By Wade Frazier
Revised July 2014
Big Lies: The News
More Big Lies: History
Colonialism: the First Stage of Global Capitalism
Objectivity, Sources, and the Historian’s Ideal
Although I began questioning my indoctrination when I left college, it took brutal experiences with Dennis Lee to “radicalize” me. As far as “radical” goes, that means uncovering the unquestioned assumptions of my society. I eventually realized that I had been sold a set of lies. It was not that everybody was in on the joke except me. The lies that I discovered are those nearly universally believed. When my accounting professor told me about why auditors make so much money, he believed it. In the wake of the Savings and Loan Scandal, he may have changed his mind, or the Enron scandal and the coming scandals as of 2014.
Between 1990 and 2002, all of my spare time, and four years of full-time work, were devoted to researching what I was taught, comparing it to my adult research, and creating this website. What follows is some of what I discovered.
I was lied to, in many ways. The lies that I was taught as truth were sometimes different lies than others were taught. Americans growing up in regions dominated by English settlers, such as the Eastern United States, were probably not taught much about Junípero Serra, as I was. They were probably taught about Christopher Columbus and George Washington, however. Although I cannot get my time or money back, I have discarded much of what I was taught, from kindergarten through my college diploma and beyond.
Big Lies: The News
Soon after graduating from college, I began questioning my indoctrination and eventually realized that my profession was worthless. Just before moving to Ohio, I heard of a new magazine that analyzed The New York Times’s content, named Lies of Our Times. It was my first exposure to the alternative media. In Los Angeles, before I met Dennis, I subscribed to the Christian Science Monitor and thought that I was getting alternative news. When Dennis was in jail, I had a roommate who talked about Noam Chomsky and said that Chomsky’s work would be educational. I had never heard of him.
Reading my first issue of Lies of Our Times (“LOOT”) is a vivid memory. It was the November 1990 issue, which was published as George Bush the First was whipping the USA into a frenzy to attack Iraq. I got LOOT until they went out of business in late 1994, but my first issue’s first page is still the one I that remember best. That page produced a small article titled “More Translation Problems.” The Bank of Kuwait’s logo accompanied the article. The logo had a camel in its center and was ringed with Arabic script. Here is the article.
“Back in March (p.19) we ran a letter Nabeel Abraham sent to the New York Times complaining about a mistranslation of the Arabic in the photo caption. Lebanese journalists were shown carrying a sign which actually read ‘Freedom of the press. Yes to the printed word, no to terror.’ The Times said the sign said ‘In Allah’s hands we are safe.’ The letter, of course, was not published by the Times.
“Now they are at it again.
“The first page of the business section on September 12 (p.C1) presented a piece about the Bank of Kuwait. Illustrating it was the logo of the bank, shown below, with this caption: ‘The logotype of the National Bank of Kuwait proclaims, “There is no deity but Allah.”
“Abraham sent off another letter, which reads in part: ‘The logotype says no such thing. The Arabic inscription merely says, “National Bank of Kuwait, Kuwait, 1952.”
“He concluded: ‘These glaring errors leave me wondering how the Times goes about translating Arabic language materials into English. Surely, you did not consult someone who actually reads the language, for those errors are so wide off the mark that they are laughable. I must conclude that either the Times is paying good money for bogus translations, or that the reporters and/or editors are making up the translations as they go along. Either way the “translators” are not drawing on their knowledge of the language, but on their storehouse of racist and demeaning stereotypes which “perceive” religious fatalism, zealotry, fanaticism every time they see an Arabic inscription. In this way the ‘translators’ say more about themselves than about the material they are purportedly translating.’
“We are not holding our breath while waiting to see if the Times prints Abraham’s letter.”
That opened my eyes. The world’s most influential publication could stoop below the journalistic integrity of the National Enquirer when the need suited them. The New York Times’s effort on “translating” Arabic script, especially as George Bush and company were whipping up a murderous anti-Arab fervor in America, may have made Goebbels beam with approval, if he did not think it a little heavy-handed. Below are the photographs in question.
Soon after that, I subscribed to Covert Action Information Bulletin, eventually named called Covert Action Quarterly. I subscribed to the Christic Institute’s Journal of Emergence before they were legally raped, similar to how Mr. Big Time Attorney was dealt with by the federal courts in California, but much worse.
I began reading Chomsky’s work. I read Manufacturing Consent and Unreliable Sources. LOOT went out of business in 1994, as all alternative media organizations operate on a shoestring. Challenging the official version of reality does not pay well. Chomsky called The New York Times a leader in the “agenda setting media,” which meant that most mainstream American newspapers followed The Times’s lead in deciding what is newsworthy, and The Times’s reporting also dominated the tenor that other papers gave to their reporting. I have subscribed to Z Magazine since the early 1990s, and other “alternative” periodicals. I studied the far right and subscribed to The Spotlight for years, and have read plenty of conspiratorial scholarship. Since 1990, I studied the media far more than I ever studied accounting or chemistry.
The fact that the media presents a highly slanted view of the world is not the result of one big conspiracy. Media defenders have often stated, “How can all reporters get their orders from the same place?” It is not that simple.
In the first chapter of Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman (LOOT’s editor) and Chomsky presented their Propaganda Model and discussed the various “news filters” that determined what news is printed. The first filter was called the “size, ownership, and profit orientation of the mass media.” Because media organizations are profit-making corporations, and are increasingly large corporations that are part of even larger corporate conglomerates, the economic interests of the ownership impact the news process significantly. The authors showed how market forces drove alternative viewpoints from the media. They presented the example of the British working-class media. The government tried wiping them out with punitive laws, but in the end, the sheer market forces of advertising revenues, affluent audiences, and economy-of-scale factors drove the working-class press out of business.
In the USA, there has never been anything resembling a working-class press. The situation in the early 21st century is far less favorable toward establishing a working-class press than it was early in the 20th century. The ultra-rich own the media, and it is nonsensical to think that their interests would not be attended to by the organizations that they own.
During the Gulf War of 1991, General Electric owned NBC and was one of the world’s largest defense contractors that contributed to nearly every weapons system deployed in the Gulf War. The gushing coverage given to America’s “smart bombs,” Patriot Missiles, Tomahawks, and the like, when presented on NBC, was admiring its owner’s handiwork. The NBC president killed a story that even Tom Brokaw wanted aired about the “collateral” damage that the USA’s bombing inflicted onto Iraq’s civilian population. Such conflicts of interest pervade America’s mainstream media.
Because the global economy has been developing for centuries, we now have a global media. The owners’ interests are greatly attended to by the companies that they own. As Ben Bagdikian demonstrated in his Media Monopoly, the trend has been toward increasing concentration of ownership, as fewer and larger corporations own the mainstream media, which is a dramatic trend since the 1970s. That is normal capitalism at work. Capitalism always tends toward monopoly, because that is how big profits can be made at the public’s expense. How much media diversity can there be when a few rich interests own it all? How can news be aired that challenges the powerful, when the powerful own the media? Capitalism has little or nothing to do with democracy. The rich run capitalism, by definition. They own the capital. Corporations operate in a top-down fashion, as orders come from the top and are carried out by those below. They are economic dictatorships. CBS Evening News Executive Director Tom Bettag was fired the day that he tried running the clip about Iraqi civilian devastation that NBC’s president killed.
The second news filter presented by Herman and Chomsky was advertising. The media serves not only the owners’ interests. Because the media is commercial, the advertisers’ interests are also attended to. For many years, cigarette advertising had a significant influence over editorial policies. Magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report derived substantial revenues from cigarette companies. “Coincidentally,” they never went on editorial crusades against smoking, although Reader’s Digest had been doing so for generations. In 1980, Mother Jones ran a series of articles regarding cigarettes being a major cause of cancer and heart disease. Immediately, the tobacco companies pulled their advertising from Mother Jones.
Tobacco companies marshal their clout against media organizations that step out of line. They look after their interests and sell as much of their product as possible to make money, and do not care how many millions of people their product kills. It is the very reason corporations exist: making money any way they can. One undeniable consequence is that biased news is produced. Knowledge is power.
The third news filter presented is the source of mass media news. In the corporate media, news is a product sold like anything else. Just as coffee grows on bushes in Central America and oil is found under Middle Eastern sand, “news” is usually found in a few choice locations. Newspaper reporters do not canvass Creation everyday, looking for a story. Reporters are assigned to places such as the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the county courthouse, City Hall, etc. Consequently, news organizations rely upon those sources of information. Those relationships have several consequences, and one is that the media gets cozy with power. The temptation is to abandon the adversarial or independent stance that the media ideally takes. It happens all the time, and it instead becomes a working relationship. If reporters assigned to City Hall talk to the same people every day to get their news, how cooperative will such news sources be with the reporter who prints unflattering news? Not very. A cub reporter can end his career by reporting the wrong story, or reporting it the “wrong” way.
The media have largely become stenographers to power. With increasing regularity, powerful news sources produce the news itself. The Pentagon and large corporations have public relations departments that often dwarf the media that covers them. They produce regularly “news” that they disseminate to news organizations. It used to be called a press release, and by the late 20th century extended to slickly produced videos. Downsized news organizations are handed a video of commercial quality, ready to air, which presents corporate or governmental pre-packaged “news.”
When Mr. Deputy orchestrated his spectacular arrest of Dennis, a video was given to the Los Angeles TV stations at the same time. A friend called me the day after Dennis was arrested and said that he saw a video of Dennis on the LA evening news, slanted to make Dennis look like the criminal of the century. Perhaps Mr. Deputy’s video was slightly edited by the TV station, and perhaps not. Viewers are rarely informed that a corporation or government agency, not the news organization, produced the “news” that they just saw.
The fourth filter that Herman and Chomsky presented was called “flak and the enforcers.” The first three filters acted as coercive forces to ensure that powerful interests were served. However, sometimes the media published stories that the powerful would rather keep quiet, or it presented the “wrong” side of the story. There is an array of punitive strategies to corral rogue newsmen or news agencies. Affiliated with powerful corporations and often directly funded by them are media “watchdog” organizations that “police” the media. When the media runs a story that gores an ox that the powerful owned, such as reporting corporate or governmental malfeasance, the “flak” and “enforcer” organizations pounce on them. Often the powerful groups provide their flak directly. A spectacular instance in the late 20th century was when CNN’s April Oliver and Jack Smith reported on the alleged use of Sarin nerve gas by the USA in Laos in 1970, during a secret mission known as Operation Tailwind.
The reporters worked on the story for several months and interviewed people involved in the operation and Major General John Singlaub and Admiral Thomas Moorer, who were privy to operations such as Tailwind. A story accusing the USA of using nerve gas would obviously be big news, and it was no surprise that CNN ran it rather than the big three: NBC, CBS and ABC, who did not touch the story. CNN’s Peter Arnett also helped report the story. It was aired on June 7 and June 14, 1998, and Time ran it in its June 15, 1998 edition.
CNN was prepared to support its reporters, but did not anticipate how bad the flak would get. Flak organizations such as Accuracy in Media (“AIM” – a far right media watchdog group with a cozy relationship to power) went on the attack. The big heat came from the Pentagon and Henry Kissinger. CNN was quickly brought to its knees and it served up Oliver and Smith as sacrificial lambs. CNN hired two attorneys to “critique” Oliver and Smith’s report. It was a highly based effort to justify what happened next: CNN retracted the story and Oliver and Smith were fired. The establishment press accounts of the Tailwind flap made it appear as if CNN responsibly retracted a story that its loose cannon reporters snuck through.
Whatever inaccuracies there may have been in their story, they were fired because of whom they offended. Peter Arnett’s career with CNN ended in April 1999 because of the flap. He was one of America’s finest mainstream reporters, but his continual reporting of the “wrong” story, such as his uncensored reports from Baghdad in 1991, won him the enmity of many powerful people.
Reed Irvine, who ran AIM, publicly called for the firing of those responsible for that story airing and got his wish. Oliver and her colleagues were eventually vindicated. Singlaub sued Oliver to clear his name, besmirched in the Tailwind flap. On January 17, 2000, Thomas Moorer, in the presence of Oliver and Singlaub, was deposed as part of the lawsuit. The transcript of that deposition has been posted to the Internet, and Moorer confirmed all the essentials of what Oliver reported, including:
• Sarin gas (also known as “BG” and “CBU-15”) was stockpiled at the Nakhorn Phanom base in Thailand, where the Tailwind mission was launched;
• The mission sought American “defectors,” and that killing them would have been a mission option;
• Sarin was regularly used on the secret missions, the pilots knew they carried it and knew how, when, and why to deploy it; Moorer justified its deployment if it would save American lives, and admitted that the Montagnards had gas masks that were too large to fit properly, which allowed the nerve gas to kill them and prompted the USA to begin making smaller gas masks;
• He believed that Sarin was used on the mission and that it was successful.
In essence, Oliver’s reporting was accurate. Although the Tailwind flap was huge news when it happened, the revelations of Moorer’s testimony failed to receive any mainstream media coverage. Singlaub’s lawsuit was quietly settled and Oliver received a substantial settlement, although the nature of such settlements is that Oliver cannot publicly say that she was vindicated, but the silence of Singlaub and others spoke volumes, and Oliver always stood by her story. The career of Oliver and others was ruined, but not a hint of “sorry” could be heard from Irvine or the others who attacked Oliver and her colleagues for reporting the truth.
Similarly, reporter Gary Webb ran a series of reports in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996 regarding the issue of Contra complicity in the drug trafficking in South Central Los Angeles and elsewhere. The same stories came out during the Iran-Contra scandal, and it put the powerful in a bad light. There was no substantive objection to Webb’s powerfully supported story, and the CIA and Justice Department confirmed key elements of it, but nevertheless, Webb lost his job. Webb “committed suicide” in 2004. Too many journalists and investigators in such milieus “commit suicide” (1, 2), and even if Webb pulled the trigger, his blood is also on the hands of those who destroyed his career for publishing the truth.
The New York Times’s reporter Ray Bonner was another famous sacrificial lamb. In 1982, he accurately reported on the El Mozote massacre, committed by USA-trained El Salvadoran forces. Several hundred people were murdered, mainly women and children. That mass murder was committed by Reagan’s “fledgling democracy,” and reporting the truth cost Bonner his job, and AIM also led the attack.
Immediately after Oliver and Smith’s public professional executions came the story of Mike Gallagher of the Cincinnati Inquirer, who published a series of articles about Chiquita Brand International in May 1998. Chiquita used to be known as United Fruit. The USA overthrew the Guatemalan government in 1954 so that United Fruit could continue to “own” the country. Gallagher reported that what went on in Central America was merely more of the same, and he found himself legally attacked by Chiquita, accusing him of illegally accessing their voicemail system.
The attacks on those telling the wrong story are not limited to the news. All across America, college professors who fail to toe the establishment line, and lean in any way toward the “left,” often have a hard time keeping their jobs and careers, and are often fired outright and then blackballed from the profession. In the early 21st century, I witnessed the witch-hunt that ended Ward Churchill’s career.
In the case of Ralph McGehee and the CIA, there were structural controls in place, such as how the CIA psychologically screened candidates in order to select people who blindly follow orders. The CIA almost did not hire Ralph because he did not think in the simplistic black/white way that the CIA preferred its “mesomorphs” to think. Even so, it took Ralph a major intelligence breakthrough in Thailand and 16 years to finally understand what the CIA was all about. Other structural controls existed. By the time that Ralph figured it out, he was trapped in the CIA with no other career options. Others like him lived lives of quiet desperation and counted their days to retirement.
Those constraints made it highly unlikely that somebody like Ralph would ever figure it out and go public with what he knew. When Ralph tried going public, the CIA abused the national security laws to try preventing publication of his work, even going to the absurd extent that they tried reclassifying public domain material in his book. Even so, after a monumental legal battle, his final book was riddled with censorship deletions, the mainstream media ignored him when they did not smear him, and the CIA even went to the extent of buying his Deadly Deceits off bookstore shelves to limit its circulation. Then Ralph created his CIABASE web site with public domain material to tell what the CIA was up to. Ralph was then subjected to having his home bugged and he would be followed to stores, where they tried framing him for crimes such as shoplifting. The local police (near Washington D.C.) worked with the CIA and FBI in harassing Ralph, to the point of threatening his family. That not being enough to silence Ralph, they periodically escalated the intimidation and dirty tricks, and spiked his food on more than one occasion, which damaged his mouth. Their efforts finally succeeded in silencing Ralph in the year 2000. Even when he moved away and stopped his CIABASE efforts, the FBI went to his new town of residence and told local merchants to be on the lookout for Ralph, as he was a dangerous “national security threat.” Those who think that the USA has free speech should ponder Ralph’s case.
When Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman tried publishing their book on the USA’s international fascism and how the American establishment is a vital part of how that system works, a member of America’s media oligarchy destroyed his own publishing company to try preventing the book’s publication. That not being enough (the book was finally published), the media (even Chomsky and Herman’s “friends” in the left and academia) have misrepresented their work ever since and call Chomsky a supporter of the Khmer Rouge, which is in the Big Lie category.
The Savings and Loan Scandal had a few genuinely good investigative reporting efforts on how America was defrauded by people such as George Bush and friends. The two best efforts are probably Inside Job by Pizzo, Fricker, and Muolo and The Mafia, CIA and George Bush by Pete Brewton of the Houston Post. Although those reporters did not end up as Danny Casolaro and Paul Wilcher did, Brewton had the publication of his book essentially blocked by his publishing company until after the 1992 presidential election. During the summer of 2002, a friend co-wrote a book by an Enron whistleblower, and the major book company pulled the same stunt that Brewton’s publisher did. My friend had to publish it through other channels. I even encountered a death threat delivered by a military official to block the publication of a work that exposed far too much truth.
