Friday, May 29, 2009

All the troubles in the world...

Last week I posted a rumination about war and peace; specifically, the American way of war and what seems like the relative lack of peace we have lived through over the past fifty years or so.

It all started with the Wanderer's Daughter's question:
"I can't help but feeling a tiny bit of shame at our national ethnocentricity." she said, "Read: blindness. OK, it's more than a tiny bit of shame...but I don't want to be written off as unpatriotic. I'm not. I am genuinely fond of my country. Heaven knows, I had plenty of opportunities to leave it, and I turned them all down. Here's the thing: I love my country. I do! It's a beautiful country. There are many ways in which I love my country. But, how did we get so isolated and blindered? The horror. How do we break out of this inward-gazing cycle?"
And that got me to thinking about how it seemed that my country had been at war with someone, somewhere, pretty much all of my adult life - and most of my childhood, too, since the little fracas in Southeast Asia kicked off when I was two.I didn't like the idea that I was living in, and had spent much of my life in the uniform of, some sort of warrior state, the Sparta of the Western Hemisphere. Are we the warmongers of the West? Are we so egocentric, so violent towards anyone not "like us" that the rest of the world should be afraid, be very afraid?

So I sat down to read and think about this a bit.

Here's my conclusions, for what they're worth.

To sum up; I don't think that we in the U.S. are uniquely racist, blind or bellicose. I do think we have inherited an aggressive and inward-looking mindset from the European nations that produced us, and that we are in the midst of an odd period in which the U.S. is both disproportionally physically and militarily strong but intellectually weak, having been led from rational thought through the intent of knaves and fools. We do tend to blunder about overseas, but more from ignorance and fretfulness than malice or cupidity. So I think the answer is that we suffer from some social institution failures that make our overseas adventuring possible (especially when it coincides with the needs of our elites) - but that we're not typically imperial; we're just at the apogee of one of our policy cycles.

Here's the answer in detail:

1. We are Western Europeans, and as such have fallen heir to the Western European legacy: advanced technology, political unity and aggressive self-confidence. Western Europe is perhaps the single most unique example of hypertrophic technical, social and political development - a geopolitical Perfect Storm (at least you might think of it that way if you had been an Aztec, a Penobscot, a Ceylonese, a Zulu, a Burman or an Australian aborigine...) - in human history. The inhabitants of Eurasia were specially gifted by biology and technology, to start with.

A huge concentration of domesticatable animals - and in particular, chickens and pigs, who combined to bless us with infectious lethal diseases like influenza, smallpox and cholera - and plants are found only within Eurasia. This combination enabled concentrated agriculture and husbandry, the production of excess wealth, and the early development of soldiering as a trade as well as political sophistication.

The combination of technical and social innovation produced advanced metallurgy and woodcraft, creating everything from hinges and doors to arquebuses and caravels.

Just the right amount of external political pressure - in the form of the Islamic enemies to the east who were strong enough to menace but not to conquer - and intercene squabbling among the nations of Western Europe created politically centralized, fiscally and economically adventurous, socially cohesive and technically innovative nation-states at a time when most of the rest of the world was still at the feudal level or even no more organized than bands of hunter-gatherers. And then released these clenched fists of nations on the rest of the world long before it was ready for them.

In other words, starting in the 15th Century the Old World went through the rest of the world like a dose of fucking salts. The native civilizations of the New World were overwhelmed.However, being Spanish and Portugese, the Spanish and Portugese conquerors of Central and South America wanted only to mulct their new dominions of treasure. They didn't exterminate their native subjects; in fact, a Mexican acquaintance of mine once bemoaned his country's ongoing social and political problems as going back to the uncomfortable fusion of mostly-autochthenous proles being ruled by mostly-allocthonous nobles. "You got to kill all your Indians!" he griped, "And we just fucked ours..."

The North Americans did, in fact, largely exterminate the native peoples. Instead of a hybrid civilization of native and European - mestizo - the Norteamericanos are puro Anglo, the lineal descendants of those aggro, technical and tactical hard men who swarmed ashore in 1492 and 1620...

