Uncle Sam was Born Lethal

For revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

– Frederick Douglass, July 4, 1852

One of the occupational and intellectual hazards of being a historian is that current events often seem far less new to oneself than they do to others. Recently a leftish liberal friend told me that the United States under the Donald Trump had “become a lethal society.” My friend cited the neofascist Trump’s: horrible family separations and concentration camps on the border; openly white-nationalist assaults on four progressive nonwhite and female Congresswomen; real and threatened roundups of undocumented immigrants; fascist-style and hate-filled “Make America Great Again” rallies; encouragement of white supremacist terrorism; alliance with right-wing evangelical Christian fascists.

Another friend received news of the recent mass-shooting of mostly Latinx Wal-Mart shoppers by racist and nativist white male Trump fan in El Paso, Texas by denouncing Trump’s “fascism” and linking to an essay he’d published about the white-nationalist president’s racist and authoritarian behavior.

I agree with my friends about the lethality of the contemporary United States. I largely share their description of Trump and much of his base as fascist or at least fascistic. “Durable fascist tendencies,” the prolific left political scientist Carl Boggs warns in his important book Fascism Old New: American Politics at the Crossroads, “run deep throughout present-day American society…In the absence of powerful counterforces and a thriving democracy, …those tendencies could morph over into something more expansive and menacing – and Donald Trump could serve, wittingly or unwittingly, as a great historical accelerator.”

It’s nothing to sneeze at. The institutional forms and technologies of militarized surveillance and policing and thought control that are available to fascism-prone elites in the United States are daunting indeed. The United States enjoys historically unprecedented global power on a scale the fascist Third Reich’s leaders dreamed of achieving but never remotely approached.

Still, I sometimes worry about reaching beyond American history to label horrors of its own making. Longstanding foundational aristo-republican U.S. white-settler nationalism and its state-military-capitalist, imperialist, and corporatist evolution has long been disastrous and dystopian enough without “charismatic” dictators, Baretta-toting squadristis, single party states, the suspension of elections, the end of bourgeois law, jackbooted brown-shirts, death squads, state propaganda, political executions, shuttered media, and the rest of the full-on fascist nightmare.

Savagely and Mercilessly Exterminating “the Common Enemy of the Country”

How new is racist lethality and white nationalism to the U.S.-American experience, after all? The white European “settlers” of North America wiped out millions of the continent’s original inhabitants. They populated their southern colonies and states with Black slaves they mercilessly tortured, raped, maimed, and murdered in forced labor camps that provided the critical raw material for the rise of American capitalism long before Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler rose to power.

Trump’s favorite president prior to himself, Andrew Jackson, first rose to prominence in the early 19th century as the head of the Tennessee militia who exterminated the Creek Nation by, in the words of the Yale historian Greg Grandin, “burning houses, killing warriors, mutilating their bodies (he ordered his men to cut off the noses of the Indian corpses, so as to more easily tally the dead), and enslaving their women and children…[thereby] previewing the misery he would later, as president, nationalize” (with the 1830 Indian Removal Act). Jackson later ordered the “Trail of Tears,” a giant and sadistic death march that finalized the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee Nation from the nation’s Southeastern seaboard.

Consider the conclusion of the one-sided “Black Hawk War” – just one of many examples of a ferocious white history of North American extermination. The Sauk and Fox Indians lost 600 people, including hundreds of woman and children. Just 70 soldiers and settlers were killed. The conflict culminated in the so-called Battle of Bad Axe, on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River, near the present-day community of Victory in southwest Wisconsin. Better described as a massacre than a battle, this American military triumph involved U.S. General Henry Atkinson killing every Indian who tried to run for cover or flee across the Mississippi River. On August 1, 1832, Black Hawk’s band reached the Mississippi at its confluence with the Bad Axe River. What followed was an atrocity, committed despite the Indians’ repeated attempts at surrender:

“While the Sauk refugees were preparing rafts and canoes,” writes historian Kerry Trask, “the armed [U.S.] steamboat Warrior arrived, whereupon Black Hawk tried to negotiate with its troops under a flag of truce. The Americans opened fire, killing twenty-three warriors.”

“As we neared them,” one US officer who “served” in the U.S. assault recalled, “they raised a white flag and endeavored to decoy us, but we were a little too old for them.”

Hundreds of Sauk and Fox men, women and children were shot, clubbed, and bayoneted to death. US soldiers scalped most of the dead. They cut long strips of flesh from dead and wounded Indians for use as razor strops. The slaughter was supported by cannon and rifle fire from the aptly named US military ship Warrior, which picked off tribal members swimming for their lives. The United States suffered 5 dead and 19 wounded in the “Battle of Bad Axe.”

In a popular account of the “battle” published two years later, US Major John Allen Wakefield offered some interesting reflections. “It was a horrid sight,” Wakefield wrote:

to witness little children, wounded and suffering the most excruciating pain, although they were of the savage enemy, and the common enemy of the country…It was enough to make the heart of the most hardened being on earth to ache. [But, Wakefield wrote]…I must confess, that it filled my heart with gratitude and joy, to think that I had been instrumental, with many others, in delivering my country of those merciless savages, and restoring those [invading white] people again to their peaceful homes and firesides”.

“Our Great Father,” a government agent told the Sauk Indians, “will forbear no longer. He has tried to reclaim [Native Americans] and they grow worse. He is resolved to sweep them from the face of the earth. … If they cannot be made good they must be killed.”

