IGE Talks: How Foreigners See Us

Here is the latest IGE Talks a monthly cable access show hosted by the Institute for Global Education (IGE) and aired on Grand Rapids’ public access television. As part of our ongoing efforts to support independent and do-it-yourself media here in West Michigan, we will be posting these shows each month.

In this episode, IGE Talks focuses on how foreigners view the United States:

The topic for the next show is “Employment & Environment.” It will be taped on March 5th at 7:00pm at Brick Road Pizza Company, 1017 Wealthy St SE. The public is welcome to participate in the discussion.

Columbus and other Cannibals

Jack D. Forbes’ Columbus and other Cannibals is a powerful book that will challenge readers’ basic assumptions about western civilization.

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Jack Forbes’ Columbus and Other Cannibals was one of the early books to come out of the anti-civilization movement. That milieu–dedicated to the destruction of civilization and all that comes with it–offers an often difficult, yet lucid critique of what is wrong with the world. Arguing that problems are more than governments, economic systems, or individual systems of oppression, the movement argues that problems arise specifically from the very notion of civilization and that problems in society are ingrained in the fabric of society. First published in 1978 and reprinted this year by Seven Stories Press (containing additional chapters), Columbus and other Cannibals introduces readers to this challenging theory.

Forbes–a longtime Native American activist and professor–roots his critique of civilization in the perspective of the indigenous peoples who were subjected to genocide, ecocide, and terrorism at the behest of European conquerors. To explain this, Forbes introduces readers to the Native American concept of the “Wetiko” psychosis–the disease of cannibalism:

“Wetiko is a Cree term which refers to a cannibal or, more specifically, an evil person or spirit who terrorizes other creatures by means of terrible evil acts, including cannibalism.”

Forbes argues that Columbus–the first conqueror–carried this “terribly contagious psychological disease” and introduced it to the Americas. He argues that western civilization is built on imperialism and exploitation, which are essentially forms of cannibalism. Forbes defines cannibalism as “the consuming of another’s life for one’s own private purpose or profit.”

Throughout the book, Forbes explores different aspects of the Wetiko psychosis including the aforementioned genocide of the Native Americans, the rise of patriarchy, authoritarianism, state terrorism, and the state itself. Forbes weaves historical examples into his writing, discussing the Israel-Palestine situation, 9/11, US intervention in Central and South America, and the Roman Empire. He analyzes different aspects of the Wetiko psychosis including lying, sadism, and arrogance–all of which are necessary traits. He also argues that the primary beneficiaries of Wetiko societies are the wealthy and those who rule, but that it is also organized, systemic behavior that depends on the support of those living within Wetiko society. Forbes argues that the system often uses the promise of material prosperity to stifle dissent and gain supporters, some of whom do the dirty work of the ruling class. As examples, Forbes explores colonialism and class conflict.

However, while Forbes is a strong critic of much of what the western world has done, Columbus and other Cannibals is not without hope. At the end of the book, Forbes talks about the possibilities for curing western culture of the Wetiko disease. He stresses the importance of a spiritual movement to confront the insanity of the Wetiko psychosis, as it is a “sickness of the spirit.” He rejects Christianity, explaining that it has all to often allowed or aided Wetiko destruction. Instead, Forbes speaks positively of Native spirituality and a dramatically different way of living in relation to the Earth and other living things. He argues that people need to realize that they are part of the Earth and advocates for a form of animism or “life-ism” that has respect for life, respect for the living, and a respect for all forms of life. Such a worldview would fundamentally change how western culture sees the world:

“But this earth of ours is not ugly. Nor this sky, nor this sun, nor this moon. Nor are the animals and the plants ugly. We live in a mysterious, marvelous universe and it offers us a chance to be cured by its loving embrace.”

Columbus and other Cannibals offers an important critique of the insanity of western civilization, while also offering a possible path for renewal. It is the kind of book that has the potential to greatly expand people’s consciousness and foster a great understanding of the world and what needs to be changed. At the same time, it challenges the basic assumptions of western culture and forces the reader to explore the very foundations of society. Readers who stick through the book will be greatly rewarded.

Jack D. Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals, (Seven Stories Press, 2008).

Empire or Humanity? What the Classroom Didn’t Teach Me about the American Empire

Recently, a new cartoon based on the life of radical historian Howard Zinn and his understanding of the United States as empire was released. The cartoon gives an excellent overview of the United States as an imperial power, confronting the realities of US foreign policy and the myth that the United States acts as a benevolent super power.

Recently, a new cartoon based on the life of radical historian Howard Zinn and his understanding of the United States as empire was released. The cartoon gives an excellent overview of the United States as an imperial power, confronting the realities of US foreign policy and the myth that the United States acts as a benevolent super power:

Film: The Canary Effect next Wednesday

Next week, Mediamouse.org is co-sponsoring the film “THE CANARY EFFECT” with the Bloom Collective. The film explores the genocide of Native Americans and the ongoing effects of colonialism.

June 25 – 8pm


115 S Division

$2 Suggested Donation

THE CANARY EFFECT is an eye opening documentary uncovering the hidden

genocide and continuing struggle of the American Indian way.

The film is sponsored by The Bloom Collective and Mediamouse.org


Secret Plan to Keep Iraq under US Control Revealed

Mediamouse.org is reprinting this article from The Independent because it ffers critical information both on how the United States is seeking to maintain its occupation of Iraq and how the United States seeks to deter democracy abroad. reover, its an important reminder that the United States’ occupation of Iraq will not be ended by either of the major party candidates for president.

