Cortez The Wingnut

[Sorry for the staleness: This has lain in the back of S,N!s Frigidaire since before my hiatus.]

Above: Aftermath of Wounded Knee Massacre

Eunice Wong [1] visits the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian and finds — surprise, surprise — history whitewashed. Apparently the genocide of the Native Americans is entirely the fault of Acts of God and inanimate objects. I know: You were thinking people, policies, greed and ideology murdered the Indians. Well, haha, silly Leftist! Charade you are! What actually did the deed was a great “storm” and several thousand guns that magically aimed themselves at Indians and buffalo and fired away:

Rapidly scudding clouds appear on the screens, tidal waves, palm trees lashed by typhoons, the debris of cars and houses in floods. Howling wind, shrill flutes and ominous music are heard as a voice intones:

The hurricane. A turbulence. A steady pressure. Unpredictable. Uncertain. It brings death and life. It creates and destroys.

The video tells us, in oblique, lyrical terms, why guns, Christianity and foreign governments are both bad and good things. Of Christianity, the narrator says:

We all know Jesus. He has been with us for a very long time. Christianity, a weapon of forced conversion, slavery and oppression. A weapon of liberation and social justice, salvation and eternal life. Today, many of us are Christians and many are not.

The video closes:

The storm is powerful and unceasing. It creates and destroys. It offers life and death, hope and despair. It is never simply one thing. The storm is an opportunity. The storm teaches. We have learned much.

“The Storm” turns the American Indian genocide into a faceless, mindless natural disaster with a silver lining.

Worse, Andrew Fucking Jackson is approvingly quoted, and “remain[ing] unmentioned” is the fact that he “was one of the most vigorous advocates for the extermination of the indigenous people.”

Where else did I read about a genocide excused as the result of some faceless mechanism, of “natural” causes? Oh, yeah:

The men in Whitehall were usually of humane disposition and the bearers of honoured names: Lord John Russell; Sir Charles Wood, later first Viscount Halifax; Sir Charles Trevelyan. These men, too, were in a sense victims. They were gripped by the most horrible, and perhaps the most universal, of human maladies: the belief that principles and doctrines are more important than lives. They imagined that rules, invented by economists, were as ‘natural’ as the potato blight. Trevelyan, who did most to determine events, always wanted to leave Ireland to ‘the operation of natural causes’. He refused to recognize that only the gigantic operation of an artificial cause — the exertion of British power — prevented the Irish people from adopting the natural remedy and eating the food which was available for them. Like most members of the comfortable classes of all times, he regarded the police and the law courts as natural phenomena.

Anyway, back to Wong, who admirably concludes:

We are molded as much by the histories we stifle as by the myths we create to exalt ourselves. Those who ignore the truth about their past are condemned to replicate, over and over, their crimes. The devastation in Iraq is the legacy of lessons unlearned, from the genocide of Native Americans, to slavery, to the Mexican war, to the invasion of Cuba and the Philippines, to Vietnam.

America’s brutal cycle of imperial invasion and occupation is as enduring as the cultivated illusion of its goodness. And the first step toward breaking this cycle and exposing this illusion is facing our history and ourselves. The National Museum of the American Indian feeds the mass amnesia that makes our national psychosis possible.

Amen to all that. I want to run with her point about the cycle. The cycle continues because Americans of wingnut mentality can’t admit the guilt. Evar! Because the holocaust-deniers — and that is exactly what it is — know that the same moral logic which produces a guilty verdict about America’s treatment of the Indians also produces a guilty verdict regarding America’s treatment of …well, go through the history: blacks, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and now, Iraqis and Afghans. Since whatever current colonial operation must be justified (and the possibility of future ones ensured), past colonial operations must be excused and defended. Here’s a smooth example from Theodore Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech:

Every argument that can be made for the Filipinos could be made for the Apaches. And every word that can be said for Aguinaldo could be said for Sitting Bull. As peace, order and prosperity followed our expansion over the land of the Indians, so they will follow us in the Phillipines.

Above: Americans administering the “water cure” to a Filipino.

Thus TR excused the betrayal of Aguinaldo, the torture, the wiping out of whole villages in the Philippines on the grounds that such things “worked” in stealing America from the Indians. A rationalization that sounds contemporary, eh? Fast-forward a hundred or so years and here’s Tic-Tac Trevino whining that filthy traitors prevent worthy United Statesmen from taking the genocidal measures that “worked” on the Filipinos and applying them to the Iraqis:

Americans simply do not wish to suffer, and do not have the senses of patriotism, pride, and honor that buffered such suffering for earlier generations. It is true, I think, that these qualities are less evident now than they were in the past. The ability of a society to see through grinding conflicts like the Philippines Insurrection or the Boer War augers well for its future, lest it lose the mere capacity to conquer, and be susceptible to humiliation by any small power with no advantage save mental fortitude. It is indeed difficult to imagine now the methods that transformed the Philippines for us, and South Africa for the British, from bitter foe to steadfast friend being applied in Iraq. Would that they were. But patriotism, pride, and honor are nonetheless still present in the American character. It is the American political class that lacks them in corresponding measure.

Note how Trevino’s sociopathic desires are framed: he takes it for granted that Americans share his willingness for torture and mass-murder, but they don’t have the “patriotism” to pay the price for such fun with American soldiers’ blood! In other words, Tic-Tac’s saying nothing is “wrong” with genocide, torture, conquest — then or now. The only thing that’s “wrong” is that Americans are no longer as sanguine as they were — or he is — about endorsing such policies when they consider that those tortured, murdered, and conquered tend to shoot back. What a sick, sick bastard. But then those who perpetuate the cycle are psychopaths almost by definition.

