Day 1 in my US History Class or More Crap we can thank the Christians for...

I started my U.S. History class today. I was a bit surprised to see that the first chapter has more of a focus on the Native American-African-European dynamic than I've come across before.

It also touches upon how religion was such a destructive force in Native-European relations. This quote particularly struck me "throughout Europe...freedom meant abandoning the life of sin to embrace the teachings of Christ. 'Where the Spirit of the Lord is,' declares the New Testament, 'there is liberty.' In this definition freedom and servitude were mutually reinforcing, not contradictory states..." One of the justifications for the atrocities committed against the Native inhabitants was that they were being liberated. By having Jesus forced on them.

Still, you've gotta love how much easier it was for them to claim that freedom is slavery, than to admit a fear of their wives liking some aspects of another culture. Matrilineal clans, property ownership, the ability to divorce, and pick who you fuck? No beggars??? I tell you, some days I don't really mind my own whiteness, but damn my European heritage is embarrassing.

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Comment by Creature on October 6, 2009 at 4:39pm
Allright, well thanks for clarifying Carver. :) Anyways, I think its time for this one to die.
Comment by Jim DePaulo on October 6, 2009 at 2:59pm
I don’t think I implied that because so many Native Americans died from European disease that it in any way justified or excused the European American’s treatment of the indigenous peoples. While they had no knowledge of germs or germ causes of disease, many saw the cause and effect between disease and its transmission to others. They also recognized the Native American’s susceptibility to disease, and there were those who used that understanding as a weapon and intentional practiced germ warfare.
My point was the European settlers had no understanding of the peoples that occupied this country before the European incursion and that ignorance, for the most part, has persisted until today.
Comment by Jo Jerome on October 5, 2009 at 2:32pm
I will say as a side note, Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity, Dobbs ... while I don't feel ashamed to be White these guys get me pretty darn close.
Comment by Jason Spicer on October 5, 2009 at 12:15pm
The decimation of the native population of the Western Hemisphere by disease was pretty much inevitable, horrifying as it was. The only way it could have been avoided would have been for Europeans to not explore the West until after they had developed vaccines, especially for smallpox, and to jab everybody they met with a needle. That they didn't wait is regrettable. That they jabbed everybody they met with swords instead is despicable. That they jabbed everybody with swords because they thought their god compelled it was madness. It was a large scale application of "destroying the village in order to save it".

I didn't participate, so I'm not directly guilty. I certainly benefit indirectly from the European expansion at the expense of the locals, so it's hard to escape a twinge of guilt, but there's really not much I can do about it except to try to lead a decent life and not commit the same kinds of crimes my ancestors did.

Along those lines, the Europeans did eventually wake up and become more civilized, though that's a fits and starts effort, obviously. Still, when they had the technology and a bit more modern moral sense, they started doing things like the Balmis Expedition to eradicate smallpox in the Spanish colonies. The Wikipedia entry is fairly sparse, but I think of it as akin to the Apollo moon missions in vision, scope, and logistical difficulty, for its day. A medical triumph, supported by a Spanish king who gave a damn (not that he was perfect, by any stretch). If I recall, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel has a fuller account of the expedition, and is otherwise fascinating and well worth the read.
Comment by Jo Jerome on October 5, 2009 at 11:52am
I don't think there's any rule about expanding the thread (or in this case, letting the blog post about X lead to a conversation about Y). But I think I get what Creature is saying here.

Many of us got a very sugar-coated, whitewashed version of how the Europeans interacted with the Native peoples. History books focused on death by disease and natural disasters and internal tribal wars ... to divert our attention from the Anglo genocide.
Comment by Jo Jerome on October 5, 2009 at 10:52am
"Can any of you see how silly the "most of them got sick and died," thing sounds in context to my original post?"

*Raises hand* I can.

Yes, it's useful to point out that not all Native deaths were the result of Anglos committing genocide. Yes, Anglo diseases caused a massive amount of devastation which the Europeans couldn't have known about or done much about and didn't intend to bring over as a weapon.