Mediamouse.org is reprinting this article by Patrick Cockburn of The Independent because it offers critical information both on how the United States is seeking to maintain its occupation of Iraq and how the United States seeks to deter democracy abroad. Moreover, its an important reminder that the United States’ occupation of Iraq will not be ended by either of the major party candidates for president.

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

The timing of the agreement would also boost the Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq – a victory that he says Mr Obama would throw away by a premature military withdrawal.

America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military “surge” began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.

The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty,” said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: “This is just a tactical subterfuge.” Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its “war on terror” in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called “strategic alliance” without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create “a permanent occupation”. He added: “The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.”

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing.

The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being fought between Iran and the United States over who should be more influential in Iraq.

Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence by a show of defiance now. The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2003, he forced the US to agree to a referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.

The US is adamantly against the new security agreement being put to a referendum in Iraq, suspecting that it would be voted down. The influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his followers to demonstrate every Friday against the impending agreement on the grounds that it compromises Iraqi independence.

The Iraqi government wants to delay the actual signing of the agreement but the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney has been trying to force it through. The US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the accord.

The signature of a security agreement, and a parallel deal providing a legal basis for keeping US troops in Iraq, is unlikely to be accepted by most Iraqis. But the Kurds, who make up a fifth of the population, will probably favour a continuing American presence, as will Sunni Arab political leaders who want US forces to dilute the power of the Shia. The Sunni Arab community, which has broadly supported a guerrilla war against US occupation, is likely to be split.

The Cold War and the New Imperialism

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

If one is trying to wrap their mind around all of the current global conflicts in the world, particularly where the United States is involved, you can go to several go websites for a good analysis. If you are interested in finding out what the US policy towards Venezuela is you’ll find great information at Venezuela Analysis. For those who are looking for current information on Israel/Palestine that doesn’t give you a governmental perspective, then visit to Electronic Intifada. If you are trying to get the perspective of those who live in Afghanistan regarding their endurance of the 7-year US occupation, a great source is the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA). For those interested in a broader understanding of US foreign policy, an excellent source is Foreign Policy in Focus. However, in order to come to terms with current US foreign policy one needs to have some historical context. The Cold War and the New Imperialism: A Global History, 1945-2005 is a good place to start for those wanting to put current policy into perspective.

Henry Heller, a professor of history at the University of Manitoba, has written an excellent overview of US foreign policy since World War II with an emphasis on the Cold War. This book is broken up into eight sections, beginning with the end of World War II and its aftermath. Heller makes a compelling argument that the US position after WWII was one of containment, particularly of left and Communist elements. This position of containment would explain why the US in many cases throughout Europe assisted in putting fascist groups back into power, particularly at the local level. The author does a wonderful job of demonstrating how this policy of containment is what led to the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.

The second and third section of the book takes a close look at the period of de-colonization globally and how the US made a concerted effort to enlarge its sphere of influence. The US directly intervened in places such as Guatemala and Iran by overthrowing democratically elected governments, while seeking to position themselves in Africa and Southeast Asia as countries moved toward liberation from European rule. At the same time the USSR was dealing with a post-Stalin era and trying to reform its government and expand its global influence as well. Heller demonstrates that the only real confrontation between the two super-powers was how they competed for building global allies, particularly in developing countries.

In the fourth chapter of the book, the author takes a look at liberation movements globally, particularly in Latin America with the influence that the Cuban revolution had on the entire region. The Cuban revolution is what really drove the Kennedy administration’s desire to shift tactics in Latin America with the introduction of policies and agencies like the Agency for International Development (USAID), the Peace Corps, and the Alliance for Progress. These policies were not terribly successful by themselves, but when used in conjunction with military campaigns such as the use of proxy forces or direct intervention, the policies which began under Kennedy have continued to influence US policy makers ever since.

On the other side of the globe, US tactics were much more traditional with direct intervention in Southeast Asia during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Eisenhower administrations. What is generally referred to as the Vietnam War, was actually a US war against Southeast Asia since it included the US bombing of Cambodia and military operations which were being conducted out of Laos. Heller does a good job of framing this regional war within the larger Cold War context. As the US was becoming mired in Southeast Asia, revolutionary movements were emerging in other developing countries and to some extent in Europe and the US as more and more people were challenging traditional power structures. However, in this portion of the text the author does not give enough credit to Third World movements for their influence on the left in Europe and the United States.

In chapter six, the author looks at the shift from revolution to Neo-liberalism, particularly during the Reagan and Thatcher years. This shift was in part due to an increase in military spending but also because of a greater emphasis on pushing economic policies which drove many countries into debt. It was during the 1980s that the influence of international lending institutions and foreign investors began to push for structural adjustment policies designed to open Third World markets and impose a policy of privatization in countries that had just a decade early flirted with revolution. Nicaragua was a good example of where the Sandinista revolution of 1979 was squashed by a US proxy war and its economy devastated by an embargo and diversion of resources from development to military spending. The Sandinistas lost the election in 1990 and the new government, which was backed by the US, embraced the Neo-liberal plan imposed by Washington. Nicaragua went from being a country of hope to a country of child prostitution and poverty.

The book concludes by looking at the disintegration of the Soviet Union and what factors contributed to it and how that set the stage for US global dominance. Heller provides a good overview of the Clinton years and how they set the stage for the Bush administration and its policies. This is important in that the Clinton years are usually overlooked as the first full administration in the post Cold War era and why the US government could get away with military campaigns in Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and boost military spending overall, with major arms sales to countries such as Turkey and Colombia. The Cold War and the New Imperialism is a very useful resource for those who are not only trying to have some context for US policy abroad, but can also be a useful guide in determining which direction the policy might take with the next administration.

Henry Heller, The Cold War and the New Imperialism: A Global History, 1945-2005, (Monthly Review Press, 2006).