Anyway, my point was the timelessness of it. Where you have a line of sociopathy including TR and Trevino, you have also had others on the other side, arguing for what is decent. Immanuel Wallerstein gets, literally, radical: he goes to the root of the argument, shows the germ of the dialectic. Total wickedness on the one side, excusing and denying the nature of colonialism; humanitarianism on the other, describing and condemning the heart of darkness. From his excellent book The Decline of American Power (this is a long riff, but too beautiful to chop up):

When the Europeans landed in the Americas and claimed to conquer it, they encountered indigenous peoples who were extremely strange to them. Some were organized in fairly simple hunting and gathering systems. And some were organized in sophisticated and elaborate world-empires. But in both cases neither the weapons of these people nor their acquired physiological immunities (or rather the lack of them) made it possible for them to resist the invaders successfully. Thereupon, the Europeans had to decide how to treat these peoples. There were those Europeans who, acquiring vast lands (often for the first time), wished to exploit them as rapidly as possible, and were ready to enslave and use up indigenous laborers. The justification they gave for this was that the indigenous peoples were barbarous, undeserving of anything but harsh servitude.

But there were also Christian evangelists who were both horrified by the inhuman treatment meted out to these indigenous peoples by the European conquistadores and fiercely insistent on both the possibility and the importance of winning the souls of the indigenous peoples for Christian redemption. One such person was Bartolome de Las Casas [2], whose passions and militancy culminated in a famous and classic debate in 1550 about the nature of the “other.” Already in 1547, he had written a short summary for King Charles V (and all others) recounting the horrors of what was going on in the Americas in some detail, and summarizing what had happened in this way:

If Christians have killed and destroyed so very many souls of such great quality, it has been simply in order to have gold, to become exceedingly rich in a very short time and to raise themselves to high positions disproportionate to their station…[T]hey have for [these people so humble, so patient, so easy to subdue] neither respect nor consideration nor esteem. …They have not treated them as beasts (would to God they had treated them as well and been as considerate to them as beasts); they have treated them worse than beasts, as less than manure.

Las Casas was, to be sure, the impassioned and crusading defender of the rights of these peoples. He was, in a connection worth noting, the first bishop of Chiapas, home today to the neo-Zapatistas, where it is still necessary to defend the same cause that Las Casas was almost 500 years ago, the rights of these indigenous peoples to their dignity and their land. These peoples find themselves little better off today than they were in the time of Las Casas. There are those who would therefore classify Las Casas and other neoscholastic Spanish theologians, philosophers, and jurists as precursors of Grotius and as the “true founders of the modern rights of man.”

The emperor at first had been seduced by the arguments of Las Casas and named him his Protector of the Indians. But later he had second thoughts and convened at Valladolid in 1550 a special junta of judges to hear a debate between Las Casas and one of the emperor’s other advisors, Juan Gines de Sepulveda, on the underlying issues. Sepulveda, a staunch opponent of Las Casas, gave four arguments to justify the treatment of the Indians to which Las Casas had been objecting: They were barbarous and therefore their natural condition was that of submission to more civilized peoples. They were idolatrous and practiced human sacrifice, which justified intervention to prevent crimes against natural law. Intervention was justified to save innocent lives. Intervention would facilitate Christian evangelization. These arguments seem incredibly contemporary. All we have to do is substitute the term democracy for the term Christianity.

Against these arguments Las Casas asserted: No people may ever be forced to submit to another people on the grounds of a presumed cultural inferiority. One cannot punish a people for crimes of which they were unaware that they were crimes. One is morally justified innocent people only if the process of saving them does not cause still greater harm to others. And Christianity cannot be propagated by the sword. Here too the arguments seem incredibly contemporary.

Hehindeedy. I particularly relish Las Casas’s third and fourth rebuttals — his era too had its Sensible Liberals, its Drums, Yglesiases, Kleins, its Beinarts, Chaits, and Hitchenses; while he was the DFH. But most of all, it had its wingnuts, and to them especially Las Casas made the point that justifying conquest on the grounds of the conquered’s “barbarian” status would not do because “barbarianism” was a dehumanizing category manufactured and applied in massive bad faith — as an illustration he reminded the Spanish of their own mistreatment at Roman hands. A “barbarian” is simply someone who is Other and has something you want to take, be it gold, oil, or simply sovereignty. Moreover, a “barbarian” demonstrates his barbarity by resisting your designs. Finally, a “barbarian” is not allowed to do what you would do in his predicament: you are exceptional. Hasn’t it always been thus for wingnuts?

So we come to perhaps the most important part of the cycle, the psychological foundation of all the denials and excuses. Why can’t wingnuts admit to America’s original sin? Because in their minds it would amount to an unforgivable blasphemy against their religion of American Exceptionalism. So some, like Mark Steyn, joke at the Natives’ plight or, like John Derbyshire, ignore it altogether. Still others, like Michelle Malkin, take it for granted that what was done to the Indians was justified, and counterattack those who disagree. Then there those are who go beyond even all that, who like Tacky take their place in the line behind Sepulveda and TR:

Christopher Hitchens:

[T]hose who view the history of North America as a narrative of genocide and slavery are, it seems to me, hopelessly stuck on this reactionary position. They can think of the Western expansion of the United States only in terms of plague blankets, bootleg booze and dead buffalo, never in terms of the medicine chest, the wheel and the railway.

One need not be an automatic positivist about this. But it does happen to be the way that history is made, and to complain about it is as empty as complaint about climatic, geological or tectonic shift.

Michael Medved:

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 [I’ll give three names of policy makers and practicioners, Medved: Jackson, Sherman and Sheridan]; 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.


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.

And the most infamous of all, because so flamingly expedient to the current situation, Glenn Reynolds:

Civilized societies have found it harder, though, to beat the barbarians without killing all, or nearly all, of them. Were it really to become all-out war of the sort that Osama and his ilk want, the likely result would be genocide — unavoidable, and provoked, perhaps, but genocide nonetheless, akin to what Rome did to Carthage, or to what Americans did to American Indians. That’s what happens when two societies can’t live together, and the weaker one won’t stop fighting — especially when the weaker one targets the civilians and children of the stronger. This is why I think it’s important to pursue a vigorous military strategy now. Because if we don’t, the military strategy we’ll have to follow in five or ten years will be light-years beyond “vigorous.”

Well, his arguments aren’t referred to as “Glennocidal Tendencies” for nothing.