By Wakefield’s account, the US troops at Bad Axe “shrank not from their duty. They all joined in the work of death for death it was. We were by this time fast getting rid of those demons in human shape… the Ruler of the Universe, He who takes vengeance on the guilty, did not design those guilty wretches to escape His vengeance…”

Such sentiments were common among American army and militia members, who reveled in the mass murder of indigenous people.

This was just one of many such genocidal moments in the rapacious white settlement of North America – the abject annihilation and ethnic cleansing of native people. This terrible history is pock-marked with such horrid and genocidal atrocities as the razing of 20 Cherokee towns in 1776, the forced removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole nations to Oklahoma (1828-1840), the savage clearance of the Sauk nation from their ancestral home in northern Illinois (1832-1833), the massacre of at least 75 Pomo Indians trapped on an island in the Russian River area of California (1850), the mass hanging of 38 Lakotas in 1862, the brutal murder of as many as 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado (1864)), the slaughter of more than 100 Cheyenne, including women and children,  by Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh U.S. Cavalry at Washita (in Oklahoma in 1868), the openly extermination-ist clearance of Lakota Sioux from the Black Hills (1876-1877), and the Seventh Cavalry’s  massacre of 350 unarmed Lakota at Wounded Knee (1890). The nation’s first president, George Washington, was known to the Iroquois as “Town Destroyer.”

“Teutonic Conquest”

This genocidal history received hearty approval in future US President and Spanish-American War instigator Theodore Roosevelt’s four-volume 1899 study The Winning of the West.  Penned by a heralded symbol of “the American soul,” The Winning of the West was a white-supremacist paean to Anglo-America’s near- eradication of North America’s original civilizations.  “During the past three centuries,” Roosevelt opined, “the spread of English-speaking people over the world’s waste spaces” (meaning spaces not occupied by “progressive” capitalist-developmental Caucasians) was a great and welcome “feat of power,” for which the “English-speaking race” could justly feel proud. No “feat” of “race power” was more laudable for the “Bull Moose” than “the vast movement by which this continent [North America] was conquered and peopled” – the “crowning and greatest achievement of a series of mighty movements.”  The Anglo-American pioneers conducted what Roosevelt called the noble civilizing “work” of “overcoming the original inhabitants.” The North American settlers performed the most heroic “work” of all, for they “confronted the most formidable savage foes ever encountered by colonists of European stock.”

No 20th century fascist had anything on Roosevelt’s Winning of the West when it came to the heralding of white supremacist violence. ”The settler and pioneer,” the future war president wrote, “have at bottom had justice on their side; this great continent could not have been kept as nothing but a game preserve for squalid savages….The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman.”

Roosevelt considered the destruction of the continent’s original civilizations to be part of Teutonic Saxons’ long and noble crusade to master inferior races. “Let the sentimentalist say what they will,” Roosevelt wrote, “the man who puts the soil to use must of right dispossess the man who does not,” with “put the soil to use” understood to mean enclosing the earthly commons, fencing it off as private property and exploiting natural resources and human labor power.

“American and Indian, Boer and Zulu, Cossack and Tartar, New Zealander and Maori, – in each case the victor,” The Winning of the West instructed, “horrible though many of his deeds are, has laid deep the foundations for the future greatness of a mighty people.”

“It is of incalculable importance,” Roosevelt opined, “that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races…The world would have halted had it not been for the Teutonic conquests in alien lands; but the victories of Moslem over Christian have always proved a curse in the end. Nothing but sheer evil has come from the victories of Turk and Tartar.”

Destroying the Indian “savages,” Roosevelt claimed, was white North America’s third greatest work to date, exceeded only by “the preservation of the Union itself and the emancipation of the blacks” – this as African-Americans suffered under terrorist Jim Crow regime in the former slave states and faced countless indignities throughout the U.S. (more on that below).

Raping and Screaming Like Fiends

The “wining of the West” also included savage racist and sexist war crimes against Mexico, which lost the land that makes up current day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah to the United States in one sided 1846-48 Mexican American War. Ulysses S. Grant would later call it “one of the most unjust [wars] ever won by a stronger against a weaker nation.” He would have known a thing or two about that since he was an officer in the U.S- white-Protestant assault on brown-skinned and Catholic Mexico, which had committed the unpardonable sin of abolishing slavery years before. Here is Grandin’s account of just two of many atrocities that U.S.-American soldiers committed during that conflict, long before the No Gun Ris, Operation Tiger Forces, My Lais, Bola Boluks, and Abu Ghraibs of future centuries:

“On February 9, 1847, for one example, a member of the Arkansas volunteer regiment raped a Mexican woman near the regiment’s camp at Agua Nueva, in the state of Coahuila, and Mexicans retaliated by killing a U.S. soldier. Afterwards, over one hundred Arkansans cornered a group of war refugees in a cave. According to one eyewitness, the volunteers screamed ‘like fiends’ as they raped and slaughtered their victims, with women and children ‘shrieking for mercy.’ By the time the killing had ended, scores of Mexicans lay dead or dying on the cave floor, which was covered with clotted blood. Many of the dead had been scalped (more than a few volunteers in the U.S. Army had, before the war, made their living on the borderlands scalping Apaches for bounty money, or ‘barbering,’ as one infamous Texas scalp-hunter called his trade.)”

The march of “Saxon civilization” in its glorious campaign against “savagery” was something to behold.