That is not a new phenomenon in America, of silencing reporters and others who speak out. The powerful do not want the public knowing of their dark acts, and skewering reporters and media organizations that have the audacity to report on it is standard operating practice. There is no “free press” in America. Those kinds of factors led to Project Censored. Establishment hacks can be vicious. If they ever get into a public debate with people such as Noam Chomsky, they quickly stoop to calling them names and even yelling at them and lying, as John Silber, the president of Boston College, did during a 1985 debate with Chomsky over the Contra situation.
The real reason for dropping atom bombs on Japan likely had little to do with saving American lives, was at least partly a demonstration of power to the Soviet Union, and could be considered the Cold War’s first salvo. Leslie Groves, who ran the Manhattan Project, candidly admitted as much in the presence of Nobel (Peace Prize, 1995) Laureate Joseph Rotblat, who then quit the Manhattan Project and asked to return home to the United Kingdom. Rotblat attended a 1986 debate between then-vice president George Bush the First, American defense establishment pundit Richard Perle, and a Soviet representative regarding the beginnings of the Cold War. The debate was heated, and the Soviet debater claimed that the USA was intending to threaten the Soviet Union with atomic weapons as early as 1944. Bush and Perle hotly contested the Soviet debater’s assertion. Then Rotblat stood and related the conversation that Groves had in his presence. Rotblat had already published that conversation. Perle then rushed off the debating platform and shook his fist furiously in Rotblat’s face and said, “You have no right to be saying anything like that!”
The final filter presented by Herman and Chomsky is an ideological one. Chomsky later stated that he thought the description of the filter in Manufacturing Consent was too narrow. It was called anticommunism. The anticommunist mentality became an ideological rallying point through which communism was seen as a great and evil threat to rich property owners. It shaded many areas of American discourse, and anticommunist dogma was as deeply ingrained into the American psyche as any catechism ever was. Chomsky said that the ideological filter is broader than that – mainly the portrayal of a malevolent external threat to make people submit to state power, to “protect” them. With the communist bogeyman gone, America had to stoop lower and lower to conjure malevolent external threats, such as Noriega, Hussein, and drug dealers. Maybe it will be extraterrestrials one day soon. The media portrays the bad guy of the hour as we attack him and vanquish a “great threat” to our nation. Sometimes it got ludicrous, such as saying that Grenada was a threat to the USA’s shipping lanes.
In late 2001, the World Trade Center attacks answered the warmongers’ prayers, and as if the script was taken directly from George Orwell’s 1984, George Bush the Second declared a virtually perpetual war on “terror.” Finally, a real threat might exist beyond all the paper tigers that were paraded in front of Americans during the 1990s. Even though the USA’s government has been the world’s leading terror organization since World War II, the current “war on terror” will become the new Cold War that will line the pockets of the “defense” establishment and further secure the USA’s global hegemony, although the USA is suffering from imperial overreach.
In Manufacturing Consent, Herman and Chomsky presented a concept known as worthy and unworthy victims. Worthy victims are victims of our enemies. Unworthy victims are victims of our friends or of us. The authors analyzed the American media’s treatment of Central American murders of Catholic priests and nuns by the security forces of national governments. The repeated murders of priests and nuns in El Salvador and Guatemala seemed a sport of their police forces. When a priest would speak out against the government’s murder of its citizens, he could be expected to get it next, as Archbishop Romero did. El Salvador and Guatemala were favored client states of the USA while those murders were taking place, and American officials covered for them. At the same time, Poland was undergoing its own struggles against its oppressive Soviet influence (those events were from the 1980s, when Manufacturing Consent was first published). In Poland, members of the Catholic Church spoke out in favor of human rights. In 1984, one Polish priest was murdered by the Polish secret police.
Herman and Chomsky compared the media’s coverage of the murder of one Polish priest (a victim of our enemy, hence a worthy victim) to its coverage of the murder of 100 priests and nuns in Central America (victims of our friends, hence unworthy victims). Herman and Chomsky merely added up the amount of coverage that the murders received in the mainstream American press. Their sample was The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, and CBS News. They added up column-inches and prominence of stories (front page or not) in the printed material, and airtime and prominence (lead story or not) for TV news. The murder of the Polish priest elicited outrage in the American press and garnered headlines and top-of-the-hour coverage. The priest was eulogized as a victim of the evil empire and the American press pointed its finger straight at the Kremlin.
The cumulative coverage of the murders of 100 priests and nuns in Central America did not exceed the coverage of that Polish priest’s murder. There were no eulogies or humanizing coverage for the priests and nuns murdered in our client states, and the American media could never seem to identify the murderers. According to our media and government, they were anonymous death squad members, murdering for the hell of it, not connected to our client governments in any way. When four American nuns were murdered (when it could not be denied that the El Salvadoran National Guard did the deed, after raping the women), Alexander Haig and Jean Kirkpatrick went so far as to say that the women deserved it and were working with El Salvadoran guerillas. Those statements by our government officials have since been exposed as bold-faced lies. Herman and Chomsky dryly presented their data and concluded that a dead Polish priest was more than 100 times as media-worthy in the USA as a dead Central American priest or American nun murdered by our friends.
The media bias presents itself in many other ways. David Croteau and William Hoynes performed an analysis on what many regarded as the best news show on television, Nightline with Ted Koppel. Their analysis was published in By Invitation Only: How the Media Limit Political Debate. Croteau and Hoynes stated that analyzing debate content was subject to a wide range of interpretation. They focused on something not subject to interpretation: the show’s guests’ race, gender, occupation, nationality, if they appeared in the program alone or with somebody else, how long were they on, etc.
The results’ publication created a stir in media circles. Their study of several hundred Nightlines showed that of Nightline’s guests, 82% were male, 89% were white, and 78% were government officials, professionals, and corporate representatives. They also presented the same data taken from another highly respected news show, The MacNeil/Lehrer Hour. Those numbers were even more skewed, at 87% male, 90% white, and 89% government officials, professionals, and corporate representatives. From that data, a strong case was made for the shows’ biases. In summary, those “news shows” were little more than platforms for the rich and powerful to air their views. The study was far-ranging, and something that this essay cannot do justice to. It was sophisticated analysis and difficult to deny.
When confronted with the study’s results, Ted Koppel produced a number of rationales for the show’s bias. The main defense was that the rich and powerful men who ran the country were invited to the show, and when White House administrations changed, those new powerful people would be interviewed. Koppel handled his interviewees with kid gloves, and was even buddies with some of them, such as Henry Kissinger, one of his most frequent guests. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s (“FAIR”) Jeff Cohen said their response:
“…could have been uttered by a Soviet TV news programmer – pre-glasnost. American television news is not supposed to be strictly a forum for representatives of the state. FAIR does not criticize Nightline for inviting policy makers to appear on the show, but for its exclusion of forceful American critics of the policy. Critics, and critical sources, are part of a news story.”
In Manufacturing Consent, Herman and Chomsky found a tripled example, not merely a paired one, which aptly demonstrated the situation. In Central America, the nations of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are neighbors, lined up along the narrow strip of land that joins the continents. Guatemala and El Salvador were favored client states of the USA during the 1980s, and El Salvador received six billion dollars in military and other aid from the USA while Ronald Reagan called it a “fledgling democracy.” By almost any standard applied to Guatemala and El Salvador during those years, they had two of the 20th century’s most brutal and murderous regimes. The only reason that the leaders of those governments did not attain the bloody stature of Hitler, Stalin, and other despots was because their nations were relatively small.
Guatemala and El Salvador were terror states that butchered their populations. The butchers that ran them were the USA’s puppets, and the leaders of their “security forces” were largely trained in the USA at the School of the Americas and other facilities. When they graduated from their American schools, their first acts upon returning home were often killing women and children in sadistic fashion. Here is an example of the kinds of activities engaged in by America-trained El Salvadoran soldiers, used to keep the population terrorized, written by human rights activist and Catholic priest Daniel Santiago:
“People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador – they are decapitated and their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones and their parents are forced to watch…The aesthetics of terror in El Salvador is religious.”
Santiago reported the story of a peasant woman returning home to find her family seated around the kitchen table. Sitting around the table were her mother, sister, and three children. Placed on the table in front of each of them were their decapitated heads. Their hands were placed on their heads, as if each body was stroking its own head. The El Salvadoran National Guardsmen who created that artistic tableau found it difficult for the youngest actor in the scene, an 18-month-old baby, to keep its hands on its head, so they nailed its hands onto its head. Completing the scene, in the center of the table was a large plastic bowl, filled with blood. Many Americans wonder how people such as Jeffrey Dahmer walk the earth. The USA trains them.
Dan Mitrione, a CIA man and boyhood friend of James Jones of Jonestown fame, was a torture specialist. He considered torture an art form. Mitrione’s motto was “The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect.” Mitrione was a true torture professional, stating:
“A premature death means a failure by the technician…It’s important to know in advance if we can permit ourselves the luxury of the subject’s death.”
Mitrione taught his Uruguayan pupils the fine art of torture. Mitrione had slender wires brought in by diplomatic pouch. The wires were used for one of Mitrione’s specialties, inserting the wires between an interrogation victim’s teeth, to administer an electric shock, which produced exquisite pain. A Uruguayan commission looked into the use of torture by the government against its own citizens, and among the tortures discovered were electric shocks administered to genitals, needles under fingernails, putting testicles in vices, and using torture on pregnant women and women nursing infants. Mitrione built a soundproof torture chamber in the cellar of his home in Uruguay. In 1970, a group whose members he was torturing kidnapped Mitrione. They held him for ransom: the return of 150 of their people. When Uruguay refused, with the firm backing of the USA, they killed Mitrione. Mitrione was eulogized in America by the White House (the Secretary of State attended his funeral) as a devoted servant of “peaceful progress.” His daughter called him “a great humanitarian.”
The satanic atrocities committed against its citizens were merely days at the office for El Salvador’s security forces. Father Ignacio Martín-Baró was one of six Jesuit priests murdered in an El Salvadoran massacre in 1989, which finally spurred the USA’s media to take a deeper look into El Salvador’s “fledgling democracy,” after nearly a decade of Reagan-inspired butchery. A few months before he was murdered, Martín-Baró gave a talk in California regarding “The Psychological Consequences of Political Terrorism.” His first point was that the most significant terrorism is that inflicted by the state onto its domestic population. His second point was that terror’s purpose was serving the elite needs of that nation, as the terror is part of a “government-imposed sociopolitical project.” His third point was briefly addressed, but Chomsky said it was the most important one for his Californian audience, which was:
“The sociopolitical project and the state terrorism that helps to implement it are not specific to El Salvador, but are common features of the Third World domains of the United States, for reasons deeply rooted in Western culture, institutions, and policy planning, and fully in accord with the values of enlightened opinion. These crucial factors explain much more than the fate of El Salvador.”
About 75,000 civilians died during El Salvador’s reign of terror. In Guatemala, the reign of terror began in 1954 when the USA and CIA overthrew their democratic government on behalf of the company that brings us Chiquita bananas. The Guatemalan death toll was about 200,000 people, and the killing escalated in the 1980s. The same kinds of atrocities found in El Salvador could be seen in Guatemala: the soldiers were trained in the USA, used American weapons, and money and arms flowed from the USA’s coffers.
While the butchery was happening in El Salvador and Guatemala, one Central American nation finally overthrew the USA-sponsored butchers. In 1979 in Nicaragua, the Sandinista revolution overthrew the Somoza regime, which was a brutal dictatorship that the USA propped up for generations. As with any military revolution, there are no choirboys on either side. What happened in Nicaragua was the closest that any Central American nation (other than arguably Costa Rica, which became a kind of Latin American Switzerland) had ever come to democracy. The Sandinistas have some things to answer for, such as their treatment of the Miskitia region’s natives, but the Sandinistas’ great crime was the same crime that Castro committed. It was the same crime that Arbenz of Guatemala, Allende of Chile, and Torrijos of Panama committed. Their crime was committing themselves to the welfare of their nation’s average people. They committed themselves to succoring the poor. They embarked on creating a society that took care of everybody, so that the people would share and share alike. They took the rhetoric of America’s Founding Fathers seriously, and believed that all people were created equal and deserved equal opportunity and a minimum standard of comfort.
Those who wish to challenge that characterization of those Latin American leaders are encouraged to study the parallels of those leaders, what they strove for, what they succeeded at, and what the USA’s position was towards them. The USA’s rhetoric always accused them of being communist and inferred that they were Soviet pawns, but reviewing the early days of each movement shows that they had no relationship to the Soviet Union and even their ideological links were tenuous. Arbenz was a fan of Franklin Roosevelt and consciously tried structuring a New Deal-style economy. With that fifth media filter mentioned by Herman and Chomsky working, any notion that a nation had of shedding the USA’s neocolonial yoke was rubber-stamped “communist” to set the stage for attacking and destroying the social movement. The USA’s goal was always putting the plutocratic elite back in charge in those nations, while the American business interests raped them, although the anticommunist “religion” sometimes even took precedence over that.
Allende was a committed Marxist, yet had no allegiance to the Soviet Union. As with virtually every other case of American hysteria over the Soviet threat, there was no credible evidence that the Soviet Union had anything to do with Allende’s rise in Chile. The Soviet Union even cautioned Chile that with its commitments to Cuba, it really could not spare Chile much time or effort. The evidence shows that while Allende’s program would “hurt” American mining and other interests in Chile, the real reason that Henry Kissinger went on the warpath to overthrow Allende was not because his policies would hurt the USA’s business interests. Kissinger’s real passion was the “ideology” of it. An elected Marxist in the Western Hemisphere was intolerable. A generation of the bloody Pinochet dictatorship left Chile in ruins, with the seventh greatest national income disparity on Earth, tied with Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Herman and Chomsky compared the nature of Guatemalan, El Salvadoran, and Nicaraguan (Sandinista) elections and how free they really were, based upon independent observation. They then compared that reality to how the American mainstream media portrayed them. In Guatemala and El Salvador, the elections were frauds. One reason was because the USA-backed dictatorships slaughtered the political opposition. Anybody who thought of running for office on any kind of humanitarian platform could expect a death squad visitation. Any media organization that dared criticize the dictatorships was wiped out. Blowing up their headquarters and murdering the editor were ways that they did it. On Election Day, peasants could vote for the dictatorship of their choice. It was a one party system. In El Salvador, voting was mandatory. They could vote for their candidate if he/she was still alive. Guatemala had a similar situation. Nicaragua, on the other hand, was a nation under siege from the USA-financed Contra terror war. The CIA engaged in its standard activities of paying off anybody in Nicaragua who could help destabilize the government, running its own candidates in the elections, etc. In light of the outside pressure that Nicaragua was under, its elections were arguably fairer than any elections that the USA has ever held.
Herman and Chomsky painstakingly analyzed the mainstream media’s accounts of those elections. The media continually painted the El Salvadoran and Guatemalan elections as paragons of fairness, and constantly attacked the Nicaraguan elections as shams. For three nations sitting along the same strip of land, with the situations so starkly different, the hypocrisy of the American press was spectacularly laid bare.
In Manufacturing Consent, the media’s performance in covering Southeast Asia’s wars was also analyzed. In any war, the first casualty is the truth. Noam Chomsky, among others, made very impressive arguments that the so-called war in Vietnam to “save them” from communism was anything but that. It was an invasion designed to keep them enslaved to a neocolonial system. There is such large body of impressive literature on that subject that cannot be rationally denied, although it has never been admitted or even discussed in the American mainstream media before. America has not admitted that it invaded Vietnam. Similarly, the Soviet Union did not admit that it invaded Afghanistan. We were “saving” those invaded countries, although the Soviet Union had much more excuse than the USA had, and a key American official later bragged that he helped lure the Soviet Union into the “Afghan trap.”
Some “side effects” of bludgeoning Vietnam were the secret wars carried out in Laos and Cambodia by the USA. Laos and Cambodia were two sleepy nations, among the poorest on Earth, wanting to be left alone. The USA could not allow that, in its noble fight against communism. It began secretly carpet-bombing Cambodia in 1969. It was not a secret to Cambodians, but the American press kept it secret from the American people. The five-year “war” killed about 500,000-600,000 people in a nation with a population less than eight million. Two million were made refugees, with about a million of those predicted to die in the war’s aftermath due to disease, starvation, etc.
While the USA was fighting communism and bludgeoning Southeast Asia, there were also victories. In 1965, the USA assisted a military coup in nearby Indonesia. The military strongman Suharto came to power. Communism was a “threat” in that region. The peasants thought that communism was a great improvement over the colonial oppression that they received at Europe’s hands. The USA hired death camp Nazis after World War II. America would embrace anybody as long as they were “anticommunist.” Suharto’s rise was an excellent case in point.
Before Suharto seized power, there was a large peasant-based communist party in Indonesia, largely composed of ethnic Chinese. “Communist” has the same root as the word community, and community was the operative word for those communists. Suharto’s plan to consolidate his power was eliminating the political competition. The Mafia was gentler. Suharto had CIA help in executing his plan: murder every communist in Indonesia. The CIA used its intelligence methods to draw lists of communists for Suharto’s troops to roundup. Then the slaughter commenced. It is estimated that between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people were wiped out by Suharto’s armed forces. It was more than just a slaughter. It was an ideological and instructive one. An account in The New York Times stated:
“Nearly 100 Communists, or suspected Communists, were herded into the town’s botanical garden and mowed down with a machine gun…the head that had belonged to the school principal, a P.K.I. (Communist Party) member, was stuck on a pole and paraded among his former pupils, convened in special assembly.”
