“We on the right side of freedom’s divide have an obligation to help those unlucky enough to be born on the wrong side.”
Condoleezza Rice, 2/9/05
David Stannard, in his thoroughly documented work on genocides, American Holocaust: the Conquest of the New World (1992), introduces his 5th Chapter with a passage from Toni Morrison’s Beloved: “Whitefolks were still on the looseWhile whole towns wiped clean of Negroes; eighty seven lynchings in one year alone in Kentucky; four colored schools burned to the ground; grown men whipped like children; children whipped like adults; black women raped by the crew; property taken, necks broken (and as Stamp Paid, a black man, came to his flatbottomed boat he saw) a red ribbon knotted around a curl of wet wooly hair, clinging still to its bit of scalp.” He pulled the ribbon loose and let the scalp sink in the river as he asked to no one in particular and the world in general, “What are these people? You tell me, Jesus. What are they?”
What fuels slavery, ethnic cleansing, land theft, and genocide? What enables a mind to justify imprisoning another without cause, without trial, without rights of due process and assumption of innocence until proven guilty? What enables a soul to accept dominance over another, to degrade and humiliate other humans, to participate in or acquiesce to genocide?
Let me mutter a response to Stamp Paid’s question to Jesus since He seems silent on the subject. I’ll posit two trends of thought that seem to reside at the root of Western culture, trends that swirl like infected eddies beneath the surface of our ideals allowing for slavery, ethnic erasure of populations, land theft and genocide. The first blossoms when men, driven by a commitment to an ideology they accept as absolute, as those who zealously and fanatically proclaim they alone know God’s word, rise to power and force their beliefs on others, knowing in their hearts that they are chosen to lead because of their innate superiority, men like Ferdinand, the King of Spain, Columbus and the Pope who guide their legions of friars and conquistadors to impose their divinely ordained right on others. The second follows from the first, when men, who accept unquestioningly their superiority over others deemed by them to be sub-human or inferior in intellect or will, move to positions of power not driven by an ideology, but willingly use those so possessed, to impose their covetous desire to acquire land, natural resources, or labor regardless of the consequences.
Elie Wiesel said of the Nazi perpetrators of the holocaust: “All the killers were Christians The Nazi system was the consequence of a movement of ideas and followed a strict logic; it did not arise in a void but had its roots deep in a tradition that prophesied it, prepared for it, and brought it to maturity. That tradition was inseparable from the past of Christian, civilized Europe.” Wiesel’s observation implies that the Nazi holocaust uitlized the belief structures in the church and the faithful’s acceptance of them as articulated by their leaders to carry forward the devastation of the Jews. Both trends were in operation as the Nazi leadership imposed its will on the German citizenry while enunciating the innate superiority of the German nation.
Condoleezza Rice noted in her Paris speech “history does not just happen, it is made. History is made by men and women of conviction, of commitment and of courage, who will not let their dreams be denied.” Once again the past of Christian, civilized Europe is on the march; its dreams of God’s mission to bring His gift of “freedom” to all the peoples of the world will be executed whether or not they are the dreams of all the peoples who will accept them or die. What mind decides, “We are on the right side of freedom’s divide”? What mind declares it will impose its righteousness on all the peoples of the earth? What soul will succumb to the will of its leaders to slay the infidels who deny the “right” as determined by an elite group of fanatics driven by a self-determined superiority and a zeal to impose their beliefs on all?
Let us note that the Secretary of State did not say history is made by those seeking oil to ensure its military dominance, nor did she say that history is made by the nation that supports America’s and Israel’s interests in the mid-East; she said, most emphatically, what the Zionists of the Christian right claim to be “right,” that God gave this land to a Christian nation, to be a “City on a Hill,” a beacon to all the world that they might see what God expected His creatures to do on His behalf, and in that covenant, the responsibility to bring that gift to all the world.
Imbedded in that belief resides the spirit of superiority of God’s chosen, an awareness that they alone possess the truth, and, consequently, are the most civilized creatures on the planet. Indeed, refusal by a people to accept conversion to Christianity became a mark of irrationality and subhuman status. Now, this most Christian of nations brings God’s gift to the nations of the world judging them fit to join the “advanced, civilized, and developed” nations of the West if they adopt willingly or by force America’s form of Democracy, a form dominated by Corporate power and control, where “advanced and developed” means in reality new markets for Capitalistism and new resources to fuel its continued growth. Strange how the “bread of heaven” has metamorphized into a euphemistic “freedom” for all if they become cooperative consumers for extended Christian Capitalism. Both trends that give rise to genocide swirl beneath the rhetoric of “freedom and liberty,” a virtual whirlpool of Zionist Christian fanaticism and neo-con covetousness for land and resources, and will erupt in a tsunami of devastation for those who oppose the will of this administration.
But even more insidious is the unquestioned acceptance of their right to impose their dreams on all, by force if necessary, since they, like their Christian ancestors, accept Augustine’s view, “Any violation of God’s laws could be seen as an injustice warranting unlimited violent punishment. Further, the guilt of the enemy merited punishment of the enemy population without regard to the distinction between soldiers and civilians. Motivated by righteous wrath, the just warriors could kill with impunity, even those who were morally innocent.” (Frederick H. Russell, American Holocaust.).
The “dreams” of the Spanish priests who came with the Crown’s forces, the Conquistadors (who had their own dreams), believed, as do our current crop of TV evangelists and right wing Baptists, that God was about to fulfill the prophecies of the Book of Revelation. Columbus had calculated the end time as 150 years away and the Franciscans understood their founder to be an angel of Revelation, Charles V to be the Anti-Christ, and the Reformation wars of nothern Europe the catastrophes predicted in that book. Since they were obviously born on the right side of the divide, they had a responsibility to bring God’s word to the infidels. This they did with a vengeance, including the Miranda Law of the day, the requerimiento, that forced the natives to abandon their beliefs and tribes and accept the authority of the Papacy and the Crown. Should they refuse, perhaps because it was read to them in Spanish, they were tortured and killed.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. We need only turn on our television set to the indominable Hal Lindsey to hear the most recent predictions of God’s ultimate twisting of events to force the prophecies of Revelation into reality. When do we bring this man and all his ilk to court to stand trial for inciting to riot and crimes against humanity? What right does he have, whatever side of the great divide he claims to be on, to intimidate the faithful with eternal damnation if they do not press forward with Lindsey’s war against the Muslims?
Genocides and holocausts arise out of unchecked zeal, unquestioned duty, and silent acquiescence. They are fueled by blind belief, personal fear, and a sense of superiority that gives license to slaughter. Both the United States under Bush and its clone under Sharon exemplify the presence of racism resulting in genocidal devastation as they impose their respective wills on Iraqis and Palestinians.
William Cook is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His new book, Psalms for the 21st Century, was published by Mellen Press. He can be reached at: cookb@ULV.EDU