Because God: “The Sword of the Lord”

Evangelical Christian barbarism wedded to lethal American white nationalism? American evangelicals have been terrorizing their fellow Americans and others around the world for as long as the United States has existed – and indeed before that. The historically astute left political scientist Carl Boggs reminds us that contemporary American right-wing Christianity is “an extension of traditional, homespun, God-fearing Protestantism that historically intersected with racist, colonial, and exceptionalist currents of Manifest Destiny.” Further:

“We know that slavery, along with every step toward extermination of Native Americans, was justified and even celebrated as part of God’s will. Did not President William McKinley, as the U.S. was preparing for a war in the Philippines that would slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians, inform Americans that this was a Christian duty?…Replete with images of great violence, hatred, and repression, [the Christians’ ancient holy text] the Bible in fact justifies all forms of mass murder, torture, warfare, and slavery. We have a text, as Michael Parenti notes, that takes enormous gratification in the mass slaughter of humans and animals, with few limits. In the Bible we find executions for taking God’s name in vain, death to practitioners of ‘idolatry,’ and horrific punishment for adulterers not to mention genocidal military attacks on heathen nations and culture. Such fundamentalist views, resonant of the Dark Ages, Parenti correctly likens to a modern fascist outlook.”

Seventeen years ago, the evangelical Christian George W. Bush, neo-fascistically turbo-charged by the Reichstag Fire-like gift of the Islamist 9/11 attacks, concluded that God had told him to invade Mesopotamia. The invasion led to more than a million Iraqi deaths accompanied by countless explicitly racist and often evangelically infused acts of torture and murder committed by feral U.S. military forces.

The use of messianic Christianity to justify murdering and maiming people of color en-masse goes back to the original British invasion of what would be called New England. The U.S. Declaration of Independence’s description of North America’s original inhabitants as “merciless Indian savages” anticipated Orwell by projecting onto Native Americans the genocidal practices that white “settlers” exhibited from day one. Consider the celebrated left historian Eric Foner’s textbook description of the grisly and religiously infused Mystic River Massacre of 1637:

“A force of Connecticut and Massachusetts soldiers, augmented by Narraganset allies, surrounded the main Pequot fortified village at Mystic and set it ablaze, killing those who tried to escape.  Over 500 men, women, and children lost their lives in the massacre.  By the end of the war [of New England settlers on the once powerful Pequot tribe], most of the Pequots had been exterminated or sold into Caribbean slavery. The treat that restored peace decreed that their name should be wiped from the historical record.”

“…The colonists’ ferocity shocked their Indian allies, who considered European military practices barbaric.  A few Puritans agreed. ‘It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire,’ the Pilgrim leaders William Bradford wrote of the raid on Mystic.  But to most Puritans, including Bradford, the defeat of a ‘barbarous nation’ by ‘the sword of the Lord’ offered further proof that they were on a sacred mission and that Indians were unworthy of sharing New England with the visible saints of the church.”

The Puritans wept with joy and thanked “God” for helping them flame-broil Indian women and children who stood on ground they would turn into a heavenly “City on the Hill.”

After a cruel campaign of ethnic cleansing (at the conclusion of “King Phillips’ War”) in which the white (un-) settlers pushed most of the last Indians they had not killed out of New England in the mid-1670s, “the image of Indians as bloodthirsty savages,” Foner writes, “became firmly entrenched in the New England mind.”

“America” (the U.S.) was born lethal, merciless, and savage.

“Crimes Which Would Disgrace a Nation of Savages”

Even worse than killing Native-Americans en-masse was the torture and exploitation of millions upon of millions of African-Americans as slaves – the highly profitable and hidden secret to America’s rise to prominence in the world of nations by the mid-19th century. Racialized chattel slavery found regular Christian “justification” on the part of the white “settlers.” From the nearly 800,000 words that make up the Bible, American Christian slaveholders, particularly loved two texts. They adored this from Genesis IX of the period’s King James Bible, the one they cited to show how Jehovah had made Blacks lifelong servants in the image of “Ham”;

“And the sons of Noah that went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole world overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years.”

It was a ridiculous passage for pro-slavery polemicists to cite. How was it a transgression to see Noah drunk and naked? Why did Noah curse Canaan rather than Ham? Why would Ham have been of a different color than his brothers? But so what? In its popularized southern version, labelled “The Curse of Ham,” Canaan was deleted, Ham was turned Black, and Ham’s descendants were turned into Africans. Slaver Simon said so!

The Christian slaveowners’ second favorite text came from Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, VI, 5-7:

“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.”

Translation: Black slaves served God and Christ, not white people, by being slaves “with fear and trembling” to white “masters.” These masters tortured slaves to extract the last ounce of profit from them in cotton fields built on blood-soaked land stolen from Native Americans. They stood atop a vicious chattel system whose polemicists justified the regular rape of Black females as a “safety valve” that protected the virtue of white “southern womanhood.”