The postwar collapse of Europe’s empires lasted for generations. The Portuguese were able to hold onto East Timor until the 1970s, partly because the East Timorese were so tame and easygoing. In the late colonial year of 1975, there was a popular revolution and the winner was a peasant-based leftist party named FRETILIN. East Timor was on the east end of an island a few hundred miles north of Australia. The west end was part of Indonesia, which is a Dutch colony that gained its independence in 1949. Indonesia was a neocolonial nation, although the generals who skimmed the economy’s cream were excessively greedy even for the foreign investors as they demanded steep bribes and kickbacks.
The dust had barely settled on the East Timorese revolution when Indonesia invaded on December 7, 1975. As fate would have it, the USA’s President Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger were visiting with Suharto when the invasion was mounted, so Indonesia put off its invasion until Ford and Kissinger left the country, apparently to prevent embarrassment for the USA. Within a few hours after Ford and Kissinger’s departure, the invasion began. Nearly as many soldiers invaded Dili, the capital city, as city residents. The soldiers killed everything that moved. Indonesia admitted that it had no legal claim on East Timor, but was taking it anyway. The USA and other nations such as Australia not only stood by and watched, but actively assisted Indonesia’s effort. During those years, Daniel P. Moynihan was the USA’s ambassador to the United Nations, and he actively stifled any UN response to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Moynihan later wrote in his memoirs:
“The United States wished things to turn out as they did and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it took. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.”
The same year that East Timor was invaded, Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia. The USA’s “secret war” in Cambodia created the devastation that brought Pol Pot to power. If not for the exploitation and violence of the French, followed by the American violence, Cambodia would have stayed a sleepy nation of several million people, mostly living in the jungle. France and the USA caused the tragedy of Cambodia.
When Pol Pot came to power, the American media immediately began a drumbeat of genocide and pinned all of those American-caused deaths from the bombings, and deaths to come from the aftermath, onto Pol Pot’s tally sheet. Many Cambodians died in Pol Pot’s programs, but in the American media nobody heard a whisper about the Cambodian blood on America’s hands.
Meanwhile, the slaughter in East Timor progressed. Indonesia was using American weapons. Although the American media gave substantial coverage of East Timor’s political ferment that led to the revolution, Indonesia’s invasion and resultant genocide was not covered at all. In a few months, 60,000 of the original 690,000 inhabitants of East Timor were dead. It reached genocidal proportions after that, and as the carnage became the worst, the American media was the most silent. Indonesia began running out of bullets a couple years into their invasion, and human rights saint Jimmy Carter hastily signed a bill to give Indonesia more arms. As Noam Chomsky stated, in the case of East Timor the American media was not only guilty of distorting reality (or hiding it), they were actually complicit in genocide.
If the American people had known what happened in East Timor, maybe they would not have supported it, but the Iraqi death toll is far less secret than the death toll in East Timor. It would have been more difficult to portray East Timor as a threat to American security, but Iraq, Grenada, Panama, Libya, Nicaragua, and Vietnam possessed no threat either. Although the death toll is generally considered about 200,000 people, the death toll in East Timor may have reached over 300,000, for the greatest proportional genocide of an ethnic group in the 20th century.
There are “gentler” paired examples to demonstrate the dynamics at work. One was a pair of military missile attacks on commercial airliners. The Soviet Union shot down one, and the USA shot down another. In 1983, a South Korean passenger jet flew hundreds of miles off its course, over sensitive Soviet airspace at night. The Soviet Union shot it down. Five years later, an Iranian airliner took off from Tehran in broad daylight, flying over the Persian Gulf. The USA shot down that airliner. They make an instructive paired example. The Soviet shooting was far more understandable than the USA’s. Soon after the Soviet attack, the USA had intelligence showing that the Soviet Union thought that it was shooting down a spy plane.
How did the American media respond to those tragedies? The American media’s condemnation of the Soviet shoot down was universal. Dan Rather called it a “barbaric act.” Nightline devoted eight consecutive shows to the event. Koppel had viewers call in and he asked whether the Reagan Administration “should take strong action against the Soviets.” More than 90 percent said yes. The portrayal of the Soviets as inhuman monsters fit perfectly with Reagan’s propaganda objectives, whipping up support for his Star Wars plan. On Nightline, right-wing hawks dominated the guest list – George Will, William F. Buckley, William Safire, Jesse Helms, and others. Condemnation was nearly universal, and Koppel himself stated that there was not “any question that the Soviet Union deserves to be accused of murder, it’s only a question of whether it’s first degree or second degree.” Right-winger Terry Dolan even stated: “Anyone who would suggest the U.S. would ever consider shooting down an unarmed civilian plane is downright foolish and irresponsible.”
Five years later, America was faced with exactly that. In what was an obvious prelude to the Gulf War, the USS Vincennes had been playing bully of the Gulf, trying to provoke Iran into military action. When an airliner flew over the Persian Gulf, the trigger-happy captain of the Vincennes blew it out of the sky. What the Soviet Union did was a hundred times more justifiable than what the USA did, but the American media went into overdrive as it explained away the Iranian airliner’s downing, which killed 290 people. It was a tragic accident in the American media. Nobody in the mainstream media could see any parallel between the downings of the Korean and Iranian airliners. It was as if the Korean Airliner tragedy never happened, flushed down Orwell’s Memory Hole. In Unreliable Sources they laid the New York Times editorials side-by-side. It was not even enough to call it a tragic accident. The New York Times’s editorial, as with the media frenzy the day after the USA bombed the Baghdad bomb shelter, killing hundreds of women and children, tried spinning the blame onto Iran. To wit:
“The episode also raises stern questions for Iran. If the Navy’s version of events is largely correct, blame may lie with the Iran Air pilot for failing to acknowledge the ship’s warnings and flying outside the civilian corridor. Iran, too may bear responsibility for failing to warn civilian planes away from the combat zone of an action it had initiated.”
There were a few big lies in that editorial, such as that the airliner had strayed from its legal route (it had not) and that Iran was mainly responsible for the Gulf hostilities, with the USA playing selfless cop (a laughable notion). The captain who shot down that Iranian plane was actually given an award, and his reception when he returned to the USA was actually congratulatory for shooting down that plane, believe it or not.
The sorry state of the American media was never more apparent than the years between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Right-wing attack dogs such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Bill O’Reilly had free reign to attack anybody who did not wave their flags fervently enough. A right-wing campaign got Peter Arnett fired from the job that he obtained after he lost his job at CNN over the Tailwind flap, because he had the audacity to speak some truth about current events. Many other journalists lost their jobs for daring to contradict the right-wing propaganda barrage. People such as The New York Times’s reporter Judith Miller became White House mouthpieces, spraying Bush administration disinformation across America’s media as if it were fact, to conjure American support for the invasion of Iraq. When some people could no longer keep quiet about the Bush administration’s daily lies, Miller and other journalists were accomplices to the crime of exposing Valerie Plame, the CIA employee and wife of Joseph Wilson, as vengeance for Wilson’s exposure of the Bush administration’s lies about Iraq’s trying to procure uranium from Africa. The American media has descended to around the level of the Soviet media, pre-Glasnost, except that the American people largely still drink from that poisoned well, thinking it provides the “news.”
The structural analysis of Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Michael Albert, Michael Parenti, and many others of their stature is compelling. Structural analysis probably explains more facets of the dynamic than anything else, although the “conspiratorial” perspective (conscious manipulation toward a desired end) can also bring important dynamics into view.
Our media, as with our government, is owned by the rich and powerful. Their primary mission is manipulating the public, not informing them. They exist to make money for their owners and serve their interests. How could it be any other way?
Although an American president will probably never don clothing as an Indy Car driver does, covered with patches announcing his corporate sponsors, most Americans realize that the rich run Washington, D.C., which is the main reason why Americans have the “free world’s” lowest voter turnout. They realize that it does not matter whom they vote for, as the same people own them all, which Chomsky has observed. The same corporations that run the government legally own the media. Ben Bagdikian’s The Media Monopoly was prescient in predicting current trend towards a media monopoly. It is largely here already, and is the logical conclusion for any capitalistic society. That is the nature of capitalism, and the rapidly evolving global media monopoly is merely one feature of global capitalism.
Probably the most widely read political book of the 20th century was George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I had to read it in eighth grade, as have many millions of American schoolchildren. Animal Farm was an allegory on the Russian Revolution and how the Soviet Union performed its mind control and social control of the masses. Some animals being “more equal than others” is an immortal example of how nonsense is presented as accepted fact. Orwell began writing Animal Farm in 1943, when the Soviet Union was the ally of Great Britain and the USA in the war against Nazi Germany. Animal Farm originally had a hostile reception among the British intelligentsia because it made fun of the British ally of the moment: Uncle Joe’s Soviet Union. Orwell had difficulty finding a publisher. Orwell wrote a preface to Animal Farm. In it, he wrote about how the Soviet Union suppressed dissent and silenced unpopular ideas by direct government intervention, but that the West produced the same outcome by different means. In the West, dissident writing was censored not by the government, but by the commercial interests, voluntarily. Orwell noted that genuine but dogma-contradicting news was silenced by the British press not through government intervention but a “general tacit agreement” in the press that “’it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.” Orwell wrote in his preface that the “patent medicine racket” was a pressure group that could censor unflattering news about itself, as could the Catholic Church. Orwell wrote regarding dogmatism:
“To exchange one orthodoxy for another is not necessarily an advance. The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment.”
Orwell wrote that freedom of the press was almost non-existent in the British press of his day, and was not due to outside pressure, but the press themselves, censoring that which they did not see fit to print. As A.J. Liebling wrote in 1960, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed to those who own one.”
As if to demonstrate the truth of Orwell’s preface, the publishers of Animal Farm completely censored it. Orwell’s preface was completely missing in the original edition, and was not discovered and published until 1972. The censorship exists to this day in 2014. I have picked up several editions of Animal Farm, and the only version that even produced Orwell’s original preface was the Everyman’s Library edition, and even then it was not restored to its rightful place, but put in an appendix. In the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, Orwell’s 1984 made for timely reading.
There are other examples of the totalitarian nature of the Western press, although it calls itself free. Mark Twain is known for his fiction such as Tom Sawyer and The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Virtually unknown are the many anti-imperialist writings of the last 15 years of his life, which gave the ruling class in Europe and America a black eye. Twain probably thought that it was his most important work, but it was completely censored in the West for 80 years, until an obscure book dealt with them in the 1990s, to quickly disappear from circulation. I tried to obtain that book for many years before I finally did, and paid nearly $200 for my copy. That level of suppression was probably not even possible in Stalin’s Soviet Union. When Twain wrote King Leopold’s Soliloquy in 1905, which outlined the genocide taking place in the Belgian Congo, as American industrialists eagerly sidled up to the trough as investors, the suppression was so complete by the American media establishment that it was never published in the USA except as a pamphlet issued by some Congo reform groups. Again, it took me many years to obtain a copy. The “free market” censorship of Zora Neale Hurston’s work was one of countless instances of how lesser-known authors have been regularly censored in the West.
The notion of a “free press” is one the biggest fabrications in American history – a myth concocted by the media itself. The biggest lies that our media serves up are the self-serving pretenses that it is objective and seeks the truth. All that the first amendment says is that the government cannot tell the media what to write or not write. America has never really had true freedom of speech. It is the world’s freest in significant ways, but it still is not that free, as Mumia Abu Jamal, a journalist who spent many years on death row, knew well. The American media is also the most manipulative of its consumers. We may have relative freedom to speak, but it does not mean that anybody will hear us. Ever since the Sedition Act was passed in the 1700’s, free speech has had a rough ride in America. During World War I, the Espionage Act was passed, which made it illegal to speak out against the war, and the USA imprisoned hundreds of Americans for the crime of speaking out.
If the same interests that run the government also own the media, how free can the media truly be? They are stenographers to power. On a lighter side, the funniest and perhaps the best political cartoonist I have ever seen, Tom Tomorrow, summarized the American news process in a hilarious cartoon, below.
More Big Lies: History
Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. – George Orwell, 1984.
As Orwell wrote, whoever writes the news also writes the history. The news has been called history’s first draft. My historical investigations, which took many years, were to see if anything I had been taught as a student was true. My media studies were necessarily complemented with studying history and politics. They cannot be effectively separated. If you are an American and born before 1960, compare this site’s essay on Columbus to the tales you were told in school. The man who initiated history’s most complete genocide of more than a million people became an American national hero.
As James Loewen stated in his best-selling Lies My Teacher Told Me, the hero in American high school textbooks is America. American history is designed to make unthinking patriots, ready to march off to war and otherwise defend our great nation. It is an exercise in nationalism. Those history lessons in school are warm-ups for the continual stream of what the media produces for our consumption each day.
I was raised in Ventura, California, and attended Junípero Serra elementary school in grades four through six (it opened when I was in fourth grade). Serra founded the California mission system, and is credited with bringing “civilization” to California, which is a land of triple heritage. The names of the towns near me reflected that heritage. Ventura was named after the Spanish mission founded there in 1782. A couple miles from my home was the town of Saticoy, named after an extinct local Indian tribe. A couple miles in another direction was Oxnard, named after white settlers who built a beet-processing factory. The Chumash tribe occupied the coastline from Malibu to San Luis Obispo. In fourth grade, our teacher read to us Island of the Blue Dolphins, which was about a tribe that lived on an island off the California coast. That tribe and the Chumash settled the islands off the coast, now known as the Channel Islands.
The same year, we watched a film about Junípero Serra, who established the mission system. The film depicted Serra as a gentle man who tirelessly “civilized” the poor natives of California and brought them God’s Word. We also took field trips to the Ventura and Santa Barbara missions. That same year, we performed a play for our parents about the Gold Rush. My role was a prospector’s mule, and I ran around on all fours, braying loudly.
When I was in college, I attended Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, which is another mission town founded by Serra. During my last year of college, I worked as a graveyard shift cook at a restaurant a couple blocks from that mission in the town’s center. After graduation, I ended up living and working in Los Angeles, which is another mission town. For a couple years, I audited the city of Santa Barbara, which is another mission town. In Santa Barbara, there is a large, preserved religious facility next to city hall, and the Spanish heritage is evident everywhere. Serra and his missions were very ubiquitous aspects of my early years. The schools in Ventura were mainly named after other Spaniards. Half of my Serra school chums attended Balboa junior high school, named after the conquistador who “discovered” the Pacific Ocean. Another junior high school was named after Cabrillo, who “discovered” the California coast. The two public high schools were Buena and Ventura, which are the two halves of Ventura’s legal name San Buenaventura (literally, the saint of good venture). I attended the latter school.
I always heard what a great man Serra was and how he pioneered “civilization” in California. The tales of Serra and those pioneering 49ers were part of a general trend of celebrating the “pioneers” all over the Western USA. I lived in Houston for a year when my father worked for NASA. Texas also had a triple heritage, but just as in California, I recall little mention of the natives. In Texas, the exploits of Sam Houston and the Alamo story were the standard schoolboy fare. I visited the monument at San Jacinto, which memorialized Houston’s great feat of slaughtering nearly a thousand sleeping Mexican soldiers in less than 20 minutes, to thereby win Texas’s battle for “independence” in 1836.
While I grew up in Ventura, I took three years of California history. Other than Island of the Blue Dolphins, the natives were rarely mentioned, and how they passed from the scene was never discussed. The wresting of California and the entire American Southwest from Spain and Mexico was also lightly covered. The emphasis was usually on the 49ers, the pioneers, the tragedy of the Donner party, and the Spanish mission heritage. My historical investigations studied just how Ventura came to have a triple heritage, and compared what I learned through research to what I was taught in school.
The coming of the Spanish was a horror without precedent in world history. Spanish disease, greed, slavery, violence, and famine depopulated entire regions. After a century of uninterrupted rape and plunder, the New World’s natives were reduced to around 10%-25% of their “prediscovery” population.
When the English realized that there was no easy gold in North America, they came to settle the land and brought their women with them. Although raping native women was not quite the pastime for the English that it was for the Spanish, it also reflected a difference in attitude. The Spanish were extremely racist, and the lighter a mestizo’s skin, the better off he/she was. The Spanish generally saw the natives as human, but inferior. The English usually saw the natives as inhuman savages.
I found that there really was an original Thanksgiving, in which the Pilgrims feasted with the Wampanoag who helped them survive. The feast, with sports and games being played, lasted a few days. It really happened.
What did not make my grade school history books was that the armed Pilgrims had already chased local Indians, stolen their corn, and robbed their graves before they settled at what is now called Plymouth. Plymouth was the site of the Pawtuxet Wampanoag tribe that Captain John Smith’s men plundered. As with Columbus, the English kidnapped natives to establish themselves in the New World. The strategy was kidnapping them, enslaving them, teaching them English in Europe, and then returning with a native interpreter to help pave the way for invasion a little more gently than simply using weapons. The Portuguese used that strategy in the African slave trade. Squanto, who taught the Pilgrims survival skills, was a Pawtuxet Wampanoag captured by one of Smith’s men in 1614 and was scheduled for slavery in Spain along with dozens of his tribesmen. Selling the natives into slavery was a favorite moneymaker for European invaders for centuries.
When Smith left for Europe, his men left behind a calling card (it also may have been shipwrecked French sailors who left it). A European-introduced disease killed 90% of the Wampanoag tribe. It may have been an intentional introduction of disease. Squanto arrived back at his tribal grounds in 1619 as an English expedition’s interpreter, and found that nearly his entire village had died from the epidemic. When the Pilgrims invaded in 1620, they “settled” where Squanto’s tribe had lived. The Wampanoags were rivals of the neighboring Narragansett tribe. When the Pilgrims arrived, the regional balance of power had been drastically altered, since the Narragansetts had not suffered a European-introduced plague quite yet, were trading with the Dutch, and Massasoit (the Wampanoags’ chief) saw a potential beneficial alliance for the remnant of his tribe.