The past three hundred and eighty-some years we've been living off the social and political capital we inherited from our European procreators. So it's not surprising that, as a nation, we are both aggressive and self-involved. The people who created America weren't interested in hearing what Asians, Africans or native Americans had to say. They were interested in taking from those people what was good for them; what was theirs was theirs and what was yours was...negotiable.

2. We are in the midst of an extreme endmember of a Great Power cycle, in which our country is disproportionately powerful and engaged in global fiddling; we don't have the perspective to see ourselves in context regarding this - it seems like we're the Global Bully and always have been. Prior to 1945 our national aggressiveness was pretty much taken up with all that native American extermination I was talking about. We fought the British (to get free of the Daddy - all kids go through that), the French (just because), the Algerians (because they were pissing us off), the Mexicans (for the same reason we killed all the native Americans - they had some land we wanted), each other (over African slaves, which most of the white people fighting didn't much like, either), the Spanish (to prove we could) and the Filipinos (because they were brown and they had some land we wanted). Pretty small potatoes, really, and when you look at what the British, French and Germans were up to at the same time, well...we weren't much of a bully.By the 20th Century, though, we were throwing our weight around pretty good in our neighborhood; the Central Americans got pretty sick of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps by 1939, I can tell you. But it was WW2 and the resulting Cold War that really got us in the global meddling business. Suddenly the entire world was a combat zone; it was us, eyeball-to-eyeball with the godless Commies. And remember, the old European powers who had been doing all the dirty work in the Third World hustings?

Gone, baby.

No more British imperial satraps to murder a couple of hundred thousand Singhalese. Suddenly a pipsqueak popinjay in some craptacular principality a zillion miles from anywhere was a Major Diplomatic Incident. Suddenly the CIA was lurking everywhere, funding plots and plotters, assassinating dictators and generally meddling in other people's business.And when you are the global economic powerhouse and defender of the West? Your armies and navies are busy, busy...

Paul Kennedy, in his work "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers", describes the process by which nation-states accumulate economic, political and military power, use that power to extend their geopolitical reach, eventually over-reach themselves (the term Kennedy uses is "imperial overstretch"), and then decline. Because we are in the "stretch" (or possibly in the early stages of "overstretch") we see ourselves as this colossus, bestriding the narrow world and seemingly fighting everywhere and endlessly.

But, in fact, the entire period of this "Imperial America" has been less than a human lifetime. And nowhere is there any indication that the nation trewed up in it has the moral, social, political or economic desire or will to continue this domination any sustained period of time.


3. The great imperial powers of the past profited (in the selfish sense) from something we generally lack: the social belief that they were literally superior to those they ruled. Human history until the last half of the 20th Century was pretty kind to conquerors. Attacking, overwhelming and ruling other peoples was considered the natural order of things. The conqueror was the better man, the conquered the inferior, branded by God and Nature with the forehead-L for Loser.From the earliest days of "civilization" (and by that I mean the coagulation of humans into organized social groups: farming communities, towns, cities, city-states, nations and so forth...) the "civilized" had never lacked the innate sense that they were "better"; smarter, more put-together, richer, cleaner, better-smelling than the "uncivilized".

Perhaps the oldest human conflict was between the "farmer" - the human who lived off crops and herds,who needed a fixed abode and a settled society - and the "nomad", who continued in the ancient ways of hunting, gathering and traveling. The farmer needed his "own" land, his "own" animals and plants, and was inevitably going to end up fighting the nomad, whose peregrinations in search of game and wild plants didn't respect the farmer's fields and flocks.To the farmer - and in the sense that we're ALL "farmers", that is, all of our civilizations are the lineal descendants of the first Euphrates River valley townspeople - the nomad is barely human; a wild, dirty, dangerous savage. He appears like the wolf and is hunted like the wolf.

Townspeople like dogs and cats.

But since the extermination of 99.9% of human nomads, and the explosion of written and now electronic communication that has allowed humans to get to know all variety of other human types and ways, the pose of cultural superiority has become increasingly hard to maintain. Certainly there are many people who resist the notion that their ways are not the "best". But, generally speaking, one of the few real changes in global human behavior is the cessation of casual, widely-accepted, offhand racial, social or sexual superiority.

Here's a good example.

