Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wrong again. Care to try for three?

Sara Robinson

Sweet Jesus, this woman can't get anything right. I wouldn't trust her to give accurate names and birthdates for her husband and son without independent corroboration.

Posted late last night at Editor & Publisher:
Another Setback for Conservative Bloggers:
The Great 'Kerry Photo' Flap

NEW YORK -- As if the finding of the allegedly non-existent Associated Press source in Iraq, Capt. Jamil Hussein, wasn't enough, conservative bloggers suffered another setback Friday in the far more trivial flap over a photo of Sen. John Kerry.

The "controversy" started last week when rightwing bloggers cackled over a photo sent to one of them which allegedly showed Kerry on a Dec. 17 visit to Iraq being shunned by troops at breakfast. Indeed, it did seem to show Kerry at a dining hall table with only a couple of non-uniformed people nearby. The blogs charged that this proved that the troops had completely turned on the senator (and decorated Vietnam vet) after his so-called "botched joke" in October, if not before.

Michelle Malkin, for example, wrote that "lonely John Kerry" had been "spurned by the troops," and some other comments were far more mocking. She and others maintained the attack even when other photos surfaced of Kerry surrounded by troops on that visit.

On Friday, the full truth emerged.

Here's how Greg Sargent at the liberal blog Talking Points Memo (for its TPM Cafe offshoot) revealed it today:

Specifically, it turns out that Kerry was at that table to conduct an off-the-record breakfast discussion with two reporters, so there would have been no reason whatsover for troops to be sitting with them. In fact, Kerry and the reporters even sought out empty seats, I'm told.

The two reporters who met with Kerry that morning are Marc Santora of The New York Times and Mark Danner of The New York Review, The New Yorker and other publications. Both Santora and Danner confimed to me that they met with Kerry -- on the morning of Dec. 17, according to Kerry's office and to Danner. (The person who posted the photo also confirmed that it was taken that morning.)

Danner confirmed to me that he's the guy with his back to the camera, saying his jacket and the back of his head looked the same as in the photo. He added that his position in relation to Kerry was the same as the photo showed. And here's what Danner had to say to me about the empty seats: "If there were empty seats it's because we sought them out. We wanted an empty table so we could talk. It's that simple."

Let me back up a sec. No question, this is a silly, trivial affair, and in a way it's embarrassing to spend so much time on it. But it's important to knock these things down whenever they come along -- and it's fun, too....

Recently I emailed the Kerry people to ask them what they had to say about the photo. They claimed the photo was taken on Dec. 17 and sent along a statement from Frank Lowenstein, Sen. Kerry’s foreign policy staffer, who said he was "there when the photo was taken." From the statement:

Snubbed? Alone? Hardly. Sen. Kerry isn’t eating alone. In fact that photo is at an off the record breakfast meeting Senator Kerry conducted early Sunday morning with the very real Marc Santora of the New York Times Baghdad bureau and his younger colleague from the newspaper. The man shown in the green shirt across from Sen. Kerry is Marc Santora....

A couple days ago I got in touch with Santora. He confirmed that he'd met with Kerry and Danner. Kerry's staffer, it turns out, was wrong on two points: The man across from Kerry wasn't Santora. And the person accompanying Santora wasn't a "younger colleague from the newspaper." Rather, Danner was the one who went on the trip with Santora. (I'd contact the person who first posted the photos, but he's saying he won't say any more on the issue.)

Told that the Kerry people had confirmed that the meeting was an off-the-record talk with reporters, Danner replied: "The discussion was off the record, but given the fact that the Kerry people have confirmed it, I suppose it's all right if I confirm it."

"Santora was to my right," Danner also said. "It was very early in the morning at about 8:30, in the green zone. The reason that people weren't sitting directly around us was that we were having a private conversation." Asked if the troops showed animosity to Kerry, Danner said: "Not in any way that I noticed. A number of soldiers came up and asked to have their photograph taken with him."

Does the above constitute spending too much time on a trivial matter? Yeah, probably. But what the heck.

It's only a "trivial matter" if you look at this as one of those "isolated incidents," instead of lining it up as the most recent episode in the long history of willful misinformation that has characterized the career of Malkin and so many other right-wing bloggers. Projection (and the Hussein episode was all of that -- they thought the AP was making shit up for no other reason than because that's what they would have done -- and, in fact, have done in the past), willful rejection of facts, an inability to admit error or issue a correction, a refusal to corroborate their stories -- the mainstream media isn't wrong when they point out what what's excreted from these orifices does not meet the standards of professional journalism.

Being exposed as a know-nothing fraud for the second time in two days (and on the eve of her celebrated Middle East Rainbow Tour, too!) should put a serious freeze on Malkin's emerging career as a mainstream spokesmodel for the right wing. But I'm afraid that it's also going to put left-wing bloggers -- many of whom are experienced journalists, academics, and legal professionals, and thus enjoy a more-than-passing acquaintance with reason, evidence, and objective truth -- on the defensive as well. If the righty bloggers keep getting it wrong, the threatened Kewl Kids of the MSM will not hesitate to tar us with the same brush.

Which means we'll need to be working overtime for a while to draw clearer distinction between the kind of reality-based newsgathering we do, and the juvenile fiction that routinely emanates from the right. It will be a great thing if this costs Malkin her career (Dave, it might be timely to dust off some of your old posts and write an I-told-you-so -- I'll bet there are lots of people who could profit from a fresh summary) -- but we also need to be aware that if she goes down, she will take some of the credibility of entire blogosphere with her.

Two in two days. Can't hardly wait to see what fresh and exotic prevarications she'll bring back among her souvenirs of Iraq....

Holidays in Hell

Sara Robinson

Velcrow Ripper at work

Writing yesterday's piece on Manzanar got me thinking more generally about the landscape of eliminationism.

History is extricably linked to geography -- and the interactions between the two can change faster and more dramatically than we usually realize. My first job out of college was writing (and later editing) for a popular series of travel guides. Not long ago, thinking I might pitch some travel stories, I dug into my 20-year-old travel clips, looking for something I could tuck in with a query letter to persuade an editor of my basic competence.

A quick flip through my faded and yellowing clippings changed my mind. It turned out that some of my best stuff had already been rendered useless by history. There was a review of a top-floor restaurant that used to command sweeping views of Manhattan, before that commercial airliner plowed into the side of the building one clear September morning. A pocket guidebook to a charming Gulf Coast city that was wiped off the map last year by a hurricane. And a vacation piece describing the emerging ski resorts of a quaint Balkan country that imploded two years after the article was published -- and added the phrase "ethnic cleansing" to the American lexicon in the process. Small wonder that one of my top-ten favorite travel books of all time is P.J. O'Rourke's Holidays In Hell, an account of his travel adventures in various political hot spots. You can't read the book without being struck by how fast today's tourist trap can degenerate into tomorrow's killing field.

Stuff like this makes you aware of the degree to which geography is the product of an innocent landscape interacting with far-from-innocent human actions. Even when the evil ends, the land remains polluted with the memory of it. That's what struck me while writing about Manzanar: It's an odd thing to write what basically amounts to a travel article taking you to a monument to loss and suffering, a park that exists now only as a testament to evils that must not be forgotten. Yet the world is full of such places, and they are no less essential to defining our culture than the White House or the Grand Canyon.

A couple years ago, I went to the opening of Scared Sacred, a remarkable independent film by Vancouver filmmaker Velcrow Ripper. Ripper spent five years hauling his camera and a small crew to what he called "the world's Ground Zeros" -- places that bore the memories of the gravest atrocities in human history, many of which were still riven with the pain and secrets and scars. His journeys took him from the killing fields of Cambodia to Bhopal in India; from the threshold between the Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank to the Nazi death camps; and from the wreckage of Afghanistan to the monuments of Hiroshima.

As Friday night movies go, it sounds like the kind of travelogue that would make you want to just stay home for the rest of the weekend, if not for the rest of your life. But what made the film remarkable, and elevated it from the macabre to the magnificent, was this: In each place he visited, he sought out the signs of resurgence and recovery -- the ways in which people were reaching out over unspeakable loss to create healing and change, and finding their best selves in the process. Ripper's conviction is that that no place, and no people, is beyond hope. Though the will to destroy each other is an inescapable part of our nature, even history's most unspeakable horrors cannot totally overcome the place in our spirits that wills us to rise up and reassert what is good. Any cynic worthy of the name would find this message too optimistic to be taken seriously; but when Ripper's subjects stand amid the wreckage and show us the redemption of their own lives, there's no refuting the essential truth of his experience. (Scared Sacred is out on DVD now; I saw it in my video store just this evening.)

The American landscape is littered with Ground Zeroes of its own -- places where our commitment to our own ideals failed tragically, marking the very ground with shame. Looking over the National Park Service's Manzanar website, I noticed a page that provides what appears to be a rudimentary list of these -- other NPS historical sites that are also monuments to moments we wantonly abandoned our values out of fear, greed, and sheer hatred. A few of the highlights, in their words:

Minidoka Internment National Monument in Idaho was another of the ten World War II camps that held Japanese American Internees.

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Memorial is currently under study by the National Park Service as a memorial to those Japanese Americans removed from the island at the beginning of World War II.

Aleutian World War II National Historical Park tells the story of the “Forgotten War” — the events of the Aleutian Campaign that include the bombing of Dutch Harbor by the Japanese in June 1942 and the evacuation and internment of the Aleuts.

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas, was the site of the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 that declared segregated schools to be inherently unequal. Like Manzanar, this site addresses civil rights issues and asks what it means to be an American.

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site was created to commemorate an event that typifies the treatment of American Indians in the westward expansion of our nation. The creation of this site is an example of the National Park Service addressing darker sides of our history and choosing to present them as part of our complex legacy.

Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia was the location of a Confederate military prison during the Civil War. Many Union soldiers died there due to extremely poor conditions. The site exists today to tell the stories of all prisoners of war.