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The New Liberal Menace in America

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

At first glance, the title of this new book by Guerrilla News Network founder Stephen Marshall, looks like another rightwing rant against liberals. Even using the graphic images of a donkey and elephant could lead one to believe this is a Republicans vs. Democrats book that is trying to tap into the 2008 election book market. However, you’d be terribly wrong on both accounts. Marshall’s book is an important contribution for those serious about wanting to analyze the contemporary political camp of those who refer to themselves as liberals.

I have friends outside the US who ask me, “How the hell do the American people put up with what the US does around the world?” There are numerous contributing factors to our “inactivity,” but the main reason is that those who call themselves liberals allow it to happen. In some ways, this is exactly what Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The New Liberal Menace in America is all about. Marshall begins his book with a critique of the liberal intelligentsia, particularly those who used to be radicals, but now stump for empire. Marshall discusses Thomas Friedman, the New York Times writer who has done more than most to wed US military expansion to US corporate markets. Friedman’s most famous comment on this relationship is “the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist…McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

The mentality that Friedman articulates here is quite liberal or in economic terms neoliberal. The New York Times is considered a liberal newspaper and Friedman is seen as a liberal in the media world, despite the fact that he stumps for Empire. The difference between the liberalism of Friedman and the current Neo-cons in the White House is merely a difference in tactics.

In addition to Friedman, the author looks at liberal scholars such as Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman, Todd Gitlin, and Christopher Hitchens. The sections dealing with Gitlin and Hitchens are particularly interesting since Marshall was able to interview both of them. Gitlin, a former president of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s became a staunch defender of empire in the 1990s by supporting the US interventions in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan. Hitchens has been even more rabid in his defense of US imperialism, even defending the current campaign in Iraq with Marshall recounting for readers a debate between Hitchens and British antiwar MP George Galloway on the US occupation of Iraq.

There is one chapter of the book that discusses the US bombing of Kosovo and how that war was framed as a form of humanitarian intervention. In fact, as Marshall points out, all of the major US military actions of the Clinton administration were marketed as a form of humanitarian intervention – Somalia, Haiti, Serbia, Kosovo, and even the US-led economic sanctions on Iraq. What the liberal establishment in the US advocated and still advocates is a tactically different type of intervention. Marshall says that the liberal establishment calls for multilateralism and the appearance of exhausting all means of diplomacy first. The ultimate goal is to expand and control markets, what is often referred to as globalization, but what the liberal establishment calls neo-liberalism. The author cites Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity as saying of the neo-liberal project:

“It’s basically economic colonialism. No one use the colonialism word, but instead of just taking over countries, we have a better way. We just do in and have free markets. Whether we are trying to sell our products to their citizens or mine their resources, we need to be in that country for some reason and therefore we’re going to talk about free markets and free trade. But what’s really going on is we want our countries to get rich in your country.”

In the last section of the book, Marshall takes a closer look at the role the Democratic Party has played in recent decades within the liberal establishment. The author interviews several political strategists, but more importantly looks at the history of people like Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Marshall also provides readers with some background on the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a group that for all practical purposes runs the Democratic Party. To shed light on the politics of the DLC the author provides excerpts memos from the 2004 election. DLC leaders Al Fromm and Bruce Reed state in a memo entitled The Real Soul of the Democratic Party, “the great myth of the current Howard Dean cycle is the misguided notion that the hopes and dreams of activists represent the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.” The DLC used this memo and others to solicit funds to help defeat Dean in the Democratic Primaries.

Another example of the influence the DLC is the backing that the DLC gave to Senator Joe Lieberman in his bid for re-election in 2006. Lieberman lost the primary, but won the general election as an “Independent,” mostly because of the support of the DLC. In May of 2006, DLC leader Marshall Wittman told the Los Angeles Times that Lieberman’s primary “is a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party because it will have repercussions for the 2008 presidential campaign and whether centrists will feel comfortable within the Democratic Party.” One of the main financial backers of Lieberman’s campaign was Barack Obama’s political action committee. Thus, the timing and scope of Marshall’s book can be an important tool in sifting through all the populist and progressive rhetoric of the 2008 election.

Stephen Marshall, Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The New Liberal Menace in America, (Disinformation, 2007).

Iraq Study Group Supports ongoing Occupation of Iraq and United States Imperialism

The Iraq Study Group released its much anticipated report yesterday and while the report was touted as having a “new strategy” for Iraq, it supports the ongoing occupation of Iraq with only small changes in how United States troops are deployed and the involvement of other countries in diplomatic efforts. Rather than presenting a fundamentally different strategy, the report seeks to build a stronger bipartisan support for the occupation and United States imperialism.

The Iraq Study Group–a body chaired by longtime Bush family friend James A Baker–released its much talked about recommendations for United States policy in Iraq. While the group’s potential findings were the subject of considerable media attention over the last few months, the final report made only minor calls for change in the United States’ Iraq policy. The 142-page report detailed 79 recommendations for Iraq policy that contain provisions suggesting how the United States should confer with Iraq’s neighbors, how United States troops should be utilized, folding the Iraqi police and border security agencies into the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and calling for the United States to make some effort to address the Palestine-Israel conflict. However, while the report’s numerous recommendations would make some changes to Iraq policy, much of the report provides justifications for an ongoing occupation and tends to focus more on building a “bipartisan” support for the occupation than on coming up with fresh policy in Iraq. Perhaps the only exception is in calling for the United States to enter into diplomacy with countries previously identified as being part of an “Axis of Evil” by the Bush administration. In the report’s opening letter from its two co-chairs, James A. Baker and Lee H. Hamilton, the authors describe how the United States citizenry has become “dissatisfied” with “the state of our political debate regarding Iraq,” and offer the report as “a better way forward” to “give Iraq an opportunity for a better future, combat terrorism, stabilize a critical region of the world, and protect America’s credibility, interests, and values.”