More than one hundred years ago someone named Frank Norris wrote a story called "Moran of the Lady Letty" purporting to tell the story of coastal skulduggery in 19th Century California. The villains of the piece are the Chinese "coolies" who crew many of the vessels. The author, clearly sensible of his readership's taste, lets you know right away what you need to know about the "Chinamen": "Cowardly, superstitious rats"; "the evil glint in his slant, small eye..."; "...the yellow devils..."And women? Our heroine, Moran, enters as a self-confident ship captain and holds her own until she falls for our hero, delightfully named Wilbur. Then, in her own words: "I'm not proud and strong and independent...I'm just a woman now, dear..." There's worse to come. Moran is threatened by the eeeeevil coolie Hoang. Let's let our narrator describe the scene:
"Hoang slipped the knife from the sleeve of his blouse. For an instant the old imperiousness, the old savage pride and anger, leapt in Moran's breast - then died away forever. Only a few weeks ago, and she would have fought Hoang without hesitation and without mercy; she would have wrenched a leg from the table and brained him where he stood. But she had learned since to know what it was to be dependent; to rely for protection on someone who was stronger than she; to know her weakness; to know that she was at last a woman, and to be proud of it."
And Moran's reward for her learning, her newfound status as a Real Woman, her enlightenment to the joys of femininity?
"Instinctively she cried out "Mate- mate! Oh mate, where are you? Help me!" and Hoang's knife nailed the words within her throat."
Chinky-chinky Chinaman bad! Woman weak! White man ruler of the Earth! Got it?This sort of appalling crap was common currency in this country until well into the 1950's and 1960's. The notion that "civilized" white people were the natural masters of Chinamen, wogs, niggers, darkies of all sorts, dagoes, heatherns...well, it was just the natural way of the world. And with that way came the natural consequence: the willingness, even the eagerness, to take up the White Man's Burden. The notion of an American Empire would have seemed as natural as the British and French and Roman empires that preceded it.

But to proclaim an American Empire is to meet with loud and angry rebuttals. Outside of the C.H.U.D. wing of the Republican Party it is nearly impossible to hold this sort of opinion, support the ideal of Empire, out loud today. The old, formal, racist and imperialist rationales are almost completely discredited. The idea that a formal American "empire", where Americans physically rule over the ignorant, dusky heathen foreigners, cannot be intellectually justified by today's standards.

So by all rights, we should be a nation of interested bystanders, lending money and a patient ear when needed to our foreign friends in their difficult times, but maintaining our physical force and geopolitical influence only for our truly strategic national objectives, as decided by the People in Congress is open, informed debate? Why doesn't this happen?

Why are American troops posted so many places overseas? Why do American soldiers so often fight what, truthfully, should be other nations' civil wars and domestic uprisings? How can you make the American public - the notional "ruler" of their own country - so "isolated and blindered" as to support the prosecution of so many piddling, profitless foreign wars and police actions since 1980? Lebanon and Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Kuwait in 1991, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990's, Iraq and Afghanistan in the Oughts?

That's the subject of our next post.


Pluto said...

Some truly great and wise thinking.

Can't think of a damned thing I could add and am left begging for the completion of your thread.

How long did it take you to write this? I would have taken me a forever and a day.

mike said...

"However, being Spanish and Portugese, the Spanish and Portugese conquerors of Central and South America wanted only to mulct their new dominions of treasure. They didn't exterminate their native subjects;"

Tell that to the ghosts of the Carib, and the Tupi in Brazil. Even today, the Brazilians are still exterminating or enslaving entire tribes and clans of Amazonian people. And the only reason that a handful of Guarani survived in Paraguay and Argentina was the work of a few Jesuits.

As for your Mexican friend's comment about them being the only ones who 'fucked' their Indians. The reason that Mestizos survived in Mexico is their toughness, endurance, that survived Olmecs, Aztecs, Spanish Conquistadores, and smallpox. They had good genes passed on from far-thinking Indian women who saw the handwriting on the wall. Most Mestizos were originally from southern Mexico which was colonized early. The later Spanish settlers in the northern provinces and the former Mexican lands of California New Mexico and Texas brought their wives and many kept their bloodlines pure.

In North America in the 17th, 18th, and even into the 19th centuries there were a lot of horny French and Scot coureurs des bois. The Metis population is larger than it appears in Canada, plus another two million acknowledged mixed blood in the US including yours truly's small but proud 1/32nd. Many more assimilated and their descendants have no knowledge of their heritage - shameful IMHO.

