"Developing inner values is much like physical exercise. The more we train our abilities, the stronger they become. The difference is that, unlike the body, when it comes to training the mind, there is no limit to how far we can go."
Introduction to United States Genocide
The issue of genocide in America against the Native Americans has been controversial. Some see the dramatic decrease in population of the Native Americans since the European settlers stepped foot in America as clear evidence of genocide. Some see the atrocities against them as unforgivable, but not enough to amount to genocide. Some also argue that Native Americans were already much more violent with one another before Europeans showed up so there’s no difference. Others contend that in general Native Americans were peaceful before Europeans colonized America.
It’s true there were Native Americans groups that were violent against each other pre-colonial times. They also fought with the Europeans as they settled in America and at times lived peacefully with them. One of the biggest declines in their population is actually because many died from disease. But they did not purposely try to destroy other groups the way the Europeans and later the US government were trying to destroy them.
As Christopher Columbus and other Spanish settlers came to the Americas they enslaved Native Americans and subjected them to extreme violence. Throughout the 1500’s and as English settlers came there were several clashes between the Native Americans and the Europeans. In 1609 the first Anglo-Powhatan War started (which is part of the larger American Indian Wars). John Smith, the military leader of Jamestown, threatened to kill the Powhatan women and children if the Powhatans did not accommodate them with food, clothes, land, and labor. A year later George Percy was ordered by Sir Thomas Gates, the English governor, to destroy the Indigenous population. These events started the genocide and wars against the Native Americans in America.
Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2014.
United States Genocide
The American genocide against the Native Americans is arguably one of the longest in history, about five centuries long. There have been several genocidal measures imposed over the years from massacres, biological warfare, slavery and forced labor in conditions similar to concentration camps, mass population removals from reservations, forced marches, deliberate starvation and famine, and forcibly transferring children from their homes to mostly white families.
These are some of the more notable attempts to drive the Native Americans out:
In 1763 Sir Jeffrey Amherst ordered Boquet, a commanding officer, “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians (with smallpox) by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”
From 1805-1858 treaties were made between the US government and the Dakota nation for their land. The Dakota’s were supposed to be paid yearly but instead the money went to European traders, leaving many hungry. Some felt they had no other option but to assimilate to European culture as a way to feed their families, but for many it was unacceptable so they resorted to war.
In 1862 the Dakota War started after the Dakota’s attacked a European settlement. Afterwards General Pope wrote a letter to Colonel Sibley saying, “It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year. Destroy everything belonging to them and force them out to the plains, unless, as I suggest, you can capture them. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.”
In 1864 Black Kettle, leader of the Cheyennes, attempted to make peace with the whites. But Colonel John Chivington was not having it. Some soldiers protested against Chivington and after that he commanded his soldiers to "Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians, kill and scalp all, little and big; nits make lice”.
Forced relocations such as the “Trail of Tears” of the Cherokee in the 1830s and “Long Walk” of the Navajo in the 1860s became forced marches which resulted in the death of about 20-40% of the populations in route.
The California genocide from 1846-1873 wiped out an estimated 100,000 Native Americans. The government spent about $1,700,000 in campaigns against them. Many were killed for profit, enslaved, tortured, raped, and thousands of children were taken from their parents.
In the 1970′s an investigation found that between 25-35% of Indian children had been taken from their homes, which prompted the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act to protect children from being taken from their parent’s custody. However, since 2010 about 1,000 children in South Dakota have been taken from their families and have been placed mostly in non-Indian homes. Statistics by the South Dakota Department of Social Services (DSS) found that about half of the state’s foster care children are Native Americans.
Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2014.
Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge, 2017.
Madley, Benjamin. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe. Yale University Press, 2017.
United States History, Part 1
There’s no doubt that America was “founded” and colonized on the basis of genocide, war, and profits over people. Many settlers came to escape religious persecution, some of which ended up persecuting others as well. Others came seeking land and to find natural resources such as gold, silver, and spices. As the European settlers came many decided to exterminate the Native Americans so they could take their land and resources. Several times Native Americans tried to initiate peace but there were several times they fought back.
