The recent revelations of the horrors of Haditha (six months after the atrocity–way to go, in-bed media!) have produced the same eerie wall of silence from the politicians and pundits that we witnessed during the unmasking of the Abu Graib torture chambers. Plus some murmurs about a few “bad apples” spoiling the system.
So, we can probably anticipate another Abu Graib type resolution of the problem wherein some grunts and noncoms do jail time and an expendable officer gets demoted. We used to say “military justice is to justice as military music is to music,” but that’s another story.
However, before we get to the mock trials and showboat judge advocates, we can look forward to another pointless merry-go-round of political talk shows where the talking-heads-of-television treat politicians and generals like celebrities discussing their diets.
The heads shuffle the blank pages on the desks in front of them and-in sonorous replication of the Larry King school of journalism–toss one softball question after another up to their guests. As the soft balls float in on the target, the guests frown a bit for the camera and then jibber jabber some reassuring statement about war being hard on everyone. Then, like happy game show panelists, all the participants sign off smiling.
Because massacres-acts of indiscriminate murder of non combatant civilians–are as American as baseball and apple pie.
There’s no shame and no outrage over the latest atrocity we’ve unleashed on the world because Americans-God’s new chosen people-know that deep down that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’re entitled. And have been since our Sanctified Declaration of human rights (slaves and women excepted) in 1776, and the promulgation of our Sacred Constitution (slaves and women excepted) by the Holy Men of 1789. We picked up where our English mentors left off as having the inherent right to take whatever we wanted from the rest of the world. One of our early political journals, the Democratic Review, proclaimed our “manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”
And with those marching orders, our army and militia units slaughtered indigenous people from coast to coast all through the nineteenth century at places like Bear River, Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, using the superior firepower provided by the technology of the industrial revolution-endorsed by Providence, no doubt. Burned down a few Chinatowns and suppressed a few slave revolts on the side too, under this white entitlement.
It should be noted that, in weaponry, white America was always a step ahead of its victims, starting with the muzzle loading rifles of the early frontier. By the time the indigenous people had acquired muzzleloaders, the whites had breechloaders. Our soldiers used rapid-firing Hotchkiss guns at Wounded Knee, and in the Philippines they used Gatling guns and the latest bolt action Krag Jorgensen rifles. We claimed to be bringing civilization to the Filipinos, but, on the ground, that mission became popularly known as “civilize ’em with a Krag.” The Filipinos had bolo knives, muzzleloaders and long swords.
No one is completely sure about how many Filipinos we massacred, possibly a half million, maybe more. For example, on the island of Samar, US Army General Jacob Smith gave these orders to his soldiers: “I want no prisoners. I want you to kill and burnI want all people killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.” When asked what the age limit was, the general replied “ten years and older.” Approximately 10,000 men women and children were killed on Samar alone.
There was considerable domestic opposition to these overseas imperial massacres, most notably from the dean of American literature, Mark Twain, who opposed the war and chided that when it was time for Americans to create a new flag for their new province of the Philippines, “we can just have our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones” in commemoration of the torture and murder.
Unfortunately, it was not Twain’s but Senator Albert Beveridge’s opinion which held sway. Beveridge stated in 1900 that, regardless of whatever bloody effort it took to conquer the Philippines, “we will not renounce our part of the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world.”
After World War I, while white America was running out of opportunities to massacre people over seas (except in Nicaragua and Haiti), and the indigenous peoples were safely contained on their miserable reservations, Black America was developing economic power and clamoring for the same political freedom the whites had, like voting. So–fired up by the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and following its own hallowed traditions of regular pogroms against non-white American communities -white America massacred hundreds of Black people in cities like East St. Louis, Rosewood, and Tulsa.
The overwhelming consistency in this one-hundred-and-fifty-plus-year policy of white Americans massacring people of color led inexorably to one of the most atrocious events in world history, the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We knew then and we know now that-contrary to the claims in our cartoon history books–we did not have to commit the Hiroshima and Nagasaki massacres to end the war with Japan. In July, 1945–a month before the weapons of mass destruction were dropped–General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, told Secretary of State Stimson that Japan was already defeated and that “dropping the atomic bomb was completely unnecessary.” Similarly, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific, General Douglas McArthur, saw “no military justification for dropping the bomb.” In total disregard of the opinions of its commanders and military intelligence, the leadership in Washington went ahead and ordered the bombings.
In the runup to this unique nuclear event, the American Air Force conducted a fire bombing campaign in early 1945 against at least 63 Japanese cities, literally incinerating hundreds of thousands of civilians with napalm, a “jellied gasoline” developed by Harvard chemists. Once again, we note a superior technological advantage produced by Yankee ingenuity which also helped us burn most of Korea to the ground during the Korean War and was still effective years later in Henry Kissinger’s carpet bombing of Cambodia, in which an estimated 600,000 Cambodians were killed. Napalm was also used widely–along with the chemical weapon Agent Orange–against Vietnamese civilians.
Since we’ve been quoting generals here, let’s hear from Curtis LeMay,
the former commander of the Strategic Air Command and the 1968 vice presidential candidate on George Wallace’s segregationist ticket. General LeMay is infamous for expressing his desire to bomb Vietnam “back into the Stone Age,” but that’s not the pertinent quote here. Some time after World War II, this architect of the firebombing of Japanese cities admitted, “I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.”
LeMay’s statement goes to the crux of the problem of continuing American massacres. Americans have never really lost a war, so they have never been tried for crimes committed in the conduct of a war. The losers–like the Nazi high command, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein–go on trial for their evil deeds. The winners not only receive a free pass, but they also get to write the history books. And, year in and year out, American students continue to learn that “Americans don’t do massacres,” and therefore, innumerable rationales are invented to explain the continuing destruction of civilian populations throughout our history.
We have this paradox: on one hand, through our holiday parades, movies and cartoon history books, we continue to convince ourselves that we are the Good Guys of History. Consequently and perversely, because we are the Good Guys of History, we are entitled to slaughter whoever we want. This concept is closely linked to white supremacy which is, unfortunately, alive and well. The bottom line of white supremacy is that the lives of people of color are not as valuable as those of white people.
Do you think this an overstatement of American policy? It wasn’t that long ago that John McCain, a bona fide 2008 presidential candidate, stated, “I hated the gooks. I’ll hate them as long as I live.” He has defended his racist comments based on his animosity toward his captors as a prisoner of war, but has not copped to the fact that before he was captured, his bombing missions were part of Operation Rolling Thunder, which killed a million Vietnamese civilians. Obviously, the “gooks” in those villages didn’t count.
Last month, Fox News, a white supremacist TV outlet and one of the major administration mouthpieces for the war on the Iraqi people, was unusually clear and honest about its priorities. On the May 11 edition of The Big Story, host John Gibson noted with alarm that “half of the kids in this country under five years old are minorities. By far, the greatest number are Hispanics. Why is that? Well, Hispanics are having more kids than others. Notably, the ones Hispanics call ‘gabachos’-white people-are having fewer.” To counteract this obviously unhappy development, Gibson exhorted his white audience to “do your duty. Make more babies.”
Pogo said “we have met the enemy, and he is us.” Until we Americans are able to face up to the truth of white supremacy and its impact in our history and on our government’s policies, we will continue to experience the tragedies of Haditha, Sand Creek, Rosewood, Samar, Hiroshima, No Gun Ri, and My Lai.
DON SANTINA is a cultural historian who writes on music, film, sports, politics and history. He received a 2005 Superior Scribing award for his article “Reparations for the Blues.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.