For ten years, the settlers (about 300 of them) and Wampanoags lived in peace. When word got out about the paradisiacal life of the settlers and their benefactors, Puritans began coming by the boatload. The original Pilgrims, to their credit, respected their benefactor, and in later years as the new settlers took more and more land that was the Wampanoags’, the original Pilgrims protested that violation of their relationship with Massasoit. Those protesting Pilgrims soon found themselves expelled from their church.
Although the Pilgrims got along with the Wampanoags, by instigation of Massasoit, Miles Standish and friends murdered a number of chiefs of the neighboring Massachusetts tribe. Around New England, the natives were finding out about European benevolence. In 1641, the Dutch governor of Manhattan offered the first scalp bounty.
Eventually, Thanksgiving took on a more macabre meaning. White invaders would have a Thanksgiving celebration each time they wiped out a native tribe. Europeans introduced a new tactic to the annals of invasion. They would surround a village at night, burn it, and kill every man, woman, and child in it. At other times, the women and children of a working age (generally over 14) would be sold into slavery and the rest slaughtered. An early and notorious instance of that tactic was the burning of the fortified Pequot village on the Mystic River in 1637, by English soldiers and their Narragansett and Mohegan native allies. They surprised the sleeping village of several hundred, burned the village to the ground, and killed fleeing natives. Neither women nor children were spared in the massacre. Native allies who had not already fled (not really having the stomach for war) were horrified at the English savagery. Captain John Underhill, who led the slaughter, would later find justification for killing those women and children by citing Kind David’s Old Testament genocidal slaughters. The General Court of Massachusetts declared a day of thanksgiving to celebrate the Mystic River Massacre.
Manhattan’s churches declared a Thanksgiving after a successful raid against the natives in what is now Pound Ridge, New York, where Underhill wiped out another sleeping village and killed several hundred people. Thanksgiving celebrations, given when natives were wiped out, were getting out of hand around the colonies. Eventually, George Washington tried to bring some order to the affair and named one day a year as Thanksgiving. Abe Lincoln declared the official Thanksgiving Day that the USA celebrates today. The day that Lincoln declared the national holiday, he sent troops against the Sioux in Minnesota.
Massasoit helped the Pilgrims stay alive. It was not because he was a great humanitarian, although kindness was evident at times. He thought the white people would make good allies in the region’s tribal struggles. Massasoit had considerable diplomatic skill, and there was relative peace during the last 40 years of his life. Although the natives were being decimated across what is now called New England, Massasoit and the Pilgrims forged a relatively peaceful and mutually beneficial arrangement.
When Massasoit died in 1661, however, his tribe was doomed, and the insatiable European greed for land initiated a war with his successor son, Metacom, called King Philip by the Europeans. One reason for the war was the native suspicion that the Puritans were intentionally introducing European disease amongst them, to further clear the land. Germ warfare is an integral part of European history, and it is not farfetched to think that the English began that practice in their earliest days of invading North America. King Philip’s war in 1675 was one of the few instances of a relatively successful war carried out by New World natives. It ended in about a year with the destruction of nearly the entire Wampanoag tribe, and Metacom’s head was displayed on a pike at Plymouth for 24 years. Thus ended the tribe that welcomed the Pilgrims to America, which also ended one of the most peaceful relationships that European invaders and natives had: complete genocide was delayed for more than 50 years. Elsewhere genocide came much more swiftly, and befell all native tribes that European invaders encountered on what became the USA’s East Coast.
The genocide of eastern North America’s natives is a horrific tale. When the USA won its independence, it continued marching across the continent, and its deceptive treaties were used as a means of swindling the natives out of their land, using a strategy that George Washington originally proposed. Washington’s profession was a surveyor, but surveying native lands for acquisition was really Washington’s profession. Washington is far from the only murderous thief glorified in American myth. Daniel Boone, that grand pioneer of Kentucky, was a land speculator, just like Washington. Also, as with Washington, Boone specialized in killing natives and taking their land. Boone participated in intrusive military campaigns against natives, such as George Rogers Clark’s genocidal invasions. Whether the natives were “friendly” or “hostile” often made no difference to the marauding white men.
In great irony, the Iroquois Confederacy inspired the American Constitution in no small measure, and George Washington initiated exterminatory campaigns against them. Washington’s armies were particularly brutal. Scalping living natives was some of the fun that Washington’s men enjoyed, but skinning natives from the hips downward procured the ultimate frontiersman’s apparel: native-skin trousers. Later, Andrew Jackson, another American President-hero, had his troops cut off several hundred native noses commemorate the body count of a successful “battle.” Jackson supervised his men as they stripped native skins to make into bridle reins, and Jackson even saw that trophies cut from native corpses were given to the “ladies of Tennessee” as souvenirs. The issue of dispossessing the natives of their land was the leading issue of Jackson’s presidency, but a modern historian such as Arthur Schlesinger could write a Pulitzer-Prize-winning book about Jackson (The Age of Jackson) without mentioning one word about Jackson’s Indian policy.
Similar to the Spanish soldiers, the American frontiersman’s favorite quarry was human. Boone’s mythmaking biographer, John Filson, once wrote that Boone killed two Indians with one bullet. Frontiersman Adam Poe was said to have relished hunting “Injins” as the best “game,” more satisfying than hunting bears and cougars. America’s greed for land and gold propelled the empire across the continent and wiped out natives in the way, and was not much different than Rome’s modus operandi. Concocting ideology to turn the natives into subhumans was an essential and time-honored tactic, applied to out-groups for tens of thousands of years.
I eventually discovered that there was more to the Padre Serra story than I was taught in grade school. Serra was beatified in 1988, and was sainted in 2015. He was the chief inquisitor in northern Mexico, called New Spain in those days. Among his duties was supervising the torture of confessions out of witches. Historians consider the mission system that Serra founded the first prison system established on what became American soil. Those lovingly preserved missions were the first institutions of the genocide of California’s natives.
The gentle climate of California’s coast made for easy living. The natives did not need clothes for half the year. The Chumash formed the dominant coastal tribes, and as with most in the Eastern Woodlands tribes, they were a matrilineal society, with its attendant lack of warfare. The Chumash did not have a warrior class, for instance. The missions were their “first introduction to civilization.” They had already been treated to the white man’s diseases. California, as with the rest of the New World, is a source of controversy regarding its pre-Columbian population. Some scholars think it was as high as a million people. When Cabrillo “discovered” the California coast in 1542, his welcome was not always warm, as natives attacked him. The reason for the harsh welcome was that Spaniards had already been marauding through the area and killing natives. Spaniards pillaged the land, raped the women, killed the men, and spread disease wherever they went in the New World. Cabrillo wrote of how thickly populated the islands off the coast were (the Channel Islands, right off Ventura where I was raised, now uninhabited), and other early explorers remarked on how thickly the land was settled with natives.
When Serra arrived in San Diego in 1769, the native Californian population had likely already been severely decimated by European disease. The explorers of California in the 1700s found old smallpox scars on the natives. The prevailing estimate is that 300,000 natives lived in California in 1769, but estimates go as high as 600,000 to one million. New Spain’s northern periphery was considered a defensive bulwark against the intrusions of its European rivals that protected its silver mines in Mexico. When Russians began colonizing the California Coast, Serra seized the opportunity.
The Jesuit mission system of Baja California had reduced the natives from a “pre-mission” population of about 60,000, to 5,000 in 1770. The Spanish mission system in Florida, begun as an adjunct to protecting Spain’s plunder route from South America and Mesoamerica, had long ago decimated the natives through slave labor and disease. By 1700, the pre-Columbian Timucuan population of Florida had declined from perhaps 200,000 to 1,000. The priests were in one way much like their soldier counterparts. The Spanish mines and plantations were instruments of genocide, and when the natives were “used up,” the soldiers moved on to find more natives to rape, murder, and enslave. The missions were prisons, with the natives being penned into them, treated like slaves and animals, dying of disease, etc, and when the natives of Baja California were used up, the priests moved on to find more natives to “save.” A child’s life expectancy if he/she was born in the mission could be as many as ten years. In some missions, their life expectancy was two years. I have not heard of such a low life expectancy anywhere else in history. The primary disease vector was the syphilis that Spanish rapists injected into native populations. The missions were death camps, and Serra could not have been happier. He wrote, “In San Antonio [one of his missions – Ed.] they are faced with two harvests, that is, of the wheat, and of a plague among the children, who are dying.” The children’s deaths were a “harvest” for the pious padre, just like the Grim Reaper.
The Spanish missionizing process obviously would never have succeeded without brute force. Spanish soldiers were required for the mission system to function. In California and elsewhere, it took few soldiers because the natives were so gentle, but they were required. The “deal” that the natives entered into was not something that they freely chose. If they had known that they punched a one-way ticket at the missions when accepting baptism, none would have come. Priests lured them in with trinkets, food, and other “presents,” and many natives eventually submitted to baptism, without knowing what it implied. Once they did, it was like joining a Mafia family: there was no escape.
A standard “recruiting” tactic was soldiers obtaining neophytes by scouring the countryside for them. Once a neophyte had “signed on,” through subterfuge or capture, they were essentially mission prisoners. The padres did not always lock everybody up. They found that locking up the women was usually sufficient. The missions had women’s dormitories where they slept locked up every night. Those dorms were hellholes that bred disease. The children died off at incredible rates. Governor Diego de Borica identified poor sanitation as a reason for the missions’ high death rates, and the Franciscans ignored his advice. De Borica wrote of visiting one dorm where he was driven from it by the overpowering stench of feces. The missions had “living quarters” for a captive native that measured seven feet by two feet. It was about the size of a cattle pen…or a coffin.
The rapist lifestyle that the Spanish mission soldiers enjoyed in California enraged the native men (and women), which led to their few instances of violent resistance. In 1772, immediately after Spaniards established the mission at San Gabriel, a soldier raped the local Indian chief’s wife. The chief gathered some warriors and confronted the rapist. The rapist’s response was to kill the chief with his musket, and the warriors fled at that act. The Spanish corporal in charge had the chief’s head cut off and mounted on a pole at the mission, as a lesson to the natives.
After that episode, gangs of mission soldiers, emboldened by the mission’s approval of rape and murder, marauded through the countryside each morning, hunting for native women. When they found them, they lassoed them like cattle and raped them on the spot. Resisting native men were shot with muskets. That was the “civilization” that Serra brought to California. The most common form of native resistance was flight. Some escaped numerous times and even chopped off parts of their bodies to escape their shackles.
Priestly concern for the natives’ earthly welfare was practically nowhere in evidence. The game was baptizing them before they died in captivity. The priests often tried to become martyrs. Since martyrdom was the coveted way for a priest to die and the first step to sainthood, Serra eagerly sought opportunities to martyr himself but never found one, mainly because the natives were not violent.
Drinking urine and burning and beating one’s self was normal priestly behavior in those days. Serra wore coarse clothing that scratched his flesh. That not being enough, he inserted broken wire into his clothing, which constantly gouged him. He burned his chest with candles and hot coals. For years, he beat his chest with heavy rocks while preaching, which led to shortness of breath in later life. Serra’s Church superiors disapproved of his activities, as they were more fanatical than most priests’ practices. Serra may have been the New World’s most fanatical priest at that time, which served him well in building California’s mission system.
While preaching in Mexico City, Serra shouted for his flock to renounce their sins. As he shouted, he produced a chain that he kept for just such occasions, and began beating himself. The crowd was swept up into the spectacle, sobbing at the display of such a righteous man beating himself for his god. A man leapt to the pulpit, seized Serra’s chain, and declared, “I am the sinner who is ungrateful to god who ought to do penance for my many sins, not the padre, who is a saint.” The man beat himself until he collapsed. After being revived and given his last rites, he died.
Serra was not very kind toward the natives that he was “saving.” When some of his captive natives escaped and took supplies to aid their flight, Serra had to be restrained by his fellow priests from hanging them. Serra shouted that “such a race of people deserved to be put to the knife.” A mission Indian never smiled, but instead manifested symptoms of chronic depression. When the USA stole California in 1846, its native population was about 150,000. Serra’s legacy was the death of at least half of California’s native population, and a much greater extermination rate in mission country, of around 90%.
The authors of Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization stated:
“Indian demographic collapse in the missions was not intended but intentional, since Franciscan congregación [forcing the Indians into the missions and keeping them there under force – Ed.] continued despite the negative impacts on Indians even though one civil official, governor Diego de Borica in the 1790s, identified the problem and suggested solutions never implemented by the Franciscans.”
Those missions were the professional ancestors of Dachau. If Hitler had prevailed in World War II, Auschwitz’s death camp would probably be a museum today, and would have exhibits describing Hitler’s attempts to rescue the Jews from their self-imposed ignorance. Auschwitz would have been described as a place where Nazis tried saving Jews through honest work, to reform their lazy and greedy tendencies. Unmentioned would be their fate. They were just gone. The town would have been renamed Hitlerville or something similar. Down the street would have been Adolf Hitler Grammar School, a statue of der Führer would have been erected, and the children would have learned what a great man he was, bringing the light of Aryan civilization to the region. Is that going too far? I attended the California equivalent of Adolf Hitler Grammar School, and it was not fun to discover it.
If I had lived a few blocks further north than I had, I would have attended Balboa Junior High School. Balboa, the first European to see the Pacific Ocean, specialized in feeding natives to his dogs, attacking sleeping villages, seizing women for concubines, and torturing chiefs to death to tell them where their gold was hidden; gold that they did not have.
Sir Francis Drake was another hero of California history. He was the first Englishman to see California and the first to sail around the world. I discovered that his epic voyage was a pirate expedition taken on behalf of Queen Elizabeth to plunder the Spanish Empire’s Pacific Coast. They reasoned that the Spanish would never suspect an attack from that side. They were right. The plundering of the Spanish Empire’s Pacific ports was easy. Drake was a slave runner and pirate who was involved with slaughtering Irish women and children, but that expedition put him in the history books. The ship was leaking because it was so heavily weighted down with stolen silver. After seeking a way back to England (the elusive Northwest Passage), sailing as far north as Puget Sound, they stopped on the West Coast to repair the ship’s seams and the natives hosted them in style while they repaired their ship. They then went home the only way that they could. Drake sailed back to England across the Pacific Ocean and became the first Englishman to sail around the world. Drake’s haul was so lucrative that Queen Elizabeth knighted him (“Sir” Francis), and Drake’s share made him England’s richest private citizen. Serra, Drake, Columbus, and Washington – those were the heroes that I was raised to admire.
Although Serra’s mission system initiated the native genocide, there was worse to come. When California was stolen in the fabricated Mexican-American war and gold was discovered soon thereafter, the “settlers” came in a rush of greed, as in all gold rushes, at which time the natives were actively exterminated.
The miners and ranchers of Northern California had a hunting season on California’s natives that lasted for a generation. California’s first governor declared an open season on natives, and white settlers hunted Indians every weekend. Those mass murderers became local heroes. Hunting expeditions sought out native villages, usually finding encampments of 50 to 60 people that they slaughtered. The slaughter took place in earnest during the 1850s and 1860s. When California was admitted to the Union, it was a “free state,” which meant that African slaves were outlawed. Native slaves were legal, however, and made more docile slaves than the Africans, who often lacked the humility required for slaves. When the 49ers annihilated a camp of natives, they often spared the children and sold them into slavery, which was a long-standing New World practice by the white man. There were many eager buyers in Sacramento and San Francisco. A native girl cost nearly double the price of a native boy because, as the Marysville Appeal phrased it, the native girls served the dual function of “labor and of lust.”
Similar to the Spanish rapists, American “settlers” also raped the native women as a favorite pastime. Richard Drinnon was raised in Oregon by immigrant homesteaders. His father was a rancher-immigrant of the late 19th century, and a pleasant rancher pastime was riding out on horseback and hunting for native women to lasso and rape. Drinnon’s father enjoyed telling the story of a “squaw chase” where the prey thought quickly, squatted down, and threw sand into her “privates,” which thwarted the ranchers’ ardor. Drinnon grew up hearing that story many times, and everybody had a good belly laugh when hearing it. Drinnon thought the tale immensely humorous in his youth, and later admitted that it showed how stunted his sensitivity was toward native peoples.
By 1900, the California native population was about 15,000. I never read or heard about the California genocide until I began the studies that became this website. The only native reference I remember was reading a brief mention that Ventura’s last Indian lived in the river bottom near my house and died around 1900.
The 19th century was the American century of genocide, and the most assured way of getting votes was running for office as an “Indian fighter.” Custer’s famous “last stand” seems to have been a failed presidential campaign. Custer was an extremely vain soldier who had been hobnobbing with New York’s elite during the winter of 1875-76, and they saw in him presidential material. He had just turned 35, the minimum presidential age. The morning of the Little Big Horn Battle, Custer told two of his scouts, “If we beat the Sioux, I will be President of the United States – the Grandfather. If you Arikaras do as well as I tell you and kill enough Sioux for me and capture many Sioux ponies, I will take care of you when I come into my power!” Indian killers becoming presidents was as American as apple pie, and the apparent plan (more like a conspiracy at that stage) was for Custer to find glory on the battlefield that summer, which would sweep him to the presidency that autumn.
Custer originally made a name for himself as an Indian fighter by sneaking up on a friendly Indian camp on the Washita River in the winter of 1868, where a dawn attack killed scores of women and children, sleeping in their teepees. That attack killed Black Kettle, the Cheyenne chief and one of history’s most tragic Indians. The Cheyenne tribe was another relatively gentle matrilineal society, and Black Kettle made peace with the invading white men from the moment that they came marching across the plains in search of gold. No matter how friendly the natives were to the invaders, Custer’s boss General Sheridan soon articulated the American mentality when he said the only good Indians that he ever saw were dead. Sheridan later denied that he ever said it, but it accurately depicted the frontier mentality.