This is, of course, only a drop in the bucket -- the tiny handful of such places that somehow, finally, ended up in NPS hands. But most of us have other such places of remembering not far from our own homes -- state parks and roadside monument markers, museums and battlefields and graveyards, bridges and bus stations and courthouse steps -- or simply bare unmarked lots that locals still tell stories about. You probably have one near your own house. We should make a list. (Add your entry in the comments.)

Those of you with right-wing relatives can hear them tuning up in your heads right now: Why should we waste our beautiful minds remembering places like this; or our precious vacations visiting them; or our tax dollars buying them up and turning them into state parks and national monuments? It's just more liberal America-is-always-wrong crap; who needs it?

They don't get that preserving these places, and taking our children to them, isn't making America wrong. In fact, it's an essential part of making it better.

From the beginning, the United States dared to set a higher bar for equality, democracy, and justice than any other nation that's ever existed -- and push that threshold farther with every successive generation. (There are plenty of countries that surpass us in actual performance now, but even they achieved this by aiming at standards we were the first to set.) That commitment is the fundamental precondition from which the rest of our prosperity and peace have flowed. Throughout our history, the more fiercely we have honored it, the better we have done, by every measure, as a nation.

We expect better from ourselves. Yet we also tend to forget that when you aim for what may well be an impossible ideal, you're going to fall short of the mark far more often than you actually hit it. America has fallen short many times. But what has made us great is our dogged determination to hold on to our shattered ideals anyway, and keep trying to do better -- the same will to overcome that's at the heart of Scared Sacred.

So we visit places like Manzanar to improve our aim -- to sharpen our understanding of how failure happens; to remind us of the sobering results of giving up on that commitment; and to find the inspiration to keep trying. And we preserve them because, while the human memory of an atrocity dies with those who lived through it (it's not a coincidence that these new camps are now being built just as the generation that can remember the crimes of Manzanar has begun passing from the scene), the durable landscape has a unique ability to record their story, and offer it as a testament and warning to future generations.

One my New Year's Resolutions is to look for these places, and spend more time in them. Maybe I'll see you there.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Friday orca blogging

This big fella is a Northern Resident killer whale who is designated A13, and is called Skeena. Took this photo last August up in the vicinity of Telegraph Cove. He actually came within about 10 feet of me, but as I had a telephoto and was too busy gasping for breath, I didn't get a shot off. This was my best picture of him.

Skeena, as you can see, had a run-in with a boat propellor sometime in the last couple of years; his fin used to be even taller. It doesn't appear to have affected his health.

"Free Jamil Hussein"

No small irony here:

Perhaps Malkin and her cohort should get serious about their oh-so-funny little bumper sticker from a little while back:

Use the proceeds to get him out of the prison their self-promoting hysterics are responsible for sending him to.

It's the least they could do, n'est-ce pas?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Caw caw munch munch

-- by Dave

Color me surprised: there really is a Jamil Hussein:
BAGHDAD (AP) -- The Interior Ministry acknowledged Thursday that an Iraqi police officer whose existence had been denied by the Iraqis and the U.S. military is in fact an active member of the force, and said he now faces arrest for speaking to the media.

Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, who had previously denied there was any such police employee as Capt. Jamil Hussein, said in an interview that Hussein is an officer assigned to the Khadra police station, as had been reported by The Associated Press.

The captain, whose full name is Jamil Gholaiem Hussein, was one of the sources for an AP story in late November about the burning and shooting of six people during a sectarian attack at a Sunni mosque.

The U.S. military and the Iraqi Interior Ministry raised the doubts about Hussein in questioning the veracity of the AP's initial reporting on the incident, and the Iraqi ministry suggested that many news organization were giving a distorted, exaggerated picture of the conflict in Iraq. Some Internet bloggers spread and amplified these doubts, accusing the AP of having made up Hussein's identity in order to disseminate false news about the war.

Khalaf offered no explanation Thursday for why the ministry had initially denied Hussein's existence, other than to state that its first search of records failed to turn up his full name. He also declined to say how long the ministry had known of its error and why it had made no attempt in the past six weeks to correct the public record.

Hussein was not the original source of the disputed report of the attack; the account was first told on Al-Arabiya satellite television by a Sunni elder, Imad al-Hashimi, who retracted it after members of the Defense Ministry paid him a visit. Several neighborhood residents subsequently gave the AP independent accounts of the Shiite militia attack on a mosque in which six people were set on fire and killed.

Better yet, it turns out that Hussein is being arrested solely because he talked to the AP reporters:
Khalaf told the AP that an arrest warrant had been issued for the captain for having contacts with the media in violation of the ministry's regulations.

Hussein told the AP on Wednesday that he learned the arrest warrant would be issued when he returned to work on Thursday after the Eid al-Adha holiday. His phone was turned off Thursday and he could not be reached for further comment.

Hussein appears to have fallen afoul of a new Iraqi push, encouraged by some U.S. advisers, to more closely monitor the flow of information about the country's violence, and strictly enforce regulations that bar all but authorized spokesmen from talking to media.

In other words, Hussein is being arrested only because Malkin and her cohorts raised a ruckus questioning his very existence. As Lindsay says, maybe she can interview Hussein in his jail cell while she's there on her upcoming trip.

In other words, Malkin and her friends have successfully criminalized the flow of any information outside of official Iraqi channels.

Nice going, gang. I'm sure the reporters on the ground in Baghdad will thank you for that.

Crooks and Liars has more, and so does Brad R at Sadly, No!

As I pointed out previously:
[L]ike all the other would-be media critics in this matter, [Malkin's] eagerness to parrot the government line in this case is noteworthy -- especially since they all are notably skeptical of the government when it suits their own agendas.

But as this case demonstrates, defending an increasingly indefensible war boils down to accusing the press reporting on the disaster of treasonous behavior, including running false reports that amount to "carrying propaganda for the enemies of Iraq." Even if it's the military authorities doing so -- and right-wing bloggers taking their reports at face value -- without a trace of irony.

Because, as we know, the military authorities in Iraq have been giving us the straight poop at every turn of the screw, right? The toppling of Saddam's statue, Jessica Lynch, Fallujah, Pat Tillman, Haditha. Why, they're just pictures of credibility.

Greg Sargent remarks:
Oh, dear. It will be interesting to see what Malkin, Curt of Flopping Aces, Powerline Blog's John Hinderaker, and all the other merry wingers who promoted this story have to say about this new development. Of particular interest will be to see what the hapless Eason Jordan, the former CNN chief who actually offered to fly Malkin to Iraq so the two could hunt for Hussein together, has to say about it.

These bloggers actually managed to kick up enough dust around this story that some mainstream news orgs were suckered into paying attention to this attack on one of their own and granting it a semblance of legitimacy. The truth is, however, that this attack was never about discovering whether or not that episode happened. It was really an effort by the wingers to try and discredit a news org that was bringing back imagery of the war in Iraq that was turning the American public against the conflict and causing their beloved leader to sink ever deeper in the polls.

Well, we haven't had to wait long. Malkin's response initially was fairly noncommittal: "Checking it out. Moving forward." But sure enough, she shortly follows up with more updates that -- quite predictably, as anyone who's dealt with Malkin could have foreseen -- simply move the goalposts.

She cites her chief cohort in this, Curt at Flopping Aces: "As many of us have said from the beginning, finding Jamil Hussein will not make this story go away..."

Then there's Dan Riehl:
Fascinating. But let me be the first to say to the Left, before they lose themselves in glee, I don't see that bloggers have anything to apologize for, nor do I see this story being at an end. The ultimate question is what happened in Hurriya the day six Sunnis were claimed to have been burned alive?

Or Ed Morrissey: "Whether Jamil Hussein actually exists is really a secondary issue."

My personal fave was Mickey Kaus:
Capt. Jamil Hussein, controversial AP source, seems to exist. That's one important component of credibility!

Yes, indeed, actually existing is one component of credibility. So is acknowledging openly when you're wrong.

And the funny thing is, not one of these people is willing to stand up and admit that they were wrong. None of them has enough integrity to stand up and apologize to the Associated Press and its reporters for openly accusing them of engaging in gross journalistic fraud, and for doing so on shaky grounds that revealed a complete lack of understanding of the nature of journalistic work -- particularly the relationship of reporters to officialdom.

Remember, it was this crowd who made Jamil Hussein's very existence an open question. There was Malkin herself:
"Who is Jamil Hussein?" is becoming the new "Who is John Galt?"

The question was bantered about by a whole host of right-wing bloggers, including Austin Bay.

Over at Powerline, the integrity of the AP as an institution was called into question:
The story was reported world-wide. The only official source for the account, however, was "Police Capt. Jammil Hussein." CENTCOM initially said that it had not been able to confirm the account of the burned-alive Sunnis. Upon further investigation, it appears that the incident probably never occurred at all. In addition, "Police Capt. Jamil Hussein" appears to be non-existent.

... The difficulty of getting reliable reporting out of Iraq should not become an excuse for an abandonment of all journalistic standards.

Curt at Flopping Aces used it to bash the MSM generally:
The MSM has been using bogus officials to supply chaos to their stories and based on those same stories has decided Iraq is now a official civil war.

And Bay intimated that they were all being dupes of the insurgency:
Not only is Capt. Hussein bogus, but another source the AP has used extensively is bogus.

The insurgency knows what they are doing here.

Meanwhile, Eason Jordan used it to apparently promote his new career as a Faux-style journalist:
If an Iraqi police captain by the name of Jamil Hussein exists, there is no convincing evidence of it - and that means the Associated Press has a journalistic scandal on its hands that will fester until the AP deals with it properly.