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass asked in 1852. “A day,” Douglass answered, “that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Further:

“To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour…Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”

Red Hot Iron Brands and Kerosene

Do Americans really need to look overseas or to European-born fascism to learn historical lessons about the horrors of racist barbarism? Consider another among countless horrendous U.S. racist atrocities that occurred on U.S. soil long before Mussolini invented fascism and the demonic Hitler rose to power in the Old World. In 1893, a Black man falsely accused of molesting a white child was burned at the stake before 10,000 cheering white people in Paris, Texas. A New York reporter described the Hellish sight:

“The negro was placed upon a carnival float in mockery of a king upon his throne, and, followed by an immense crowd, was escorted through the city so that all might see the…inhuman monster…Smith was placed upon a scaffold, six feet square and ten feet high, securely bound, within the view of all beholders. Here the victim was tortured for fifty minutes by red-hot iron brands thrust against his quivering body. Commencing at the feet the brands were placed against him inch by inch until they were thrust against the face. Then, being apparently dead, kerosene was poured upon him, cottonseed hulls placed beneath him and set on fire. In less time than it takes to relate it, the tortured man was wafted beyond the grave to another fire, hotter and more terrible than the one just experienced.”

After this grisly spectacle, many crowd members took away pieces of “Smith’s” body as souvenirs.

Many such grisly occurrences took place across the U.S. South during the late and early 20th centuries – a time when images of Blacks who were lynched and burned to death before large and smiling white crowds were popular on American postcards. Between 1889 and 1918, 3,224 Americans were lynched within the United States, mostly in the South. Seventy-eight percent of these atrocity victims were black. In most cases the victims were hung or burned to death by mobs of soulful white “vigilantes,” commonly in front of thousands of gleeful spectators. Lynching continued in the South through 1968, the year in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was executed in Memphis, Tennessee.

In November 1898, Grandin reports, “thousands of white men” in Wilmington, North Carolina, celebrated news of Lisbon’s surrender to Washington in the Spanish-American War by “stag[ing] a coup against the elected, multi-racial coalition governing [Wilmington]. The white mob, many of them veterans of the Cuban campaign {the U.S. seizure of Cuba from Spain] just returned from the war, killed between sixty and three hundred African Americans, ransacked African American businesses, and set fire to African American homes.”

“Fascism Has Happened Before in America”

Another example of lethal racist (and classist) Americanism took place in the rural Arkansas town of Elaine in September of 1919 when hundreds of Blacks were massacred after Black sharecroppers had tried to organize a union. As Smithsonian.com reported last year:

“The sharecroppers who gathered at a small church in Elaine, Arkansas, in the late hours of September 30, 1919, knew the risk they were taking. Upset about unfair low wages, they enlisted the help of a prominent white attorney from Little Rock, Ulysses Bratton, to come to Elaine to press for a fairer share in the profits of their labor. Each season, landowners came around demanding obscene percentages of the profits, without ever presenting the sharecroppers detailed accounting and trapping them with supposed debts…Aware of the dangers – the atmosphere was tense after racially motivated violence in the area – some of the farmers were armed with rifles…At around 11 p.m. that night, a group of local white men, some of whom may have been affiliated with local law enforcement, fired shots into the church. The shots were returned, and in the chaos, one white man was killed. Word spread rapidly about the death. Rumors arose that the sharecroppers, who had formally joined a union known as the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America (PFHUA) were leading an organized ‘insurrection’ against the white residents of Phillips County…Governor Charles Brough called for 500 soldiers from nearby Camp Pike to, as the Arkansas Democrat reported on Oct 2, ‘round up’ the ‘heavily armed negroes.’ The troops were ‘under order to shoot to kill any negro who refused to surrender immediately.’ They went well beyond that, banding together with local vigilantes and killing at least 200 African-Americans (estimates run much higher but there was never a full accounting). And the killing was indiscriminatemen, women and children unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity were slaughtered.”

These extra-legal and ritualistic executions enforced an American version of something very much like fascism. As Ezekiel Kweku and Jane Coastan noted two months after Trump was inaugurated:

“If full-throated fascism should rise in the United States, it will be an American fascism, animated by American concerns and with antecedents in American history. Fascism has happened before in America…For generations of black Americans, the United States between the end of Reconstruction, around 1876, and the triumphs of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s was a fascist state. Local and federal governments enforced an authoritarian regime that curtailed the movements and advancement of black Americans, and black Americans only. America has been governed by the heavy hand of white nationalism before. The lessons learned by black Americans living under a restrictive and domineering regime a century ago are ones we can take now, too. If we want to know what it looks like when the worst happens, we don’t have to look to the old world; we have a rich history of horror in the new.”

It wasn’t just about the former Confederacy. Mass-murderous white mob violence against Black Americans arose in Chicago, Omaha, East St. Louis, and numerous other northern locations during and after World War One. Racial terrorism, discrimination and apartheid was imposed on ghettoized urban black northerners and the thousands of all-white northern “Sundown Towns” were formed with the threat and reality of violence between 1890 and 1968.

Kweku and Coaston might have added that the United States’ Indian Removal and reservation policies and Jim Crow terror regimes were inspirations and role models for Adolph Hitler and other European fascists, who also admired American mass production methods and the potent means of thought- and feeling-control developed by American advertisers and Hollywood. European fascism was Americanism to no small degree.

Crushing “Anti-American Subversives”

American lethality hasn’t just been about race, of course. Fascism was above all an organized assault on working class resistance and the Left. European fascists could find much to draw models and inspiration in that regard from America, home to the bloodiest industrial relations in the capitalist world in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries – and to a long history of violently repressing working-class activists and radicals. The grisly highlights included the execution of ten Irish-American “Molly Maguire” union militants at the behest of the Pennsylvania employer class on June 21, 1877 (the activists were hanged in two separate prisons surrounded by state militia with fixed bayonets) and the grotesquely inhumane short-rope hanging of four leftist Eight Hour Day activists (the “Haymarket Martyrs”) at the behest of the Chicago bourgeoisie (after a rigged trial followed the legendary merchandiser Marshal Field ordering the Governor of Illinois not to commute the death sentence) on November 11, 1887.