FDChief said...

mike: No argument about the horrific genocide of the mesoamerican and South American natives. THe scale of the butchery was - and is - apalling.

But the North American tribes (with some critical exceptions like the Cherokee) were mostly tribal bands. Our North Euro-american ancestors were able to pretty much completely displace them, kill 90% of them, and, most crucially - completely eradicate their place in the supeceding culture. Bar some insignificant features, nothing in our present mainstream "American" culture reflects those who were here before "us".

The Spanish and Portugese dominions, OTOH, had contained immense, complex civilizations. And the conquerors were much less interested in displacing the poor natives for their land; they just wanted to displace the native nobles and continue to rule as haciendados. So the Latin and South American cultures, and peoples, have much, much more of the native American cultures and peoples in them.

I'm deliberately simplifying the issue which, as you point out, is much more complicated than I've drawn it. I'm trying to paint the picture without filling in too much detail; I apologize.

FDChief said...

As just an example of the complexity of the business, look at the socisl, cultural and political differences between (to take just four) Mexico, Panama, Peru and Brasil. Huge. And much of that has to do as much with the immense differences in the native cultures that the invaders confronted as with the invaders themselves.

So again - I apologize for treating that particular subject with a broad brush. I can only plead that, as important as it is, the native-invader dynamic is only background to the issue I was thinking about.

mike said...

"I can only plead that, as important as it is, the native-invader dynamic is only background to the issue I was thinking about."

I apologize for being such a kibitzer. I agree somewhat with your main theme in the post.

But I could not stand by and listen to the fable of sweet, kind Conquistadores. The majority were murderous zealots who imported the Inquisition into the new world - all of them, not just the priests. The only people to survive their terror were converts and mistresses. The 90% figure you quote is low and was also true in South and Central America. Geographic or cultural isolation saved some in Central America and in the Amazon basin (until now).

sheerahkahn said...

It should be noted that the locals did not go down without a fight, nor were they weak as some people would project them as.
However, as I have had to explain to some friends the reason why the American Indian got the raw end of the deal was that they had...

1: No experience with the duplicity of the European mind...and in my opinion, far to trusting.

2: though socially, probably more superior to their European counterparts, the Indians inability to put aside their differences with rival tribes led to them systematically falling Another concept the Native Americans seemed new at, though they employed it against other tribes was the tactic of divide and conquer.

3: The European methodology of warfare. Sorry, in this instance it wasn't that the natives were poor warriors, in fact to the contrary, they were equals...unfortunately, it was the Indian incapability to understand the European concept of warfare which was quite different from theirs. A failed engagement wasn't considered the end of the war, it was just the end of that engagement.
Eventually, the Indians did adjust their tactics but by then the end was near for them.

The greatest tragedy that came out of all this was that the White America actually viewed itself as superior to the Indian and sought to exterminate all cultural references to the indian way of life.
The stories of abuse in the schools against Indian children just...astounds me and sickens me, and it is the hubris of the early protestant missionaries that strikes me ill the most.
We seriously thought we were better on all areas of life.
Instead of seeing human beings, our ancestors saw dogs, instead of a beautiful people, vicious animals.
And considering the methologies of the American Indian's concept of life, the afterlife, and the present life I understand how this conflicted with the European mindset and traditional thoughts.
In all, I would say that we are our forefathers, and little has changed in our maturity. We think we're better than everyone else, and instead of understanding the way others live we seek to MAKE them be like us.

I'd have to say that we have epically failed so far. perhaps we are changing...but forgive me if I don't hold my breath.

FDChief said...

Mike: "But I could not stand by and listen to the fable of sweet, kind Conquistadores."

Oh, no, and that is not what I was trying to imply. The conqueror-conquered transaction in the Spanish and Portugese dominions was a purely fiduciary one, and that based on the Iberian concept of colonization as more or less a revenue-generating scheme for the mother countries.