Black Kettle even went to Denver with other chiefs, smoking their peace pipes and trying to forestall the genocidal violence, which the belligerent “settlers” took delight in. Colorado’s governor was embarrassed by the chiefs’ overture, as he had asked the federal government for authorization to raise an Indian-killing militia. Black Kettle and the chiefs thought that they made peace, and Black Kettle took his people in sight of a fort on their reservation land, turned in all their weapons except those they used for hunting, and considered themselves charges of the government. It was far more than any government could ask for. Soon after, the tribe was ordered to move away from the fort, and they moved off to Sand Creek, which was still on their reservation. While the men were away on a bison hunt, an ex-minister, Colonel John Chivington, marched that militia to Sand Creek. There were truly hostile Indians in the vicinity; braves not taking kindly to the white man’s invasion. They were carefully avoided while Chivington led his troops to Sand Creek.
When told of Black Kettle’s peaceful camp, Chivington said, “I long to be wading in gore.” They surrounded the camp at night and attacked at dawn. Chivington ordered his eager volunteers to “Kill and scalp all. Nits make lice.” They were spotted before attacking, and Black Kettle emerged from his teepee to see soldiers ringing his camp. He raised a white flag and an American flag on a pole outside his teepee and stood there with his family as he tried to keep his people calm. Then the attack began, which was one of the most brutal and cowardly attacks ever. They killed women, children, and the elderly. They carved the genitals off women and men and made tobacco pouches and other fashionable items from them. They raped dying women before finishing them off and cutting them up. They even carved open pregnant women to liberate their prized fetuses.
Sand Creek was one of the more egregious massacres in American history, but it also reflected typical American sentiments of the day. Attacking sleeping encampments while the men were away hunting, especially while the men were away hunting, was standard frontier practice. When the women, children, and elderly were finally dispatched, the glowing reports from the “battlefield” almost invariably told of daringly fighting hordes of bloodthirsty braves. Those heroes at Sand Creek became the toast of Denver as they proudly showed off women’s genitalia that they cut from their victims and paraded around the few children that they had “taken prisoner.” The frontier press, whether it was in California or Colorado, exulted at each massacre. Those events were taking place while the Union was “heroically” fighting a war to free the South’s slaves. Even today, numerous streets in Denver are named after participants in the Sand Creek Massacre, there is a monument at the state capital in honor of their volunteer regiment, and a town near the “battleground” at Sand Creek bears Chivington’s hallowed name. Colorado generally still beams with pride over Sand Creek. The professor who pointed out those ignored facts had his career destroyed.
In February 1871, a band of Apaches arrived at Camp Grant, near Tucson, Arizona. Apaches have the reputation of being one of the most militant and savage of Native American tribes. Apaches had alternately resisted and accepted the Spanish Invasion for centuries, at times fighting back and at others allowing themselves to be herded onto Spanish reservations and into missions. After centuries of genocide, as European disease epidemics regularly swept through their ranks, with periodic violence from the “settlers,” Apaches fought back, led in their twilight years by Geronimo, who began fighting after Mexicans slaughtered his entire family.
Those Apaches in 1871 were in the surrender mode and asked to live on reservation land, as they had been rendered nomadic by the marauding U.S. Cavalry. They voluntarily disarmed themselves and settled down to farming and working on local ranches. They were under the care of Lieutenant Royal Whitman, who was an anomaly among American military men, who conscientiously tried executing the USA’s duty to those dispossessed natives. Word got out about a sanctuary at Camp Grant, and within weeks, more than 500 Apaches had come to live there. They came and went under a pass system that Whitman used, and began their spring plantings in April. One camp on the reservation had a couple hundred people living there. Residents of nearby Tucson heard of those Apaches who had retired to reservation life. On April 28th, a group of prominent Tucson citizens left Tucson, led by the ex-mayor, William Oury. They armed themselves from the Arizona armory and marched to Camp Grant. On the morning of April 30th, Whitman heard of the vigilante band from Tucson and immediately sent word to the natives to flee to the fort, under his protection. He was too late. The vigilantes came upon the encampment, which was populated at the time by about 150 women and children and less than ten men, as the others were gone, performing their springtime chores.
Those prominent Tucson residents proceeded to slaughter nearly all the women and children, gang-raping the women before killing them and then mutilating their bodies. They spared about 30 children and sold them into slavery in Mexico. It was one of countless massacres of peaceful natives that the white men inflicted on Native Americans during the previous four centuries, and that would be one of the last, because Native Americans were nearly all dead by that time. What was the reaction of the “noble pioneers” who were “settling” the West? One Denver newspaper openly cheered the massacre. Under the headline “Victory for Peace,” the newspaper stated:
“We give this act of the citizens of Arizona most hearty and unqualified endorsement. We congratulate them on the fact that permanent peace negotiations have been made with so many, and we only regret that the number was not double. Camp Grant is the last of those victories for civilization which have made Sand Creek, Washita…and other similar occurrences famous in western history. It is just and right and fully demanded by the circumstances of the times.”
A Tucson paper noted, “The California papers quite generally approve of the Camp Grant massacres.” A San Francisco newspaper went to lengths to justify such “self-defense.” A Sacramento newspaper “heartily endorsed the slaughter,” and the San Diego newspapers called it “joyful news.”
Such cheering of genocidal slaughter continued right up until the last one at Wounded Knee in 1890. About a week before the Wounded Knee massacre, one of America’s most celebrated authors, L. Frank Baum, who wrote that children’s tale The Wizard of Oz, and who was at the time the editor of South Dakota’s Aberdeen Sunday Pioneer, wrote the following:
“The nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they should die than live the miserable wretches that they are.”
When Baum wrote those words, in Austria a child was waddling around in his diapers who would take the name Adolf Hitler. What is the difference between what Nazis did to Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs in World War II, and what America did to its natives? The only significant difference appears to be the level of technology and sophistication that Nazis employed. Also, while Hitler’s minions tried hiding their Final Solution, America openly cheered its Final Solution. Hitler took inspiration from America’s genocide of its natives, to give them “living space.” Both Nazis and Americans were “clearing the land” of undesirable races in order to provide land for their “settlers.” Jews cleared Israel of Palestinians by slightly more genteel methods to give them their living space. They secured their Promised Land slightly more gently than their ancestor Joshua allegedly did. Only after the land has been cleansed of the native taint do those invaders begin developing consciences and settle into their comfortable lives and revel in what providence and “Manifest Destiny” brought them.
If the Nazis had succeeded, Eastern Europe today would be populated with German “settlers” and they would be living lives probably not much different today than people in America’s Midwest. By about now, German historians might be questioning the nature of the Holocaust, which received scant mention when those years of Reich-building glory were retold, and Hitler’s heroic image as the father of the Reich might finally be getting questioned in “radical” corners. They would still celebrate Hitler Day, but there might be an increasing swell of discontent with the facts versus the myths in Hitler’s image. It has taken far longer for Americans to begin questioning the saintly qualities of George Washington and Christopher Columbus, who were fathers of different kinds of Reichs.
In the Eastern Establishment, with their natives long ago exterminated, they had the opportunity to develop consciences, and a congressional inquiry was convened to look into Sand Creek. As with many “Indian fighters,” Chivington was planning to capitalize on his new fame and run for Congress after his glorious victory. His fame was short-lived when even the American people were shocked by what happened there. Even so, for years he worked the talk circuit throughout America as he basked in fame. He eventually came to an obscure end in Ohio.
David Stannard nearly dedicated his American Holocaust to the memory of a native boy who died at Sand Creek. His death was described by Major Scott J. Anthony of the First Colorado Cavalry, in testimony before the United States Congress in 1865 on the massacre at Sand Creek:
“There was one little child, probably three years old, just big enough to walk through the sand. The Indians had gone ahead, and this little child was behind following after them. The little fellow was perfectly naked, travelling on the sand. I saw one man get off his horse, at a distance of about seventy-five yards, and draw up his rifle and fire – he missed the child. Another man came up and said, ‘Let me try the son of a bitch; I can hit him.’ He got down off his horse, kneeled down and fired at the little child, but he missed him. A third man came up and made a similar remark, and fired, and the little fellow dropped.”
John Terrell wrote about 20 books, mainly writing about the Old West, the frontier days, etc. In the twilight of his career, he broke with his past a little and wrote Land Grab, the Truth about “The Winning of the West.” At the book’s beginning he stated:
“This is a polemical book. A friend who was formerly editor-in-chief of a large publishing house advised me not to compile it. ‘It’s the West that Americans would like to forget,’ he said.
“Obviously I did not heed his counsel. It is incomprehensible to me how a people can benefit by deliberately suppressing and ignoring opprobrious episodes of their past. By what means can they measure their social, economic and cultural progress without taking into account the mistakes, faults and crimes of their ancestors? Persons whose minds are open only to pleasant legends of bygone years are, in effect, condoning the half-truths customarily disseminated by chambers of commerce and advertising agencies and abetting the immoral practices of pseudopatriots and political demagogues.
“In this collection I present in brief form some facets of three important parts of western history. There is nothing in it that can’t be substantiated in a good library.”
In Land Grab, Terrell laid out the mentality of the 49ers and all those brave pioneers who settled the West. Of the many scholarly accounts of “settling” the American West that I have read, Terrell’s informal summary is still one of the best I have seen:
“The ideas that dominated the thinking, if it may be termed that, of Americans who flooded the West during the nineteenth century are not beyond explanation. To achieve an understanding of them one only need remember that by far the larger number of persons, both male and female, who crossed the Missouri as emigrants were not blessed with great intellects. They were people of the backwoods, of the city slums, unlettered common laborers and farmers and hunters and trappers, a vast proportion of them the dregs of American society. They were, with some notable exceptions, uncouth, crude, ignorant and greedy. They were religious and racial bigots. All of them were looking for something for nothing.
“The great fallacy still harbored by a regrettably large number of Americans and still promoted by hypocritical patriots and politicians is that every man and woman who chose to enter Indian Country beyond the Missouri was a hero or heroine. Paeans still ring throughout the land for the brave souls who set out for the unknown, facing great perils of the wilderness with a burning dream to build a greater America.
“They didn’t do any such thing. They thought least of all, and most likely not at all, of their country’s future. The only dreams they had – except nightmares caused by fear – were of free land and free gold, of becoming rich and secure, with a minimum of exertion and little expense.
“It could hardly be expected that people afflicted with such deficiencies, of such low levels and backgrounds, could be expected to display intelligence in their relations with the Indians. Obviously they could not make use of qualities they did not possess. They were governed entirely by animalistic and materialistic instincts, and the purity of those characteristics was seldom adulterated by even small doses of compassion, consideration, or justice. As they were unable to understand Indians, they treated them with disdain, hatred and contempt, all thoroughly normal reactions.
“The colorful euphemisms that newspapers, books and periodicals showered on the settlers who crossed the western plains enhanced the public’s overall picture of the Golden West, but they concealed the ingredients of depravity and viciousness that existed. Most of the frontiersmen, pioneers and conquerors of the wild western domain, were, and still are, highly lauded and eulogized for moral principles they did not possess.
“’God-fearing’ was a term generously applied to them. True, they attended church and listened to sermons and sang hymns on Sunday, but it was also true that they conveniently forgot all Biblical admonitions as soon as they left the church services. They turned their religion on and off with an effective mental spigot. They advocated and practiced a method of putting the Indian in touch with Heaven that was more certain and less complicated than that commanded by the doctrines of Christianity. It was, ‘Shoot them where you find them.'”
My grandfather was raised on a Kansas homestead in the early 20th century, and he told me that as a child, he and his friends “shot anything that moved.” His attitude toward Native Americans evolved during his lifetime, and he came to finally realize the awesome injustice that his ancestors inflicted onto North America’s aboriginal inhabitants. In the early days of Kansas homesteading, selling bones from the incredible destruction of the bison herds paid well. The bones were sent to factories in the east, where literal mountains were made of bison bones, as can be seen below, to be ground into fertilizer (source: Wikimedia Commons; the photo was taken around 1870, and that is of only bison skulls).
During drought years, plowing Kansas’s homesteads for Indian bones paid better than plowing to raise wheat. An Indian skull brought as much as $1.25 in Dodge City. The skulls were made into fancy combs. Indian arm and leg bones, properly “cleaned and polished,” made knife handles “beautiful to behold.”
Here is an excerpt from Stannard’s American Holocaust regarding the Sand Creek Massacre, which Theodore Roosevelt would later call, “as righteous and beneficial a deed that ever took place on the frontier.”
“Outside of Colorado, however, not everyone was pleased. Congressional investigations were ordered, and some among the investigators were shocked at what they found. One of them, a senator who visited the site of the massacre and ‘picked up skulls of infants whose milk teeth had not 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!’”
That was the voice of the average frontier American.
Black Kettle survived the Sand Creek Massacre because the few men in camp forcibly pulled him away with them. After Sand Creek, Black Kettle incredibly still attended peace conferences and did all that he could to promote peace. Then one day he awoke to the call of a bugle, as Custer led the charge in the “battle” that earned him the reputation as a great Indian fighter. What Chivington could not finish, Custer did. Custer’s original account of the battle said that his troops killed mostly braves, which was one of many lies that he told. He probably would have made an apt president. The Battle of the Little Big Horn has been immortalized in song and legend. Custer’s Last Stand was another surprise attack on an Indian encampment. Custer disobeyed orders in order to get in on the killing first, knowing that he would have to place the glorious mantle on his shoulders alone to be swept into the presidency.
As with the Washita massacre, Custer proved himself to be a notoriously sloppy soldier by not reconnoitering the “enemy” before attacking. That time his “Custer’s Luck” ran out, and he led a charge into the heart of a camp of several thousand natives that had recently crippled a nearby U.S. Army, fighting under Crazy Horse’s brilliant leadership. Custer led slightly more than two hundred men into a camp of several thousand armed natives who were following the fast-dwindling bison herds. He was in for a rude surprise. Custer’s presidential campaign ended ignominiously and sent all of his men to their deaths as he sought glory and the White House on the battlefield.
What kept arising as I studied the New World’s rape was a feeling of missing something important about native cultures. The Spanish actively eradicated them. The English and Americans rarely made attempts to understand them, unless it was studying the last few survivors before their race became extinct, as with Ishi early in the 20th century. The natives were not saints, but they were far from inferior human beings or the subhumans the Europeans and Americans nearly invariably portrayed them as.
Here are some examples of the cultural differences between native and European cultures that surprised me.
1. There were many proscriptions on behavior in Aztec society, one of which was against drinking. Aztecs had an alcoholic beverage called pulque (fermented cactus pulp), but except on special occasions such as feast days, drinking was forbidden for most people. The penalty for a noble being caught drunk was death, but commoners received much reduced punishment.
2. In eastern North America, when natives captured a white woman, the native men never raped her. From the native viewpoint (in those matrilineal societies, once again), a woman’s body was her own. That was nearly incomprehensible to European men, as raping captured women had been standard operating practice for millennia.
3. In the Iroquois Confederacy (in the vicinity of present-day New York State), chiefs were men but women elected them. If women did not like how a chief voted in clan meetings, they picked a new chief, for a balance of power between the sexes still never approached in any Western culture.
4. Throughout North America, particularly as native populations declined as a result of European disease, natives tried replenishing their numbers by capturing other tribes’ members and adopting them into their tribe. That capture and tribal adoption even happened to white people. In the Huron tribe, which lived in present-day Quebec, Hurons battled adjacent tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, especially Mohawks. During those conflicts, when a wife’s husband was killed in battle, the tribal remedy for being widowed was to capture a warrior from the other tribe. As recompense to the widow, the warrior was either tortured to death or adopted into the tribe as the widow’s husband and given all the rights of the previous husband.
5. Natives definitely had their wars, but they were rarely the large battles of extermination that characterized Europe. In North America, the tribes of the Great Plains were considered among the most warlike. There are reasons for that; one of which was the horse’s introduction and the resulting nomadic lifestyle that developed, which made traditional tribal boundaries a thing of the past. In those warlike tribes, the greatest battle honor was not killing the enemy. It was counting “coup.” Coup was an act of bravery. The greatest act of coup was touching an armed enemy while one was unarmed. A warrior carried a stick into battle called a coup stick, which he touched the enemy with. It reminds me of the childhood game of tag.
6. Compared to Europe and its proto-capitalistic culture, there was little greed to be found among the New World’s natives, and in many tribes it was not only unheard of, but unthinkable. The Pacific Northwest tribes held an event called a potlatch. Chiefs would vie for prestige by giving away possessions. Sometimes they vied to destroy the most possessions (even killing highly valued slaves), for a dark side to it. Of course, one had to accumulate in order to give away, but that attitude, as with many other native attitudes, was virtually incomprehensible to Westerners. Tribal stature was gained by how well one provided for others. Hospitality was a nearly universal virtue among the Western Hemisphere’s natives, as virtually every first-contact account by a European “explorer” confirms.
7. The meeting of European and native cultures often brought surprises. One tactic that Europeans had long-used to terrify the enemy or to demonstrate who “won” was to decapitate enemies and put their heads on poles. It had an unintended result with Incas. Many native cultures revered the dead and sometimes kept their bodies around, or pieces of them, as a way of honoring their ancestors. When one Incan ruler, Tupac Amaru, was given a kangaroo court trial and beheaded, the Spaniards put his head on a pole. Incan subjects crowded around the pole and expressed their sorrow and reverence to the severed head. That was not the intended effect, so the Spaniards had the head buried.
