Monday :: Jul 11, 2005

Sand Creek Colorado and Iraq: History Redux?

by soccerdad

I was watching TV with my son Monday night and we started to watch “Into the West”. I’ve always found these kinds of stories interesting. I know enough to know that liberties are taken. My son is going to major in history so his favorite sport is to find how many errors are made in such shows.
This particular episode had to do with the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado in 1864, where the US army slaughtered a group of Cheyenne Indians who had thought they were under the protection of the Army. Neither of us had every heard of this episode of American History. At the end of the show I sat in my chair utterly stunned, not just because of the brutality of the massacre but also how it eerily followed the events with the Iraq war.

So today I have spent a little time gathering information on the Sand Creek Massacre and what I have been able to find supports the major events in the show and even describe the brutality in much greater detail. The primary point of contention was the rapid movement of white settlers into what had been the buffalo hunting grounds. There had been violence perpetrated by a portion of the Cheyenne tribe against the settlers. One of the chiefs, Black Kettle, worked hard for peace even traveling to Washington to see president Lincoln who gave him a US flag and another chief was given a peace medal.

In 1864 Black Kettle and others traveled to Denver to meet with Governor Evens and Col. John Chivinton who commanded a volunteer regiment whose purpose was to deal with the “Indian Problem”. Black Kettle’s mission was to once again reassure everyone that he wanted peace. Apparently Evans who was interested mostly in the economic development in the area used isolated incidents of violence by the Indians to send Chivington out into the field against the Indians. The show had a scene in which the mutilated bodies of a family killed by Indians near Denver were put on display to help recriut people for the volunteer regiment. One of the sources below talks about the Hugate family that was killed near Denver. Chivington was once a member of the clergy but his love of fellow man did not extend to Indians whom he hated.

Black Kettle reported to Fort Lyon and told them they would be camping along Sand Creek a short distance away. Black Kettle assumed that they would therefore be safe. Chivington brought his troops to Fort Lyon and was told that Black Kettle was at Sand Creek and had already “surrendered” by coming to the fort and reporting in before they had camped. On November 29, 1864 Chivington and his regiment attacked Black Kettle’s camp despite Black Kettle raising an American Flag and a white flag of surrender.

The soldiers killed anyone they could find women, children elderly, and pregnant women. They were shot, stabbed, clubbed, scalped and their bodies mutilated. The soldiers reportedly took 100 scalps back to Denever. Original editorials in local newspapers as well as an eyewitness account can be read here. There is other info here and here

The parallels with Iraq are pretty obvious. Think of the 4 mercenaries killed outside Fallujah and the Americans response. Read the original editorials and you are reminded of some of the right wing nonsense you read today. You have the dehumanization of an entire race and the practice of collective punishment. Savagery on part of the Indians was seen as evil but equal savagery by the troops seen as bravery and necessary.

So why am I writing about this? I think this has crystalized for me my source of almost despair about this country that has caused be to almost give up. Writing blog posts is like using spit balls against an army. I feel that there is something ingrained either in the American psyche or human nature itself that allows this kind of behavior and then condones it under the guise of superiority. The neocons, this president and the far right believe that the US is entitled to "protect their interests" no matter where those interests are or who lives above those interests. The fact that other countries have behaved in similar fashion throughout history suggests that there is a fundamental defect with a large portion of humanity. Is it innate or a result of ignorance that can be easily exploited by the leaders? Does it really matter? Does teaching a santized version of history that champions American exceptionalism also play a role? Again, in a practical sense, does it matter?

And then we have this from Paul Harvey last week:

"We didn't come this far [as a nation] because we're made of sugar candy. Once upon a time, we elbowed our way onto and across this continent by giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. That was biological warfare. And we used every other weapon we could get our hands on to grab this land from whomever.

"And we grew prosperous. And yes, we greased the skids with the sweat of slaves. So it goes with most great nation-states, which--feeling guilty about their savage pasts--eventually civilize themselves out of business and wind up invaded and ultimately dominated by the lean, hungry up-and-coming who are not made of sugar candy."

And that pretty well sums up how a sizeable part of this country feels. How do you overcome such ingrained beliefs, how do you overcome the bad aspects of American Exceptionalism?

I believe that the American people will tire of Iraq but not because of what we have done there (since its not really being reported) but because it will cost too much in dollars and sons and daughters. But the real underlying issues will go unchallanged by most leaving us open to repeat these mistakes. But it will take an event of major proportions, e.g. economic collapse, to cause a retreat in Iraq.

I need more anti-depressants.

soccerdad :: 3:25 PM :: Comments (46) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!