What we need is a shitload of national guilt. We need to feel shame. Above all, we need to feel unexceptional. To feel this way would be right just for the sake of principle and respect for the dead; but when you consider that such a change would stop future imperialist actions, it becomes all the more imperative. De-nazification worked the trick in Germany; we need its equivalent here, by which I mean, a sort of organic, cultural de-wingnutification, where the sort of holocaust-denial they practice is regarded with such loathing that it’s driven out of acceptable politics, where it’s considered bad taste to even bring it up in conversation. We do that and the sort of policies that expects people of other countries to tolerate from us what we would not tolerate if done to us, will magically disappear — which, in turn, would make for a much more peaceful world.

[1] Truthdig is Robert Scheer’s publication. Scheer is an old Lefty who has the correct take on most issues. No wonder then, that… yeah.

[2] I’ve read the short version of Las Casas’s Account, recommend it to all, can testify to its accessibility and, above all, its power.


Comments: 73

Arky - Fascitanata

Huh? Really? Sorry, I went through right after it opened and found it fluffy and poorly organized but not flat out wrong. I also don’t remeber quite so much sf dedicated to shops. I’m afraid this is one I’ll have to check for myself.


Stale? No. Great post. Thanks!


You’re obviously a fascist.


Don’t ya know?

Its just a few bad apples…


Great post, but your conclusion is perhaps a bit overly optimistic. Mostly because we’ve been moving in the opposite direction. The purple heart bandaid and Swift Boat liars would have been unthinkable in the 50s or perhaps even the 60s, because they would have been (rightfully) shunned by all of polite society. The greatest damage wingnuttery has inflicted upon not only the body politic but the society at large is the degradation of what is considered “decent” in public discourse. These days, they have so degraded the concept that there is nothing that fails to qualify – at least if it helps them score a few points.

Canadian Music Preservation Society

“He came dancing across the water
With his galleons and guns
Looking for the new world
In that palace in the sun.

On the shore lay Montezuma
With his coca leaves and pearls
In his halls he often wondered
With the secrets of the worlds.

And his subjects gathered ’round him
Like the leaves around a tree
In their clothes of many colors
For the angry gods to see.

And the women all were beautiful
And the men stood straight and strong
They offered life in sacrifice
So that others could go on.

Hate was just a legend
And war was never known
The people worked together
And they lifted many stones.

They carried them to the flatlands
And they died along the way
But they built up with their bare hands
What we still can’t do today.

And I know she’s living there
And she loves me to this day
I still can’t remember when
Or how I lost my way.

He came dancing across the water
Cortez, Cortez
What a killer.”

Richard Hershberger

I went to the museum a couple of years ago and found it mostly insubstantial and uninteresting. The key was when I realized that it is not a museum of Native American history, but of present-day Native American culture. There is a lot you could do with that, but they didn’t.

It would be interesting to see discussions of the differences between largely assimilated tribes and comparatively intact cultures like the Navajos. Or a discussion of the effects of casino money on tribes that have it, and what about tribes that don’t? Or any number of other discussions. But what we got was rooms full of photo montages of people at pow-wows. You could even work with that: I would be interested in a discussion of differences between traditional Native American cultures and the rise of a homogenized “Native American” pow-wow culture. But that would require that we admit to the phenomenon.

All in all, the place gave me the sense of being a feel-good exercise: pork for the Native Americans. It was harmless, but a waste of money and prime real estate.


I swear, it’s like America needs some sort of a Truth Commission on its past atrocities in order to get past all of this wingnut revisionism once and for all.


Damn you all to hell! I came here looking for amusement and you get all serious. Now I can’t get those very annoying truths out of my head. Shit.

I’m going back to Michael Phelps and male ejaculate thread.


Civilized societies have found it harder, though, to beat the barbarians without killing all, or nearly all, of them.

Shorter InstaDouche: Fucking Wogs!


What a fantastic post. Really well written and well thought out and, alas, still timely even if it comes out of the back of the refrigerator. But what Peej said, I need to go rinse my mind out with some snark.



HTML, I salute you. You really cannot have this conversation with people very often,it makes folks very uncomfortable once you get to a certain point.

Jack Forbes’ book,Columbus and Other Cannibals is being re-released in Feb by Seven Stories Press, have you ever heard of it?


Excellent post. Heartbreaking. And it serves as a good reminder, when we’re snarking on Glenn Reynolds, or on Ticky Tac, just what their essential characters are.

Nice plug for Robert Scheer. I love Robert Scheer, hear him on radio regularly. When the LA Times dumped him, didn’t they replace him with Doughy Pantload? Yet another reason to hate them.


Around our neck of the woods, (Southern New England)we have pow-wows every summer. The few remaining Narragansetts get all decked out in buckskins and fringe and the stereotypical “Indian garb” with eagle feathers and turquoise etc.
I’ve always wondered just how indigenous the dress and the jewelry and pageantry really are to the Narragansetts and how much has been co-opted by them from the plains Indians. I guess it’s sort of a moot point, since, growing up, the dictionary definiton of Narragansett was a member of an extinct tribe of Indians. Kind of a shock to the kid next to me in class who was a Narragansett.


I swear, it’s like America needs some sort of a Truth Commission on its past atrocities in order to get past all of this wingnut revisionism once and for all.

I hereby call for the creation of the Office of the Secretary of Culture. ‘Cuz we sorely need some around here.

Seriously, other countries have a Ministry of Culture, why can’t we have one?


Not to downplay the savage things that were done to Native Americans by European settlers, but according to Jared Diamond in “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” most of the destruction of Native American population and society was entirely inadvertent.

Diamond estimated that 80%-90% of the Native American population in North America died from diseases introduced by settlers, and those plagues raced through North America much faster than the advancing front of settlement.

This made it easier for colonists to believe that the Native Americans were uncivilized savages, because their civilization(s) had crashed before even the explorers ever got to see them. And of course it made it much easier to inflict the depredations described above.

Again, I’m not making excuses for the behavior — just providing some context. The Europeans had no inkling of the germ theory of disease, though one might argue that if they had known, it wouldn’t have made any difference to them.