Just a month after the ten Molly Maguires were murdered by the state as punishment for organizing coal miners and railroad workers, the one-sided “Battle of the Viaduct” took place on Halsted Street on the Near Southwest Side of Chicago. Federal troops called in from fighting (slaughtering) Sioux Indians (“red savages”) in the Dakota Territory joined local police and state militia in repressing striking workers (“white savages”). After two days, 30 workers lay dead; the gendarmes experienced no fatalities.

In April of 1914, you can learn from Wikipedia, “The Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel and Iron (CFI) Company guards attacked a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914, with the National Guard using machine guns to fire into the colony. Approximately twenty-one people, including miners’ wives and children, were killed.”

The ruthless massacre was ordered by the legendary American capitalist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the chief owner of the CFI mine.

Three years later came the great “Bisbee Deportation.” Here again one need look no further than good old Wikipedia for a useful introduction:

“The Bisbee Deportation was the illegal kidnapping and deportation of about 1,300 striking mine workers, their supporters, and citizen bystanders by 2,000 members of a deputized posse, who arrested these people beginning on July 12, 1917. The action was orchestrated by Phelps Dodge, the major mining company in the area, which provided lists of workers and others who were to be arrested in Bisbee, Arizona, to the Cochise County sheriff, Harry C. Wheeler. These workers were arrested and held at a local baseball park before being loaded onto cattle cars and deported 200 miles (320 km) to Tres Hermanas in New Mexico. The 16-hour journey was through desert without food and with little water. Once unloaded, the deportees, most without money or transportation, were warned against returning to Bisbee…As Phelps Dodge, in collusion with the sheriff, had closed down access to outside communications, it was some time before the story was reported….no individual, company, or agency was ever convicted in connection with the deportations.”

The end of the “Great War” (during which the eloquent U.S. Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs was held in federal prison for the sin of opposing mass-murderous inter-imperialist slaughter) was followed by the nation’s “First Red Scare.” A massive government and employer class crackdown on the Left including the capture and deportation of hundreds of suspected anarchists and communists. While it called its foreign enemies racist names (see below), lethal American white-nationalism in the opening decades of the last century called its “domestic enemies – labor, farmer, and civil rights organizers, both people of color and their white allies – subversives and anti-American.” (Grandin).

Slaughtering “Niggers,” “Apaches,” and “Gooks” Abroad

As the nineteenth century ended, America’s racist-classist-sexist soul-force was increasingly directed at victims beyond the North American continent.  New predominantly non-white victims were searched out and destroyed overseas, always in the name of the United States’ higher morality and commitment to the benevolent ideals of democracy and rule of law.  Between 1898 and 1905, for example, the U.S. Army, frequently led by “old Indian fighters,” seized the Philippines from its prior colonial master (Spain) and crushed a Filipino independence movement.  The new American Empire’s first overseas counter-insurgency campaign killed perhaps as many as one million in the newly US-acquired Philippine islands.  Few prisoners were taken and the Red Cross reported an extremely high ratio of dead to wounded, indicating a U.S. “determination to kill every native in sight.”

“You never hear of any disturbances in Northern Luzon,” an anonymous U.S. Congressman reported, “because there isn’t anybody there to rebel….The good Lord in heaven only knows the number of Filipinos that were put under ground. Our soldiers took no prisoners, they kept no records; they simply swept the country and wherever and whenever they could get hold of a Filipino they killed him.

Throughout the “pacification” of the Philippines, the United States’ armed forces soulfully referred to the Filipinos as “niggers,” “barbarians,” and “savages.” America’s racist and Social-Darwinist President (1901-08) Theodore Roosevelt vilified Filipino resisters as “Apaches.”  The phrase “gook” made its first appearance as a U.S. military term to describe angry and frightened Asians who inhabit lands invaded by “freedom-loving” Americans when George Custer’s legendary Seventh Cavalry arrived in the Philippines to help suppress “gook Apaches” in 1905.

The hideous term “gook” would figure prominently in the United States’ crucifixion of Southeast Asia, which mercilessly and savagely exterminated as many as 5 million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians between 1962 and 1975. The criminal and unnecessary atom-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were great acts of racially tinged exterminism as well as the first atomic shots in the Cold War.

We can be certain that “the N-word” was used freely by U.S. soldiers when racist U.S. president Woodrow Wilson sent U.S. troops to Black Haiti in 1915. “Wilson‘s troops,” Noam Chomsky has noted, “murdered, destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery and demolished the constitutional system in Haiti.”  These actions followed in accord with Wilson’s Secretary of State Robert Lansing’s belief that “the African races are devoid of any capacity for political organization” and possessed “an inherent tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature.” That was a testament that Hitler certainly would have appreciated. The U.S. military’s murderous, and extremely racially infused “body count in the Caribbean and Pacific was high” during the first four decades of the last century, by Grandin’s account:

“U.S. troops killed about fifteen thousand Haitians…between 1915 and 1935; tens of thousands of Dominicans between 1916 and 1924 fifty thousand Nicaraguans between 1912 and 1933; and thousands upon thousands of Filipinos between 1898 and 1946. Many more hundreds of thousands from these countries died from disease, famine, and exposure….Letters from [U.S.] soldiers, first in the 1898 campaign and then later, in Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, are notably similar, lightheartedly narrating to family and friends how they would shoot ‘niggers,’ lynch ‘niggers,’ release ‘niggers’ into the swamp to die, and use ‘niggers for target practice.’”