It's useful to recall, too, that CENTCOM itself sent a request for retraction to the Associated Press:
We can tell you definitively that the primary source of this story, police Capt. Jamil Hussein, is not a Baghdad police officer or an MOI employee. We verified this fact with the MOI through the Coalition Police Assistance Training Team . . .

And then there's Malkin herself. As I noted back when this first came up:
Mind you, this isn't the first time Malkin's predilection for accusing working journalists of unethical -- or even treasonous -- behavior on questionable grounds has been highlighted. As always, it raises real questions among journalists, at least, just what kind of "professional journalist" this is.

Because Malkin isn't merely questioning the data professionally: she flat-out accuses the Associated Press of running a phony story and being in cahoots with the terrorists in Iraq. She writes, with no sense of irony: "MSM credibility, R.I.P."

Oh, there are a number of the dessicated corpses now littering the media landscape here. I'm pretty sure Malkin's credibility suffered the equivalent of an ebola infection about the time she wrote her book on the internment, but for some reason she keeps trotting it out for public flogging periodically.

And in case anyone forgot: Boehlert was right, too.

UPDATE: More from Glenn Greenwald, the General, Bob Geiger, and Nitpicker.

Steve Gilliard, who also has a post on this, writes:
You know, these morons don't even get why this story was important.

It wasn't about sourcing, but the fact that the Madhi Army went batshit. That their power is unchallenged within Baghdad.

So they concentrate on the details and forget the more important story, which is the rise of Sadr and his militia. They think the AP made this up? The AP has photos which would make them puke.

They deny the obvious.

That's because it's obvious they are wrong about the war on Iraq, and have been for the past four years. And that's the last thing they'll ever admit.

Return to Manzanar

-- Sara Robinson

NPS photo

Manazar looked almost exactly like this photo last Wednesday when I drove by it: cold, clear, with the snowy eastern escarpment of the Sierra rising up behind it in the winter light. The California Highway Patrol had cleared the road of commercial traffic between Olancha and Independence after two Crystal Geyser trailer trucks on their way to the bottling plant had blown over in the 60-mile-per-hour winds thrashing the southern end of the valley, so there were just a few cars straggling along the empty highway. The kids in the back seat were still talking about the trucks as we approached Independence, northbound toward home and a brief visit with my dad's side of the family.

"Look to the right, kids. There's usually a herd of tule elk grazing in that field out there. The lake is Haiwee Reservoir -- haiwee is the Northern Paiute word for small bird, and a popular name for Paiute girls. The water's going into the aqueduct, headed for LA."

They nodded and looked. Being perhaps more sensible than us, the elk had taken note of the wind and cold and made themselves scarce. I gave up on them, and returned my eyes to the highway. It was then that I noticed a new landmark ahead on the left -- one I'd never seen in nearly half a century of driving this familiar stretch of US 395.

NPS photo

Against the clouds, there was a tower. The shape was familiar: I'd seen it in photographs all my life, at least since the first Saturday I took my shiny new driver's license and my mom's car, drove down to the county's rare book library in Independence, and asked to check out the Manzanar High School yearbooks -- one of which featured this stark black-and-white image on its cover. It was a guard tower made of fresh pine boards, maybe 30 feet high, imposing and unmistakeable at the edge of the road. Nearby, a new sign (a perfect copy of the 1942 original, right down to its oddly Nazi-looking font) marked the Manzanar Relocation Center, National Parks Service. As we approached the tower, I saw a dozen cars parked in a new, paved parking lot. After sixty years of decay and denial, Manzanar is returning to life.

NPS photo

I used to visit Manzanar a lot in my twenties, when I lived in LA and made this trip home half a dozen times a year. Back in the 70s and 80s, there wasn't much to see. The stone pagoda-shaped gatehouse was abandoned and falling to ruin. The big auditorium -- the only remaining building of consequence -- was being used by the county as a heavy equipment storage barn. Other than that, the only evidence from the road that this had once been a makeshift city of 10,000 incarcerated people were the trees.

Those who remember Manzanar back in the day often like to talk about the gardens. Dropped into the stark high-desert xeriscape, fending off 120-degree summers and zero-degree winters in board-and-tar-paper huts, faced with a severe lack of water and winds like the ones we were braving today, you’d think that landscaping would be about the last thing the inhabitants would think to attempt.

But "Manzanar" means "apple orchard" in Spanish. After the local Paiutes had been marched off to Fort Tejon in the early 1900s (the first crime committed by the federal government on this land, but far from the last), it had been the name of an apple farming community that had been founded there in 1910. Those farms were forcibly run out of business in the 1920s when -- with federal collusion -- the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) diverted the valley's water to the city. (If you want the details, rent Chinatown.).

So the site came dotted with mature apple trees, which formed the basis of much more extensive gardens. Many of the internees were nurserymen and farmers, who whiled away the next three and a half years planting trees and flowers, building hardscape, and turning some of Manzanar's sandy, windy avenues into gracious outdoor parks.

The huts are long gone, removed by the government along with the barbed wire fences, the guard towers, and all other evidence of the crime immediately after the war. But for decades afterward, even whizzing by the site at highway speeds, you could see that in that particular square mile of sage and rabbit brush, there were trees -- and they all stood in straight lines, marking the interstices between the barracks where the streets of Manzanar had once been. And if you stopped for half an hour, and took the time to tromp through the brush (watching carefully for rattlesnakes and horny toads, as Owens Valley kids learn young to do), the desert landscape would reveal more treasures.

One day, I found a large round concrete planter, which had once probably held a spreading tree with flowers and rock arrangements underneath. (Manzanar is built on an alluvial outflow where, at the end of the last Ice Age, a dying glacier dropped the load of salt-and-pepper granite boulders it had carried down through the centuries from the Sierra crest. The smooth, round ice-washed stones are a landscaping and construction staple all over the valley.) This work, unlike most anything else at the site, was signed and dated: "Built by Wada and crew, June 19, 1942." ("Wada," it turns out, was Bunyamon Wada,whose family still lives in San Diego.)

photo by Ligaya & George Wada

Not far away stood the stone foundation and hearth of the superintendent's house. Once in a while, the sand underfoot gives way to a square of concrete; or a small circle of stones marks where a campfire once burned or a tree once grew. Off to one side is the cemetery, the final resting place of fifteen souls who didn't live long enough to see the gates open and their families return home. (One hundred and fifty Manzanar residents died during the internment -- including two killed in a riot -- but all except for these 15 chose to be cremated.)

photo by Tory Amorello

For five decades between 1945 and 1995, these little remnants in the gravel are all that remained of Manzanar. Nobody in America wanted to remember what had happened here. Even in my own family, my stepfather -- who was 13 the summer his Japanese neighbors abandoned their homes in East LA's Boyle Heights, took up temporary quarters in the horse stalls at the nearby Santa Anita racetrack, and were ultimately transported here -- can still faithfully recite the rationalizations. There were spies among them. There were Japanese subs in Long Beach harbor. It was for their own good -- and most of them, knowing this, went voluntarily. And besides, life in the camps wasn't that bad: a lot of them drove their own cars up to Independence, and they could leave the camp and drive into town to buy groceries any time they pleased.

This misinformation has, unfortunately, persisted through the years; and some of it is still an article of faith among Owens Valley's working classes. Many of the locals in Lone Pine and Independence worked in or for the camps; many of the old families, impoverished since the DWP ran them off their farms, were all too grateful for the jobs. The shame of their complicity breeds an ambivalence that feeds the silence, though occasionally it breaks through: The drug store in Lone Pine, which boasts the largest newsstand in town, still carries Lillian Baker's revisionist accounts of what happened at Manzanar right alongside the geology maps and the field guides to local flora and fauna. Anyone looking for an accurate history will not find it there.

The internees themselves didn't seem eager to break that long silence, either. When it was over, they went home -- some angry and defeated, some simply determined to get on with rebuilding their lives. Their children and grandchildren, a few of whom I went to college with, learned early not to ask too much about those years: in most families, it was something Mom and Dad resolutely refused to discuss. (Jeanne Wakatsuki described this attitude as shikata ga nai -- "It must be done," or in American English: Suck it up, and get on with your life.) Manzanar, under the administrative aegis of the LADWP, began to vanish into the dust of the valley floor; and for the next 25 years, the internment itself simply faded from the national memory, lingering on as a paragraph in an eighth-grade textbook, and a two-minute lecture on civil rights in a high school civics class.

That began to change in the early 70s, when Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston -- one of my stepfather's Boyle Heights neighbors before the war -- chronicled her childhood in the camp in her book, Farewell to Manzanar. In 1976, it was turned into a TV mini-series, which was hailed as the Japanese-Americans' version of Roots (which had also been aired that year). The book and TV series broke the silence at last. In most families, it was the internees' grandchildren who started asking the questions, doing the research, and making trips out to Manzanar, Tule Lake, Poston, and other relocation sites across the west. Ansel Adams' and Dorothea Lange's photographs of the camp were pulled out of the vaults, and put on exhibit; I remember going to the first public showing of of camp photographer Toyo Miyatake's work in San Francisco in the late 80s. Starting in 1969, vanloads of young Japanese-Americans started pulling up in front of that dilapidated pagoda gatehouse on annual pilgrimages, trying to imagine the place as their elders had known it. Political pressure to right the wrongs mounted: in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a reparations bill that gave $20,000 and a signed presidential apology letter to every internee, or his or her survivors and heirs.

The effort to create a physical monument to the Japanese internment took far longer. Of the ten camps scattered throughout the west, Manzanar was the most logical candidate: there were restorable structures left on the site (which was generally not true elsewhere); and at four hours from LA and Las Vegas, five from San Diego, and seven from San Francisco, it was far and away easiest site for would-be visitors to get to. The State of California kicked off the process in 1972 by naming Manzanar a state historical landmark. The Department of the Interior added National Landmark designation in 1985. Somewhere in the years that followed, the county stopped parking its road equipment in the auditorium, a broad parking lot was graded, and the pagoda gatehouse got cleaned up. In 1992, on the fiftieth anniversary of Executive Order 9066 (which ordered the internment), Congress named it a National Historic Site. The restored entrance sign went up not long after the site's remaining 813 acres were turned over the National Park Service in 1997.