After the Europeans arrived they decided they needed a cheap source of labor for their new found land and so they brought over indentured servants. Many were without work in Europe so the idea appealed to them. They typically had four to seven year contracts in which they exchanged work for transportation, food, clothing, and shelter. As time passed the demands for labor grew so indentured servants became more costly. The settlers turned to using African slaves since they were an even cheaper source of labor, which proved to be very profitable; using slaves “helped” build the economy.
By 1775 the European colonists started to fight for their independence from Great Britain; this became known as the Revolutionary War. Tensions had been growing in the last decade between colonists and the British government and there was resentment over the British taxes imposed. But they didn’t have enough funds for the war so the colonial leaders decided to issue bills known as continentals to finance it (they were using the same idea that Massachusetts Bay Colony had from 1690). This was the start of the country’s debt.
A year later in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was established. The colonists declared their independence from Great Britain; the 13 colonies became the United States of America. The most famous line from the Declaration of Independence is, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There was a reference condemning slavery, but it was omitted in the final draft. Some believed it would be a violation of human rights, the equality and freedom they were fighting for, but others didn’t see how they could survive without their cheap source of labor. Somehow this new system of “equality” and “freedom” justified their system of inequality.
Around this time the idea of race was also born. The slave leaders used the term race as a way to distinguish themselves from the Native Americans and Africans. They focused on physical and status differences and used that to justify their social system. Race was about being separate and unequal; it was to limit access to power, privilege, status, and wealth.
United States History, Part 2
The Revolutionary War finally ended in 1783. America and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris that formally ended the war and recognized America’s sovereignty. By that time the country’s debt reached $43 million. That same year Congress was given power to raise taxes to cover the government’s costs. A few years later in 1787 the Constitution was signed to establish America’s governmental laws and guarantee it’s citizens basic rights. There was the three-fifths compromise clause, which is often misunderstood as slaves being counted as three-fifths of a person. It meant that slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a free person for congressional representation, giving more political power to states that had slaves. In 1791 the Bill of Rights was ratified as part of the Constitution, guaranteeing an individual's freedom of speech, religion, etc.
In 1823 the Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans could occupy land in America but had no rights to land ownership. In 1830 the Indian Removal Act was passed, giving the president official authority to negotiate removal treaties for tribes living east of the Mississippi. President Andrew Jackson had already negotiated treaties in other areas previously before his first term. He took advantage of the government owned land and started selling it to pay down the national debt. By 1835 America’s debt was fully paid off; but it only lasted a year.
After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848 many Latino-Americans faced discrimination. In 1850 the California Supreme Court ruled that Chinese Americans or immigrants had no rights to testify against white citizens. Previously criminal proceedings said, “No black or mulatto person, or Indian, shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a white man."
By 1861 the Civil War started as America was torn on the issues of slavery and power. That same year the Revenue Act was passed to help pay for war expenses; it was the first federal tax on personal income. In 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free”, but it only applied to states where there was no federal government control. In 1865 the 13th Amendment abolished slavery but permitted it for the use of prison labor stating, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
In 1866 the Civil Rights Act passed, declaring that anyone born in the United States was a citizen without regard to race, color, or previous conditions of slavery or involuntary servitude. However, it excluded the Native Americans.
Right after the Civil War ended the Southern States enlisted “black codes” that gave African Americans certain rights, limiting their freedom but still making them available as a source of cheap labor. Many had to sign labor contracts and if they didn’t they could be fined, arrested, or forced back into unpaid labor. This interactive map shows the forced labor that ensued after the Civil War.
In 1868 the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. Another provision of it was, “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
In 1870 the 15th Amendment gave citizens the right to vote without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
In 1896 the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was separate but equal. This was the start of the “Jim Crow” laws that separated black and whites in schools, parks, restrooms, etc.