8. The New World’s chiefs often bore little resemblance to European royalty. They generally had little coercive power. Nobody obeyed their orders because they did not give any. The West’s view of “chiefs” was largely its projection onto them. Tribal councils and councils of elders were often the governing bodies. Early invaders assumed that somebody was “in charge” among the natives and treated the “chief” accordingly. A chief could be a woman (though not often), and a tribe could have a number of chiefs, such as a chief of planting, a chief of war, a chief of harvest, etc. That lack of command authority was evident in battles between natives and Europeans. Chiefs could never control and command their braves as Europeans did their soldiers, which was a primary reason why the Europeans usually won.
9. Natives had very different ways of treating their elderly. Among most tribes, the elderly were cherished for the wisdom that they had gained through their long lives. Councils of elders were highly influential in making tribal decisions throughout the New World. Paradoxically, among the tribes of present-day northern Canada and Alaska, when somebody became old and “useless,” they were often killed or abandoned to the elements, which reflected their harsh environment.
10. While dishonesty was a European/American art form and exercised in devious ways, even for America’s greatest heroes, Native Americans had a markedly different perspective. While dishonestly and lying was not unknown among Native Americans, it was seen as a sign of insanity. Honesty and honor were considered the mark of a healthy person, and Native Americans saw European/American dishonesty as a sign of their craziness.
11. Because few tribes had a written language, the elderly were cherished partly because they were tribal libraries. A significant influence in drafting the American Constitution was the Iroquois Confederation. They had a working democracy that was centuries old when the Constitution was drafted, and was the world’s only living example of a democracy. It was a much more inspiring example than ancient Athens, where slaves outnumbered “free” people. The Iroquois strongly influenced Ben Franklin. The establishment and their “skeptics” call Iroquois influence apocryphal, but that is partly because they have never committed their laws to paper.
12. The New World’s natives were often superior artists. The natives of California, for all the subhuman appellations bestowed on them by the white man, such as “digger” (because they dug roots as a significant part of their diets), may have been the finest basket-weavers that humanity has yet produced, and women did that work. Spaniards melted down 99.999% of the gold and silver artifacts that they plundered from the New World’s cultures, but early examples of pre-Columbian gold and silversmithing astounded European artists who saw them. When Cortés sent back the first royal bribe from the plunder of Mesoamerica, no less than Albrecht Dürer, one of the greatest artists that Europe ever produced, saw the treasures on display in 1520 and was awestruck. Dürer was once an apprentice goldsmith himself and his appreciation of Mesoamerican artistry rendered him mute. Dürer wrote “In all the days of my life, I have seen nothing which touches my heart so much as these for, among them, I have seen wonderfully artistic things, and have admired the subtle ingenuity of man in foreign lands. Indeed, I do not know how to express my feelings about what I found there.” When a subsequent bribe was sent by Cortés to Spain after the Aztecs were conquered, French pirates seized the biggest haul of loot to hit Europe’s shores to that time, which was eventually admired in the French Court. One of Europe’s greatest goldsmiths, Benvenuto Cellini, saw the loot at the French Court and gave the opinion that Aztec goldsmithing was the most ingenious that he had ever seen. Those opinions by Europe’s greatest artists did not prevent the director of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art from defending the fact that not one piece of pre-Columbian native art was on display in his museum. He said that native art was not art at all, but a curiosity that belonged in the natural history museum, next to stuffed polar bears. That director’s opinion was not from the 19th century, but was uttered in the “enlightened” 1970s.
Colonialism: The First Stage of Global Capitalism
The basic tenet of all economic systems is the capture and use of energy. Plants capture sunlight’s energy by photosynthesis, and all life on Earth owes its existence to that process. A small fraction of that captured energy becomes plant parts that humans can digest, and that released energy fuels their bodies. Captured plant energy largely becomes cellulose, which comprises the cell walls and trees developed the polymer lignin, which makes wood “woody.” Burning wood releases captured sunlight energy that made the cellulose and lignin. All organic fibers are created with captured energy. All fossil fuels release the energy captured from ancient sunlight. Humans and most animals cannot digest cellulose (and only funguses and microbes can digest lignin), but must consume other substances such as sugars, starches, and fats to get their energy. Human history is largely concerned with the pursuit of energy, securing either the energy of food, the land that can provide it, or controlling the energy of people, animals and machines.
All political and economic systems have been mainly concerned with controlling and concentrating energy. The rise of capitalism and the state created new ways of harnessing energy. Money generally buys energy or its fruits, whether it is food, manmade goods, metals, etc. The centralizing nature of states and corporations is largely about a select few getting their hands on energy and controlling it. The Iroquois did not have an executive branch in their government, which monarchical English settlers invented, as they nearly named George Washington the USA’s first king. In the USA’s government, the balance of power between the three branches – legislative, executive, and judicial – has been continually eroded ever since George Washington and made the executive branch increasingly powerful and unaccountable. The concepts of wealth and power cannot be effectively separated, not in today’s world, which is why the term political-economic is used. Ideologies such as “realism,” which try separating political factors from economic ones are not very realistic, as ultimate causes are assumed and only proximate causes are considered.
It has taken many years of study, after years of being brutally awakened by my experiences in the “real world,” to finally realize how deeply I had been lied to during my capitalistic indoctrination. The historical roots of today’s global capitalism are deep. Capitalism is not an invention by people trying to devise a fair system, or one that “honors human nature.” Today’s capitalism is a system designed by greedy people trying to get rich. Adam Smith did not invent it, but helped establish an ideological framework for it.
Smith wrote that the mercantilist system of his day was designed to wipe out competitors, not serve consumers. The beginnings of capitalism really began with colonialism. Arguments can be made that it began earlier, but European colonialism was the watershed.
Colonialism was simply a system of exploitation. European powers got practice before sailing the seas by conquering their neighbors. England’s rape of Ireland and Scotland is a case in point, as well as the general exploitation of Eastern Europe. The word “slave” comes from “Slav,” as they were among the first to endure Western Europe’s rise. Before Columbus “discovered” the New World, Spain and Portugal were busy conquering and “settling” the Eastern Atlantic’s islands.
The Spanish Crown initiated the world’s first capitalistic ventures; it rarely financed the New World’s “explorations.” Rich Spaniards did, and the Crown received a cut of the profits for sponsoring the expedition. Cortés greased as many royal palms as possible with plundered New World loot to gain official recognition for commandeering the Cuban governor’s invasion of the Mexican mainland. His bribery worked.
Soon, New World loot began flooding Europe. The English, Dutch, and French joined the game and the English and Dutch formed corporations. Corporations could be found as far back as ancient Rome and the medieval guilds, but the Dutch and English East and West Indies companies were the forerunners of modern corporations. The game was “trade.” It is true that trade goods lured North American natives to deal with Europeans, but it was dealing with the devil, as the most prominent trade goods were firearms and firewater (alcohol) from the Europeans, and furs from the natives. The firearms greatly escalated native violence, turning “wars” that were more like rugby matches into deadly affairs that extinguished entire tribes, with the white man’s Machiavellian “help.” Firewater was a psychological crutch for natives whose world was turned upside-down by the white man’s arrival. The fur trade was short lived, as it drove the fur-bearing animals to extinction.
Because the Spanish were the first to arrive, raping “virgin” lands, they racked up by far the highest death toll. The Dutch, English, and French were no better, but because they came to the game a century later, they killed off far fewer natives than the Spanish did. Yet annihilate them they did.
The English colonial experience in the New World was somewhat different. They first sought gold, and when that failed, they turned to tobacco, furs, and taking the land from natives with brute force. Wherever the climate was similar to Europe’s, as in North America, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Argentina, Europeans invaded to exterminate the natives and make it their new home. In tropical regions, where tropical diseases thwarted European ambitions, they merely enslaved the natives.
I attended business school and studied economics and capitalism. The atmosphere and ideology that I was imbued with was that capitalism was far superior to evil communism. As with the American history that students are taught, I now realize that I was indoctrinated into a fairy tale ideology. Capitalism, especially after 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Empire, has been portrayed as humanity’s highest state and the flower of human economic evolution. What I was taught was heavily laden with presentism. Presentism looks at the past through the eyes of the present, and judges it by the present’s standards. It is nearly impossible to entirely avoid. However, the greatest crime of presentism is to use the past to justify the present rather than help explain it. The pejorative in history circles for many years has been to call such presentations of history “Whiggish,” after an English style of telling history as one grand tale of “progress.” The capitalistic history that I learned was quite Whiggish.
What we today call capitalism was born in England, and was born due to a unique confluence of untapped energy resources, timing, geography, technology, and culture. England’s early capitalism had little resemblance to today’s version of it. The “bourgeoisie” concept of an urban middle class came from France, not England. The concept of the modern state came from France and its Enlightenment/revolutionary/Napoleonic era. The current notion of capitalistic development was partly fabricated retroactively to create the picture of capitalism that we have today.
During the 19th century, France, England, and the USA all carved out new kinds of empires. The USA was busy securing the North American continent and periphery by taking land by force from its neighbors. England and France had been involved in interminable wars during the previous millennium, and competing in the plunder of distant lands complemented their rivalry. Capitalism and industrialization made their rise, and the practice of chattel slavery ended, and instead people are rented today. During the 19th century, European powers conquered and enslaved much of humanity.
When the Portuguese rounded the southern tip of Africa in 1488, they began the era of European influence in Asia. At first, their goal was the spice trade, and they had it to themselves, as far as any European rivalry went, for many years. They began defeating their Asian rivals militarily as early as 1507, and in 1510 they conquered the Muslim port of Goa. The Spanish established their presence in the Philippines in 1564, and the Dutch came in the early 17th century and soon wrested control of the spice trade from Portugal. The British and French also joined the fray. Conquering the islands off Asia was the first step to European hegemony, although the Japanese knew the empire game and successfully kept Europeans largely out of Japan for centuries, until the “diplomatic invasion” of Commodore Perry of America in 1853.
For the entire period of European imperialism, continuing to the present day, superiority of violence and ruthlessness nearly always allowed the Europeans to prevail, and was initially delivered by the greatest energy technology in world history to that time. The imperial effort is led in the early 21st century by the USA, with the world’s most irresistible military that also seeks to militarize space. Warfare in Europe long ago abandoned any notions of fighting honorably or obeying any “rules.” The only rule was winning, and the more ruthless the better. The exterminatory Thirty Years’ War that began in 1618 entrenched the idea of total warfare to Europe. Nobody in the world could match Europe’s viciousness and mastery of violence, delivered by that unprecedented energy technology.
The Asian mainland, however, was too challenging to invade and conquer. Europeans were too few and the natives too well armed and organized. In addition, European diseases could not decimate the natives as they did in the New World and elsewhere. China and India, as they do today, possessed a large fraction of the world’s population and had long-standing imperial cultures. Until the British conquered the Bengal region in 1764, about the best that Europeans could do was establish coastal trade ports, as well as engage in Christian evangelism.
Bengal was possibly the wealthiest region on Earth when the British conquered it. With the British East Indian Company in charge, the British mercilessly plundered Bengal. With Bengal being exploited, in 1770 a drought, combined with British rapacity, created a famine that killed off one-third of Bengal’s peasantry. Similar to Spain’s rape of the New World, local imperial agents skimmed off great sums for themselves and cheated both the natives and their superiors in the mother nation. Britain subsequently refined its revenue collection efforts, which trimmed corruption in the field but also refined the process of native exploitation. Dacca was Bengal’s textile center, and in 1757, British observers called it every bit as wealthy as London. By 1840, Dacca had been bled dry, and its population collapsed from 150,000 to 30,000. The British implemented the standard imperial formula: it outlawed local industries in order to protect the mother country’s. Bengali textile manufacture was outlawed, and the British even amputated thumbs of Bengali weavers. As with the Spanish in Mesoamerica and South America, the British exploited a fractious imperial environment to their benefit and took advantage of the disintegration of the Mughal Empire to expand its hegemony over all of India. The British East Indian Company was soon raking it in hand over fist.
India was ahead of Britain on the modernization curve in ways, and was even better at steel making than Britain was at first. British industrialization was partly accomplished by exploiting India. As India’s industries died from being outlawed, the natives were forced into raising crops for export; Bengal became the land where cotton, indigo, jute, and then opium was raised for export. The economic concept of “value added” industries was fully implemented. The basic idea is forcing the natives to grow crops for export, such as food, cotton, jute, etc. Then it is exported to the mother country and processed in their factories (and/or consumed). Then finished product is shipped back to the subject nation, with the price manipulated by the mother nation’s dominance to achieve unfair terms, which economically bleeds the subject nation dry. No mills were made in India under British rule. They were forced to raise crops for raw materials, and then it was shipped to the mother country.
Most notoriously, native society was forced to raise food for export as they starved. The British built an infrastructure to transport those export crops. British “philanthropists” made a big deal about how much they “helped” India by building their rail system. To astute observers, however, those rails took food and crops from India, not deliver them to needy natives. That dynamic was dreadfully evident when El Niño-created droughts descended on India and China in two events, from 1876 to 1879 and from 1896 to 1900. The British system of plunder destroyed the fabric of Indian society, and during those drought years particularly, the spectacle was often seen of masses of starving people standing next to rail cars full of grain, accompanied by armed guards, on its way to Europe. From 1875 to 1877, as the Indian famine peaked, wheat exports to England quadrupled. The British induced the Irish Potato Famine the same way a generation earlier, but “only” a million died of starvation in Ireland. Tens of millions died in those two Indian famines. As the European plunder system became its most refined, India’s population growth nearly halted from 1870 to 1920. A similar catastrophe visited China. As in Mexico, the coming of Europeans had anti-Malthusian effects, with the subject populations stagnating or collapsing in number as they also became poorer under Europe’s lash. In the two thousand years before British hegemony in India, there had been only 17 famines. By 1878, during the previous 120 years of British rule, India endured 31 famines, increasing in frequency by about 3,000%. It was no coincidence. It has been estimated that the British era in India led to nearly two billion excess deaths.
The “free market” created those holocausts. The food went to Europe instead of feeding the society that grew it, because they could not pay for it. It was a “free-market” genocide, while Europeans lived in a golden age and obesity became commonplace. That dynamic exists to this day, but is more refined, with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund cracking the whip, as peasants are forced to grow crops for export to the West instead of local consumption. The last time I looked in the late 20th century, of the 40 poorest nations in the world, 36 exported food to the USA. “Trade” engaged in at gunpoint is anything but “free.”
One telling statistic of the British experience in India was that from 1757 to 1947, there was no increase in India’s per capita income, while Britain became the world’s richest nation, to be surpassed by its descendent, the USA. In 1750, China and India comprised 57% of world manufacturing output. By 1900, it was 8%. The relationship of Britain to India was parasitic. In 1910, India provided 60 million pounds of net income to Britain, for the world’s largest international transfer of wealth. India will be recovering from that two-century-long raping for many more years. The British did a similar thing to China, forcing China to open itself to opium addiction, beginning with the 1839 Opium War. Bengal was forced to raise opium so that Britain could force it on China. In ultimate evil, it may rival what Europe did to Africa and the New World with its triangular trade of slaves, sugar, and rum. To demonstrate that it was not an aberration from a distant past, in the 1980s the Reagan administration did nearly the same thing, threatening retribution on several Asian nations if they did not open their nations to American tobacco companies, who purvey the world’s deadliest addictive substance. Those Asian nations knuckled under to the USA’s blackmail, and tobacco addiction rates in those nations subsequently skyrocketed.
Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first post-colonial prime minister, spent much of his adult life in British prisons, as Gandhi did. In 1944, Nehru wrote The Discovery of India from his prison cell. With great irony he wrote:
“The solicitude which British industrialists and economists have shown for the Indian peasant has been truly gratifying. In view of this, as well as of the tender care lavished upon him by the British Government in India, one can only conclude that some all-powerful and malign fate, some supernatural agency, has countered their intentions and measures and made that peasant one of the poorest and most miserable beings on earth.”
Nehru noted that the longer the British controlled an Indian province, the poorer it became. Nehru described the rape of Bengal by the British:
“A significant fact which stands out is that those parts of India which have been longest under British rule are the poorest today. Indeed some kind of chart might be drawn up to indicate the close connection between length of British rule and progressive growth of poverty.”
The Bengal region, once among the world’s richest, is today known as Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest. That is a prime example of the chief legacy of European colonialism. In grim irony, the Bengal region is once again a textile center. The women of Bangladesh work in sweatshops for Western corporations such as Wal-Mart, making pennies an hour to make clothing for export to the USA, in classic neocolonial fashion. The game is still rigged, and the only things changing are the names, faces, and techniques.
During the last half of the 19th century, Europe did a similar thing to Africa, in its famed “Scramble for Africa.” Although evangelical zeal motivated some early explorers and missionaries, it soon gave way to the usual dynamic of superior European violence subjugating the natives and forcing them into mining and plantation work, with the fruits of their labor exported to Europe. The same thing happened as with the British in India: an infrastructure was built to export the products of exploitation. Nearly the entire African continent was turned into a slave camp, and the West called it “progress.” Also, corporate monopolies were often agents of Africa’s exploitation. Hand-in-hand with the exploitation and genocide were strained ideological rationales such as the White Man’s Burden (a cousin to Manifest Destiny), and outright censorship, as when Mark Twain wrote about the genocidal exploitation in the Belgian Congo under King Leopold’s benevolence, which killed about ten million people. A prominent way that Europe planned to rebuild itself after World War II was bleeding Africa still more, with plantation and mining activities. African nations instead used European weakness to break free of the West’s tentacles, sort of. The independence movements were nearly immediately undermined by the West, and neocolonial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were at the forefront of raping Africa under the rubric of helping them. In the 21st century, there is a new Scramble for Africa happening, as a rising China has been active in Africa, and the USA has been busy overthrowing governments again, such as in Libya, which actively resisted the West’s attempts to recolonize Africa.