After that, the changes started coming faster; the Manzanar I saw last week is now a completely different place. The auditorium has been completely restored, and turned into a museum and research center. The front fence has been rebuilt, along with the new tower -- a faithful reproduction of one of the eight that originally surrounded the camp. In the next couple years, plans call for a re-created barracks -- and park, with ponds and gardens, like the ones that the internees built in their efforts to make hell seem more like paradise.

Manzanar, which was was vanishing both from both the landscape and our common memory during my childhood, is evolving into a major asset for the tourist economy of the southern Owens Valley -- and the heart of a wide-ranging new conversation about equality, justice, and freedom in America. These days, the annual pilgrimage draws thousands to the Manzanar cemetery on the last Saturday in April every year, where internees, their children and grandchildren, and friends and locals all turn out for a day of remembrance and education. Many hundreds camp out over the weekend, in order to experience the harsh landscape first-hand. (Though late April, with its blooming wildflowers and mild weather, is usually a spectacular time of year for a visit.) The dead are honored in Christian and Buddhist ceremonies; and internees gather in the great auditorium they built to tell the tales one more time -- this time in front of cameras, so they will not be forgotten. Local schoolchildren no longer get lies or silence, but rather frequent field trips. The county museum in Independence is expanding its own collections, and hosts regular internment-related events aimed at locals and visitors alike.

My little valley, lauded by no less worthies as John Muir and Ansel Adams as one of the most beautiful spots in America, is dotted with the wreckage of a century of government and corporate malfeasance: a handful of Native Americans shoved onto postage-stamp reservations, the epic story of farms seized and water stolen so a few families could get rich and LA could sprawl, unabated mining pollution, sundown towns and meth labs -- and the guilty memories of the region's main contribution to the war. Manzanar is the first monument to this last wrong; it is holy ground now, not just to the ancestors of those who were interned there, but also to all Americans who care about what happens when we allow fear to undermine our commitment to our best principles and ideals.

It's appalling that, even as we are busily re-creating this famous concentration camp into a place of national memory and healing, we are also busily constructing yet more camps under yet more wretched conditions -- thus dooming our own grandchildren to someday build monuments of memory to our own failures, in order to disinherit themselves of our shame. Anyone who thinks interning illegal immigrants in faraway places is a good idea should be brought to Manzanar, preferably in the baking heat of summer or the fierce winds of winter, and made to stand in the shadow of that tower. It is not a place we can, or should, continue to pass by.

Manzanar Relocation Center is located on US Highway 395, six miles south of Independence, CA. A wide variety of information on the camp -- including its history, current facilities and programs, and trip planning assistance -- is on the excellent Manzanar National Historic Site website.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


[Photo of Manzanar Relocation Center by Dorothea Lange, 1943.]

The elderly gentleman had a stack of file folders full of clippings he had obviously brought with him, and he thumbed through these on the table where he had taken a seat, waiting for my talk.

His clippings caught my eye, as did the man himself. The talk I was giving was to promote my most recent book, Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, at the historic old Panama Hotel in Seattle's International District (this was in July of 2005). Most of the other patrons that evening were Japanese Americans; a number of them were elderly Nisei who had been interned at "relocation centers" during World War II, and some of these were people I had interviewed in the process of writing the book.

This man, however, was an elderly Caucasian, and it was apparent shortly after finishing my brief talk, when I opened up the floor to questions, that he was there to defend the internment as justifiable. He was obviously familiar with the arguments offered by such historical revisionists as Lillian Baker, David Bowman, and Michelle Malkin, and proceeded to attack the book's thesis.

I was somewhat prepared for this, and gladly answered his questions with what I think were accurate and succinct responses that refuted his underlying assumptions (like most revisionists, he continually ignored the distinction between American citizens and Japanese nationals). I could see that the rest of the audience was growing agitated by his persistent willingness to assume their guilt as potential traitors, the same assumption that resulted in their incarceration.

He finally stepped in it, however, when he attacked my consistent use of the term "concentration camps" to describe the so-called ten "relocation centers" that held some 120,000 internees. (There has been some ongoing discussion of exactly what terminology to use to describe the Japanese American "internment"; currently, most historians favor using "internment camps" to describe the military camps that held a number of "enemy aliens" swept up in Justice Department arrests shortly after the outbreak of war, while the "relocation centers" -- a bureaucratic euphemism concocted by architects of the evacuation -- are more accurately described either in terms of the incarceration they represented, either as "prison camps" or "concentration camps.")

"You shouldn't call them concentration camps," he said. "We weren't starving people to death or murdering them in gas chambers. Calling them that makes people think that's what went on there."

Well, I responded, what you're describing is properly called a death camp. "Concentration camp" was a term created, during the Boer War, to describe the mass prison camps the British erected to incarcerate Boer families. It has been used consistently afterward to describe these kinds of arrangements, including by both Franklin Roosevelt and Attorney General Biddle, in official documents, to describe the Japanese American camps.

It was at this point, however, that several of the elderly internees in the audience nearly came out of their seats; they were shaking with anger.

"If that wasn't a concentration camp, I'd sure like to know what the hell it was," said one of them, a Nisei man. "I was there. I saw the armed guards in the watchtowers, the barbed wire."

"That barbed wire was just a line in the sagebrush," the skeptic retorted. "You could have walked over it at any time."

"Yes, and we'd have been shot the moment we tried," said the Nisei. "You have no idea what we had to endure. You weren't there."

Other audience members jumped in, demanding to know how he could distort the reality of the camp experience of their own memories, especially as he tried to depict the camps essentially as vacation camps with golfing and nice schools. I let them argue for awhile -- it was more of a verbal dogpile, actually -- and then finally stepped in verbally and moved on to other questions and questioners. My elderly interlocutor, looking nonplussed, packed up his clippings and left.

The whole incident underscored for me the way we let invented terminologies disguise and distort the reality of the things we do. It's an easy way of softening it -- because we just don't like looking that reality in the face.

We slaughter thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens in the process of dislodging their dictator, and call it "collateral damage." We stand by as thousands more are slaughtered in the name of ancient hatreds, in places like Rwanda and Darfur, and we name it "ethnic cleansing."

We've done it throughout history. We stole land from the native Americans and murdered them relentlessly, and called it "Manifest Destiny." We lynched thousands of African Americans under the rubric of an imagined threat of rape and called it "defending white womanhood," while driving out thousands more from our communities and calling it "defending our way of life."

And we put 120,000 people behind barbed wire under armed guard and called it a "relocation center." Nowadays, we have a new name for it: the "family detention center" or, better still, the utterly neutral "residential center."

Last week, Pachacutec at Firedoglake raised a few eyebrows by referring to the privately operated "detention centers" where Immigration and Cusgtoms Enforcement has been incarcerating thousands of illegal immigrants, including their citizen children, as "concentration camps." Some of his commenters particularly objected, like my elderly inquisitor, to using a term that they, at least, associated primarily with Nazis and the Holocaust.

But as Pach noted in follow-up (with an assist from Lambert at Correntewire), "concentration camp" is a perfectly applicable term here, for largely the same reasons I gave at the talk. Considering the information that is starting to come to light from at least the largest of these centers, there are reasons to believe that conditions at these privately run "detention centers" are even worse than those at the Japanese American camps.

And Digby's keen eye, as always, observes that there's a disturbing trend emerging here -- namely, that thousands of people, including citizens, are being spirited away to these centers, and so far life within them has a real totalitarian quality to it. (Meanwhile, Latina Lista has been leading the way in reporting on this.)

The chief reports involve the largest of the family detention centers: the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America. A piece in the Austin Statesman reported on concerns raised by local activists:
On Thursday, members of Texans United for Families, a coalition of community, civil rights and immigrant rights groups, sought to highlight that difference. Starting with a press conference at the state Capitol, then embarking on a 35-mile walk to the Taylor jail, they charged that detaining families and children under what they described as poor conditions is immoral and violates human rights.

"Housing families in for-profit prisons not only calls to question our moral values and our respect for human rights, but it is also a waste of taxpayer money," said Luissana Santibanez, a 25-year-old University of Texas student and an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, which works to stop the expansion of the private prison industry.

The Taylor jail began holding immigrant families this summer under a contract with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. It is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America. Williamson County receives $1 per day for each inmate held there. A spokesman for the company referred questions to Immigration and Customs Enforcement's San Antonio office.

... Organizers of Thursday's press conference and walk said the Taylor jail houses about 400 people, including about 200 children who are held with their parents. They said children receive one hour of education -- English instruction -- and one hour of recreation per day, usually indoors.

It should be noted that, at the Japanese American relocation centers, the War Relocation Authority provided full schooling facilities for children in the camps. Recreation was also readily available, usually in the form of baseball, which in the summertime was played almost endlessly.
Frances Valdez, an attorney with the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law who has visited clients at the facility, said detainees have reported receiving substandard medical care and becoming ill from food served at the jail.

"A lot of children are losing weight. People suffer from severe headaches," Valdez said. "I think there's a lot of psychological issues going on. Most of these people are asylum seekers, so they've already suffered severe trauma in their country." She said immigrants are not given psychological treatment.

Valdez said children wear jail uniforms when they are big enough to fit in them, and all wear name tags. "Even a baby client had a name tag," she said. For instruction, children are divided into groups, 12 and under and 13 and above.

In the DailyKos diary by on this matter, a commenter provided the text of an e-mail from flamenco guitarist Teye, who has become involved in raising the appropriate concern over these facilities, which he describes thus:
I have been to the Hutto Residential Center in Taylor Texas and can testify that it does not look like their publicity picture. The publicity picture looks almost nice: the lobby of an East European hotel maybe? The reality looks like an updated version of a concentration camp, replete with razor wire, double fence with gravel covered death zone between them. It looks like a place where you would stick grave criminals, not children.