The French colonies were sort similar (hard to tell, the French were so fucking ate up as colonialists); the idea being that the mother country invested little but younger sons, priests and a scattering of soldiers. The wealth and labor were supposed to be provided by the natives, either trading and trapping (in French Canada) or by slave labor for everything from corn-growing to silver mining (The Spanish colonies from Mexico to Peru and parts of Portugese Brazil).

Tribes in non-economic parts of the New World (like the Amazon tribes) were effectively genocided if they couldn't be enslaved; give the Caribs a phantom toast - they were too irascible to be conquered and died to the man, woman and child.

I think a huge factor, too, was the varying agricultural systems of the northern versus southern European nations. By the 16th and 17th Centuries the British and Dutch were developing a class of freeholders and more self-reliant tenant farmers. A lot of these people ended up in North America. For their purposes, they needed the Amerindians dead or driven away, and they largely did so.

The Spanish, in particular, were still using an inefficient peonage or hacienda system and brought it with them to the New World. If your farm is going to be worked by serfs, they might as well be Indio serfs as Hispano serfs. Why go to the trouble of importing peons all the way to Nueva Espana when you can just enslave the wretched Indians?

So - like I say - the Spanish and Portugese didn't exterminate their native populations like the North Americans did. But not because they were Nice and not because they loved them. It was a ready-money transaction.

FDChief said...

Sheerah: I would venture to say that the natives weren't exactly "trusting". I think it was more an issue of mutual incomprehension. The Wampanoags, for example, had no idea that the English settlers didn't want to just carve out a little territory and grow squash, fish and hunt just like they did. Or that the English thought that they were a sort of irritating vermin, to be dealt with when strong but to be exterminated when weak.

Agree completely with #2

And #3...the bottom line is that many individual native Americans were superb light infantry or light cavalry. But as "warriors", well...the problem is that most native American tribes looked on fighting as combination sport, social activity and economic transaction. "Battles" could end if so much as a single important warrior was killed. I mean, try and translate the Plains custom of "coup" into European terms!

Only a handful of native tribes ever posed a real threat to European troops, and none could do more than kill individual soldiers or overwhelm small units.

I think the reality of "Indian War" in North America is that disease and sheer Anglo numbers did more to defeat the native tribes than any European (and later American) soldiers ever did. Some native tribes produced superb individual fighters or even leaders. But against the immense numbers and technical superiority of the whites?

No chance.

mike said...

Sheera & FDChief - It is true about the European way of war. But it was not always that way. Back a couple of millenia ago, the Celtic tribes in continental Europe fought for sport like some tribes in the Americas. Taking coup in Europe at that time was an important social activity. Economic raiding and bride kidnapping was a way of life. The Greeks and Romans did the same, but they industrialized it. The rest of Europe followed eventually.

FDChief - You keep saying: "the Spanish and Portugese didn't exterminate their native populations like the North Americans did." I say no. History shows that they exterminated many millions more than were ever murdered in the north. It is immaterial if the extermination was due to scalp or ear bounty which was legal in many parts of Mexico and other places in Latin America; or whether it was due to mercury poisoning of slave workers in silver mines, or mass deaths on plantations. The serfs you mention that survived were not pure Indio, they were the sons and daughters of their Spanish and Portuguese exploiters. Many more died by outright murder when they tried to defend their wives and children, or if they tried to escape a lifetime of enslavement. In addition of course there were the European diseases which wiped out millions more.

As I said previously, I agree with your main premise in the post. But we will never see eye to eye on this side issue. I believe it weakens and distracts from your main argument.

FDChief said...

mike: OK, let me try and rephrase my argument.

The Spanish and Portugese did their level best to exterminate the natives. They did kill many millions.

The English and, later, the Americans, did their level best to exterminate THEIR natives. They also killed many millions.

So genocide = genocide. I'm not letting anyone off the hook here.

BUT. The native civilizations that the English, French and Americans encountered were more fragmented, more tribal, more fragile than the city-building meso- and South American cultures like the Aztec and the Inca. When I look at places like parts of Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, I can still see the remnants of the native cultures in the modern societies that replaced them. Debased, stolen, degraded...but there.

But go to Kansas or Washington State or Georgia...there's almost nothing left of the Kiowa, the Tinglit and the Cherokee. Nothing in the culture beyond a couple of meaningless words and a symbol or two.

