay to the 1990 film Dances With Wolves directed by Kevin Costner and written by Michael Plake.
Kicking Bird and Dances With Wolves are alone. Each man is preoccupied with his own thoughts.
Dances With Wolves: You have asked me many times about the white people. You always ask how many more are coming.
Long pause as they exchange glances.
Dances With Wolves: There will be a lot, my friend, more than can be counted.
Kicking Bird: Help me know how many.
Dances With Wolves: Like the stars.
This is what Kicking Bird wanted to know, and it hits him like a rock. Kicking Bird bows his head in thought while Dances With Wolves raises his. He never wanted to say this. He wishes it wasn’t true. It makes me afraid for all the Sioux.
Flash forward to the end of the nineteenth century. Once the extermination and removal policy wrapped up on the North American continent, America began to look beyond her shores across the peaceful shining sea to the west where the Philippines and their people lied waiting for conquest, and the ugly formula for its destiny remained the same. Any difference of culture or language will do, writes historian , and the power of racism to facilitate the worst sorts of human behavior is well established Horseman continues with a bare naked look at a United States senator’s guide to colonial adventure.
Senator Albert J. Beverage, R-IN offered the Senate, his own divinely guided rationale for war on the Philippines: “God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idol self contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has marked the American people as his chosen nation to finally lead in the redemption of the world.”
Linguist, philosopher, and historian Noam Chomsky looks back on the march of manifest destiny and it’s iron-fisted colonial conquest and sums it up this way: “Most imperialist countries leave the population there and try to rule over them and exploit them. Settler-colonialism, the most savage kinds, exterminates them.”
Mark Twain also recognized the savageness of America’s imperial nature. In fact, he was so moved by the battle hymn of the republic, he felt compelled to write additional lyrics in 1900: ”Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the sword. He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger’s wealth is stored. He has loosed his fateful lightnings and with woe and death has scored. His lust is marching on.”
“This European opulence is literally scandalous, for it has been founded on slavery. It has been nourished with the blood of slaves, and it comes directly from the soil and the subsoil of that underdeveloped world. The wellbeing and the progress of Europe had been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians, and the yellow races.” The writings of Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.
There was no doubt that religious fervor combined with the moral imperative to civilize a new continent infested with savages was a major force behind the European modus operandi responsible for the occupation, settlement, and subsequent genocidal maelstrom unleashed in the titular new world. But one doesn’t need to dig too deep to find the profit motive rumbling like rolling thunder just below the surface.
In fact, in all things geopolitical, it’s like what deep throat tells Bob Woodward in All The President’s Men: follow the money. The same pretext and justification used to exterminate the indigenous population was also used to validate and defend the enslavement of Africans in the young and growing nation, a nation founded in genocide and built by slavery. Complete discussion in chapter five. Many tend to dismiss the horrors and murderous brutality of American slavery as an isolated antebellum southern thing or a misguided tributary of American history.
But as Dr. James Horton of George Washington University sums up: to America’s economic growth, which at the time was the envy of the world, slavery was not a sideshow. It was the main event. The power centers in Europe, families, governments, and companies, created, organized, and controlled slavery throughout the Americas, and as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries unfolded in the American colonies, slavery became a time-honored American institution.
Current critics of historians and writers who positioned slavery as a gruesome cancer central to American history as well as a disgrace for its chiseled-in-stone heroes usually camouflage their protection of the benevolent and kindly apostles of American exceptionalism as humans caught up in the realities of their time. Let’s repeat that for emphasis: caught up in the realities of their time.
Here’s a classic explanation: read Historical Delusion by a mainstream academic historian from Rutgers University in a 2004 U.S. News and World Report article: Other scholars believe the founding fathers can best be seen squarely within their time. “To contextualize is not to excuse,” says Rutgers university historian Jan Lewis, who concludes: “It’s to show the complexity, understanding the early leaders’ severe lapse in judgment over slavery,” say Lewis and other historians, makes their ability to found a new and democratic nation all the more incredible. But it’s not enough to simply contextualize and vindicate. Some push beyond myth-making, toward erasure.
You’ve been listening to an excerpt from Murder Incoporated One: Dreaming of Empire by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Stephen Vittoria.