How lethally fascistic was that?

The racist American Empire’s racist lethality got worse after it belatedly helped the Soviet Union (the main target of Hitler’s Third Reich) prevail in the great global war against, well, fascism – and then graduated to the status of global hegemon. It is difficult, sometimes, to wrap one’s mind around the extent of the merciless savagery that Superpower Uncle Sam unleashed on the world to advance and maintain its global supremacy. In the early 1950s, the “liberal” Democratic Harry Truman administration responded to an early challenge to U.S. power in Northern Korea with a practically genocidal three-year bombing campaign that was described in soul-numbing terms by the Washington Post years ago:

“The bombing was long, leisurely and merciless, even by the assessment of America’s own leaders. ‘Over a period of three years or so, we killed off—what—20 percent of the population,’ Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984. Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later Secretary of State, said the United States bombed ‘everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.’ After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops … [T]he U.S. dropped 635,000 tons of explosives on North Korea, including 32,557 tons of napalm, an incendiary liquid that can clear forested areas and cause devastating burns to human skin.”

This ferocious bombardment, which killed 2 million or more civilians, began five years after Truman arch-criminally and unnecessarily ordered the atom bombing of hundreds of thousands pf civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to warn the Soviet Union to stay out of Japan and Western Europe.

Indirect Massacre

The merciless savagery of U.S. foreign policy in “America Era” did not always require direct U.S. military intervention. Take Indonesia and Chile, for two examples from the “Golden Age” height of the “American Century.” In Indonesia, the U.S.-backed dictator Suharto killed millions of his subjects, targeting communist sympathizers, ethnic Chinese and alleged leftists. A senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s later described Suharto’s 1965-66 U.S.-assisted coup as s “the model operation” for the U.S.-backed coup that eliminated the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, seven years later. “The CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders,” the officer wrote, “[just like] what happened in Indonesia in 1965.”

As John Pilger noted 10 years ago, “the U.S. embassy in Jakarta supplied Suharto with a ‘zap list’ of Indonesian Communist party members and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. … The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had called ‘the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia.’ ”

“No single American action in the period after 1945,” wrote the historian Gabriel Kolko, “was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia.”

Two years and three months after the Chilean coup, Suharto received a green light from Kissinger and the Gerald Ford White House to invade the small island nation of East Timor. With Washington’s approval and backing, Indonesia carried out genocidal massacres and mass rapes and killed at least 100,000 of the island’s residents.

“Spiritual Death”: From “Great Society” and Vietnam to Mass Incarceration and the Destruction of Iraq and Libya

By that time, Uncle Sam had just finished killing as many as 5 million Southeast Asians over the previous thirteen years in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The slaughter was drastically escalated at the precise moment when the domestic civil rights movement had compelled the liberal “Great Society” Lyndon Johnson administration to expand the welfare state like never before. The enormous taxpayer expense of the “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (as Noam Chomsky aptly described the so-called Vietnam War at the time) meant that Johnson’s much-ballyhooed “war on poverty” at home was stillborn. Beyond murdering millions in Southeast Asia, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted in New York City’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 (one year to the day before his assassination or execution in Memphis, Tennessee), the deadly imperial expenditures crushed “hope for the [U.S.] poor – both black and white.” The anti-poverty program was “broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle plaything of a society gone mad” on a militarism that drew “men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift,” King added, “is approaching spiritual death.”

America has become lethal under Trump? More openly and soul-numbingly racist, nativist, stupid, eco-cidal and sexist in the time of the textbook malignant narcissist and neofascist Trump-Pence-Bannon-Miller-McConnell regime, surely, but not lethal for the first time. Study North American and U.S. history with clear eyes: it’s a record loaded with vicious white-nationalist exterminist and lethal Americanism. Ask older Black Americans about the Jim Crow and “Sundown Town” eras.

Born into a virulently racist society at the tail end of the fading McCarthy era (which absurdly cost my New Dealer grandfather – a future “Vietnam War” enthusiast – a teaching position in the 1950s), I am old enough to harbor early childhood through young-adult memories of Civil Rights activists being murdered in the South, the executions of Malcolm X and King, Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley telling police to “shoot to kill” Black rioters protesting King’s murder, the openly white-supremacist 1968 presidential campaign of George Wallace, the racist 1968 “law and order” presidential campaign of Richard Nixon, the racist Chicago police-state execution of the young Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, the imperial state murders of student protesters at Kent State and Jackson State universities in May of 1970, the beginnings of the racist mass-incarcerationist “War on Drugs” under Nixon, the election of the malevolent racist Ronald Reagan in 1980, and much more terrible to contemplate. I’ve experienced the United States as lethal both domestically and globally lethal from my earliest moments of political consciousness.

Speaking of merciless racist savagery in a time still within the living memory of tens of millions of Americans, consider Grandin’s account of how the mass-murderer and war criminal William Calley became a political folk-hero to Confederate flag-waving southerners while being embraced by Nixon during Tricky Dick’s noxious re-election campaign. As Grandin writes in his recent book The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America (2019):

“The Confederate flag stopped flying as the pennant of reconciliation, the joining of the southern military tradition to northern establishment might to spread Americanism abroad [by the early 1970s]. It now was the banner of those who felt that the establishment had sacrificed that tradition, ‘stabbed it in the back.’ The battle flag became the banner not of of a specific Lost Cause but of all of white supremacy’s lost causes.”