Teye also passed along a letter from Dallas attorney John Wheat Gibson, who is representing a number of clients inside the walls at the Hutto "residential center", writing to the Austin reporter who covered the Hutto story:
Dear Mr. Castillo:

Whoever told you the people imprisoned in Taylor, Texas entered the country illegally lied to you. I have seven clients now imprisoned since November 3 at the T. Don Hutto prison, and every one of them entered the U.S. legally with a visa issued by the United States government.

Furthermore, there is no reason for the imprisonment of these children except as victims of a Michael Chertoff publicity stunt. In midnight raids on November 3 the Department of Homeland Stupidity took these children, who were enrolled in school, from their homes, with their parents and imprisoned them.

The sole purpose of the raids, political propaganda, was apparent from a DHS press release which characterized the victims as "fugitives" and "criminals." In fact, none of the families I know of were either fugitives or criminals. The two families I represent had conscientiously kept the DHS informed of their current residential addresses.

The purpose of the publicity stunt was to make the ignorant Fox-News brainwashed masses believe that 1) the Muslims among us are our enemies but 2) the DHS is protecting us, and therefore 3) we should not mind shredding the Constitution.

In fact, there was no legitimate reason for the raids at all. The two families I represent had been ordered deported, but had never received the customary notice to report for deportation. If they had, they would have worked out through their attorneys arrangements with the government for the children to finish the school year and then to depart at their own expense.

Now, this is a letter from a defense attorney and its accuracy may be a matter of interpretation. But it seems evident, not merely from this case but a number of similar anecdotes -- including the arrests of a number of legal immigrants -- that many of the current wave of immigration detentions are occurring under circumstances that are questionable at best. These include several instances of clear-cut racial profiling.

On top of the horrendous conditions and the inappropriate arrests, it's becoming clear that not only is the system failing to work as it should, there is a real lack of accountability, in no small part due to the fact that the government is handing off this work to private corporations, who are simply not accountable to the public. A Statesman editorial observes:
The facilities also are living testimony to a broken system for adjudicating immigration cases. There are 215 federal immigration judges serving in 53 immigration courts across the country. Last year, they handled more than 350,000 specific matters, including 270,000 individual cases.

The backlog is so strained that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, noted: "The department and the federal courts are straining under the weight of an immigration litigation system that is broken. Under the current system, criminal aliens generally receive more opportunities for judicial review of their removal orders than noncriminal aliens."

In short, illegal immigrants who commit crimes get speedier legal attention than these children, who have done nothing wrong other than follow their parents.

... Hard information on the program and the private prison is difficult to come by. The company running the prison refers questions to the immigration office, and the immigration office has had little to say about the situation.

The lack of accountability begins with the Department of Homeland Security, which appears to consider itself immune from such picayune nuisances as both public inquiry and even the courts. A Denver Post story reveals that ICE agents ignored a court order in transporting some of its detainees to Texas:
About 75 people detained during a raid at a Greeley meatpacking plant last week are returning to Colorado after federal agents transported them against a judge's order to a Texas immigration jail, according to the union representing the plant's workers.

U.S. District Court Judge John Kane signed an order Wednesday that prohibited federal agents from sending detainees in the raid out of state.

"If a federal judge ordered me to do something, I would do it," said Dave Minshall, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7. "I have no idea why ICE felt they were exempt from this order."

Also, the union filed suit charging that some of those taken in the raid were illegally detained, jailed and interrogated.

Most of the detainees returning to Colorado are immigrants from countries other than Mexico, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, Minshall said.

It's clear that Homeland Security is gearing up for more detentions, though the matter of having enough manpower to arrest illegal immigrants and transfer them to detention facilities is already starting to stress DHS officials, who are currently preparing a hiring spree to deal with the workload. The push to increase detentions has even resulted in a mini-scandal at DHS, with bureaucrats caught making an illegal funds transfer from ICE to Customs and Border Protection for the work of transporting detainees. And a new facility in Raymondville, Texas, opened this summer, designed to hold eventually some 2,000 illegal immigrants.

However, in the past year, reports Jonathan Marino at Government Executive, arrests have actually been flat, which could rule out the need for those Halliburton detention centers reportedly waiting in the wings:
Immigration enforcement officials indicated Monday they might not need to implement a contingency contract to create additional jail beds because immigration-related arrests dropped during fiscal 2006.

As of March, Customs and Border Patrol arrests stood at a five-year high. But following President Bush's call for beefed-up border security in May, apprehensions dropped. Immigration officials speculated that increased enforcement efforts may have led to a decline in attempted border crossings.

Overall, arrests were down 8 percent from fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2006, from about 1.2 million to 1.1 million. The 2006 figure represents a three-year low.

Julie Myers, the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told reporters after a press conference Monday that as long as arrests continue to decline, the agency will not need to create more spaces in detention centers.

Still, Myers said space is limited and the agency needs to be "making sure we're using it as efficiently as possible." Currently, Halliburton subsidiary KBR has a contingency contract to build detention centers that -- if implemented -- would be worth $385 million.

It's also worth noting what Marino reports regarding the nature of that KBR contract, which supports my contention that much of the initial paranoia regarding these camps was largely unwarranted:
In an e-mail message to Government Executive, ICE Press Secretary Dean Boyd said the KBR contract "has absolutely nothing to do with immigrant detentions on the Southwest border. It is a contingency contract that has existed for years, pre-dates ICE altogether, and is only designed as a contingency for mass-migration emergencies such as a potential mass-migration from Cuba or Haiti to South Florida. There have never been any plans to activate the contingency contract to handle the routine flow of migrants across the Southwest border." Boyd said the agency is continuing to seek out additional detention space through contracts with state and local correctional institutions and the creation of new detention facilities.

This latter effort, however, is so far obtaining mixed results, mainly because state and local facilities are already bulging. In Minnesota, for example, Ramsey County officials have already decided not to take any more immigration detainees. The same response is cropping up elsewhere as well.

The KBR contract, in reality, represents a bigger problem: the expansion of mass detention facilities, including those like Hutto designed to house families, is an ominous development in a country where authoritarianism, fed by fearfulness, is increasingly rearing its head -- especially when, as in these cases, there are profits involved for corporations like Halliburton or CCA. It's not the kind of America, I think, any of us wants to see again -- an America where, in a fit of pique, we deprived thousands of their rights and treated them like animals.

As I noted earlier:
The problem, though, is that these kinds of facilities are so open to abuse -- that is, they're quite readily converted to other purposes, as some immigrant advocates observe later in the [New York Times] piece:

Advocates for immigrants said they feared that the new contract was another indication that the government planned to expand the detention of illegal immigrants, including those seeking asylum.

"It's pretty obvious that the intent of the government is to detain more and more people and to expedite their removal," said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami.

Nor is that the only potential area of abuse. These facilities also have a history of being used to deprive citizens of their civil liberties, embodied in the World War II internment camps. Some of the camps' most vociferous progressive critics point this out as well:

For those who follow covert government operations abroad and at home, the contract evoked ominous memories of Oliver North's controversial Rex-84 "readiness exercise" in 1984. This called for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to round up and detain 400,000 imaginary "refugees," in the context of "uncontrolled population movements" over the Mexican border into the United States. North's activities raised civil liberties concerns in both Congress and the Justice Department. The concerns persist.

"Almost certainly this is preparation for a roundup after the next 9/11 for Mid-Easterners, Muslims and possibly dissenters," says Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers, the U.S. military's account of its activities in Vietnam. "They've already done this on a smaller scale, with the 'special registration' detentions of immigrant men from Muslim countries, and with Guantanamo."

Considering these latter points, Ellsberg's fears are at least not groundless, and may prove prophetic.

So it seems almost inevitable that we will be seeing more of these mass detention centers, particularly as Bush's announced plan to arrest more illegal immigrants takes full effect. The almost certain byproduct will be that we will see more and more of them designed to accommodate whole families, including citizen children, and the record so far indicates that the conditions will once again be those of a concentration camp.

The law of unintended consequences is arising here. In their determination to arrest illegal immigrants, the government -- acting, in the end, at the behest of nativist agitators -- is potentially putting itself in the business of splitting up families, since many of these illegal immigrants are the parents of citizen children. So to avoid that outcome, the only solution available is to incarcerate those children alongside their parents. The end result: concentration camps -- euphemistically designated "family detention centers" as part of an effort to "secure our borders."

It's not as though our history has not warned us. This was the same predicament the government found itself in back in 1942, as it was contemplating the evacuation of potential "enemy aliens" from the Pacific Coast -- namely, the resident population of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans. The first-generation Issei immigrants -- who had been barred by law from naturalizing -- were the only class they could actually designate "enemy aliens" and evacuate with some impunity. But most of these Issei had Nisei children and even Sansei grandchildren -- all of whom were American citizens -- living in their care, and evacuating them would leave these families without providers.

Page Smith, in Democracy On Trial: The Japanese American Evacuation and Relocation in World War II, describes the debate among the various persons involved in the decision [pp. 112-113]:
There was an air verging on desperation that hung over the numerous discussions of what was to be done. Various alternatives to "mass evacuation" were debated endlessly. James Rowe [Attorney General Francis Biddle's assistant], and Edward Ennis, head of the Justice Department's Alien Enemy Control Division, suggested that the Kibei [American citizen Nisei who had been educated in Japan] be expatriated to Japan on the grounds that having been educated in Japan and having, in most instances, that troublesome dual citizenship, it was reasonable to assume that most of them were loyal to the Emperor. But the principal obstacle to such a far-reaching and expensive plan was constitutional rather than practical. They were, after all, U.S. citizens and there would doubtlessly be unsurmountable legal problems in any plan for expatriation. To ship some nine thousand Nisei back to Japan under wartime conditions would present staggering logistical problems. [Lt. Col. Karl] Bendetsen and [Provost Marshal General Allen] Gullion [the chief co-architects of the internment] and discussed the notion of repatriating the Issei, who numbered some forty thousand, but that seemed even more impractical. An alternative that was debated by Bendetsen and Gullion (and doubtlessly many others) was simply evacuating the Issei. But that would mean, inevitably breaking up families. Where were the Issei to go in any event?