The Europeans had no inkling of the germ theory of disease, though one might argue that if they had known, it wouldn’t have made any difference to them.

It would have made plenty of difference – they would have exterminated people even more efficiently.


Wingnuts may have trouble recognizing this genocidal past because they realize such recognition would delegitimate future invasions of foreign lands, but in fact, I think a lot of folks in the US feel real bad about what was done to American Indians, just as they feel bad about what was done in slavery. This ‘shame’ that you think might mitigate American Exceptionalism can actually simply be rearticulated within its terms: America is great precisely because it recognizes the losses created on the way to its present state of enlightened, liberal multicultural bliss. It would be a mistake to equate the wingnut mentality for the national mentality, which is more complex and admits of greater contradiction in matters concerning the nation’s history and the shame it engenders.


That also doesn’t explain Manifest Destiny,nor does it explain the accounts of Sand Creek,Wounded Knee and other outright exterminations. I have no doubt that disease played a role,but white people weren’t going to make nice with any indigenous people they found because they didn’t see them as anything more than animals. They came here believing their culture,religion and way of life was superior,period.


You really don’t want a ministry of culture here. Can you imagine what brain-dead assholes Bush would put in such a position? Yuck!
As someone who regularly has to deal with history/culture wars, I can say that it would be a wonderful thing if certain cherished myths of U.S. history were smashed, starting with American Exceptionalism. The Right uses it to justify every evil perpetrated in America, while the Left used to (though I haven’t seen it as much lately) to explain why America was the WORST. NATION. EVAR.
Every time we try to push a view, however factual, in our books, we run up against schools and states that refuse to buy anything that doesn’t conform to their cherished myths.


Canadian Music Preservation Society: Thanks a heap, pal. Now I’ve got “Cortez the Killer” ear worm.


Yeah, I get that, Histro.
We can’t have nice things.

Obviously, I was calling for a Ministry of Culture, you know, sometime next year.


Now I’ve got “Cortez the Killer” ear worm.

I got the Pink Floyd one from an album I haven’t heard in a decade at least.


Manifest Destiny, Bitches!!!1!

Germs or no germs, we would have slaughtered them to control the territory.

heh. indeed.


Haha, Charade you are!


Haha, Charade you are!


Yes, yes I am.


Plus, the victorious get to write history. That is the way it goes.

We are different from Nazi Germany in that we never lost, outright, so we’ve never been forced to reconcile our belief system.

It think what this country really needs is a crushing depression, to get our priorities straight.

The sad thing is that is about all I can think of, barring massive natural disasters, that will turn this Ship of Fools.

We as a nation are just too deluded, too distracted, and too damn comfy to get off of our collective asses and change anything. sigh


We all know where “American Exeptionalism” will lead. Take a look at any culture in the past which has believed itself to be superior to everyone else.. It is no different to “Aryan Exeptionalism”, and leads down exactly the same road.

A culture cannot grow until it confesses to its past crimes. Big chunks of America are still fighting the cultural wars of 1700, 1800, and 1900… Because nothing is resolved.

The fact is, Americans really WANT to have a history to be proud of, but have to distort and whitewash to get it. Americans are fiercely proud of the few parts of their history they can justify honest pride in, because they have to struggle to find them.

The idea of American infallibility prevents many people from accepting their history, warts and all, and taking an interest in it simply because it is theirs, not because it is good.

Really, it comes down to the simple fact that for people with totalitarian ideologies, EVERYTHING has to support their ideology. Everything that goes against their belief must be lies. It doesn’t matter whether they are Nazis, Christian fundamentalists, Stalinists, or a wingnut welfare foundation. The same thing happens.


A culture cannot grow until it confesses to its past crimes.

I disagree. What has American culture been doing but growing since the first massacres of natives?


Huh? I went through the museum, and although it was a short visit (very crowded), I sure as hell would have remembered that video. I guess it’s a new one, because the one video I saw, an intro video, was nothing like that. I may be remembering it wrong, but while I thought it covered the whole mass-slaughter thing more tamely than I’d have liked, it did cover it. If there’s no exhibit on the Trail of Tears, that should be fixed. (BTW, many of the smaller exhibits, on individual tribes, were designed by the tribes themselves.)

(Incidentally, PBS recently ran a special on Jackson. I’ve despised him since I was a kid because of what he did to Native Americans.)

But thanks for all the other links and quotations.


Also, for those making comparisons to German Nazism, it has to be said.. German society healed so rapidly because they had a culture to go back to. Nazi ideology came as fast as it went.
Granted, German Anti-Semitism has a history going back to Martin Luther, 400 odd years ago. But anti-Semitism was so associated with Nazi ideology, that much of it got flushed away with Nazism’s fall from grace.
In the aftermath of the war, Germans could heap most of the blame at the feet of Nazi ideology, and justifiably so. The German national identity had been hijacked by the Nazis, but it was possible to separate the identity from the politics, simply because Nazism was a new fashion, that came and went within a generation. Within the context of thousands of years of national identity, it is nothing more than a small shit stain on one page of history.

The trouble Americans have, is the ideology of American Exeptionalism is as old as the national identity itself, and in many ways intertwined with it irrecoverably.
Even the most liberal Americans get caught making faith based assertions about American power and superiority. The more politically unaware Americans.. don’t even realise they are doing it.

The “love it or leave it” attitude extends to the American national identity too. It is simply not culturally acceptable for a person to acknowledge, then reject parts of American history and culture. Try these examples…

“Americas history of racism is as long as the history of the nation itself, and slavery, bigotry, and white supremacy shaped American history itself. These things happened, and these things created who we and our culture are today.”

“America is a nation created literally upon stolen land. stolen by genocide, warfare, and broken peace treaties. There is no doubt about this. We are invaders, who should be thankful we don’t get kicked off this land.”

“Xenophobia is part of American culture. It is more American than apple pie. But I don’t like it, and will separate MY culture from it. If what is left is less than “American”, then I shall not call myself an American any more.”

