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Past Wars on Indians Aren't Even Past


By davidswanson - Posted on 09 August 2013

Hammer in hand, one sees nails everywhere. Successful unpunished genocide at home in hand, the Pentagon sees Indian Country on six continents.  But don't imagine the U.S. military is finished with the original Indian Country yet, including Native American reservations and territories, and including the places where the rest of us now live.

Compare and contrast:

Exhibit 1 from the New York Times:

"Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."

Exhibit 2 from a U.S. Army dispatch in 1864:

"All Apache . . . large enough to bear arms who may be encountered in Arizona will be slain whenever met unless they give themselves up as prisoners."

Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech at Fort Carson with cavalry troops on horseback dressed in Indian-killing outfits behind him, as he praised troops in Iraq for living up to the legend of Kit Carson -- a man who marched hundreds of human beings to a camp later used as a model for the Nazis'. 

Osama bin Laden was renamed by the U.S. military, Geronimo.

Winona LaDuke's The Militarization of Indian Country tells a history that isn't over, and describes a scene that cannot escape from its past.  Like Coleman Smith's and Clare Hanrahan's survey of the militarization of the Southeast, LaDuke's survey of militarized Indian Country piles up numerous outrages to convey a picture of purposeful devastation on a stunning scale. 

Many Native Americans live in places called Fort This or Fort That, keeping ever present the concentration camps these places were.  They remain among the poorest and most environmentally devastated sacrifice zones in the United States.

"The modern U.S. military," LaDuke writes, "has taken our lands for bombing exercises and military bases, and for the experimentation and storage of the deadliest chemical agents and toxins known to mankind. Today the military continues to bomb  Native Hawaiian lands, from Makua to the Big Island, destroying life."

Later, LaDuke summarizes: "From the more than a thousand nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific and the Nevada desert that started in the 1940s, obliterating atolls and spreading radioactive contamination throughout the ocean and across large areas in the American West, to the Vietnam War-era use of napalm and Agent Orange to defoliate and poison vast swaths of Vietnam, to the widespread use of depleted uranium and chemical weaponry since that time, the role of the U.S. military in contaminating the planet cannot be overstated."

In Alaska, 700 active and abandoned military sites include 1,900 toxic hot spots.  People forget the seriousness of a failed plan to create a harbor in Alaska by dropping a series of nuclear bombs.  Some of the actions that have in fact been taken have been only moderately less destructive than that proposal.

Uranium mines, depleted uranium testing, and nuclear waste storage have done as much or more damage to Indian Country as nuclear bomb testing.  U.S. nuclear weapons are largely located in Native American territories, as well.  If the Great Sioux Nation were in control of its 1851 treaty areas, LaDuke writes, "it would be the third greatest nuclear weapons power on the face of the earth." 

Many Native Americans recognize in current U.S. foreign wars echoes of wars against the Indian nations.  And yet, American Indians have the highest military enlistment rate of any ethnic group and the largest number of living veterans (about 22 percent of Native Americans aged 18 or over).  "How," LaDuke asks, "did we move from being the target of the U.S. military to being the U.S. military itself?"  Native Americans also suffer from PTSD at higher rates than other groups -- supposedly due to higher rates of combat, but just conceivably also because of greater cognitive dissonance.

I admit to finding a little of the latter even in LaDuke's wonderful book.  She claims that sometimes there are "righteous reasons to fight."  She opposes militarism but wants veterans to be honored.  I'm writing this from a national convention of Veterans For Peace where I know numerous veterans would reject the idea that veterans should be honored.  What veterans should do is organize more Native Americans and other Americans together into a movement for the abolition of militarism as well as the righting of past wrongs so that they will not any longer be repeated.

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