THAT's what I mean. The Spanish and Portugese managed to destroy the societies and the people, but too many people passed their native culture into the mestizo society that resulted.

Both by accident and design, we people who are or became Americans exterminated pretty much every bit of the native influence on our culture.

That's pretty crucial. It makes our outlook more purely like the northern Europeans who got things started. Put an average American alongside an average German or Briton and I think you'd get at least as many similarities as differences.

But put a typical Mexican or Honduran or Argentine next to a Spaniard - or a Brazilian next to a Portugese - and I suspect that you would have a hard time finding common grounds.

Yes? No?

basilbeast said...

though socially, probably more superior to their European counterparts, the Indians inability to put aside their differences with rival tribes led to them systematically falling Another concept the Native Americans seemed new at, though they employed it against other tribes was the tactic of divide and conquer..
Well now, they didn't read their "Bellum Gallicum", did they?

Mr. Chief, I say again, IMHO you otta submit these writings somewhere you can get paid for this stuff.

Less wearing and tearing on the body and you could wind up on TV advising the likes of Hannity, or Matthews, or such.

I'm serious about your writing, though.


Anonymous said...

Chief- i like that wording better. Thanks, and again my apologies for going off track. Must be my advanced age and persnicketyness.

As regards to your "Yes?No?" question. I would give you yes for a typical Mexican or Honduran.

But in Argentina, close to 90% of the population are of European descent with Italians being the largest group.

In Brazil, what is typical? The largest group, close to 50%, are pure Euro. In third place, 7.5% are pure African descent. The second largest group the 'pardos', (their term for mestizos) include euro-african as well as euro-amerindian and afro-amerindian and is hard to break down. The euros include another huge percentage of Italians like in Argentina and the second largest population of Germans outside Germany.

So I would say no for those two and probably for Chile ad Uruguay also. In those countries, like in America, immigration has been the major cause of displacement of the First Nations people and their culture.

Pluto said...

Since we've wandered into the US-Indian wars, I'll throw in my two cents for what they are worth.

You guys have basically got it right but you're missing one big issue that the Indians didn't understand until it was too late: Indian war-making tended to ebb and flow according to the seasons. White war-making just kept going because the army was supported by US citizens.

Tecumseh and the Shawnee, for example, more-or-less fought Harrison and the US army to a stand-still for a couple of years but were worn down by the continual need to mobilize their best hunters for war and the casualties suffered in the war.

The Plains Indians suffered far more from the continual depredations of the American cowboy and the animals that he brought with him than they did from the US army.

The western tribes such as the Comanche were forewarned by the experiences of the eastern tribes and waged very effective hit-and-run guerrilla campaigns fueled by the booty captured from the whites but even they were eventually overwhelmed by time and sheer numbers.

FDChief said...

mike: Good point, and I was thinking about that as soon as I typed "Argentine".

I think that's one of the tragedies of the Hispanic/Portugese nations of the New World - that the huge social divide between invader and invaded still persists, and goes a long way to explain a lot of their social dysfunctions. Imagine the racial problems in this country if something like 50% of the working class was ALSO of mixed racial background.

Sean Hannity's head would explode.

PLuto: Another military problem that none of the North American tribs ever really solved is their vulnerability to the seasons.

Most native American tribes hunkered down for the winter. They were particularly fragile then, and the U.S. Army (as well a pretty much any group of armed whites) took advantage of that to destroy their camps and drive the families out to die in the snow.

Thinking about this always depresses the shit out of me. I can hardly get too sanctimonious about it - any Shoshone Department of Homeland Security would have deported my ancestors as illegal aliens - but I sure as hell wish that somehow, someone could have found a better way..

Publius said...

Time for a turd in the punchbowl.

Although FDChief and I have always fundamentally agreed in our chagrin at how we modern Americans are so warlike and so eager to go out there and bend the heathens to our way of thinking, I think we also have to realize that we're really nothing more than an exemplar of how civilization has evolved.

War and subjugation of other humans is what homo sapiens does. We members of Western civilization have just done it better than others. Those who glorify the native Americans and bemoan what we did to them shouldn't forget that even before we arrived on the scene, their stronger nations were doing the same things to weaker nations. They were no different, nor were they nobler than us. They just weren't as good as we were at the business of modernization.