Do they make you uncomfortable? I would hope most people here would be socially aware enough to take it in their stride. But what about your Aunty Meryl? Or Uncle Bob? How many “average” politically unaware folks could you say that kind of thing infront of, without them taking offence?


YES, absolutely: the use by the Museum of the American Indian of the Jared Diamond “it’s nobody’s fault” version of colonialism is just gawpingly unbelievable (though perhaps not so much in context of the kleptocratic mess the management of the Smithsonian in general and that Museum in specific has been over the past 10-15 years; it seems quite possible that the people at the top just didn’t care at all about making and running good museums). It’s really such an infuriating lost opportunity to tell a different, smarter, more historically accurate story. Maybe there is still hope for an overhaul: they’ve got a gorgeous space and some amazing materials.

& I haven’t gone as far back as Las Casas, but if you read Twain on the Phillipines it absolutely could apply line for line to Iraq.


Above all, we need to feel unexceptional.

Outstanding! I so wish we had a prez candidate with the balls and clarity to make that a campaign slogan.

The Indian and Chinese economies have only just started their great consumer engines, and the Indonesians are building several of their own. We are already seeing all-time high commodity prices—inflation and competition for resources may trigger the baby boomer depression described in comments above.

Best of all: we are shipping all our cash and trash to Asia. Once again we are funding both sides of a war.

Great piece! Thanks for the Immanuel Wallerstein quote.


But we do have a culture to fall back on here. Our problem is that it’s multiply resistant to any of the available cures.


that kevin drum–he’s so right about scheer–the LA Times had an “embarrasing lefty” on its pages, and drum wished they could find someone more persuasive.

they did.

his name is doughbob loadpants.

fucking kevin drum suxs donkey balls.

now the medved quote–i love the “A nation ashamed of its past will fear its future.”

what does that mean? what is it based on? it’s just random words shat onto a page.

our national discourse–medved on the right, drum on the left.

we’re fucked.


Such a great post and a lot of great comments.

It’s already been stated, but should be again: the tribes themselves had a major role in the exhibitions. Many of them reflect a simple preference among us modern Indians not to dwell on the genocidal past (any more than Americans like to dwell on their genocidal past). It was a fairly bland museum. The stuff was authentic and real and talked about present-day Indians. I just thought it was a little boring, overall.

In response to somebody, I didn’t think Jared Diamond was saying it was nobody’s fault. He said it was primarily disease, but the other elements named in the title (guns and steel) were of course employed by somebody. He just didn’t dwell on the why of genocide very much. I thought it was a decent book, but I thought he actually placed too much importance on the technology of Europeans (Pizarro would not have won without the help of thousands of Indians rebelling no matter how many guns they brought).

Should Americans necessarily feel guilt deep in their guts for the wrongs their ancestors did? Probably not. Should they feel the need to right the wrongs their ancestors did. Surely so.


I recall reading about the curatorial choices of the MoAI when it opened, chiefly that it was very light on history and context but had lovely collections. For example, there was no mention of the geographic origins of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Instead, the Museum reflected tribal creation myths, i.e. the people of the Americas sprang from the land itself. Bering Sea crossing? What Bering Sea crossing? Perhaps this has changed since the Museum opened, but I mention it to suggest that it might not be fair to blame craven Smithsonian politicians for the Museum’s lyrical, allusive approach.

Having said that, it continues to bother me that we have big, fairly rigorous National musuem and memorial to the Shoah, a historical atrocty that didn’t happen here, and no real equivalent D.C. institution dedicated to the atrocities committed here, by us and in our names, against the indigenous tribes and the slaves we imported. I think we have tended to use (abuse?) the Holocaust as a mirror that we give sideways glances to: it allows us to feel our native guilt without really saying anything about it. It speaks well of our capacity for empathy that the Holocaust Museum has been a success, but I do wonder if it’s really in our best interests to use foreign atrocity to obliquely approach domestic atrocity. Has the Facing History and Ourselves program been a true success, or has it reinforced our exceptionalist belief that history and Americans are separate, if not mutually exclusive entities?

For those with an interest in this stuff, I strongly recommend Edward Linenthal’s “Preserving Memory,” a fascinating book about the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s creation. Linenthal’s discussion of “preferred narratives” in museum presentation was genuinely enlightening, and I got more out of the Holocaust Museum for having read it.


“the Jared Diamond “it’s nobody’s fault” version”

That’s hardly Diamond’s version. His intention in GGS seemed to be to explain how Europeans *could* have become dominant without being intrinsically “better” than the “barbarians”.


Windy nails it. Read the intro the GGS if you still think that Diamond’s theory excuses the horrors we are discussing here; he is very respectful of native cultures. Like most highly skilled academics he is able to lay out his thesis, explain what narrow aspect of accepted dogma (s)he is addressing, and keeps the discussion focused on the thesis. Unlike professor Loadpants, who tossed in everything, including the fascist kitchen sink, hit the “puree” button, and decided the result was fine cuisine instead of the pile of blenderized crap we all know it is.


Shalom, gentlemen.


The truth is, you are always hating on America, you liberals, past, present and future. If you hate it so much leave. I love America, and I am proud. If you can’t be, shut up or leave.

Canadian Music Preservation Society

MzNicky–ear worms are our business. Just be thankful it is Neil and not Celine…

Personally, I have the Powerfinger earworm today.


“If you can’t be, shut up or leave”

Somehow, Saul, I don’t think you’re man enough to make me do either. I am more a heartlander than you can ever hope to be–and therefore love America more.


That Gilliard post about the Vichy Dems is a fucking masterpiece. I often see Yglesias quoted by “progressive” bloggers, and I’m like “why do you give a fuck what some centre-right pundit wannabe has to say?”

As for American adventurism, it’s never going to end until you are all coffee-coloured. American exceptionalism is white supremacism writ large, sad to say.


I gave up on Yglesias, Ezra and Drum years ago. They have nothing to say worth hearing.


Sensible liberals remind me a little of the way the Unitarians reacted to the Merry Pranksters back in 64 or so. The Pranksters being the prototypical DFHs , of course.