“The working-class Floridian lieutenant William Calley, for instance, the only solider convicted for taking part in the March 1968 My Lai Massacre [one of dozens if not hundreds of village massacres carried out by U.S. imperial troops in Vietnam – P.S.] became the representational bearer of this aggrieved standard. He was popular throughout the country, especially in the South; his supporters rallied under the Confederate Flag and Richard Nixon embraced Calley in his reelection campaign. As a result, the massacre of over five hundred Vietnamese civilians was transformed from a war crime into a cultural wedge issue, used to nationalize southern grievance and weaponize the wartime coarsening of sentiment for electoral advantage. ‘Most people,’ said Nixon of Calley’s actions at My Lai, ‘don’t give a shit whether he killed them or not.’ ‘The villagers got what they deserved,’ agreed Louisiana senator Allen Ellender” (emphasis added).

How fascistic and lethal was that?

Worried about racism in the White House? Consider the following, recently released 1971 telephone exchange between then President Nixon and future president Ronald Reagan insulting African United Nations delegates who defied Washington by voting to recognize the People’s Republic of China:

Reagan: “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did.”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Reagan: “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”

Nixon: laughter.

It is clear from recently released tapes that “Nixon believed in a ‘hierarchy of races’ with white people at the top and people of African and Latin American descent towards the bottom.”

After a brief interlude of Democratic rule (the one-term presidency of the transitional neoliberal Jimmy Carter) produced by Watergate, Reagan doubled down on Nixon’s liberal- and red-baiting and racist “southern strategy” and mass-incarcerationist “war on drugs” and promised (in classic palingenetic fascist-style) national regeneration (a “new morning in America”) to serve two terms of a presidency that justifiably won the title of “friendly fascism” from the political journalist Bertram Gross. Reagan was the standard bearer of a lethal white nationalist and evangelical Americanism as old as the nation’s bloody “settlement.”

The arch-neoliberal de facto Republican presidency of racist mass incarcerator Bill “Three Strikes” Clinton, the vicious war presidencies of the two Bushes and the noxious neoliberal imperialism of Wall Street Barry Obomber (the nations silver-tongued “deporter-in-chief” and wrecker of Libya and Honduras) all followed in the same institutionally and ideologically lethal grooves, just with different styles tailored to different partisan/regional constituencies and funding bases. The sick and neofascistic Trump, whose rallies are reminiscent of Mussolini and Hitler, whose hateful rhetoric triggers lone-wolf white-nationalist jihadists to conduct NRA-outfitted assault-weapon pogroms against people of color, is, like Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and the two Bushes. the product of a longstanding racial barbarism that is (like guns and violence) as American as cherry pie.

Terrible as he is, Trump has yet to order anything on the scale of Bush41’s Operation Desert Storm (1991), Bush 43’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, or Obama’s destruction of Libya (2011). Concerned about racist barbarism? Among the countless episodes of mass-murderous U.S. savagery in the oil-rich Middle East over the last generation, few can match for the barbarous ferocity of the “Highway of Death,” where the “global policeman’s” forces massacred tens of thousands of surrendered Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait on Feb. 26 and 27, 1991. Journalist Joyce Chediac testified that:

U.S. planes trapped the long convoys by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours. ‘It was like shooting fish in a barrel,’ said one U.S. pilot. On the sixty miles of coastal highway, Iraqi military units sit in gruesome repose, scorched skeletons of vehicles and men alike, black and awful under the sun … for 60 miles every vehicle was strafed or bombed, every windshield is shattered, every tank is burned, every truck is riddled with shell fragments. No survivors are known or likely. … ‘Even in Vietnam I didn’t see anything like this. It’s pathetic,’ said Major Bob Nugent, an Army intelligence officer. … U.S. pilots took whatever bombs happened to be close to the flight deck, from cluster bombs to 500-pound bombs. … U.S. forces continued to drop bombs on the convoys until all humans were killed. So many jets swarmed over the inland road that it created an aerial traffic jam, and combat air controllers feared midair collisions. … The victims were not offering resistance. … [I]t was simply a one-sided massacre of tens of thousands of people who had no ability to fight back or defend.

Talk about merciless savagery! The victims’ crime was having been conscripted into an army controlled by a dictator perceived as a threat to U.S. control of Middle Eastern oil. President George H.W. Bush welcomed the so-called Persian Gulf War as an opportunity to demonstrate America’s unrivaled power and new freedom of action in the post-Cold War world, where the Soviet Union could no longer deter Washington. Bush also heralded the “war” (really a one-sided imperial assault) as marking the end of the “Vietnam Syndrome,” the reigning political culture’s curious term for U.S. citizens’ reluctance to commit U.S. troops to murderous imperial mayhem.

As Noam Chomsky observed in 1992, reflecting on U.S. efforts to maximize suffering in Vietnam by blocking economic and humanitarian assistance to the nation it had devastated: “No degree of cruelty is too great for Washington sadists.”