In the end, the government settled on what seemed the simplest approach: mass evacuation of all persons of Japanese descent, citizen or otherwise. Of the 70,000 or so Nisei who were incarcerated, some 40,000 of them were minor children.

It's important to understand that the internment of Japanese Americans was not the result of a nefarious design by racist schemers within the government, but was the natural outcome of a belief bereft of either humanity or truth -- that is, that all Japanese Americans were potential traitors -- and fueled by a heedless hysteria, working its way through the bureaucracy. The government more fell into the internment episode of World War II than it was driven there.

We're in the process of falling into the same mistake -- regardless of whatever euphemisms we devise to disguise it.

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Eliminationism in America: V

[Continuing a ten-part series.]

Parts I, II, III and IV.

Part V: 'Nits Make Lice'

For much of their early history on the American continent, white Europeans saw the Enemy as being Wilderness: the implacable, alien, deadly swamp whose subjugation it was their mission to impose.

The European conception of wilderness which white immigrants brought to the Americas was complex and shaded, but it was ultimately rooted, as I discussed in Part II, in a worldview that placed Europe and Christian civilization at the center of the world, the source of civilization and light. The wilderness was the embodiment of sinfulness and evil -- and so were its inhabitants. And their elimination was an essential component of the conquest.

This was true not merely of the human inhabitants, but its animals as well. Threatening creatures -- cougars, bears and wolves especially -- were hunted to near-extinction. Even wild food sources such as salmon were wantonly harvested and their habitat destroyed, especially as dams were erected on every river on the Eastern Seaboard they inhabited. Stocks were not only depleted but intentionally wasted.

Lt. Campbell Hardy, an officer of the Royal Artillery in New Brunswick, observed the mentality in action in Nova Scotia in 1837, where once-plentiful salmon stocks were already plummeting:
"The spirit of wanton extermination is rife; and it has been well remarked, it really seems as though the man would be loudly applauded who was discovered to have killed the last salmon."

Perhaps even more symbolic was the fate of the grizzly bear, which at one time ruled both the Plains and the mountain ranges of the open West. But between 1850 and 1920, grizzlies were systematically and ruthlessly exterminated everywhere humans came into contact with them, effectively eliminated from 95 percent of their traditional range.

The same was true of the native peoples who dwelt in this wilderness. It was common for colonists to view the wilderness as capable of overwhelming civilized men, even from within, turning them into "savages" and "wild men," while the people who had lived there for centuries were commonly viewed as no less than vile beasts themselves.

This was not uniformly the case, of course. There were white Europeans who believed fully in the Indians' humanity. Some of them even defended them as cultural equals, though not many. Even among the natives' defenders, it was not uncommon, while acknowledging that they were intelligent humans with souls, to still consider them savages whose redeemability was an open question.

One of these, as it happened, was the most renowned Indian fighter, a Civil War hero named George Armstrong Custer, who in his bestselling 1872 book, My Life on the Plains, described as "erroneous" the view "which regards the Indian as a creature possessing the human form but divested of all other attributes of humanity," but also observed:
We see him as he is, and, so far as all knowledge goes, as he ever has been, a savage in every sense of the word ... one whose cruel and ferocious nature far exceeds that of any wild beast of the desert.

Nonetheless, the prevailing view was that as "savages" they were indistinguishable from beasts. This is reflected in the 1850 Census, which found that there were 19,553,068 white people living in the United States, along with a "free colored population" of 434,495 and 3,204,313 slaves. It also observed that "the Mestizo is the issue of the Indian and the Negro, and has all the disabilities of the mulatto." But nowhere was there an accounting of the native American in that Census, nor in any succeeding Census until 1890, which found that there were 325,464 Indians remaining in the United States and its territories. Until then they hadn't counted. Ten years later, there were only 266,760.

So the actual population numbers of the Indian population in 1850 are guesses at best, though the guesses run to as high as a million and a half people. What we do know is that in that year, fully a generation after the Indian Removal Act, well over half of the land that would eventually constitute the lower 48 states was considered Indian Territory, the vast wilderness officially designated the "permanent Indian frontier." Within 30 years, it was all but gone.

You can see this clearly in the following graphic, taken from The Native Americans:

Whatever sympathy some humanitarian whites may have had for the natives, they were utterly ineffectual in stopping the wave of murderous bigotry that swept away all their good intentions along with the Indians themselves, fueled by the prevailing view of Indians that equated them with the beasts they encountered in this wilderness.

These encounters increased, of course, because the "permanent Indian frontier" turned out to be a very flexible concept indeed. As the Americans' thirst for land and for gold grew, so did the borders of the frontier shift ever westward, consumed by treaties that often were mere ruses for outright land theft. A promise made to an Indian was innately nonbinding. The murder of an Indian was considered, if not a non-event, cause for celebration; but any retaliatory murder of whites provoked indiscriminate slaughter and justified the genocide of entire peoples.

Missionaries were often the forerunners of this push westward, establishing trails and outposts that became way stations and provided a kind of social foundation for the pioneer travelers. Most of them were well-meaning humanitarians, but like Custer, they had little to the lowest regard for native culture, and indeed were intent on overthrowing it in the process of Christianizing them. Their view of the value of their charges' souls often depended on their willingness to submit to the missionaries' personal dictates.

These included characters like Henry Spalding, missionary to the Nez Perces who eventually took to whipping and beating his converts. His friends, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, were similarly high-handed, and their clumsy mishandling of relations with the local Cayuses resulted in the notorious Whitman Massacre of 1847, committed by a small band of angry Cayuses who blamed the Whitmans for the smallpox epidemic that had ravaged their tribe.

That in turn, as Alvin Josephy detailed in his landmark text The Nez Perce and the Opening of the Northwest, provoked a wildly disproportionate response from the newly arriving whites who now claimed these lands as their territory. The Cayuses were stripped utterly of all their lands and dispossessed; and in ensuing years, the remaining Northwest tribes systematically stripped of their lands as well, most often through intentionally provoked wars and resulting treaties that were themselves later intentionally broken.

Fresh on the missionaries' heels were waves of settlers, many of them in search of free land, others trying to strike it rich by finding gold. The Oregon Trail and California Trail were especially popular after the discovery of gold in California in 1848.

Fairly typical of the settlers' views were those voiced by Robert A. Anderson, a California rancher who lived in northern California in the 1860s. Like most of them, he equated the "savages" with the wild beasts they also encountered. Theodora Kroeber describes him in her account of the Yana people in Ishi: In Two Worlds:
He matched wits and physical prowess with Indians and grizzlies alike; both, in his opinion, "infested" the region and should be cleared out. He and Good, Anderson says, used to argue at length about how the clearing out was to be done. Good was for leaving the women and children alone; Anderson believed that immolation was the only effective way to be rid of Indians, and grizzlies too, no doubt.

Anderson, together with his longtime companion Hiram Good, organized a systematic program of extermination of the Yanas from their traditional lands in 1863-65. Some bands of the Yana, finding their traditional food sources being wiped out by invading settlers, had attacked whites in force in 1862, and had been committing lesser depredations, including the murders of several ranchers and their wives and children.

The ranchers in response, led by Anderson and Good, who had become expert trackers, embarked on a program of complete extermination, built on a paid bounty for Yana scalps that were then obtained by self-proclaimed "guards" who were essentially local riffraff hired to hunt down and kill any Yana they could find. Kroeber describes this campaign in some detail in Ishi [pp. 74-77]:
[I]t was the murder of two women, Mrs. Dirsch and Mrs. Allen August, 1864, somewhere in the vicinity of Millville and Balls Ferry, which triggered the unwontedly concentrated and bloody activity of Anderson and Good's men among the Yana.

In a space of less than five months, between August and December, 1864, three quarters of the remaining task of extermination of the Yana was accomplished. To this end two fully armed companies of guards combined the ridges, streams, and meadowlands from Deer Creek in the south to Montgomery Creek in the north. One of Waterman's informants recalled the year 1866, but this date was from oral memory fifty years later. The 1864 date has the confirmation of Jeremiah Curtin whose account is detailed and circumstantial as far as it goes, and was gathered and written down only twenty years after the events it describes ...

Curtin's account has to do with those Central and Northern Yana who were by then on a wide and exposed front vis a vis white settlers, and who, whether willingly and freely or not were in fact working for white ranchers and drawing pay for their work. Many of them lived on the ranches where they worked, sometimes in the ranch house itself as domestics, or in near-by bunk houses if they were field workers or were the old people occasionally attached affectionally and familially to younger workers.

Curtin estimated from the figures given him that in January, 1864, there some three thousand of these Yana, counting the women, the old, and the children, and that by the end of the same year their massacre was complete except for the remnants of families or bands, or for single individuals. ...

Curtin's account of the massacres agrees with Waterman's composite story obtained between 1911 and 1914 from old timers ... In both, the murder of the same two women is alleged as the inciting cause; both mention the organization of a second company of guards; Waterman notes that the organization meeting was again held at Pentz's ranch; both say that no effort was made to fix guilt for the murders, and that extermination was the objective. Curtin tells more about the guards below the leader level. They were, he says, a miscellany of the foot-loose, the semicriminal, the hangers-on of saloons and bunk houses. Anyone who wanted to come along was taken, so that among the ragtag of both companies drunkenness, looting, and violence for the sake of violence obtained and were tolerated. His account emphasizes the wantonness of the killings and the opposition of most of the ranchers to it.