The report begins by giving a fairly obvious description of the situation in Iraq, calling the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating” and describing the Iraqi government as being on the brink of collapse. The report cites the fact that 1.6 million Iraqis have been displaced internally and that 1.8 million have left the country due to “sectarian violence,” while also explaining how the United States military is under significant strain due to a longer than expected war. The report explains that the United States government “still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of militias” and explains that the United States’ intelligence gathering apparatus is in considerable need of improvement. According to the report, Congress has appropriated almost $2 billion this year to protect troops against improvised explosive devices, but has made no comparable investment in “trying to understand the people who fabricate, plant, and explode those devices.” This is not terribly surprising, especially given that the United States embassy only has 33 out of 1,000 employees with Arabic language skills, and of those 33, only 6 are at the “level of fluency.” The report also explains that in attempting to downplay violence in the country, the United States has underreported insurgent attacks to conform to policy goals. The report does make brief mention of the fact that reconstruction has not been managed well and calls for additional money to be used on “high impact” projects to win the support of Iraqis, in addition to calling for the United States to hold meetings with all sectarian entities with the exception of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

While the report rejected the simple Bush administration logic of “stay the course” and asserts that there is no military action that the United States can take to “bring about success in Iraq,” it failed to call for a fundamentally different policy and advocates for the continued occupation of Iraq with a shift in military tactics and increased foreign diplomacy. The report declares that there is “too much at stake” for an immediate United States withdrawal and instead recommended shifting United States troop deployments towards training and advising Iraqi forces while maintaining “rapid response” units to combat “terrorism” in the country. Under the plan, United States forces would be embedded in Iraqi units while weapons would be provided to Iraqis through the Foreign Military Sales program. The report calls for all US combat units in Iraq not necessary for force protection to be removed from Iraq by 2008. Moreover, once the United States goes through with the recommendations in the report for removing combat brigades, it would “maintain a considerable military presence in the region, with our still significant force in Iraq and with our powerful air, ground, and naval deployments in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar, as well as an increased presence in Afghanistan,” suggesting that the United States is still planning for a long-term military presence in the country. The report also makes no mention of closing recently constructed military bases in Iraq.

This is no real surprise, given that the report is written both as a justification for the ongoing occupation of Iraq and the continuation of United States imperialism. The report repeatedly refers to the interests of the United States as being the penultimate concern in Iraq and the greater Middle East. This imperial arrogance is further seen in its failing to take seriously the demands of Iraqis calling for the United States to leave the country immediately as well as the report’s lack of focus on the terrible costs paid by Iraqi civilians for United States policy. While quick to point out “sectarian violence” as a source of instability and civilian casualties (“sectarian violence causes the largest number of civilian casualties”), there is no mention of the estimated 600,000 civilian casualties from the United States invasion and occupation, nor is the occupation put into the context of being a 16-year war on Iraq through both military and economic means. Widely circulated numbers estimate that 500,000 Iraqi children died prematurely due to the devastation of economic sanctions imposed by the United States in the 1990s while as many as 300,000 Iraqis were killed in the Gulf War.

Longtime proponents of United States imperialism, compiled the report itself, including James A. Baker, a former Secretary of State in the administration of George H.W. Bush and a Senior Counsel with the Carlye Group, a well-connected group of former government officials that has invested heavily in military contractors and has an economic stake in maintaining an imperialist foreign policy. Among those consulted by the report, a considerable number were former government officials including Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Douglas Feith, and others who were either involved in varying capacities in military actions against Iraq or in previous imperialist military endeavors such as Vietnam. There were also several military officials consulted along with multiple representatives from the RAND Corporation, a think-tank firmly entrenched in the military industrial complex. Journalists, including neoconservative thinker William Kristol and Thomas Friedman, who support the war and played a role in misleading the public about the reasons for the war were interviewed. Consultants also came from large US corporations including Bechtel, CitiGroup, and PFC Energy, in addition to a small number coming from groups that advocated in favor of military action before the war, including the American Enterprise Institute. Moreover, the report only consulted with 39 Iraqis out of a total 171 individuals interviewed, showing once again that the report was written from a perspective uncritical of United States imperialism and supporting the notion that the United States–rather than the Iraqi people–knows what is best for Iraq.

History Not Taught is History Forgot: Columbus' Legacy of Genocide

In remembrance of the millions of indigenous people slaughtered in the 500 years since the beginning of the colonization of the land that has come to be known as the Americas, Media Mouse presents a history of this conquest by author and activist Ward Churchill.

In remembrance of the millions of indigenous people slaughtered in the 500 years since the beginning of the colonization of the land that has come to be known as the Americas, Media Mouse presents this excerpt from Ward Churchill’s book Indians are Us.

Columbus and the Beginning of Genocide in the “New World” It has been contended by those who would celebrate Columbus that accusations concerning his perpetration of genocide are distortive “revisions” of history. Whatever the process unleashed by his “discovery” of the “New World,” it is said, the discoverer himself cannot be blamed. Whatever his defects and offenses, they are surpassed by the luster of his achievements; however “tragic” or “unfortunate” certain dimensions of his legacy may be, they are more than offset by the benefits even for the victims of the resulting blossoming of a “superior civilization” in the Americas. Essentially the same arguments might be advanced with regard to Adolf Hitler: Hitler caused the Volkswagen to be created, after all, and the autobahn. His leadership of Germany led to jet propulsion, significant advances in rocket telemetry, laid the foundation for genetic engineering. Why not celebrate his bona fide accomplishments on behalf of humanity rather than “dwelling” so persistently on the genocidal by-products of his policies?