But that doesn't change or even water down the fact that most (not all, but most) Europeans saw and treated the Native peoples as sub-human.

Including eventually using disease as a weapon. Back in grade school, our history books taught that a big reason the Europeans imported slaves from Africa rather than use the Native people here is the less-resistant-to-disease factor.

Christianity played a huge role - if not the biggest role - in that. When your religious doctrine condones slavery, speaks of you and yours as the chosen people destined to subdue and convert all others, combine that with the king-of-the-mountain, power-hungry, violence-thirsty mentality of the right people and the result is leaders who will commit the most horrendous of atrocities and a mob of followers willing to blindly play along.

It is something in our heritage to be ashamed of. Doesn't mean we have to be ashamed to be White/Euro/Anglo in general, but we certainly have the right to cringe at that bit of our nation's past.
Comment by Cynthia Wicks on October 5, 2009 at 9:55am
I have to disagree with Judith, I think that continuing usage of the phrase "people do what they have to" allows us to keep doing what we "have to." Namely, for us, jingoism, imperialism, and bigoted enthnocentrism. Groups, nations, etc of people don't doing what they have to - they do what they WANT, what is in their group's self interest. Dismissing group actions as "human nature" is only going to cut it until our entire planet is irradiated and living in a nuclear winter.

I extremely disagree with Sonny - knowledge of the past does not predispose us to repeating its actions. A jaded, flippant, and unconcerned attitude towards the past is what dooms us to repeat it. People can always find things in history that they agree with - I'm sure Bush and Cheney would privately agree that the atrocities Crusades were justifiable in that the end result was a restrengthening of western Christendom power against to the rise of Islam. Antisemitic heads of states sympathize with Hitler. The histories these people are identify with are just fragments of humanity's historical fabric. There's so much more there - including triumphs of humanity as a whole.

The people of the past are dead and gone, and we cannot do anything to change what happened. Thus, we should use history as a warning, and NOT allow the perceived distance between the present "us" and the historical "us" to emotionally whitewash the actions of humans in the past with a shrug. We aren't responsible for their actions, but we are damned well responsible to stop repeating them. I think feeling guilty for our group's past actions can be a useful emotion - so long as we try not to repeat their mistakes. Human emotions aren't purposeless or vain.

In response to Carver's mention of the pathological influence on the decline of the Native American population, I think that the disease card can be pulled to try and take a little light off of the way the surviving native population were treated. It's like the argument that slavery wasn't atrocious on the part of the Europeans, since the "Africans" were killing and enslaving between their cultural groups - it's a red herring excuse. Europeans knew what they were doing, they clamored to rationalize it with theology and pseudo-science.

I have read 1491, but I think that while it is excellent - it gives long overdue the proper recognition and respect to the pre-contact indigenous Americans, it's almost entirely speculative.
Comment by Creature on October 4, 2009 at 5:54pm
Can any of you see how silly the "most of them got sick and died," thing sounds in context to my original post? The fact that any of them were enslaved, scalped for a bounty, massacred, relocated and their children taken to be indoctrinated is atrocious. It doesn't matter whether or not a majority died from illness.

But it's not really them that I was talking about. Whether or not they were peaceful or war like, rational or irrational has no bearing on how embarassing I find the freedom-equals-slavery-i'm-gonna-free-the-shit-out-of-you mind set people representing the west had.

Being embarassed by one aspect my my heritage does not mean that I am ashamed of or dislike the group as a whole. As I mentioned before, my facepalm reaction towards my parents talking about the apocalypse doesn't mean that I dislike them as people, or see nothing in them to be proud of.
Comment by Jim DePaulo on October 3, 2009 at 5:15pm
If you haven't read it pick up the book 1491 by Charles Mann. It is a well documented work, with an extensive bibliograpy. it paints an entirely different picture of Native America.
Comment by Creature on October 2, 2009 at 11:51pm
We have a copy of A People History sitting around, but I'll have to make sure to pick up the other book. Thanks dude. :)


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