The 1800′s was a time of growth, segregation, and a violation of basic rights for America. The idea of American exceptionalism came about, in reference to being unique from other nations on the founding principles of freedom and human rights. There was also the belief of manifest destiny, that America was destined expand westward and spread it’s liberty. But genocide persisted and slaves were “freed”. More states were added to the union and millions immigrated over. Many immigrants faced discrimination because of their differing looks, religion, and political views. American born citizens were also worried the immigrants would take their jobs. By the end of the 19th century America was even more divided by the concept of race.
United States History, Part 3
As the Armenian genocide started in 1915 during World War I the United States decided not to involve themselves so they could stay neutral. Since the Turks were not violating rights of Americans, President Wilson did not object to it. But Henry Morgenthau Sr., an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, requested for intervention. He had many visits from Armenians and other sources asking for help; he said there was a “race war” going on. Turkish authorities told him he had no right to intervene. Morgenthau persisted and asked the government several times to help and was later joined by former President Roosevelt who condemned Wilson’s administration for not taking action. Washington continued to stick to its neutrality; it was hard to gather support for anything that wasn’t considered national interest.
After the war ended the first international war crimes tribunal was being planned, but if it were setup United States wouldn’t participate. They believed the state’s right to be left alone was more important than an individuals right to justice.
In 1920 the 19th Amendment finally gave women the right to vote. In 1924 the Indian Citizenship Act passed which finally gave citizenship to Native Americans born in America.
In the 1930s the Great Depression was going on and unemployment was on the rise. There was fear of the Mexicans as well as other foreigners stealing American jobs. An estimated 1 to 2 million Mexicans were deported out of the country, 60% of which were citizens. But it wasn’t called deportation; it was referred to as “repatriations”.
In 1944 Raphael Lemkin introduced the word 'genocide' in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. He had already campaigned for several years before that for an international law that would prohibit the destruction of nations, races, and religious groups. In 1948 the UN Genocide Convention was established; Lemkin helped write the first draft. That same year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was also established as a way to protect fundamental human rights universally.
In 1951 We Charge Genocide was presented by African Americans to the United Nations for the crimes against them by the United States. The petition was denied.
In 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education declared that state laws establishing separate schools for blacks and whites was unconstitutional. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act passed which legally ended segregation and banned employment discrimination.
In 1988 the United States finally ratified the Genocide Convention. It was delayed for 40 years because senators were concerned it would infringe on US sovereignty. Some were worried that US officials would be accused of genocide. Some also thought the government would be forced to send military to other countries and enforce it.
Throughout the 1900′s segregation, discrimination, and a violation of basic rights continued. The concept of race was very much instilled within the minds of Americans. The genocide against the Native Americans carried on in a less brutal fashion. In some ways we did progress by the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement. But we went against helping the Armenians during the genocide in 1915, which set the tone for assisting with future genocides internationally.
Power, Samantha. “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide. Basic Books, 2013.
Effects of United States Genocide
America being founded on the basis of genocide, war, and profits over people has been passed down from one generation to the next and it’s been ingrained in our system. Those three factors are what really shaped our view when it came to human rights. Our own genocide against the Native Americans was our first barrier to true freedom and equality. It led us to creating the concept of race to justify discrimination and the system of inequality. It led us to the war mentality and system of profits over people that we still have today. It led us to ignoring genocide in other nations but claiming the words, “never again”.
As we fought for independence we made the declaration that we are all equal with unalienable rights, but in actuality it was only meant for white men. Our country was already divided and even more so after the idea of race came about. As race evolved those practices became institutionalized within our governmental laws and society. We became segregated and there was limited access to power, privilege, status, and wealth. Everyone else had to stand up for his or her basic rights. But the reality of the 21st century is that we’re still divided and not everyone is given their basic rights.
As we fought for independence we learned that we had to go to war and kill others as a way to secure our freedom and those unalienable rights; we’ve carried that with us ever since. We’ve conditioned ourselves into believing that war is not only necessary, but also a sustainable way of life. Going to war to secure our freedom is one of the greatest fallacies of all time. This is not to discount or disrespect the lives of anyone that’s been drafted or willingly chose to join the military, but we’ve lost millions of our own men and women in the fight for “freedom”. It’s not freedom until we’re all afforded the same basic rights and treated equally. It’s not freedom if we have to kill others to maintain ours. It’s not freedom if people are making a profit off it by exploiting others.