Thanks for this. Not stale. Not stale at all.

It has done my heart good.

The only exception I must take is that we are all to blame, not just those stupid repukes. (And O, how I despise them.) Maybe you alluded to this. I was just so excited at the post that I had to speak and say, thank you. I didn’t even finish reading yet.


Canadian Music Preservation Society:
You have my sympathy. I once had the “Powderfinger” ear worm for three solid days. That un’s pesky.


Nobody alive today helped in the genocide of Native Americans, just like nobody alive today legally owned a slave in America. I think our ancesters behaved badly, but I personally don’t feel guilty about it.

You only need feel ashamed of America’s past treatment of native Americans if you wish to repeat the sins of our fathers and make them your own.


Your putting a pretty vicious slant on Andrew Jackson. Based on what your saying he commited homicide. If so he would be in rank with such men as Hitler and Stalin. I don’t like that Idea nor do I agree with it. No man is Saintly and if you look at all people in the light that your viewing Jackson all men are damned and deserve no better than a straight passage to hell. I know Andrew did somee good and this was “only” ethnic clensing not homicide. Get your facts straight,


“The Europeans had no inkling of the germ theory of disease, though one might argue that if they had known, it wouldn’t have made any difference to them.”

While 15th Century Europeans did not know what germs were, they did know how to spread disease and deliberately used infected corpses as germ warfare long before the British gave smallpox-infected blankets to Indian tribes that displeased them. The writings of the conquistadores make it clear they knew that diseases were decimating Indian populations and they screambled to take advantage of it.

“I know Andrew did somee good and this was “only” ethnic clensing not homicide”

Andrew Jackson, in defiance of court order and based upon a blatantly fraudulent treaty, rounded up an entire nation of people solely they were non-whites who had the temerity to live on land white people wanted and shipped them halfway across the continent. Fully one-fourth, mostly elders and children, died of starvation, disease, and exposure on the way. The bones of my ancestors litter the ground between Oklahoma and Georgia. What would you call that? Andrew “did some good”? Yes, and Hitler was a vegetarian who built highways. Your point?


“Nobody alive today helped in the genocide of Native Americans”

And yet people who are alive today are at this very moment pushing policies designed to ensure the economic marginalization and cultural obliteration of Indian Nations, such as allowing white pedophiles and rapists to prey on Indian women and children with virtually no fear of arrest, much less prosecution. This lame “hey that was a LONG time ago” argument has been used almost since the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 and is a convenient moral figleaf to reassure white Americans that they need never ever accept any responsibility whatsoever for the past, let alone make some effort to correct the still-extant effects of these horrific crimes in the present.


And yet people who are alive today are at this very moment pushing policies designed to ensure the economic marginalization and cultural obliteration of Indian Nations…

Yeah, there’s that and the little matter of all those European descendants living on the land they haven’t actually paid for yet. The rent’s waaaaay overdue fellas. Pay up, and maybe some of us will stop bitching about the past.


Well, some a them there Native Americans were early liberal fascists, if they weren’t they wouldn’t have used all them swastikas.


I don’t know…I don’t think the National Museum of the American Indian is a particularly great museum, to be sure, but…whitewash? No, I think you’ll see all the evidence of perfidy, racism, imperialism, whatever, you could possibly want. The introductory film under discussion was just that: an introduction. If the tone was a little too gentle and indirect, perhaps the thinking was that would be a better way to encourage Ma and Pa and the Young’uns to open up their minds to what they were about to see in the exhibits that shouting “MURDERER!” at them, over and over, for ten minutes. And we need to be fair about something else–the smallpox killed millions upon millions, destroyed cities and civilizations, without the Europeans lifiting a finger. That doesn’t take away from the awfulness of the conquistadors or plantationers, but, even if the Europeans had come with love in their hearts, seeking only to trade for some spices, millions and millions would have died. So the “hurricane” imagry is not entirely off-base. The deliberate practice of biological warfare was something that came later, and deserves our lasting disgust, but massive pandemics were completely unavoidable once the two hemispheres came back into significant cultural contact. The museum was created by American Indians, who put together the story they wanted to tell in the way they wanted to tell it. And I don’t think their priority was to whitewash anything.



If you’re still reading, I wanted to respond to a couple of points you raised. You talked about the lack of representation at NMAI of what could be called the modern scientific treatment of American Indian orgins–the Bering land bridge, one wave vs. two wave vs. three wave, what have you. I was a bit baffled by that at first, too. That’s how I would have started the whole museum experience off. But the de-emphasis of (European) science and the emphasis of (American Indian) traditions and beliefs is, really, the whole point of the exhibit. I’ve seen on a few occassions Indians take real umbrage at white archaeologists telling them where they came from and when they got there. “A few years ago, we were the lost tribes of Israel, and now you say we’re Siberians. Well, nuts to what you say!” Now, what can I say? Of course, I like the land bridge story a lot better than I like anyone’s story about being shaped out of clay or what have you, but NMAI was not intended to be a place where I get to tell the Indians about themselves, but rather where _they_ get to tell _me_–and people like me. So I’m trying to be open-minded about that. For the scientific story, we have Natural History across the street.

Your point about the Holocaust Museum is particularly well-taken. Nazi Germany has become a sociologically fascinating phenomenon in modern America–a kind of totem of evil that we can hold up to be hissed at and spat upon and used to convince ourselves of how good and righteous we are by comparison. NMAI provides part of the needed corrective to this, by openly presenting the American Indian dispossession on the National Mall. The forthcoming African American museum will, I hope, do even more. I have always had a vision in my mind for the entrance hall to that museum–a 360 degree panorama of the National Mall in the early 19th century, with a slave auction in progress. I sincerely hope they manage to hit that hard.


“That doesn’t take away from the awfulness of the conquistadors or plantationers, but, even if the Europeans had come with love in their hearts, seeking only to trade for some spices, millions and millions would have died.”