To be fair, Columbus was never a head of state. Comparisons of him to Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler, rather than Hitler, are therefore more accurate and appropriate. It is time to delve into the substance of the defendants’ assertion that Columbus and Himmler, Nazi Lebensraumpolitik (conquest of “living space” in eastern Europe) and the “settlement of the New World” bear more than casual resemblance to one another. This has nothing to do with the Columbian “discovery,” not that this in itself is completely irrelevant. Columbus did not sally forth upon the Atlantic for reasons of “neutral science” or altruism. He went, as his own diaries, reports, and letters make clear, fully expecting to encounter wealth belonging to others. It was his stated purpose to seize this wealth, by whatever means necessary and available, in order to enrich both his sponsors and himself. Plainly, he pre-figured, both in design and by intent, what came next. To this extent, he not only symbolizes the process of conquest and genocide which eventually consumed the indigenous peoples of America, but bears the personal responsibility of having participated in it. Still, if this were all there was to it, the defendants would be inclined to dismiss him as a mere thug along the lines of Al Capone rather than viewing him as a counterpart to Himmler.

The 1492 “voyage of discovery” is, however, hardly all that is at issue. In 1493 Columbus returned with an invasion force of seventeen ships, appointed at his own request by the Spanish Crown to install himself as “viceroy and governor of [the Caribbean islands] and the mainland” of America, a position he held until 1500. Setting up shop on the large island he called Espa–ola (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he promptly instituted policies of slavery (encomiendo) and systematic extermination against the native Taino population. Columbus’s programs reduced Taino numbers from as many as eight million at the outset of his regime to about three million in 1496. Perhaps 100,000 were left by the time of the governor’s departure. His policies, however, remained, with the result that by 1514 the Spanish census of the island showed barely 22,000 Indians remaining alive. In 1542, only two hundred were recorded. Thereafter, they were considered extinct, as were Indians throughout the Caribbean Basin, an aggregate population which totaled more than fifteen million at the point of first contact with the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, as Columbus was known.

This, to be sure, constitutes an attrition of population in real numbers every bit as great as the toll of twelve to fifteen million about half of them Jewish most commonly attributed to Himmler’s slaughter mills. Moreover, the proportion of indigenous Caribbean population destroyed by the Spanish in a single generation is, no matter how the figures are twisted, far greater than the seventy-five percent of European Jews usually said to have been exterminated by the Nazis. Worst of all, these data apply only to the Caribbean Basin; the process of genocide in the Americas was only just beginning at the point such statistics become operant, not ending, as they did upon the fall of the Third Reich. All told, it is probable that more than one hundred million native people were “eliminated” in the course of Europe’s ongoing “civilization” of the Western Hemisphere.

It has long been asserted by “responsible scholars” that this decimation of American Indians which accompanied the European invasion resulted primarily from disease rather than direct killing or conscious policy. There is a certain truth to this, although starvation may have proven just as lethal in the end. It must be borne in mind when considering such facts that a considerable portion of those who perished in the Nazi death camps died, not as the victims of bullets and gas, but from starvation, as well as epidemics of typhus, dysentery, and the like. Their keepers, who could not be said to have killed these people directly, were nonetheless found to have been culpable in their deaths by way of deliberately imposing the conditions which led to the proliferation of starvation and disease among them. Certainly, the same can be said of Columbus’s regime, under which the original residents were, as a first order of business, permanently dispossessed of their abundant cultivated fields while being converted into chattel, ultimately to be worked to death for the wealth and “glory” of Spain.

Nor should more direct means of extermination be relegated to incidental status. As the matter is put by Kirkpatrick Sale in his recent book, Conquest of Paradise,

The tribute system, instituted by the Governor sometime in 1495, was a simple and brutal way of fulfilling the Spanish lust for gold while acknowledging the Spanish distaste for labor. Every Taino over the age of fourteen had to supply the rulers with a hawk’s bell of gold every three months (or in gold-deficient areas, twenty-five pounds of spun cotton); those who did were given a token to wear around their necks as proof that they had made their payment; those who did not were, as [Columbus’s brother, Fernando] says discreetly “punished”-by having their hands cut off, as [the priest, BartolomŽ de] las Casas says less discreetly, and left to bleed to death.

It is entirely likely that upwards of 10,000 Indians were killed in this fashion alone, on Espa–ola alone, as a matter of policy, during Columbus’s tenure as governor. Las Casas’ Brev’sima relaci—n, among other contemporaneous sources, is also replete with accounts of Spanish colonists (hidalgos) hanging Tainos en masse, roasting them on spits or burning them at the stake (often a dozen or more at a time), hacking their children into pieces to be used as dog feed and so forth, all of it to instill in the natives a “proper attitude of respect” toward their Spanish “superiors.”

[The Spaniards] made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow; or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mother’s breast by their feet and dashed their heads against the rocks…They spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords.

No SS trooper could be expected to comport himself with a more unrelenting viciousness. And there is more. All of this was coupled to wholesale and persistent massacres:

A Spaniard…suddenly drew his sword. Then the whole hundred drew theirs and began to rip open the bellies, to cut and kill [a group of Tainos assembled for this purpose] men, women, children and old folk, all of whom were seated, off guard and frightened…And within two credos, not a man of them there remains alive. The Spaniards enter the large house nearby, for this was happening at its door, and in the same way, with cuts and stabs, began to kill as many as were found there, so that a stream of blood was running, as if a great number of cows had perished.

