As is natural in any course about Germany, my German culture course in the Spring semester of my first year eventually had to deal with the topics of World War II and the Holocaust. We didn’t really learn anything new, by college you should have learned it all already, but there were a lot of moments in discussion where I started to think differently. The most poignant was when my Professor said something along the lines of no country has more monuments to it’s own misdeeds than Germany. That line really struck me, it’s absolutely true, where ever you go in Germany you are confronted by the evil that happened there, where in large monuments to the people killed, the preserved places of their execution, or in small name plaques marking the residences of murdered Jews. It’s the sort of national remembrance that ensure the Holocaust will never be forgotten, and it’s exactly the type of national remembrance that the U.S. needs to implement.
We’ll start with the first genocide. America was built by stealing land and killing its previous owners or by killing the current owners and then stealing the land. Whatever the order, the systematic depopulation of the North American continent was the most effective genocide in history, up to 95% of all Native Americans were killed through direct or indirect contact with Europeans. Most of these deaths were of course caused by disease and given that first contact happened about three hundred years before the first vaccine and two hundred years before germ theory, they were in a terrible way almost inevitable but that does not free European colonizers from any responsibility. They cashed in on the Native American’s susceptibility to European diseases, the famous smallpox blankets were crude biological warfare, which is by the way considered a weapon of mass destruction.
Moving on to when the United States was actually a country, the track record only gets worse. We no longer had to make deals with the Native Americans so we went with brute force instead. The Trail of Tears, the forced resettlement of the Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Muscogee tribes from their homes in the southeast to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. The Indian Removal Act was signed in 1830 and seven years later around 46,000 people had been forcefully relocated. The Cherokee weren’t evicted until 1838 and nearly a quarter of their 15,000 members did not make it to Oklahoma, not including those who resisted the relocation and were killed by the United States Army. As noted dickbag Andrew Jackson said, “Humanity weeps over the fate of the Indians, but, true philanthropy reconciles the mind to the extinction of one generation for another.” Today there are several marked trail delineating parts of the forced march and a memorial state park in Missouri with a museum dedicated to the Trail of Tears but there is no Federal memorial to those who were killed by the government.
I think that the Treatment of the Wounded Knee massacre is what truly shows how little the U.S. cares about remembering its’ own horridness. On December 29, 1890, on the 28th the US Calvary found a band of Lakota and escorted them to Wounded Knee where they made them camp. The Army then surrounded their encampment, they had four small cannons known as Hotchkiss guns. The next morning they went into camp to disarm the Lakota. A deaf man named Black Coyote didn’t want to hand over his rifle, there was a scuffle and someone fired a shot, then the United States Calvary started indiscriminately shooting and killing men, women, and children. The Lakota who still had weapons tried to defend themselves but were quickly wounded by the army, those who tried to escape were hunted down and killed by the Calvary even though they were unarmed. Around three hundred Lakota were killed compared to around forty soldiers, some of whom had even been shot by friendly fire. Twenty soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their endeavor, one of the military’s highest awards. These awards have never been rescinded and Wounded Knee while designated a National Historic Area has no memorial.
I’m writing today because a new report from the Equal Justice Initiative shows that about 4,000 lynchings happened in the United States , more than was previously thought. You can download the report here. The EJI’s founder Bryan Stevenson wants to create memorials at the places where these societally sanctioned acts of racial terrorism occurred. This would be a great step towards recognizing not only that America values black lives, but that we can recognize that our history is unacceptable. A fact which a lot of people have trouble accepting, I think concrete memorials to our own horrible history have the potential to make us a better country, at the very least a more thoughtful one.
Just wanted to say that even though I only wrote about two groups white Americans killed and then ignored they are far from the only examples! Any group present in America that is not white and even some people belonging to white groups (European immigrants in 19th century, lgbt people, women, disabled people, etc.) have been killed and terrorized and discriminated against to uphold America’s preferred position of white man on top, you get fucked. So just everyone remember where you come from, and who was stepped on so that we could be where we are today.