Actually no. Smallpox was spread primarily as the invaders moved throughout the continent (though admittedly, some was spread from Indians who became infected and then followed existing trade routes, which is the reason why New England tribes had been practically decimated before large scale white colonization by the Pilgrims). If Europeans had come “only to trade,” there would have been no need for them to trudge all over creation, bringing their pestilence with them. Moreover, a trade mission would not have required thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Europeans arriving. A slower rate of invasion, and without the additional population pressure of warfare, forced migrations and so forth (many Mexican tribes were, quite literally, worked to death by the tens and hundreds of thousands by the conquistadores) would have enabled the Native population to develop immunities to the new diseases, as they eventually did (obviously, since we’re still here). Vine Delorio, Jr. also postulates that if the rate of infection and speed of invasion had not been so high, Indian medicine men would have been able to develop effective countermeasures.


The ability of a society to see through grinding conflicts like the Philippines Insurrection or the Boer War augers well for its future, lest it lose the mere capacity to conquer,
If Trevino considers the Philippines-American war with its 4000-odd US casualties to be a “grinding conflict”, I imagine he prefers not to dwell on the Vietnam adventure.


Thue documentation of America’s impeiralist (pre-WW2) history is vauable, but your post goes off the deep end when it tries to make connections with America’s retaliations against attacks and efforts to stop imperialism since WW2.

Vietnam is a good example.The war was nothing more than successful Soviet aggression in Southeast Asia, and the US doing a poor job of preventing it. After the Soviet proxy state conquered South Vietnam, they treated it as occupied territory to rape and plunder, not as liberated land. They killed 2 or 3 million South Vietnamese in reprisal, and the “boat people” left after this “liberation”, not before. The real tragedy was that the US failed to prevent this.

Iraq and Afghanistan, both (at the time) aggressor states that attacked te US. Both were told to call it off, and refused. The retaliations were a last resort, and it was not “preemptive war” when war was already on.


No, 2 to 3 million South Vietnamese were not killed after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam. While the killing of tens of thousands of people after the war was horrific enough, in no way did it compare to the mass numbers slaughtered by the U.S. and its proxy in South Vietnam itself nor in North Vietnam. Try to spin your raving loony right wing fake history elsewhere.

You may be mixing up your history, perhaps thinking of how nearly a decade of bombing and carpet bombing by the U.S. of rural Cambodia drove the peasantry into the hands of the lunatic Khmer Rouge guerrillas, who went on to slaughter even more people than those who had been killed by the U.S. bombings and the mass starvation the bombing largely caused. A slaughter which was ended, and unfortunately only could have been ended only by the invasion of the unified Vietnam next door.

And not even the U.S. military considered the war to be caused by “Soviet aggression”. This is simply another deluded John Birch / David Horowitz attempt to rewrite the entire 20th century as a simple black / white struggle by brave right wing defenders of freedom against Soviet / Maoist aggression.


Iraq and Afghanistan, both (at the time) aggressor states that attacked te US. Both were told to call it off, and refused. The retaliations were a last resort, and it was not “preemptive war” when war was already on.

No. Afghanistan was not pre-emptive. It was retaliatory, and thus entirely legitimate (and I don’t care what some lunatics on the far left think; we were perfectly entitled to destroy a government that shielded terrorists who killed thousands of our civilians.) Neither was Iraq pre-emptive, in that we did not invade to pre-empt an attack on our own country (as it has been definitively established that Hussein possessed neither the means nor the desire to attack us.) Iraq was a preventive war, meaning we invaded to “prevent” some speculative future attack. In the canons international law, a preventive war is no different from an illegal war of aggression, as frequently the language of preventive war is used to justify wars for other purposes…which is exactly what happened with Iraq.


“If you hate it so much leave. I love America, and I am proud. If you can’t be, shut up or leave.”

We were here first.


Local Crank,

We’re going to have to disagree on this, but, I am confident I am expressing something much closer to expert consensus when I say that many millions would have died under any circumstances. See, for example, Mann’s recent book “1491” for a very good summary of the current state of research. We have any number of incidents where whole populations were wiped out by fairly minor interaction with Europeans, such as the southeastern United States societies described by de Soto (a completely revolting murderer and plunderer, in case my opinions are unclear). Deloria’s notion that “medicine men” would have worked out how to eliminate smallpox under different circumstances is, by contrast, pretty speculative.


See, for example, Mann’s recent book “1491? for a very good summary of the current state of research.

Read it, reviewed it.

It most certainly does not support your contention. Mann, like most scholars, shows that smallpox and other diseases to which Indians had low resistence due to various genetic factors, moved ahead of, but not very much far ahead of, the invading Europeans. For example, Tawantinsuyu (the Incan Empire) was weakened by an outbreak of disease in 1532, concurrent with Pizarro’s invasion. Diseases simply do not work like they are portrayed in movies and on television, where a killer disease whips around the world pretty much all by itself, wiping everyone out in the course of a day or two. Diseases need carriers. There was trade in pre-Columbian America, but that by itself is insufficient to account for epidemics eventually reaching every square inch of the Western Hemisphere. Your example of De Soto actually proves my point; he blundered all across the Southwest, trailing disease behind him. If the Europeans had come to trade, there would have been no need to wander around looking for some mythical golden city. As in Africa, Japan and China, the Europeans would have leased (or more likely conquered) some coastal city and run a trade empire from there. of course, in the immortal words of my old history professor, history is not written in the subjunctive. The Europeans did not come to trade, they came to loot and conquer and in so doing, killed one quarter of the entire human race.


With respect, I can’t agree with your reading of Mann’s work. I note, for instance, p.87, where Mann quotes Cieza de Leon on disease in Tawantinsuyu: “a great plague of smallpox broke out [in 1524 or 1525], so severe that more than 200,000 died of it, for it spread to all parts of the kingdom.” So plagues were reaching across that empire in advance of Pizarro’s 1532 conquest. Or, in particular, Mann’s discussion on pp. 92-93: “smallpox visited before anyone in South America had even _seen_ Europeans”…”[microbes] must have swept from the coastlines first visited by Europeans to inland areas populated by Indians who had never seen a white person.”

