Un-American? I can’t help but smirk every time I see this quote from Mr. Rumsfeld describing the abuse and murder of Iraqi prisoners in US-run prisons throughout Iraq. While these photographs are certainly (as Bush says) “disgusting,” they not only do more to represent the US military’s standard operating procedure, they also pale when compared to other episodes in US history. I’m not trying to be cynical or anti-American here when I take a look at history for other un-American activities by our armed forces and its intelligence cohorts. If one is to list just a few well-verified incidents of other murderous and abusive actions by US troops, it makes sense to begin with the decades long war on indigenous Americans-a war that was intended from the beginning to destroy the indigenous nations and their peoples.
1776: Six thousand US troops razed more than 20 Cherokee towns, “destroying crops, inflicting serious casualties on noncombatants and sweeping much of the population into Spanish Florida.
1864: U.S. territorial military commander Colonel John Chivington ordered the brutal murder of as many as 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians at Sand Creek (Colorado). The Indians were told that they had been given sanctuary at Sand Creek. More than half of the victims were women and children.
1868: Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh U.S. Cavalry attacked a noncombatant Cheyenne village camped along the Washita River in Oklahoma. This resulted in the murders of more than 100 Cheyenne, including women and children and the killing of 875 ponies.
1890/1899: The U.S. Seventh Cavalry massacred 350 unarmed Lakota – mainly women, children, and old men at Wounded Knee creek in South Dakota.
Then, of course, there is the historical reality of chattel slavery in the United States. This holocaust not only enslaved millions of people stolen from their homelands in Africa, it also caused the deaths of untold millions during their transport in inhumane conditions across the Atlantic. In addition, thousands more died due to mistreatment and neglect by their white owners. On top of these deaths, there are untold massacres and individual murders of rebellious and “uppity” slaves by US troops and other militias.
After the Civil War, which was fought between slave-owning and non-slave-owning states over a variety of economic and cultural differences, with the question of slavery being one of those differences, the US economic system began to demand another type of expansion in order to grow and survive. This meant that US troops would soon be called into duty overseas, as the US began its empire-building phase. The first major stop on this journey would be Cuba and the Phillipines.
1898-1905: The U.S. Army seized the Philippines from Spain, crushing a Filipino independence movement and killing as many as 600,000 natives of the newly US-acquired Philippine islands.
1915-1934: Haiti is occupied by the U.S. Marine Corps, which dissolves that country’s National Assembly, restores virtual slavery, turns the economy over to U.S. corporations, and massacres an untold number of Haitian peasants.
Meanwhile, the US invaded and occupied various other southern neighbors, among them Nicaragua and the newly formed Panama. In the process, thousands of locals were uprooted from their homes, murdered and raped, and subjected to daily humiliation and poverty.
Korean War, U.S. soldiers machine-gunned hundreds of helpless civilians, under the railway bridge at No Gun Ri. At least 300 civilians were killed in this attack. Another 100 died in a preceding air attack. This incident was but one of many similar incidents in the murderous war on the Korean people-a war where over 2 million Koreans died, mostly as the result of US bombardment by a variety of weapons, the most notorious among them being napalm (a jellied gasoline that burns the skin off its victims). Those Korean prisoners who survived the US prison camps in Korea tell countless tales of torture and psychological abuse.
On March 16, 1968, Charlie Company, of the US Eleventh Light Infantry Brigade, was ordered into combat by Captain Ernest Medina. The 150 soldiers, led by Lt. William Calley, stormed into the hamlet, and murdered more than 500 civilians — unarmed women, children, and old men. They had not encountered a single enemy soldier, and only three weapons were confiscated.
Just as was the case in Korea, this incident is but one of many similar incidents that occurred during America’s war on Vietnam. This war finally ended in 1975 with a Vietnamese victory. However, it is estimated that over 2 million Vietnamese were killed during the course of the war; most of them killed by the US military and its counterintelligence counterparts. One of the most well-known and most heinous programs developed in Vietnam to destroy the Vietnamese insurgency was known as Operation Phoenix. This program involved the torture of prisoners, their murder, and the displacement of whole populations into internment camps. In addition, many civilians were also tortured and murdered in the hope that they would provide information about the insurgency.
1989- The United States launched an assault on Panama, ostensibly to rid the country of its leader, Manuel Noriega. Noriega’s primary crime seems to have been refusing to go along with US plans for Nicaragua and El Salvador. These plans included the subversion of the anti-imperialist government of Nicaragua via the use of mercenary forces contracted by the CIA and the destruction of the popular insurgency in El Salvador against the US-sponsored government. These operations involved the use of procedures on insurgent forces that were developed in Vietnam: torture, murder, and economic subversion. After the assault on Panama is over, world news media concludes that over 2000 civilian residents of Panama City were murdered in the US attack. The US denies the carnage.
1991: US forces killed as many as 250,000 Iraqis, including large numbers of civilians during “Operation Dessert Storm.” Iraqi conscripts were buried alive in the desert by US tank forces and US military planes and helicopters killed thousands of retreating military men after the war was declared over by the US in what became known as the “Highway of Death.”
This litany is not all-inclusive, nor is it meant to be. My intention in relaying this list is to graphically illustrate one of the fundamental pillars of our lives in the United States. We are not where we are economically and culturally by the grace of any god, as some of our fellow residents pretend. No, we are here because of our military might and its license to abuse, torture, and kill. I wish that it weren’t so, but it is.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is being republished by Verso.
He can be reached at: email@example.com