Elsewhere, las Casas went on to recount how in this time, the greatest outrages and slaughterings of people were perpetrated, whole villages being depopulated…The Indians saw that without any offense on their part they were despoiled of their kingdoms, their lands and liberties and of their lives, their wives, and homes. As they saw themselves each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards, crushed to earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten and torn by dogs, many buried alive and suffering all kinds of exquisite tortures… [many surrendered to their fate, while the survivors] fled to the mountains [to starve].

Such descriptions correspond almost perfectly to those of systematic Nazi atrocities in the western USSR offered by William Shirer in Chapter 27 of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. But, unlike the Nazi extermination campaigns of World War II the Columbian butchery on Espa–ola continued until there were no Tainos left to butcher.

Evolution of the Columbian Legacy

Nor was this by any means the end of it. The genocidal model for conquest and colonization established by Columbus was to a large extent replicated by others such as Cortez (in Mexico) a Pizarro (in Peru) during the following half-century. During the same period, expeditions such as those of Ponce de Leon in 1513, Coronado in 1540, and de Soto during the same year were launched with an eye towards effecting the same pattern on the North American continent proper. In the latter sphere the Spanish example was followed and in certain ways intensified by the British, beginning at Roanoake in 1607 and Plymouth in 1620. Overall the process of English colonization along the Atlantic Coast was marked by a series of massacres of native people as relentless and devastating as any perpetrated by the Spaniards. One of the best known illustrations drawn from among hundreds was the slaughter of some 800 Pequots at present-day Mystic, Connecticut, on the night of May 26, 1637.

During the latter portion of the seventeenth century, and throughout most of the eighteenth, Great Britain battled France for colonial primacy in North America. The resulting sequence of four “French and Indian Wars” greatly accelerated the liquidation of indigenous people as far west as the Ohio River Valley. During the last of these, concluded in 1763 history’s first documentable case of biological warfare occurred against Pontiac’s Algonkian Confederacy, a powerful military alliance aligned with the French.

Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of the British forces…wrote in a postscript of a letter to Bouquet [a subordinate] that smallpox be sent among the disaffected tribes. Bouquet replied, also in a postscript, “I will try to [contaminate] them…with some blankets that may fall into their hands, and take care not to get the disease myself.”…To Bouquet’s postscript Amherst replied, “You will do well to [infect] the Indians by means of blankets as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” On June 24, Captain Ecuyer, of the Royal Americans, noted in his journal: “…we gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the smallpox hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.”

It did. Over the next few months, the disease spread like wildfire among the Mingo, Delaware, Shawnee, and other Ohio River nations, killing perhaps 100,000 people. The example of Amherst’s action does much to dispel the myth that the post contact attrition of Indian people through disease; introduced by Europeans was necessarily unintentional and unavoidable. There are a number earlier instances in which native people felt disease, had been deliberately inculcated among them. For example, the so-called “King Philip’s War” of 1675-76 was fought largely because the Wampanoag and Narragansett nations believed English traders had consciously contaminated certain of their villages with smallpox. Such tactics were also continued by the United States after the American Revolution. At Fort Clark on the upper Missouri River, for instance, the U.S. Army distributed smallpox-laden blankets as gifts among the Mandan. The blankets had been gathered from a military infirmary in St. Louis where troops infected with the disease were quarantined. Although the medical practice of the day required the precise opposite procedure, army doctors ordered the Mandans to disperse once they exhibited symptoms of infection. The result was a pandemic among the Plains Indian nations who claimed at least 125,000 lives, and may have reached a toll several times that number.

Contemporaneously with the events at Fort Clark, the U.S. was also engaged in a policy of wholesale “removal” of indigenous nations east of the Mississippi River, “clearing” the land of its native population so that it might be “settled” by “racially superior” Anglo-Saxon “pioneers.” This resulted in a series of extended forced marches some more than a thousand miles in length in which entire peoples were walked at bayonet-point to locations west of the Mississippi. Rations and medical attention were poor, shelter at times all but nonexistent. Attrition among the victims was correspondingly high. As many as fifty-five percent of all Cherokees, for example, are known to have died during or as an immediate result of that people’s “Trail of Tears.” The Creeks and Seminoles also lost about half their existing populations as a direct consequence of being “removed.” It was the example of nineteenth-century U.S. Indian Removal policy upon which Adolf Hitler relied for a practical model when articulating and implementing his Lebensraumpolitik during the 1930s and ’40s.

By the 1850s, U.S. policymakers had adopted a popular philosophy called “Manifest Destiny” by which they imagined themselves enjoying a divinely ordained right to possess all native property, including everything west of the Mississippi. This was coupled to what has been termed a “rhetoric of extermination” by which governmental and corporate leaders sought to shape public sentiment to embrace the eradication of American Indians. The professed goal of this physical reduction of “inferior” indigenous populations was to open up land for “superior” Euro-American “pioneers.” One outcome of this dual articulation was a series of general massacres perpetrated by the United States military.

A bare sampling of some of the worst must include the 1854 massacre of perhaps 150 Lakotas at Blue River (Nebraska), the 1863 Bear River (Idaho) Massacre of some 500 Western Shoshones, the 1864 Sand Creek (Colorado) Massacre of as many as 250 Cheyennes and Arapahoes, the 1868 massacre of another 300 Cheyennes at the Washita River (Oklahoma), the 1875 massacre of about 75 Cheyennes along the Sappa Creek (Kansas), the 1878 massacre of still another 100 Cheyennes at Camp Robinson (Nebraska), and the 1890 massacre of more than 300 Lakotas at Wounded Knee (South Dakota).