The guards stole and sometimes literally tore children and half-grown girls from the arms of their white friends or employers, murdering them in view of anyone who was present except when enough men were at home and heavily enough armed to beat them off. "We must kill them big and little," one of the guards is quoted as saying, "nits will be lice." Curtin recounts some unpleasantly specific details of these encounters. They are of this sort: three Yana men were murdered out of hand while at work in a hay field belonging to a rancher who regularly employed them but who was not at home at the time. His pregnant wife could do nothing to save the Indians, but when the guards came to the house to get their wives the rancher's wife threw herself in front of the three women. The opposition even at its most rash hesitated to get three further victims at the cost of manhandling a white woman. Later, the rancher and his wife managed somehow to secrete the three women in a place of safety; how they did it or where they took them they never told.

... Sadism entered into the violence also. There was one young Yana woman, unusually popular with the white people who knew and employed her, who was dragged by force out of the white man's home where she lived. Her old aunt and uncle who were there with her were also taken, and the three of them pumped full of bullet holes on the spot. Curtin's informant had counted eleven bullet holes in the breast of the young woman. The man who killed her, and who was well "likkered up," was not satisfied. "I don't think that little squaw is dead yet," he is reported as saying. To make sure, he smashed in her skull with his revolver.

The record piles up -- an Indian woman and her baby killed here, three women at another place, twenty Yana of both sexes in the settlement of Cottonwood, and three hundred who were attending an autumn harvest festival at the head of Oak Run. Curtin's informants estimated the number of surviving Yana of pure and mixed blood to be about fifty persons by the time the avenging parties were through with their work in December.

The extermination continued unabated until the last surviving bands were tracked down and massacred. The culmination, as Kroeber details (pp. 84-85], occurred late in 1864:
Neither Robert Anderson, Hiram Good, nor any other of the guards participated in the final mass massacre of Yahi. A party of four vaqueros, J.J. Bogart, Scott Williams, and Norman Kingsley, were camped at Wild Horse Corral engaged in a roundup of cattle from the Yana hills. One morning toward the end of the roundup they came on a trail of blood. Guessing that it was a wounded steer, they followed the blood trail which led them in the direction of upper Mill Creek. They found a broken arrow and, a little beyond, the remains of the carcass of a steer. The hunters who had killed the steer had been too pressed to skin it in their usual fashion, and had instead hurriedly hacked off chunks of meat, as much as they could carry, and thrown the rest into the brush to be retrieved no doubt if there was opportunity later.

Having found this much, the vaqueros went back to their own camp, but the next day, with dogs this time, they picked up the trail again and followed it into Mill Creek and upstream to a large cave. In this remote and seemingly safe spot were gathered more than thirty Yahi including young children and babies, well supplied with food, even to fresh and dried meat. They were helpless against the four armed men who forthwith killed them all. Norman Kingsley, as he explained afterwards, changed guns during the slaughter, exchanging his .56-caliber Spencer rifle for a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, because the rifle "tore them up so bad," particularly the babies.

This pattern repeated itself almost endlessly. Rather than even endure contact with "savages" they fully expected to turn against them and murder them, the settlers moving westward in the end always chose to act preemptively and slaughter Indians as they found them. This was particularly the case wherever gold entered into the picture.

And always, this spasm of eliminationist violence was preceded by eliminationist rhetoric. Before there was action, there was talk. And the talk not only rationalized the violence that proceeded, but actually had the function of creating permission for it.

The same year the Yana were exterminated, settlers in Colorado, where gold had been discovered in 1858, embarked on a similar program. In this case, the tribes against whom they were arrayed, particularly the Cheyenne and Sioux, were considerably larger and more warlike than the Yana. Thus the conflicts with whites were even more inevitable, and again, the pattern repeated: depredations by whites provoked violent, often murderous retaliation from Indians, which in turn sparked wanton slaughter of any Indian in the vicinity.

The Rocky Mountain News in Denver led the campaign to wipe out local Indians, editorializing in March 1863: "They are a dissolute, vagabondish, brutal, and ungrateful race, and ought to be wiped from the face of the earth." After a series of skirmishes and killings, the News, in August 1864 proclaimed that August 1864 settlers and troops must "go for them, their lodges, squaws and all."

Enter John Chivington, a Methodist minister and self-proclaimed Indian hater, who helped Colorado Gov. John Evans organize a "volunteer militia" constituted once again of "concerned citizens" whose characters were formed more by saloons than by churches. As Dee Brown notes in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Chivington made a public speech in Denver while organizing this militia in which he "advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, even infants: 'Nits make lice!' he declared."

With his volunteer army in place, Chivington set out "on the warpath," as he put it, ordering his men: "Kill all the Indians you come across." When Indians attempted to negotiate, he was implacable, saying that he was not instructed to make peace, but only war.

When Cheyenne chief Black Kettle's peaceful band (which included some Arapahoes) traveled through Colorado en route to their new reservation in Oklahoma, they reported to Army officials at Fort Lyon, intent on avoiding conflict. Encamped at a site along a stream called Sand Creek, Black Kettle himself traveled to the fort in mid-November in hopes of securing their safe passage. The fort's new commander, Major Scott J. Anthony, met with Black Kettle in what appeared to be a friendly exchange.

As Brown describes it, "Several officers who were present at the meeting between Black Kettle and Anthony testified afterward that Anthony assured the Cheyennes that if they returned to their camp at Sand Creek they would be under the protection of Fort Lyon."

Whether Anthony was aware of Chivington's intentions or not -- and the evidence suggests he was -- his assurance had the effect of making Black Kettle's band sitting ducks. So certain were they of their security that they did not even set out watchmen to guard the camp at night.

Geoffrey Ward, writing in The West, describes what happened next:
Chivington and some 700 volunteers arrived at Fort Lyon on November 26, 1864, eager for a fight before their hundred-day term of enlistment ran out. Some officers protested that to attack the peaceable encampment would betray the army's pledge of safety. "Damn any man that sympathized with Indians," Chivington said. "I have come to kill Indians and believe it right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven ..."

At dawn on November 29, 1864, Chivington and seven hundred men, many of them full of whiskey they had swallowed to keep them warm during the icy all-night ride, reached the edge of Black Kettle's sleeping camp. "Kill and scalp all," Chivington told his men, "big and little; nits make lice." His men needed little encouragement.

One of William Bent's sons, Robert, was riding with them, commandeered against his will to show the way to the Cheyenne camp. Three of Bent's other children -- Charles, Julia, and George -- were staying in it. George Bent watched the soldiers come:
From down the creek a large body of troops was advancing at a rapid trot ... more soldiers could be seen making for the Indian pony herds to the south of the camp; in the camps themselves all was confusion and noise -- men, women, and children rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at the sight of the troops; men running back into the lodges for their arms ... Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and was standing in front of his lodge, holding the pole, with the flag fluttering in the gray light of the winter dawn ...

All the time Black Kettle kept calling out not to be frightened; that the camp was under protection and there was no danger.

Robert Bent was watching it too:
I saw the American flag waving and heard Black Kettle tell the Indians to stand around the flag, and they were huddled -- men, women, and children. This was when we were within fifty yards of the Indians. I also saw a white flag raised. These flags were in so conspicuous a position that they must have been seen ... I think there were six hundred Indians in all ... [T]he rest of the men were away from camp hunting ...

The volunteers began firing into the lodges. Warriors did all they could to defend their families. "I never saw more bravery displayed by any set of people on the face of the earth than by these Indians," a regular soldier recalled. "They would charge on the whole company singly, detemined to kill someone before being killed themselves ... We, of course, took no prisoners."

"After the firing," Robert Bent remembered,
the warriors put the squaws and children together, and surrounded them to protect them. I saw five squaws under a bank for shelter. When the troops came up to them they ran out and showed their persons to let the soldiers know they were squaws and begged for mercy, but the soldiers shot them all. I saw one squaw lying on the bank whose leg had been broken by a shell; a soldier came up to her with a drawn saber; she raised her arm to protect herself, when he struck, breaking her arm; she rolled over and raised her other arm, when he struck, breaking it, and then he left her without killing her. There seemed to be indisriminate slaughter of men, women and children. There were some thirty or forty squaws collected in a hole for protection; they sent out a little girl about six years old with a white flag on a stick; she had not proceeded a few steps when she was shot and killed. All the squaws in that hole were killed. ...

"In going over the battleground the next day," a regular army lieutenant testified later,
I did not see a body of a man, women, or child but was scalped, and in many instances their bodies were mutilated in the most horrible manner. ... I heard one man say that he had cut out a woman's private parts and had them for exhibition on a stick; I heard another say that he had cut the fingers off an Indian to get the rings on his hand; according to the best of my knowledge and belief these atrocities that were committed were with the knowledge of J.M. Chivington, and I do not know of his taking any measures to prevent them; I heard of one instance of a child a few months old being thrown in a feedbox of a wagon, and after being carried some distance left on the ground to perish; I also heard numerous instances in which white men had cut out the private parts of females and stretched them over the saddle-bows and wore them over their hats while riding in ranks.

Chivington and his men returned to Denver in triumph, claiming to have killed five hundred warriors -- instead of ninety-eight women and children and a handful of mostly old men. The Rocky Mountain News pronounced it a "brilliant feat of arms." "All did nobly," Chivington said, and one evening during intermission at the Denver opera house, one hundred Cheyenne scalps were put on display while the orchestra played patriotic airs and the audience stood to applaud the men who had taken them.

As word of these atrocities got out, there was a perhaps predictable outcry from white Americans with some vestige of human decency; but their outrage, as always, had no effect. The killers were downright gleeful about their "victory." David E. Stannard, in American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, notes that the Rocky Mountain News declared that "Cheyenne scalps are getting as thick here now as toads in Egypt. Everybody has got one and is anxious to get another to send east."