Neocolonial institutions merely supplanted imperial ones in oppressing the world’s poor in favor of the rich, and used military might and other punitive measures to enforce the “free market” while saying that they do it to help the world’s poor. Bigger lies have seldom been told. Today’s global capitalist system is little more than colonialism with new rhetoric, techniques, and technology.
If those slaves harbor any notion of breaking away from the capitalist system, the USA overthrows their government, first by using the subtle tactics of the CIA, such as bankrolling their favored candidate and arming “rebels” or the military, depending on which one is our pawn. When all else fails, we invade or bomb them, as we did to Southeast Asia, as we want to do to Cuba, et cetera. We think we own the world. The genocide in Iraq had everything to do with securing cheap access to oil. In 2004, John Perkins pulled a Ralph McGehee and revealed the real neocolonial game for what it is, from an insider’s perspective, and others followed his lead.
We are not the good guys and never have been. Europe and its descendants have visited more death and suffering onto the world’s people than anyone in history. There are no contenders. The Mongol hordes were disastrous in their own way, but the past five centuries have been the reign of the white man, and nothing has been more horrific or bloodier than that. If humanity survives the coming transition, the entire second millennium will be seen as the Dark Ages, with the 20th century in ways the blackest.
Objectivity, Sources, and the Historian’s Ideal
In theory, the historian has a task, which is to tell what happened. In America, there is an ideal of objectivity that the journalistic profession also supposedly aspires to. Peter Novick wrote That Noble Dream to discuss the “objectivity question” in the American historical profession. Howard Zinn seriously questioned whether history should be objective, as have many others. Zinn felt that if telling the story of slavery from the perspective of the slave helped the slaves become free, then he was all for it. Objectivity may not be the historian’s ideal objective. Staughton Lynd wrote, “Should we be content with measuring the dimensions of our prison instead of chipping, however inadequately, against the bars?”
In the history profession, there are rules, ideals, and methods. A worthy historian relies heavily on “primary” evidence, which is the evidence of the eyewitnesses or participants.
If somebody writes about the “criminal career” of Dennis Lee, for instance, as Mr. Skeptic did, a historian would adhere to the primary evidence, which was the testimony of those who witnessed Dennis’s acts. My account of my days with Dennis is considered primary history, because I was there, witnessed it, and participated in it. Other primary evidence would be a court transcript from Dennis’s Ventura trial. Police reports and other witness documents can constitute primary evidence. Secondary evidence would be a newspaper account of Dennis’s “criminal record.” The risk of relying on secondary history is relying on the interpretation of the primary history by the author of the secondary history. In Dennis’s case, Mr. Skeptic failed spectacularly as a reporter of history or the news, because the secondary history that he relied on was false. That newspaper account contradicted the primary evidence given by the official records, so Mr. Skeptic relied on a false account of history. In Mr. Skeptic’s case, his rendering of false history was more egregious than simply getting it wrong when he reported that Dennis was prosecuted and confessed to criminal acts when he in fact had not. Mr. Skeptic knowingly ignored the primary evidence so that he could report a false secondary history that told the story he preferred telling.
In examining the Aztec conquest, for instance, and Hugh Thomas’s Conquest, his sources are an array of primary and secondary sources. Thomas performed archival research in Seville, which is how a historian ideally does his/her work. Thomas relied on primary accounts and secondary histories, but he tried using secondary histories written close to when the events happened. He did a creditable historian’s job of seeking the sources that were most primary. Yet, how reliable are they? The two main primary sources regarding the Aztec conquest are the accounts of Hernan Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Cortés wrote five letters to the king of Spain, and the first one has been lost to history. Cortés was stealing command of the expedition from the Cuban governor, Velázquez, who carefully chose Cortés, even over family members, because there were few Spaniards that he trusted. In light of Cortés’s performance, it appears that there were no Spaniards to trust. Velázquez first distinguished himself militarily in the New World during the treacherous Xaraguá massacre, and slaked Cuba with native blood. Cortés sent a huge royal bribe to Spain – the largest haul of loot to ever hit Europe’s shores until that time (at least after the Western Roman Empire collapsed) – which French pirates stole.
Cortés wrote his letters in part to impress the king, in part to justify his theft of the expedition, and historians consider his account to be self-serving in numerous aspects. The other primary account, by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, was written 60 years after the events happened, when Castillo was blind and in his eighties. How trustworthy his account is has been a matter of debate for many years.
Native accounts exist of what life was like before the Spaniards showed up, but Spanish chroniclers working for the Catholic Church recorded them. What kind of bias crept into those accounts? They were generally recorded more than a generation after the conquest, so people were looking back at those days through the eyes of old age, after their world had been turned upside-down and they had survived the devastating consequences of their enslavement by the Spanish. The greatest chronicler of those native accounts, the priest Sahagún, stated in the introduction of his history that he was studying the native culture and memories so he could cure the “disease” of their culture. Thousands of Aztec and Mayan books were burned by Spanish priests in those days, only a handful have survived, and what survived gives evidence that priceless knowledge of native cultures was lost in Catholic bonfires.
During the centuries since those accounts, other evidence has come to light, such as the excavation of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlán, which was discovered in the 1970s in Mexico City. The excavation apparently confirms the trustworthiness of Spanish accounts of human sacrifice. The sacrificial altar is exactly where Spanish writings put it, and the stone skull racks give impressive testimony to the Spanish and “native” accounts of real skull racks where the heads of sacrificed natives were strung like an obscene abacus. Accounts such as Díaz’s, in which the Aztecs even strung up the heads of sacrificed horses alongside the human heads, seem true in light of the excavation. In addition, the offering caches unearthed in the excavation, including one cache of the skeletons of more than 40 sacrificed children, give impressive evidence of institutional human sacrifice among the Aztecs. The excavation of the Great Temple has largely settled the issue of institutional human sacrifice, but the extent of it may be argued. Pedro de Cieza de León wrote that human sacrifice among the Incas did happen, but that Spaniards greatly exaggerated it to justify their conquest.
Although the issue of human sacrifice has largely been settled, the issue of Aztec cannibalism has not. Columbus began the cannibalism myth in the New World on his first voyage, and little convincing evidence of cultural, culinary cannibalism by pre-Columbian New World natives has ever come to light. Thomas gave numerous accounts of native cannibalism in Conquest, but the accounts are arguably more in the tradition of myths that were universally held than of actual deeds being performed. The first mention of Aztec cannibalism came from Cortés, after he had worn out his “welcome” with the Aztecs, and attempted to justify his conquest. He wrote, “they are all cannibals, of which I send Your Majesty no evidence because it is so infamous.” His next accounts of cannibalism are given while retelling the war against the Aztecs, and Cortés reported that their enemies had abandoned “sacks of maize and roasted babies” when pursued by the Spaniards. Roasted babies. That sounds exactly like the wartime propaganda that has characterized the dehumanization of the enemy, practiced from time immemorial.
No independent evidence of cultural, culinary cannibalism has ever been adduced for those native cultures, and other accounts deny them. For instance, during the siege of Tenochtitlán, the Spaniards and their foolish native allies reduced the Aztecs to starvation. While the bodies of their fallen surrounded them, they starved, and there is no account of them eating human flesh to stay alive.
In coming to my own conclusions of the nature of the Spanish conquest and aftermath, I have read primary accounts (Columbus and his friends, also Las Casas, Cortés, Castillo, Zorita, and Cieza de León) and numerous secondary accounts. I have had to partly rely on the scholarship of others. Relying on secondary scholarship is perilous for the historian. I have tried mitigating my potential errors by reading a spectrum of secondary history on the issues. If I read sympathetic and antagonistic histories, I have a fair chance of seeing the entire spectrum of evidence that exists and making my own determinations.
Yet, even primary evidence is subject to being questioned. For instance, my writings regarding my days with Dennis are considered primary history. Yet, others who rode in the saddle with Dennis will not see things quite the way that I did. My controller, who engineered the theft of Dennis’s company, would surely give a starkly different account of events in Seattle than I did. I know that the man is dishonest; I saw him in action. It cannot be rationally disputed that he committed theft, but he may present a case for his noble efforts in stealing Dennis’s company. A historian may give his account and mine the same weight in arriving at the picture of what really happened in Seattle. That is the historian’s right and duty, but is more evidence that there may not be an “objective” history to report, anywhere.
Washington Irving, a novelist, wrote the first great American history of Columbus. He relied on primary and secondary evidence for his tale, which is a salient example of how “historians” can lie. He sifted through the bloody facts for the few that justified making Columbus into a hero, and even invented new “facts.” That a novelist committed that crime is one thing, but that no American historian challenged that fabrication until my lifetime is a profound commentary on the state of the American history profession. In that light, the American history taught to American schoolchildren has been worse than worthless, if truly educating them was the goal.
Big lies were being told in virtually every area that I have studied. How can any of us develop a semblance of intelligent and coherent solutions to our problems, when he have been so badly lied to, on all fronts? If all we are fed are lies, be it about Columbus, George Washington, Junípero Serra, George Bush, fluoridation, mainstream cancer treatment, the energy industry, the assassination of JFK, data from NASA, what happened in Iraq and Yugoslavia, etc., how can we ever arrive at effective solutions to our problems? We cannot, given how misinformed we are, but one way to cut through all of it is to act from the heart and realize that the ends never justify the means.
When Americans were being fed lies that bombing Yugoslavia and Iraq, or invading Panama and Vietnam, were regrettable yet necessary actions to make this world a better place, my response is that violence only makes the world more violent. So far, I have never seen any violent “good guys.” Violence is always a violation. If we want a loving world, we need to act loving. Teddy Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was “tough love,” which led to the enslavement, misery, and deaths of millions of Latin Americans. I see no love in that doctrine, just an ornate justification for violence and exploitation. Violence always violates somebody’s free will.
In 1988, James Sandos, writing in the American Historical Review, discussed the issue of Junípero Serra’s proposed canonization and the historian’s task. In the 1930s, Serra was the first person subjected to the revised process of naming somebody a saint. The first stage was the compilation of the historical record of the person’s life. America’s most prominent historian on the Spanish experience in North America was Herbert Eugene Bolton. He was the only person outside of the Catholic Church who was part of compiling Serra’s life story. Bolton was supposed to impart historical objectivity to the Vatican commission that accumulated the historical documents. To be fair to Bolton, he was more than 70 years old and had his hands full with other matters. In the later years of his academic life, Bolton became aware of an incipient trend in American scholarship that began telling the story of the white man’s “civilizing” of North America from the natives’ perspective.
Anthropologist John Harrington heavily relied on Bolton’s original archival work. In 1930, Harrington sent Bolton a copy of his essay, “The Reaction of the American Indian to his European Conquerors.” Harrington wrote:
“…any amount of study of the American Indian only confirms the opinion that he was from start to finish a reluctant recipient of the European civilization brought to him by his discovers and conquerors. The initial fear passed rapidly through the cycle of loving and returned to a long twilight of dread, mistrust and suffering.”
Bolton read Harrington’s work with a:
“…great deal of interest and high approval…One of the great shortcomings in the early history of the western hemisphere is our lack of a record of what the Indians thought about things. If we only knew what he said and thought about our ancestors we probably would hang our heads in shame. This work of yours is in the right direction.”
Bolton was leading a healthy trend in American historical scholarship toward a more balanced view, in which our history was not only told from the viewpoint of the bloody conquerors (my ancestors), but also by the voice of the conquered. His performance on the issue of Serra’s canonization process was another matter entirely, and served to show how entrenched the white man’s bias is toward himself and his ancestors, even in the most “objective” of us. Around World War II, other scholars such as Sherburne Cook were doing intensive research into the historical record, which showed that the coming of the Spanish was anything but glorious to the natives. Cook’s research showed that the Indians interned in the missions endured a genocidal population collapse. The experience in Baja California demonstrated that the mission system was an instrument of genocide, and Franciscans ignored the California governor’s advice (stop imprisoning the natives in the filthy “dormitories,” for instance) to end the incredible death rates of native children behind mission walls.
In the revelations that attended opening Nazi death camps, Carey McWilliams published Southern California Country, An Island on the Land, in 1946. McWilliams compared the California mission system to Nazi death camps. Although the expressed purpose of Nazi death camps was exterminating the Jew and other “subhumans,” and the California mission system was intended to “save the native’s souls,” both produced the same result: exterminating the inmates. Bolton and others on the Serra commission were aware of the work being done by Cook and McWilliams when they testified in 1948 regarding Serra’s life and work, and most particularly his establishment of Alta California’s mission system. Yet, Bolton and others apparently disregarded the highly unsettling nature of their revelations and actively engaged in the whitewash that painted Serra’s legacy in glowing tones and helped put Serra on the fast track to sainthood.
The most common response to the mission system by the natives was fleeing, and the fugitive rate in California was about 10%, with the highest, 15.6%, at the mission that Serra is most closely associated with: the San Carlos mission. After 1790, the “marketing” tactic of the Spanish priests was often sending Spanish soldiers into the countryside to bring back “recruits.” Even with the secularization of the missions, the carnage continued and even escalated, with the ranchers in charge. One non-Spanish witness reported that as soldiers were driving fresh “recruits” to “civilization,” native children being driven along began falling behind. The recruiting mission’s leader did the logical thing: he hastily baptized the children and then killed them by beating their heads against the rocks. They were “saved.”
Bolton actively sanctified Serra’s image and testified that his considerable research on the missionizing work of the Spanish priests gave him a “partial indication of my competence to testify to the merits of Fray Junípero Serra, the greatest of all this galaxy of apostles to the heathen in North America.” In the early 21st century, scholars still did not have access to the commission’s full proceedings, but what has come forward indicates that Bolton completely abandoned his “historian’s” perspective and actively participated in the whitewash. In Bolton’s instance, it was literally a case of a historian playing hagiographer. Sandos wrote, “One might understand a seventy-nine-year-old man succumbing to romantic rhetoric, much of it his own…” Yet, the product that Bolton helped package was not history, but hagiography. The many dark aspects of Serra and his legacy were swept under the carpet, with the complicity of one of America’s most respected historians.
“Compilation of the historical record in Serra’s case presents disturbing issues to the historian. If we are to avoid withering criticisms such as Voltaire’s that history is a trick played on the dead or Napoleon’s that it is a fable agreed upon, we must insure that all sides of an issue are presented. Historians have been taught for well over a century that contradictory evidence ought to be evaluated, not dismissed; and, if it cannot be explained, then readers should be allowed to judge it themselves.”
Bolton is in good company. In 1986, the Church again turned to historians for an accounting of Serra’s record. Regarding the 1986 inquiry, Sandos wrote:
“Not only was Cook’s analysis disregarded but also were Serra’s own words, the growing body of evidence from Indians, and the insights available from anthropology, all of which would have contributed to a balanced view of the past. Why were professional standards again suspended?”
Good question. Professional standards are easily suspended in every profession, especially science and medicine, and including my erstwhile profession of public accounting, if there is money or other gain in it. For the historian, the gain is a whitewashed version of the past which serves the current power structure.
Sandos finished his essay with some profound questions and observations:
“Tensions in the controversy presented here suggest two major difficulties in trying to use history in the service of religion: advocacy and presentism. Advocacy represents a suspension of the quest for objectivity in favor of a search for supporting material. In the case of sainthood, the operational hypothesis is not “What did the candidate do?” but rather “What did the candidate do that demonstrates proof of a holy (by Euro-American Christian standards) life? The questions are fundamentally different: the first is speculative and historical, the second, which presupposes the conclusion, is utilitarian and pragmatic. The purpose of assembling a historical record for a potential saint is to generate, among other products, a life of the individual that stresses the candidate’s heroic virtues. This written product is hagiography. When serving a religious institution, the historian risks sacrificing a dispassionate reconstruction of the past in favor of justifying a foreordained conclusion.
“Disregarding Cook’s assessment that mission punishment of Indians constituted ‘severe and unwarranted punitive discipline’ for the time suggests a more difficult challenge than mere advocacy faces the historian. Here, the historical record is being manipulated, probably in an unconscious way, by a variation of the fallacy of presentism. Since historical writing is the active reflecting on the past in the present, there is danger that the present can distort the historian’s perspective. Because we now know how events turned out, it becomes imperative to maintain a sense of historical time lest the present moment be portrayed as inevitable and all sense of historical contingency be lost. In the quest for sainthood, an idealized past is sought in the present to be used as the basis for guiding the future.
“When religious advocates of the Serra cause ask us to judge Junípero Serra by eighteenth-century standards, not twentieth, they strike a resonant note with historians. But their request is simultaneously disingenuous, given their purpose, which is canonization. Sainthood requires that Serra’s experiences, especially those with the California Indian, transcend time and place. Sainthood means that his is a universal example for all Catholics to follow. Phrased another way, if Serra is canonized, the eighteenth century would judge the twentieth and all the centuries to come.
“…Judging Father Serra by the standards of his time is what the historical record ought to permit. The failure of Bolton in 1948 and of the historians interviewed for Bishop Shubsda in 1986 to present both sides of Serra’s story profoundly challenges the ethics of the historical profession. Personal bias, either in advocacy or apology, seems to be preventing objectivity by historians in public service. These episodes demand that historians re-examine the role their colleagues play in the service of religion. At the very least, the lesson for us all is caveat scriptor.”
Serra was sainted in 2015. If history and the news are fabrications, how can we learn the lessons of history and relate them to current events? We cannot. A major reason why history repeats itself is that we are taught lies about it, so the lessons are not learned and not applied to present-day events. The primary delusion that Americans labor under is that we are the good guys as we unleash death, destruction, and exploitation onto the world on an unprecedented scale.