Related phenomena included the army’s internment of the bulk of all Navajos for four years (1864-68) under abysmal conditions at the Bosque Redondo, during which upwards of a third of the population of this nation is known to have perished of starvation and disease. Even worse in some ways was the unleashing of Euro-American civilians to kill Indians at whim, and sometimes for profit. In Texas, for example, an official bounty on native scalps any native scalps was maintained until well into the 1870s. The result was that the indigenous population of this state, once the densest in all of North America, had been reduced to near zero by 1880. As it has been put elsewhere, “The facts of history are plain: Most Texas Indians were exterminated or brought to the brink of oblivion by [civilians] who often had no more regard for the life of an Indian than they had for that of a dog, sometimes less.” Similarly, in California, “the enormous decrease [in indigenous population] from about a quarter-million [in 1800] to less than 20,000 is due chiefly to the cruelties and wholesale massacres perpetrated by miners and early settlers.”

Much of the killing in California and southern Oregon Territory resulted, directly and indirectly, from the discovery of gold in 1849 and the subsequent influx of miners and settlers. Newspaper accounts document the atrocities, as do oral histories of the California Indians today. It was not uncommon for small groups or villages to be attacked by immigrants…and virtually wiped out overnight.

All told, the North American Indian population within the area of the forty-eight contiguous states of the United States, an aggregate group which had probably numbered in excess of twelve million in the year 1500, was reduced by official estimates to barely more than 237,000 four centuries later. This vast genocide historically paralleled in its magnitude and degree only by that which occurred in the Caribbean Basin is the most sustained on record. Corresponding almost perfectly with this upper-ninetieth-percentile erosion of indigenous population by 1900 was the expropriation of about 97.5 percent of native land by 1920. The situation in Canada was/is entirely comparable. Plainly, the Nazi-esque dynamics set in motion by Columbus in 1492 continued, and were not ultimately consummated until the present century.

The Columbian Legacy in the United States

While it is arguable that the worst of the genocidal programs directed against Native North America had ended by the twentieth century, it seems undeniable that several continue into the present. One obvious illustration is the massive compulsory transfer of American Indian children from their families, communities, and societies to Euro-American families and institutions, a policy which is quite blatant in its disregard for Article l(e) of the 1948 Convention. Effected through such mechanisms as the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding school system, and a pervasive policy of placing Indian children for adoption (including “blind” adoption) with non-Indians, such circumstances have been visited upon more than three-quarters of indigenous youth in some generations after 1900. The stated goal of such policies has been to bring about the “assimilation” of native people into the value orientations and belief system of their conquerors. Rephrased, the objective has been to bring about the disappearance of indigenous societies as such, a patent violation of the terms, provisions, and intent of the Genocide Convention (Article I(c)).

An even clearer example is a program of involuntary sterilization of American Indian women by the BIA’s Indian Health Service (IHS) during the 1970s. The federal government announced that the program had been terminated, and acknowledged having performed several thousand such sterilizations. Independent researchers have concluded that as many as forty-two percent of all native women of childbearing age in the United States had been sterilized by that point. That the program represents a rather stark¾and very recent¾violation of Article I(d) of the 1948 Convention seems beyond all reasonable doubt.

More broadly, implications of genocide are quite apparent in the federal government’s self-assigned exercise of “plenary power” and concomitant “trust” prerogatives over the residual Indian land base pursuant to the Lonewolf v. Hitchcock case (187 U.S. 553(1903)). This has worked, with rather predictable results, to systematically deny native people the benefit of their remaining material assets. At present, the approximately 1.6 million Indians recognized by the government as residing within the U.S., when divided into the fifty-million-odd acres nominally reserved for their use and occupancy, remain the continent’s largest landholders on a per capita basis. Moreover, the reservation lands have proven to be extraordinarily resource rich, holding an estimated two-thirds of all U.S. “domestic” uranium reserves, about a quarter of the readily accessible low-sulfur coal, as much as a fifth of the oil and natural gas, as well as substantial deposits of copper, iron, gold, and zeolites. By any rational definition, the U.S. Indian population should thus be one of the wealthiest if not the richest population sectors in North America.

Instead, by the federal government’s own statistics, they comprise far and away the poorest. As of 1980, American Indians experienced, by a decided margin, the lowest annual and lifetime incomes on a per capita basis of any ethnic or racial group on the continent. Correlated to this are all the standard indices of extreme poverty: the highest rates of infant mortality, death by exposure and malnutrition, incidence of tuberculosis and other plague disease. Indians experience the highest level of unemployment, year after year, and the lowest level of educational attainment. The overall quality of life is so dismal that alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse are endemic; the rate of teen suicide is also several times that of the nation as a whole. The average life expectancy of a reservation-based Native American male is less than 45 years; that of a reservation-based female less than three years longer.

It’s not that reservation resources are not being exploited, or profits accrued. To the contrary, virtually all uranium mining and milling occurred on or immediately adjacent to reservation land during the life of the Atomic Energy Commission’s ore-buying program, 1952-81. The largest remaining enclave of traditional Indians in North America is currently undergoing forced relocation in order that coal may be mined on the Navajo Reservation. Alaska native peoples are being converted into landless “village corporations” in order that the oil under their territories can be tapped; and so on. Rather, the BIA has utilized its plenary and trust capacities to negotiate contracts with major mining corporations “in behalf of” its “Indian wards” which pay pennies on the dollar of the conventional mineral royalty rates. Further, the BIA has typically exempted such corporations from an obligation to reclaim whatever reservation lands have been mined, or even to perform basic environmental cleanup of nuclear and other forms of waste. One outcome has been that the National Institute for Science has recommended that the two locales within the U.S. most heavily populated by native people¾the Four Corners Region and the Black Hills Region be designated as “National Sacrifice Areas.” Indians have responded that this would mean their being converted into “national sacrifice peoples”

Even such seemingly innocuous federal policies as those concerning Indian identification criteria carry with them an evident genocidal potential. In clinging insistently to a variation of a eugenics formulation dubbed “blood-quantum” ushered in by the 1887 General Allotment Act, while implementing such policies as the Federal Indian Relocation Program (1956-1982), the government has set the stage for a “statistical extermination” of the indigenous population within its borders. As the noted western historian, Patricia Nelson Limerick, has observed: “Set the blood-quantum at one-quarter, hold to it as a rigid definition of Indians, let intermarriage proceed…and eventually Indians will be defined out of existence. When that happens, the federal government will finally be freed from its persistent ‘Indian problem’.” Ultimately, there is precious little difference, other than matters of style, between this and what was once called the “Final Solution of the Jewish Problem.”