And I don’t know that I agree with your vision of trade–traders go _everywhere_; note, for example, the inineraries of Zheng He, a (primarily) peaceful trader/explorer, or the early travels of fur traders throughout much of North America. A hypothetical set of less-contemptible Europeans who only came to trade and explore would still have ranged all over the hemisphere, and history suggests they would have found willing trading partners almost anywhere they went. I still conend–and I am arguing very narrowly here, I hope you appreciate that–that massive pandemics were unavoidable. The exploitation of these pandemics for conquest and plunder are unforgivable, but the 1524 plague can not be laid on Pizarro’s head.

Respectfully yours,



As I said, I think our discussion hasn’t gotten a bit too esoteric, since we are essentially arguing over an alternate history (and of course there are entire web sites devoted to that), so we might as well wrap it up. I would note that while Zheng He did in fact go to a lot of places, he never went very far inland. And I agreed that disease was not spread EXCLUSIVELY by European invaders; I thought I had made that clear. I concede your point about fur traders, but I’m still not sure they would have been necessary if the coastal tribes hadn’t been annihilated. Indians were perfectly willing to bring goods to trade, such as the Cherokee who brought thousands upon thousands of deer hides to sell to Europeans. Regarding the skills of medicine men, I would refer you to Deloria’s The World We Used to Live In: from a European perspective, yes it is speculative. From an Indian perspective, no it is not. I suppose the bottom line is this: while Europeans did not know germ theory (tho’ some Indians did hold that ‘tiny unseen animals’ spread disease), they did, since at least the 1550’s, know that diseases went everywhere they did. Knowing this, they continued to range all over the Hemisphere. Therefore, the excuse “Europeans didn’t know modern germ theory” fails to absolve the Invaders for the Smallpox Holocaust.” Thank you for an intelligent, respectful, and thought-provoking discussion and please visit my blog and comment on anything else that interests you.


I will; thanks for a stimulating discussion.


Xanthippas said “Neither was Iraq pre-emptive, in that we did not invade to pre-empt an attack on our own country (as it has been definitively established that Hussein possessed neither the means nor the desire to attack us.) Iraq was a preventive war, meaning we invaded to “prevent” some speculative future attack. In the canons international law, a preventive war is no different from an illegal war of aggression, as frequently the language of preventive war is used to justify wars for other purposes…which is exactly what happened with Iraq.”

The US retaliated against Iraq also. The Saddam Hussein regime had violated the cease-fire with hundreds of attacks against the inspectors allowed by the cease-fire. Saddam Hussein possessed the means and desire to attack the US and other neighboring nations. He had already engaged in aggression against Kuwait, the US, the UK, and Israel… all after the first Gulf War cease-fire.

The Iraq war was no more “preventive” than attacking Japan after Pearl Harbor.


I’m far too late to expect “none” to respond, but for the record…there were no “attacks” on inspectors, attacks on our air forces were met with retaliatory or anticipatory airstrikes, and the means to attack does not equate to the desire or willingness to attack. After all, Mexico has the “means” to attack us, and slightly more ability to harm us than Saddam had.

In other words, the examples you cite are ridiculous. If you cannot tell the difference between someone really, really wishing they could actually attack us as our jets fly over their territory and bomb with impunity and an actual attack on US territory that kills thousands of military personnel and virtually destroys an entire fleet…then you’re exactly the kind of person who our leaders count on to sucker us into war.


“there were no “attacks” on inspectors”

Saddam ordered his forces to target and fire upon peacekeepers which were allowed to patrol Iraq as part of the Gulf War cease-fre agreements. Each instance is a violation of the cease fire.

“and the means to attack does not equate to the desire or willingness to attack”

Saddam expressed his desire and announced plans for aggression very frequently. So your pro-Saddam argument fails again.

“In other words, the examples you cite are ridiculous”

No, they are not. If Japan had engaged in such aggression after the end of WW2 as Saddam did after the end of the Gulf War, WW2 would have still been on.

“If you cannot tell the difference between someone really, really wishing they could actually attack us as our jets fly over their territory and bomb with impunity ”

Saddam did not merely “wish”. He attacked. Also, the “with inpunity” was bombing terrorists facilities that Saddam was to have dismantled immediately after the end of the first Gulf War.

“….an actual attack on US territory that kills thousands of military personnel and virtually destroys an entire fleet”

You must be the kind of person who thinks it is OK for an aggressive enemy to keep attacking us, and only really bother to do something once he makes good on explicit plans, attempts, and threats to do really major damage.

Using this twisted sort of logic, I guess it was right of Bush and Clinton to pretty much ignore Bin Laden prior to 9-11, since his crimes up to that point were definite but not really big.

“then you’re exactly the kind of person who our leaders count on to sucker us into war.”

The war was already on by the time the US was forced to launch a major retaliation in 2003 after years of trying to get Saddam to comply with very reasonable cease-fire requirements. The retaliation against Saddam Hussein and the largest terrorist army in the world was entirely justified, and would not be that controversial had Rumsfeld not botched the reconstruction so badly.


How many other countries put famous GENOCIDAIRES on their money?




Been to the museum. I disagree. The “Guns, God, and Gold” exhibit fetishizes US and puts US on display in a naturalizing way that WE have have done with indigenous populations in museums for years. To miss this crucial distinction is to bathe in our own superiority. Certainly, Jackson and the millions of others who have and continue to participate in the atrocities should be held culpable. Still, this museum is not OURS. It is THEIRS, and as such, has every right not to celebrate the narrative of their disappearance. They are still here (this exhibit ends this way). The rest of the museum creates an extensive dialog about different indigenous cosmogenies and life ways. It also begins to display the syncretism that is part of native survivance. The endless attempts to affix blame is a subtle strategy to take attention away from very-much-alive-and-important people. I grew up on the Rez, and there was nothing more pathetic to Indians than white people shushing Indians to tell the sad story of how whites defeated the Indians. This museum rocks because it doesn’t fall into that trap. We should get over ourselves. Non-indians aren’t that important. Let them tell their story the way they want (and yes, these displays were created by Native Americans). Save the outrage for where it belongs.


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