Bush Junior’s invasion killed at least a million Iraqis. In a poignant 2015 memoir from “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” the former U.S. Marine and brilliant antiwar activist Vince Emanuel recalled “the hundreds of prisoners we took captive and tortured in makeshift detention facilities staffed by teenagers from Tennessee, New York and Oregon.” By Emanuel’s account:

“I never had the misfortune of working in the detention facility, but I remember the stories. I vividly remember the marines telling me about punching, slapping, kicking, elbowing, kneeing and head-butting Iraqis. I remember the tales of sexual torture: forcing Iraqi men to perform sexual acts on each other while marines held knives against their testicles, sometimes sodomizing them with batons.”

“However, before those abominations could take place, those of us in infantry units had the pleasure of rounding up Iraqis during night raids, zip-tying their hands, black-bagging their heads and throwing them in the back of HUMVEEs and trucks while their wives and kids collapsed to their knees and wailed. Sometimes, we would pick them up during the day. Most of the time they wouldn’t resist. Some of them would hold hands while marines would butt-stroke the prisoners in the face. Once they arrived at the detention facility, they would be held for days, weeks, and even months at a time. Their families were never notified. And when they were released, we would drive them from the FOB (Forward Operating Base) to the middle of the desert and release them several miles from their homes.”

“After we cut their zip-ties and took the black bags off their heads, several of our more deranged marines would fire rounds from their AR-15s into their air or ground, scaring the recently released captives. Always for laughs. Most Iraqis would run, still crying from their long ordeal at the detention facility, hoping some level of freedom awaited them on the outside. Who knows how long they survived. After all, no one cared…”

“Amazingly, the ability to dehumanize the Iraqi people reached a crescendo after the bullets and explosions concluded, as many marines spent their spare time taking pictures of the dead, often mutilating their corpses for fun or poking their bloated bodies with sticks for some cheap laughs. Because iPhones weren’t available at the time, several marines came to Iraq with digital cameras. Those cameras contain an untold history of the war in Iraq, a history the West hopes the world forgets. That history and those cameras also contain footage of wanton massacres and numerous other war crimes, realities the Iraqis don’t have the pleasure of forgetting.”

“Unfortunately…Innocent people were not only routinely rounded-up, tortured and imprisoned, they were also incinerated by the hundreds of thousands, some studies suggest by the millions.”

How lethal and fascist was that?

Is Trumpism fascism? It is interesting that the word does not appear once in Grandin’s superb End of the Myth, one of the most important books ever written by a left (or any other kind) of American historian. “The 2016 election of Donald Trump as president of the United States – and all the vitriol his campaign and presidency have unleased – has,” writes Grandin, “been presented by commentators as one of two opposing possibilities. Trumpism either represents a rupture, a wholly un-American movement that has captured the institutions of government; or he is the realization of a deep-rooted American form of extremism. Does Trump’s crass and cruel appeal to nativism represent a break from tradition, from a fitful but persistent commitment to tolerance and equality…? Or is it but the ‘dark side,’ to use Dick Cheney’s resonant phrase, of U.S. history coming into the light?”

Grandin sees the “dark side” coming back to the fore with a vengeance under Obama and Trump because new limits on American capitalist and imperial expansion have brought an end to the nation’s ability to displace its internal class and racial disparities on to the “frontier,” broadly understood:

“When fascism comes to America,” someone (possibly Huey Long, but not Sinclair Lewis) is supposed to have said or written in the 1930s, “it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” That is certainly true – every variant of national fascism will bear the imprint of the specific nation in which it arises – but it would have been better to say that “When American develops its own breed of fascism, it will be wrapped in the Star-Spangled Banner and carrying a cross.”

Fascism won’t come to America. It will emerge out of American history. Yes, “it could happen here,” to paraphrase Sinclair Lewis 84 years ago, with “it” meaning an fascism. But let us not turn away from how terrible and dangerous what had already happened here and what is happening now, richly consistent with a savagely racist, patriarchal, eco-cidal, authoritarian, and classist Americanism that is as old as this criminal, savagely merciless and “exceptional” nation itself.

Postscript: This essay was completed in the South Loop of Chicago, beneath the intermittent roar of deadly U.S. fighter jets doing practice flights over and around the Midwestern Metropolis’s downtown lakefront. The pilots are practicing for this weekend’s annual Chicago Air and Water Show, when a disproportionately white crowd of one million metropolitan area residents gather along the Chicago shoreline to ooh and ahh over some of the global American Empire’s most awe-inspiring weapons of air-borne mass destruction. The swoosh of the military planes can he heard in 95% Black ghetto South and West Side neighborhoods where a third and more of children are living at less than half the federal government’s hopelessly inadequate poverty level. The cost of just a single U.S. F-35 B Fighter Jet is $250 million (in 2014 dollars) a sum that could be used to vastly improve Chicago’s poorly funded and hyper-segregated inner-city public schools. Many parts of the U.S. military’s airborne arsenal bear Native-American names: the Blackhawk, Apache, and Chinook helicopters are three examples. The city’s National Hockey League team is named after the Sauk warrior who led the battle against white invaders in 1832, only to see his nation devastated and removed from the fertile planes of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Many Chicagoland residents wear “chief” Black Hawk’s profile on t-shirts and jerseys. When you ask them who Black Hawk was and what happened to his people, their responses range from embarrassed ignorance to bemused indifference, mild irritation, and overt hostility. One of the very top U.S. military aviation manufacturers, Boeing, is headquartered in downtown Chicago. Its overseas body count over the decades is incalculable but surely ranks in the millions.

Help Street keep writing here.


Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).