Some may argue that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the Revolutionary War, Civil War, or any other war we’ve fought in which is all true. Our history is what brought us to this point and we can’t change that; but it still doesn’t make it right. Our history was based on legalized corruption, the same legalized corruption that we’ve all grown accustomed to now.
This system we have in place is what’s stopped us in the past from helping other nations in the face of genocide and what’s stopping us now. We’re so used to this mindset of war, profits over people, and violating human rights that it’s not a big deal. The violence doesn’t affect us directly, so we make a tiny bit of effort, say “never again”, then shove it to the bottom of the list.
We can place blame on our ancestors or those in power now, but it’s not going to get us anywhere. All we need to do is fix it; if we ignore it then we should place just as much blame on ourselves. If we don’t change our mindsets now we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Genocide is what divided us from the beginning and will continue to divide us; it is our biggest threat to world peace. If we don’t act now the effects of genocide will continue to pass down from one generation to the next.
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
The war mentality that derives from genocide has many negative aspects, namely the unnecessary lives being taken and the cost of it.
In 1961 President Eisenhower gave us fair warning about the power of the military-industrial complex; how they were a threat to democracy and would continue to be. The government and arms industry have been tied in together for a long time now. The government spends money with the arms industry through stable contracts; the arms industry spends money with the government through lobbying and campaign efforts.
We’ve literally paid for the death of our own families, friends, and countless innocent civilians that have lost their lives from war. The story hasn’t changed; the national debt goes up to fund a war, taxpayers foot the bill, bloodshed ensues, and the government and arms industry reap the profits. There’s no motive for world peace because war is too profitable; but it’s always about “protecting our freedom”, or “national security”, or the “war on terror”.
SOURCE: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, April 2017. Data are for 2016. Compiled by PGPF. NOTE: Figures are in U.S. dollars, converted from local currencies using market exchange rates.
© 2017 Peter G. Petersen Foundataion
We spend more on national defense than any other country. As of last year we spent $611 billion on national defense; more than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, United Kingdom, Japan and Germany combined. We’re spending $4 million per hour for the war in Afghanistan and about $100 thousand per hour for the war in Iraq; the “war on terror”. Ever since 9/11 we’ve been spending more on war. The budget on homeland security alone went up 301% from 2001 to 2012.
This is not to say we should demilitarize completely, but the way we handle this should be looked at with careful consideration as to how it’s affecting our country as well as others. As President Eisenhower said, “We must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”
Connections Between Genocide and War
The connections between genocide and war can become perpetual and the line between the two can be hard to draw.
War accustoms a society to violence and dehumanization: The more one engages in war, the easier it becomes for them to inflict violence.
War increases the quotient of fear and hatred in a society: War creates mass hysteria, especially through propaganda, which emphasizes the “traitor”. Society becomes receptive to state vigilance and violence.
War eases genocidal logistics: Collecting resources for genocide can become easier through state power since they become devoted to imposing mass violence.
War provides a smokescreen for genocide: War easily becomes an excuse for extermination. Communication also becomes restricted such as journalism or military censorship on investigation of atrocities.
War fuels intracommunal solidarity and inter communal enmity: War creates a community through common danger and a common goal. It can establish lasting friendships.
War magnifies humanitarian crisis: Societies can become destabilized. War makes it harder and sometimes prevents humanitarian assistance. New wars can feed off war-related humanitarian assistance.
War stokes grievances and a desire for revenge: War makes people want to fight back.
Revolutions, such as the Revolutionary War, are violent changes in political order. They construct the conditions for genocidal movements to rise up. They make it possible to impose radical ideologies and new orders that justify genocide. The social mobilization of groups of low status made them targets of genocide. Revolutions that lead to wars make it possible to implement genocide as a policy of the state. Counter-revolutions can also become genocidal. Once war starts, organized mass violence becomes the dominating factor.
Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge, 2017.