Western civilization evolved in such a way that less advanced tribal cultures didn't stand a chance. So they lost. Is that a tragedy? Nobody other than a car buff seriously suggests that a '51 Chevy is a better car than a 2009 Honda.

The dilemma we right-thinking modern liberals have is that everything we are and everything we have is a product of our warloving, imperialist forebears. You think you'd be posting your profound thoughts here on this blog, using this marvel known as the Internet if the westward expansion hadn't happened? If Americans 150 years ago had said, "Oh, we can't go west because we have to respect the Indian nations"?

So I'd just say that while we're getting all squishy about the conquered and the unfortunate things that happened to them as a result of the relentless pace of modernization, let's just think about how our world might have turned out without all of the shitheads who wanted to keep pushing onward and upward.

The human animal is restless. It likes to keep pushing the envelope, always expanding, always going after new things. This is how we got what we call civilization. The lesson of history is that we're on a fast moving train, and that there are going to be winners and losers. Natural selection seems to apply to societies as well as to species.

BTW, the subject of societal natural selection is why so many government, intelligence and military folks—regardless of party leanings—are so hard over about the need for us to keep the pressure on in the Mideast. And, as one who's very liberal in some ways, but conservative in others, I'm loath to reject this theory out of hand.

Remind me some time and I'll tell you all the story about the frog and scorpion.

mike said...

Pluto -

Over the memorial day weekend community wide garage sale here, I scored a used copy of a Tecumseh biography. I have been reluctant to get into it because of its 800+ pages. And the author (Eckert) is a former novelist so I am wondering if I should be leery of his facts. I note that in the Intro, he claims that the majority of Tecumseh's warriors were from other tribes than the Shawnees, and that he and his brother the Prophet were some of the first to try to unite the different tribes. I hope to start (and finish) reading it soon.

FDChief said...

Publius: I once heard the European conquest of North America described as "two tough, smart, aggressive groups of people who both wanted the same piece of eal estate."

My kid has the same question whenever we read or see a movie about people warring or fighting: "Which ones are the good guys?" Sometimes the answer is simple - "That's an SS trooper, he's a Bad Guy".

But a lot of times I have to tell him "Well, buddy, it's kinda complicated."

Like I said; I don't get too sanctimonious about the extermination of the native societies. If my ancestors hadn't been ruthless and aquisitive sons-of-bitches I'd be hoeing my potatoe patch in Assrump, Scotland. I can feel pity and regret for the people who were wiped out like vermin for nothing more than being inconvenient, but the truth is that I'm benefiting from that butchery as much as any McDonald's customer scarfing down some ex-downer-cow.

And if the natives of Masschusetts had been the ones to get the smallpox, carbon steel and clinker hull technology first, would they have had any hesitation before using it on my tribe of hairy savages squatting in the heather around Skye?


The entire business is just history, like the Norman Conquest. The losers got the shaft, as losers have throughout history - vae victus, the Romans would have said; woe to the vanquished. And I think it's always worth acknowleding the wrongs that you or those close to you do or did in the past. Imay be nothing more than a formality, but still; there it is. But all my crocodile tears won't bring back the Shawnee and, frankly, as you point out, I'm not sure if I would if I could. I like penicillin and indoor plumbing and 140 cable channels. And universal sufferage, no slavery, and careers open to all talents.

So I may accept that my ancestors did some pretty shitty things to the people who originally lived here, but if I had the chance, would I change that?

I'd be lying if I said yes.

I know I seem to spend a lot of time bitching and moaning about how we're in the process of fucking up our nation. But I wouldn't be so pissy if I didn't think that as nations go, as peoples go we're a pretty good one.

So did our forefathers bring forth on this continent a new nation by royally fucking over the original tenants?


Do I think we (meaning 99.4% of modern Americans, i.e. those descended from the invaders) would we better off if that'd never happened?


FDChief said...

"BTW, the subject of societal natural selection is why so many government, intelligence and military folks—regardless of party leanings—are so hard over about the need for us to keep the pressure on in the Mideast. And, as one who's very liberal in some ways, but conservative in others, I'm loath to reject this theory out of hand."

Actually Publius, I'd argue that your theory might be a better reason to leave the place alone and let them sink back into a 14th Century Islamic slough.