Still, there was an outcry in Congress, and a Senate report eventually declared Chivington's "battle" what it really was: "a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the veriest savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty." As Stannard notes [p. 134]:
One of them, a senator who visited the site of the massacre and "picked up the skulls of infants whose milk-teeth had not yet been shed," later reported that the concerned men of Congress had decided to confront Colorado's governor and Colonel Chivington openly on the matter, and so assembled their committee and the invited general public in the Denver Opera House. During the course of discussion and debate, someone raised a question: Would it be best, henceforward, to try to "civilize" the Indians or simply to exterminate them? Whereupon, the senator wrote in a letter to a friend, "there suddenly arose such a shout as is never heard unless upon some battlefield -- a shout almost loud enough to raise the roof of the opera house -- 'EXTERMINATE THEM! EXTERMINATE THEM!' "

The committee, apparently, was impressed. Nothing was ever done to Chivington, who took his fame and exploits on the road as an after-dinner speaker. After all, as President Theodore Roosevelt said later, the Sand Creek massacre was "as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier."

Trusting the word of such men was obviously a foolhardy proposition, but the Indians had little choice if they chose not to fight. As Black Kettle had found, making peace and trusting the word of white men was a mistake with broadly fatal consequences.

Incredibly, Black Kettle managed to survive the Sand Creek massacre, and his wife managed to survive nine gunshot wounds. But four years later, in 1868, they did not manage to survive their encounter with General Custer.

It was Custer's first venture out West, serving under General Phil Sheridan, who was leading a campaign to battle Cheyenne depredations in Kansas. Some of the warriors had come from Black Kettle's band. After orders were made for all non-hostile Indians to move to a designated area along the Washita River, Black Kettle moved his camp there, hoping to be designated a friendly band.

Anxious to avoid a repeat of Sand Creek, the chief had traveled to Fort Cobb to seek the protection of the army under the command of Gen. William B. Hazen; Hazen, according to Brown, "assured Black Kettle that if his delegation would return to their villages and keep their young men there, they would not be attacked."

Black Kettle returned to his camp on the evening of November 26. The next morning, Custer's troops attacked, in what came to be known as the Battle of the Washita.

James Welch, in Killing Custer [p. 62], describes the massacre that ensued:
The "battle" in the village was short, barely fifteen minutes. The soldiers drove the people from their lodges basefoot and half naked, shooting them in the open. Many of the warriors managed to reach the treees, where they began to return fire; a few of them escaped, but after a couple of hours, the firing ceased and 103 Cheyennes lay dead in the snow and mud. Custer reported that they were fighting men, but others said that ninety-two of them were women, children, and old people. Black Kettle, the sixty-seven-year-old leader of the band, and his wife, Medicine Woman Later, who had survived nine gunshot wounds at the Massacre of Sand Creek four years before, had been shot in the back as they attempted to cross the Lodge Pole or Washita River. Their bodies, trampled and covered with mud, were found in the shallow water by the survivors.

In Montana, 200 Piegans were massacred in a similar manner in 1870 in the so-called "Battle of Marias River," in which soldiers once again descended upon an unsuspecting camp comprising mostly women and children, the warriors once again away at the hunting grounds, and fired upon them mercilessly.

The massacre was widely reviled in the eastern press (the Chicago Tribune called it "the most disgraceful butchery in the annals of our dealings with the Indians") while the local press widely celebrated it for its "salutary effect on the other tribes."

This effect included an eagerness on the part of most Indians to attempt to make peace, often in the form of abject surrender. But this only invited more contempt from whites, which was often voiced as a wish to simply exterminate.

After the Washita massacre, as Brown describes [p. 166], many of the warring tribes completely submitted to Sheridan. His response became famous:
Yellow Bear of the Arapahos also agreed to bring his people to Fort Cobb. A few days later, Tosawi brought in the first band of Comanches to surrender. When he was presented to Sheridan, Tosawi's eyes brightened. He spoke his own name and added two words of broken English. "Tosawi, good Indian," he said.

It was then that General Sheridan uttered the immortal words: "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." Lieutenant Charles Nordstrom, who was present, remembered the words and passed them on, until in time they were honed into an American aphorism: The only good Indian is a dead Indian.

This implacable racial hatred, combined with their dim view of the Indians' intelligence and skill at battle, led to further tragedies for both sides. George Armstrong Custer, who returned to Indian wars in 1874 after gold was discovered in the Black Hills of the Dakotas, also happened to believe -- given his experience in such "battles" as the Washita massacre -- that Indians could not withstand a charging cavalry and would retreat under such an attack every time. So it was with such hubris that, in 1876, he charged the largest encampment in the history of the Plains Indians -- over a thousand Indians -- with a force of about 600 men, including his own detachment of about 200, in what was to be the most famous of all the Indian battles, the Little Bighorn. Custer and his men were entirely wiped out.

But the defeat only further inflamed the whites, who over the course of the next year tracked down and defeated or captured nearly all of the Indians who had been involved in the battle, including the chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

However, trying to accommodate the whites, as Black Kettle and many others had found, was no guarantee of safety. Even the most famous peacekeeper among the Indian chiefs, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, whose tribe had aided Lewis and Clark and who had a long history of cooperation with whites, found himself on the wrong end of settlers' ambitions. In 1877, they found themselves at war with the U.S. Army, and Joseph led his band of some 800 Nez Perce on a remarkable retreat that nearly succeeded before they were caught just short of the Canadian border.

The last of the Indian wars, the Sheepeater War of 1879, was scarcely even a skirmish, and arose under the sketchiest of circumstances. Having seen the profits that came to the Oregon towns of Lagrande and Baker City for having hosted the Army's campaign in the Nez Perce war, a number of ambitious merchants in the newly opened Yankee Fork mining district in central Idaho decided an Indian war might help them prosper as well. So when a group of Chinese miners -- whose presence was widely hated by whites anyway -- were found massacred, it was initially blamed on the Sheepeaters (though it was later established the killings were by whites, not Indians), which became a pretext for calling in the Cavalry. The ensuing chase over the rugged mountains of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River proved so exhausting that the Army nearly gave up before it finally located a ragtag band of Indians they then took prisoner. The commanders declared victory and packed for home.

The coup de grace, as it were, was finally delivered some 11 years later. The mounting misery of the scattered remnants of tribes produced among them a last, dying spate of messianic movements that produced some hope of redemption for their people and their heritage. One of the most prominent of these, involving the ritual of the Ghost Dance, spread widely among the Siouxan peoples of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

But reservation officials feared the movement could become grounds for a last-gasp Indian uprising, and they undertook to suppress it with arrests. The resulting discord culminated in the assassination of Sitting Bull, who had taken up residence at Pine Ridge. Soon, the reservation faced outright unrest, and so the soldiers were called in.

There have been many detailed accounts of what happened then, perhaps none as eloquent as Brown's account in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Peter Nabokov's account in The Native Americans [pp. 365-366] is succinct:
Along Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Seventh Cavalry Troops, having rounded up a band of Hunkpapa Sioux suspected of potential trouble (fully two-thirds of them were women and children), herded the Indians for the night into a tight group surrounded by five hundred soldiers, their normal armament reinforced with four Hotchkiss guns. In the morning, the Sioux men were culled out, lined up, and disarmed. Someone is said to have discharged a weapon. Immediately, the Hotchkiss guns opened fire, and most of the men were killed in the first five minutes.

The Hotchkiss guns, carefully trained on the milling, terrified people, continued to fire. Some Indians fought back with whatever they had, stones or sticks or bare hands (leaving twenty-nine soldiers dead), while others tried to flee. Within an hour some two hundred Indians were dead or dying. A few women got as far as three miles away before being caught and killed. The rest, about one hundred souls, fled and later froze to death in the hills.

Afterwards, the American Indians were reduced to virtual nonentities. Their children were forcibly shipped off to >boarding schools whose main purpose was to eradicate any vestige of their "savage" heritage and completely "civilize" them; most of these schools eventually descended into horror, and their larger effect only left behind generations of damaged Indians who had been stripped of their heritage.

Even those who had managed to find ways to thrive, such as the Osages -- whose oil rights from their treaty lands in Oklahoma led to tremendous economic riches in the 20th century -- had their wealth taken from them. Beginning in the early '20s, a handful of scheming whites successfully undertook to steal land rights away from the Osages by murdering them. The scheme, which became known as the Osage Reign of Terror, typically involved white men marrying women who held the rights, and then surreptitiously having them killed and their murders officially covered up.

At every step of this systematic extermination, whites justified their brutality with eliminationist rhetoric that referred always to the savagery of the Indians, who indeed were not hesitant to shed blood and to do so in brutal fashion that, as it often was with whites, was intended to send a message. The entire history of the Indians' dealings with American settlers fit this pattern.

Yet even the most avid of the eliminationists among them often recognized that the original fault nearly always lay with the invading whites. Kroeber notes that Robert A. Anderson, who led the extermination of the Yana, nonetheless observed retrospectively in his memoirs the following:
It is but just that I should mention the circumstances which raised the hand of the Mill Creeks against the whites. As in almost every similar instance in American History, the first act of injustice, the first spilling of blood, must be laid at the white man's door.

Such reflection, however, rarely led to the perpetrators to wonder if their murderousness had been anything more than an unpleasant necessity -- because, regardless of the fault, in their view the Indians were nonetheless savage beasts for whom the only means of "civilization" was elimination.

At the turn of the century, the Indians were no longer a threat to white Americans, and so the eliminationist rhetoric was gradually replaced with romantic "noble savage" mythology that made them seem distant and harmless, which in fact they were. By then, anyway, they had found a new "threat" and a fresh object for elimination: black people.

Next: Strange Fruit