The above article is an excerpt of a legal brief from Ward Churchill’s book Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America (Common Courage Press, 1994). The defendants in the brief are leaders of the American Indian Movement, who were charged for stopping a Columbus Day celebratory parade near the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver, Colorado on October 12, 1991.

Andrea Smith Discusses Sexual Violence and Activism

On Tuesday, native author and activist Andrea Smith delivered a lecture focusing on the role of sexual violence in conquest and its relationship to American indian genocide. Smith also offered a number of suggestions for organizing and building a more effective and diverse anti-violence movement.

Tuesday night at the Wealthy Theatre, Native American author, activist, and scholar Andrea Smith delivered a lecture titled “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.” Smith, who has been a Nobel peace prize nominee and is currently a member of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, discussed sexual violence in native communities and sexual violence’s role in colonialism. Smith said that she came to this insight based on three realizations in her life—that as long as native peoples were destroying themselves through violence within their own communities that they did not need to be so focused on external threats, that there was a striking silence in native communities about rape, and that efforts by rape victims to seek support outside native communities was often met by opposition from other natives who opposed the “airing of the community’s dirty laundry” outside the native community.

Beginning with the argument that sexual violence is an inherent part of the colonial project, Smith gave several examples of how colonial thought and theory has been intertwined with an ideology of sexual domination. She discussed how the United States viewed the bodies of natives as “impure” and therefore “rapable” and explained how the mutilation of women’s genitals and public display of them at the Sand Creek Massacre was a manifestation of the sexual violence inherent in colonialism. It was also argued that patriarchy has played a key role in convincing people of the necessity of domination and that projecting a patriarchal view of natives onto them was necessary in order for the colonial project to succeed. Cultural appropriation, an ongoing aspect of colonialism, was also discussed as a form of sexual violence as it is an act of control and intervention that has its roots in the rhetoric of sexual domination, while it is manifest in its most crude way in books on “Native American sexuality” and spirituality. Environmental racism, with its notion that certain communities are “fit” for the dumping of nuclear and toxic waste (as they are impure or dirty) is a form of sexual violence, especially when it is considered that the first effects of environmental racism often manifest themselves in women’s reproductive organs. Similarly, the forced sterilization that targeted native women’s reproductive systems, both by the government and medical professionals as well as the various population control movements that arose out of the environmental movements in the United States, is also a form of sexual violence.

For Smith, violence, and specifically sexual violence, is an inherent part of a society centered on a patriarchal state and the struggle against colonization has to be a central part of organizing against domestic violence. Smith described how it is impossible for the state to be a solution to a problem that exists because of it and that laws created by the state to criminalize domestic violence more often put victims in jail than perpetrators. The criminalization approach is therefore flawed given that the approach exists in a society where fifty percent of men have indicated that they would rape if they could get away with it. Since nobody would seriously consider putting fifty percent of men in prison, the criminalization approach, based on the idea that there are a few isolated perpetrators of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. The idea of “restorative justice” for sexual violence is also flawed as it does not address state violence at the same time nor does it work in a sexist society that often sides with the perpatrator.

Smith, who in her opening remarks stressed that she did not want to be seen simply as one with a unique analysis but rather as a part of a collective struggle, also shared several strategies and tactics for organizing. She stressed that it is important that those working for social change in the United States work to build truly mass movements, citing an example of people she met in Central America who discussed how they repeatedly mobilized 10 million people over a series of weeks while activists in the United States typically muster no more than 200 people and spend time walking in circles where they were able to get permits from the state to “exercise their right to free speech.” Central to creating a mass movement is a need to rethink the nonprofit industrial complex, as Smith discussed how foundation funding limits mobilizing by making organizations reliant on foundations rather than their base for support which discourages organizing to mobilize constituents and instead creates a movement that is accountable to foundations rather than working directly for those in need of a particular service. Instead, Smith argued that independent movements outside of the non-profit sector are needed and that non-profits need to be made accountable to an independent movement. Similarly, Smith argued that while it is important to have people “working from the inside,” such efforts will have little success if they are not backed by a strong independent movement outside of the institution.

In order to build such a movement, Smith said that it is important for resistance to develop not just in isolated communities but that it needs to be spread into other communities in order to effectively fight empire and capitalism. To spread such ideas, movements in the United States need to look at how they organize and need to think of ways to organize so that people can participate in social movements when they have time rather than demanding the extreme self-sacrifice that often characterizes activism in the United States. Smith also argued that movements need to develop more creative tactics such as effective use of the arts, street theatre, and music, and use those tactics for outreach rather than always relying on the overly intellectual arguments and the notion that people can be convinced of a particular position simply from a deluge of facts. Such approaches are necessary because they can be used to convince privileged people that they are not benefiting from their privilege in the long-term and that by shedding short-term gains they could achieve substantial improvements in their lives as it is real only a few people that have the majority of wealth and power in the United States.