Look at what happened in reverse back in the 12th Century to 16th Century A.D. Constant pressure from internal wars and external threats (from the Ottomans) put evolutionary stress on the polities of Western Europe. The weak and sick ones - the Balkan states, the Byzantines - succumbed. But the survivors grew into the road warriors that swarmed over the entire globe in the next 400 years.

So I'm not so sure if I want to keep exposing the islamic states of the Middle East to Western military and technological pressure.

There's an old axiom in fencing; never let the same opponant fight you too many times.

Sooner or later they figure you out.

sheerahkahn said...

Forgive me if I net your turd out of the punch bowl, while also correcting Mike as well.

First off Mike, I'm not sure which group you are talking about in Britannia.
The Picts north of Hadrian's wall, or the Celts south thereof?
The Pict's were not coup counters, and their clannish society were really big on the individual warrior which accounts for the long standing grudges the, what we call Scot's, have penchant for.
They were tough sonsofbitches, and there is a reason the "wall" was built.

As for the Iceni, and the rest of the Celtic tribal areas south of the wall...well, they were big on the individual warrior bit too, and though they didn't count coup, they did count heads.
Yes, they like'em thems heads, but their spirituality and the view of the after-life was significantly different than the North American view...though the common thread that it has to be better than what they got going on now is about the only similar thing they had in common.

Now for the strain...the North American Indians for their part saw the White man as culturally superior, and they wanted their children to be educated and merge with this society.
Granted, not all tribes were like that :::cough:::Plains-tribes:::cough::: but most of the Eastern Tribes thought that the English and the French were great peoples.
I've always been curious when that view changed...hmm...need to research that bit...anyway, for the most part the Eastern tribes, with the exception of the Sioux who packed it up and headed west, hitched their hopes to either the French or the English.
It wasn't till later on that the Indian tribes of the SE said "oh hells no!" and took matters in their own hands, but for the NE tribes..."pacification" was complete.
It should be noted that the Sioux thought of the expanding white man as somewhat "honorable" and thought that treaties could be made with them that would be honored...the unfortunate reality was that Sioux idea of honoring a treaty and the White man's idea of honoring a treaty were worlds apart.
But some of the indian tribes of the plains thought that by having their children educated by the white man that they too could have the benefits of the white society.

In all, the whole dynamic of the western expansion cannot be easily dictated nor explained in so short of a forum, but it is highly fascinating.
I seriously recommend everyone read the diaries, and Bury my heart at wounded Knee.
Also any of the primary sources for the early colonial period.
Because in all seriousness, the only reason why our ancestors stood a snow balls thrown in hells chance of survival here wasn't because of our was because of the Indian's restraint.

mike said...

Sheera -

I was referring, as I said above, to Celts of Continental Europe and not strictly to those in the British Isles. You are correct technically in either case as these old time Euros did not actually carry coup sticks like many of their American brothers in spirit. But they did in fact have similar customs where during a battle single individuals would charge forward and strike a blow to prove their bravery.

In any case those Celts have long gone the way of the Powhatans, the Abenaki, the Lenni Lenape and other American tribal groups. Like the first Americans they now only survive in remote enclaves in the Celtic fringe of NW Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, the Isle of Man, and those parts of Scotland and Ireland not inundated by Norsemen. Even there true Celts are in sparse numbers, the majority are mestizos of Celtic-Teutonic mix. And there perhaps remain a few Celtic-Hispanic mestizos in Galicia and Asturias.

Lisa said...

"I'm benefiting from that butchery as much as any McDonald's customer scarfing down some ex-downer-cow" ... this provokes a morbid :)

What an excellent historical perspective.

BTW, I am a Frank Norris fan, and though a product of his time, he has much to teach about power relations and human frailty. Perhaps sometimes, a woman's (and any inferior's) strength is to point out to the aggressor that she is, in fact, "a mere women" (or whatever.)

That presumes the sentience and compassion of the superior will provide safety -- not always a safe bet. And the pleas of the subjugant may conceal/reveal their actual superiority/threat.

rangeragainstwar said...

You say the CIA assasinated foreign dictators but this is just a best case estimate since we really will never know the extent of their activities.
Certain assasinations in America pop up in my mind.