Posted: Sep 19, 2007 12:00 AM
Few opinions I’ve expressed on air have produced a more indignant, outraged reaction than my repeated insistence that the word “genocide” in no way fits as a description of the treatment of Native Americans by British colonists or, later, American settlers.
I’ve never denied that the 400 year history of American contact with the Indians includes many examples of white cruelty and viciousness — just as the Native Americans frequently (indeed, regularly) dealt with the European newcomers with monstrous brutality and, indeed, savagery. In fact, reading the history of the relationship between British settlers and Native Americans its obvious that the blood-thirsty excesses of one group provoked blood thirsty excesses from the other, in a cycle that listed with scant interruption for several hundred years.
But none of the warfare (including an Indian attack in 1675 that succeeded in butchering a full one-fourth of the white population of Connecticut, and claimed additional thousands of casualties throughout New England) on either side amounted to genocide. Colonial and, later, the American government, never endorsed or practiced a policy of Indian extermination; rather, the official leaders of white society tried to restrain some of their settlers and militias and paramilitary groups from unnecessary conflict and brutality.
Moreover, the real decimation of Indian populations had nothing to do with massacres or military actions, but rather stemmed from infectious diseases that white settlers brought with them at the time they first arrived in the New World.
UCLA professor Jared Diamond, author of the universally acclaimed bestseller “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies,” writes:
“Throughout the Americas, diseases introduced with Europeans spread from tribe to tribe far in advance of the Europeans themselves, killing an estimated 95 percent of the pre-Columbian Native American population. The most populous and highly organized native societies of North America, the Mississippian chiefdoms, disappeared in that way between 1492 and the late 1600’s, even before Europeans themselves made their first settlement on the Mississippi River (page 78)….
“The main killers were Old World germs to which Indians had never been exposed, and against which they therefore had neither immune nor genetic resistance. Smallpox, measles, influenza, and typhus rank top among the killers.” (page 212).
“As for the most advanced native societies of North America, those of the U.S. Southeast and the Mississippi River system, their destruction was accomplished largely by germs alone, introduced by early European explorers and advancing ahead of them” (page 374)
Obviously, the decimation of native population by European germs represents an enormous tragedy, but in no sense does it represent a crime. Stories of deliberate infection by passing along “small-pox blankets” are based exclusively on two letters from British soldiers in 1763, at the end of the bitter and bloody French and Indian War. By that time, Indian populations (including those in the area) had already been terribly impacted by smallpox, and there’s no evidence of a particularly devastating outbreak as a result of British policy.
For the most part, Indians were infected by devastating diseases even before they made direct contact with Europeans: other Indians who had already been exposed to the germs, carried them with them to virtually every corner of North America and many British explorers and settlers found empty, abandoned villages (as did the Pilgrims) and greatly reduced populations when they first arrived.
Sympathy for Native Americans and admiration for their cultures in no way requires a belief in European or American genocide. As Jared Diamond’s book (and countless others) makes clear, the mass migration of Europeans to the New World and the rapid displacement and replacement of Native populations is hardly a unique interchange in human history. On six continents, such shifting populations – with countless cruel invasions and occupations and social destructions and replacements – have been the rule rather than the exception.
The notion that unique viciousness to Native Americans represents our “original sin” fails to put European contact with these struggling Stone Age societies in any context whatever, and only serves the purposes of those who want to foster inappropriate guilt, uncertainty and shame in young Americans.
A nation ashamed of its past will fear its future.
One of the most urgent needs in culture and education for the United States of America is discarding the stupid, groundless and anti-American lies that characterize contemporary political correctness.
The right place to begin is to confront, resist and reject the all-too-common line that our rightly admired forebears involved themselves in genocide.
The early colonists and settlers can hardly qualify as perfect but describing them in Hitlerian, mass-murdering terms represents an act of brain-dead defamation.