For all the presentism arguments, Columbus, Cortés, and Serra did have standards to hold them to. They self-righteously dictated those standards to others many times, and unless hypocrisy is a relative historical value, they can be held to account. Their standard was Jesus and his message of love. They were Christians who wore their faith on their sleeves. Columbus called himself the Christ-bearer and Cortés put up Christian images wherever he went, preaching his faith as he slaughtered countless natives. Can they be held to the standards that they dictated to others? I think so.
If American historians were an honest lot with some gumption, every Columbus Day would be marked by picket lines of historians in front of the White House, decrying the travesty of naming a national holiday after Columbus. In one sense, American historians have prostituted themselves, as has probably every professional group. They bow to the prevailing winds of wealth and power, and if the powers that be want national holidays named after mass murderers, or want to grant sainthood to a genocidist, the historians will produce a “history” to justify it.
When some of the CIA’s (or other secret organization’s) activities have crept into the public eye too visibly to be denied any longer, a strategy of partial disclosure is followed. Part of the story is told that is true, the part they can no longer deny. They tell that story, the one everybody already knows, accompanied with other “confessions” and context. They are usually fabrications designed to lead people away from the deeper truth of matters. It is a standard disinformation tactic and is called a limited hangout.
In the mainstream media, racism is still alive and well, but is subtler than it used to be. Time Magazine ran an article soon after Silence of the Lambs debuted, and gave an example of how the FBI does its forensic sleuthing to catch those Hannibal Lecter-like criminals. The only example they gave was a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman, raped and murdered by a black teen-aged boy. Time and the FBI were guilty of promoting, however subtly, the long-standing myth that black men rape white women whenever they get the chance. That is a myth spun long ago in America’s slave-owning culture. The incidence of black men raping white women is not remarkably different from white men raping white women, etc. Yet, the myth has persisted in order to keep black men in their place. Where did all those not-so-black Americans come from? Was it black slave men sleeping with the wives of their masters? Or, was it all those white masters who essentially raped their slave women? Which one outweighed the other by a ratio of about ten-thousand-to-one? It used to be a felony act for a white woman to have sex with a black man in Virginia. If black men took up raping white women as a habit, it could be considered an act of vengeance by the race, but they do not. The defunct Lies of our Times regularly pointed out that kind of subtle racism. In the early 21st century, Z Magazine and other progressive publications regularly point out the subtle and not-so-subtle racism, sexism, and classism that still pervade American society.
For an example of the kinds of subtle racism that infects works by white men attempting balanced scholarship regarding Native Americans, David Weber’s The Spanish Frontier in North America will suffice. It is not the flag-waving exercise of earlier works of history, yet there are biases that Weber was probably unaware of. He attempted balance, but took it fairly easy on the Spanish genocidists who marauded through the Spanish frontier. From the Caribbean to Mexico to South America to North America, the story was the same: the Spanish slaughter of the natives, followed or accompanied (or even preceded) by European disease, with the natives enslaved and worked to death, with the priests sometimes at the effort’s forefront.
Spanish violence inflicted on the natives was so far beyond the violence that went the other way – native violence inflicted on the Spaniards – that native violence barely bears mention. The casualty ratio was more than 100 to one, regularly. The Spanish frontier in North America was more sparsely populated than the Caribbean, Mexico, or the Incan Empire, especially after Soto and others spread diseases among the natives that depopulated entire regions. Although Weber mentioned some of the innumerable acts of Spanish violence against the natives, in the book he presented some art of the day. Twice he presented images of Spanish-native violence. In both instances, it was natives killing Spaniards. Weber may have been unaware of that disparity in his depictions. While the real death toll by violence was more than 100-to-one in favor of the Spaniards, Weber pictorially depicted a score of the natives two, the Spanish zero.
Weber could have probably presented a convincing rationale for such a skewed depiction, but his bias was typical for white men who think they are being “balanced.” It was similar to Sir Hugh Thomas continually minimizing the pre-Columbian native population of the Caribbean, holding to estimates from before World War II, which are considered the ultra-conservative extreme in the 21st century. If Thomas was asked about it, he might protest that it had nothing to do with minimizing the white man’s crime of “settling” the New World. He might even believe it. That kind of bias is surely less pronounced than the halcyonic writings about Columbus in days of yore, but it demonstrates how far Western scholarship has to go before it can aspire to be “objective.”
In the end, having primary source documents means far less than the bias of the historian sifting through them.
 See Lies of Our Times, November 1990, p. 2
 The Christic Institute was given an unprecedented million-dollar fine for daring to bring the lawsuit. See a brief description of what happened to them in Jonathan Vankin and John Whelan’s 50 Greatest Conspiracies of all Time, pp. 310-314.
 See Martin Lee and Norman Solomon’s Unreliable Sources, pp. 4-7.
 Gary Webb later wrote the widely hailed Dark Alliance about the Contra-Cocaine story.
 The alternative media covered the El Mozote and Bonner story extensively in the 1980s, and Bonner was vindicated when the mass grave was discovered. See Mark Pedelty’s War Stories, pp. 93-97. See Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, p. 49, 62, 102. See Martin Lee and Norman Solomon’s Unreliable Sources, pp. 99-100.
 See William Blum’s Killing Hope, pp. 72-83, Jonathan Kwitny’s Endless Enemies, pp. 220-237, and Stephen Schlesinger, et al.’s Bitter Fruit.
 See, for instance, Michael Parenti’s Dirty Truths, pp. 235-252, his Against Empire, pp. 175-196, and Jon Weiner’s Historians in Trouble.
 See Pete Brewton’s The Mafia, CIA and George Bush, pp. 368-379.
 Silber’s performance can be seen in the documentary Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky and the Media. In that video can also be seen a name-calling exercise by a Dutch official in a debate with Chomsky.
 See Joseph Schwartz’s The Creative Moment, p. 86.
 See Noam Chomsky’s The Common Good, pp. 41-42.
 See, for instance, Edward Herman’s The Real Terror Network.
 David Croteau and William Hoynes’s By Invitation Only, p. 112.
 See Martin Lee and Norman Solomon’s Unreliable Sources, p. 29.
 See Noam Chomsky’s Deterring Democracy, p. 391.
 See Noam Chomsky’s Deterring Democracy, p. 390.
 See William Blum’s Killing Hope, p. 200-204.
 See Noam Chomsky’s Deterring Democracy, pp. 386-387.
 See William Blum’s Killing Hope, p. 215.
 See Bob Harris’s “Pinochet,” Z Magazine, December 1998, pp. 8-10.
 A summary of events in Cambodia and Laos is in Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, pp. 253-296.
 See William Blum’s Killing Hope, pp. 193-197.
 New York Times Magazine, May 8, 1966, p. 89. Quoted in William Blum’s Killing Hope, pp. 193
 See Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, p. 210-211.
 See Noam Chomsky’s Powers and Prospects, p. 209.
 A summary of East Timor contrasted with Cambodia is in the video documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Otherwise, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, and Manufacturing Consent also provide summaries.
 From a pre-invasion population of about 700,000, the death toll to the East Timorese people is reckoned conservatively at 100,000 and more realistically at 200,000. Those numbers may understate the true death toll. Gabriel Defert authored what is considered by some to be the best analysis of the Timorese deaths in his Timor Est le Genocide Oublié. That 1992 paper estimated 308,000 deaths due to the Indonesian invasion and occupation. That is 44% of the population. The Jewish people lost “only” about a third of their population in World War II’s Holocaust. Indonesian professor George Aditjondro estimated 300,000 Timorese deaths based on his analysis of Indonesian Army data. See East Timor: A People Shattered By Lies and Silence, by Professor António Barbedo de Magalhães, of the Oporto University, Portugal (published July 17, 1996). It is has been available on the Internet. A death toll of 200,000 deaths appears conservative.
 See Martin Lee and Norman Solomon’s Unreliable Sources, p. 279 for the NYT editorials, and pp. 278-283 for coverage of the incident in general.
 New York Times, July 5, 1988 editorial. See Martin Lee and Norman Solomon’s Unreliable Sources, p. 279 for the editorial.
 See Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber’s Banana Republicans and Weapons of Mass Deception or Norman Solomon’s War Made Easy for analysis of the media’s performance in the post 9/11 years and run up to the invasion of Iraq. By 2005, many documentaries came out on the media’s performance after 9/11, and how it cozied up to the Bush administration, such as Outfoxed, Weapons of Mass Deception, and Orwell Rolls in his Grave.
 See George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Everyman’s Library edition, p. 99.
 See George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Everyman’s Library edition, p. 106.
 See George Seldes’s The Great Thoughts, p. 243.
 See, for instance, Milton Meltzer’s Mark Twain, Himself, pp. 256-257. In late 2007, Jim Zwick, the editor of the hard-to-find Mark Twain’s Weapons of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War, published Confronting Imperialism: Essays on Mark Twain and the Anti-Imperialist League. In December 2007, there were only a few Weapons of Satire on the used book market, fetching $175 per copy at Amazon.com. In correspondence with Zwick in 2007 (he died in January 2008), he indicated that he intended to fund another printing of Weapons of Satire. In Confronting Imperialism, Zwick brought a welcome historical perspective to the Twain issue, and noted the striking parallels between the issues that Twain wrote of and current events, such as Twain’s writings on the water torture that the USA inflicted in the Filipino people, and 2007’s controversy over “waterboarding” suspected “terrorists” by the Bush administration. As Twain wrote, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. Twain was quite internationalist in his efforts, taking on imperialism and exploitation where he found it, whether it was the USA in the Pacific and Caribbean, Britain in South Africa, Belgium in the Congo, or the Czar of Russia’s treatment of his subjects.
In Confronting Imperialism, Zwick noted that Twain is not the only American writer to have his anti-imperialist writings censored; the anti-imperial writings of Edgar Lee Masters and C.E.S. Wood also failed to see print, with Wood’s anti-imperialist writings being excluded from the first anthology of his works, published in 1997 (Confronting Imperialism, p. 158). Zwick explained how the censorship of Twain’s anti-imperialist works was initially performed by his literary executor (Albert Paine) and publisher (Harper and Brothers), and later by his daughter (Clara Clemens). Paine’s censorship was particularly egregious: removing words and sentences of Twain’s writings, which cast his writings in a very different light than Twain intended. Clara Clemens’ death in 1962 finally ended the 50-year effort to preserve the “Traditional Mark Twain” via censorship. Twain wrote many scathing, satirical critiques of imperialists in his lifetime that he did not even try to get published, knowing that the political climate would prevent such writings from being printed. Those writings only started seeing publication more than 50 years after his death, and even in 2014 are quite obscure. That this could happen to one of America’s greatest writers speaks volumes about how our system operates.
 David Barsamian’s book Stenographers to Power: media and propaganda, is a series of interviews of people such as Chomsky, Parenti, Bagdikian, etc.
 See Ward Churchill’s A Little Matter of Genocide, pp. 169-170.
 There is a distinction to be made here, although it is not very important. William Bradford was one of the Mayflower Pilgrims, and wrote the original history of the Plymouth Colony, but it was lost for a couple of centuries. They were not really Puritans, but a more radical group called Separatists, who left the Church of England and felt it was too corrupt. The Puritans were members of the Church of England who also thought it was corrupt, and they tried reforming it from within. The 20-year period of English Civil Wars and conflicts that began in 1640s is also known as the Puritan Revolution. Whether Puritan or Pilgrim, they were all still Calvinist Christians, and dourness was one of their more salient characteristics.
 See Godfrey Hodgson’s A Great and Godly Adventure, chapter 9.
 See Alfred Cave’s The Pequot War, pp. 122-167. See Ian Steele’s Warpaths, pp. 92-93.
 See Godfrey Hodgson’s A Great and Godly Adventure, pp. 124.
 See Ian Steele’s Warpaths, p. 116.
 See Ward Churchill’s A Little Matter of Genocide, pp. 151-156.
 See James Loewen’s Lies my Teacher Told Me, pp. 75-97. See Ian Steele’s Warpaths, pp. 80-109.
 See a discussion of Washington’s plan, called nothing less than “criminal” and a “conspiracy” by its author, in Allan Eckert’s That Dark and Bloody River, pp. 439-442. See also the discussion of Washington’s plan in Wiley Sword’s President Washington’s Indian War, p. 27.
 See Wiley Sword’s President Washington’s Indian War, pp. 31-44. See Richard Slotkin’s Regeneration Through Violence, esp. pp. 268-312. See Richard Drinnon’s Facing West, esp. pp. 131-164. See Ward Churchill’s A Little Matter of Genocide, pp. 208-209.
 See Ward Churchill’s A Little Matter of Genocide, p. 185.
 See David Stannard’s American Holocaust, pp. 120-125, and esp. p. 252.
 See Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, pp. 124-146. Actually, there is a mention, and it amounts to a few words. Schlesinger dealt with Jackson’s famous rejection of the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize the Cherokee’s rights. He covered it with this phrase, “Jackson refused to intercede,” on page 350. That is the only mention.
 See Richard Drinnon’s Facing West, p. 149.
 See John R. Johnson’s “Ethnohistoric Descriptions of Chumash Warfare”, in North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence, edited by Richard Chacon and Rubén G. Mendoza, especially pp. 96-97, where in more than thirty years of post-contact documented violence recorded one event with 13 deaths, but no other that resulted in more a handful of deaths, with a fatal event about once every five years.
 See Brian Fagan’s Before California, chapter 14.
 See Daniel Fogel’s Junípero Serra, the Vatican and Enslavement Theology, p. 122. Spanish-introduced syphilis also devastated the natives of Baja California. See Fogel’s Junípero Serra, the Vatican and Enslavement Theology, p. 50.
 It is hard to find a book on Serra that is not hagiographic, but the truth shines through, even in the adoring books. A Franciscan friar wrote an upbeat biography of Serra, but most telling of all was the book’s title, The Last of the Conquistadors, Junípero Serra (Omer Englebert, 1956). See Robert H Jackson and Edward Castillo’s Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization – The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians. See Daniel Fogel’s Junípero Serra, the Vatican and Enslavement Theology. See Msgr. Francis Weber’s The Life and Times of Junípero Serra, which is an abridged edition of Maynard Geiger’s hagiographic book, published in 1959. See James J. Rawls’s Indians of California, The Changing Image. See James Sandos’s “Junípero Serra’s Canonization and the Historical Record” in American Historical Review, pp. 1253-1269. See Jack Weatherford’s Native Roots, pp. 129-147.
 See Daniel Fogel’s Junípero Serra, the Vatican and Enslavement Theology, p. 76.
 See Robert H Jackson and Edward Castillo’s Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization, p. 48.
 See Ward Churchill’s A Little Matter of Genocide, pp. 140-143.
 See Daniel Fogel’s Junípero Serra, the Vatican and Enslavement Theology, p. 56.
 See Daniel Fogel’s Junípero Serra, the Vatican and Enslavement Theology, p. 48. See also Omer Englebert’s The Last of the Conquistadors: Junípero Serra, p. 49.
 Recorded by his biographer Father Palóu. See David Stannard’s American Holocaust, p. 140.
 See Robert H Jackson and Edward Castillo’s Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization, p. 109.
 See David Stannard’s American Holocaust, p. 143.
 See Richard Drinnon’s Facing West, 1990 edition, pp. xxviii-xxix.
 See an account of the presidential controversy surrounding the winter before the Little Big Horn in David Miller’s Custer’s Fall, pp. 22-45. Miller’s work is not easily dismissed. He interviewed 72 native participants in the Little Bighorn battle, and Miller interviewed them in their own tongue.
 See David Miller’s Custer’s Fall, p. 13. Other historians took his presidential aspirations seriously.
 See Stan Hoig’s The Peace Chiefs of the Cheyennes.
 See Ward Churchill’s A Little Matter of Genocide, p. 234.
 See a detailed account of the Camp Grant massacre in John Terrell’s Land Grab, pp. 4-10.
 See David Stannard’s American Holocaust, p. 126.
 See David Stannard’s American Holocaust, p. 153.
 See David Stannard’s American Holocaust, p. xi.
 See John Terrell’s Land Grab, pp. 15-17.
 See David Miller’s Custer’s Fall, p. 32.
 See David Stannard’s American Holocaust, pp. 133-134.
 There is plenty of Custer scholarship. Some of my sources for his career were: Ralph Andrist’s The Long Death; James Welch and Paul Stekler’s Killing Custer, David Miller’s Custer’s Fall, and Slotkin, Fatal Environment.
 See Inga Clendinnen’s Aztecs, p. 48-49.
 See Frederick Drimmer’s Captured by the Indians. pp. 12-13.
 See discussion in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. pp. 19-20.
 I do not know how many tribes of North America did this, but the Iroquois did, as did others. See Barbara Graymont’s The Iroquois, pp.45-46, for a mention of that practice.
 See John Hemming’s The Conquest of the Incas. pp. 445-450.
 There are many accounts of that “disorganized” native behavior in battle. For an example of the difficulty the chiefs had in controlling their braves in a battle they won over an invading American army, see Wiley Sword’s President Washington’s Indian War. pp. 171-191.
 For documentation on the Iroquois Confederation’s influence on America’s Founding Fathers, see Bruce Johansen’s Forgotten Founders, which explored the profound impact the Iroquoian political system (and Native American thought in general) had on America’s Founding Fathers, particularly Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine. See also Jack Weatherford’s Indian Givers. pp. 133-150. See Barbara Graymont’s The Iroquois, pp. 23-33. See Jerry Mander, The Absence of the Sacred. pp. 225-245. See Ronald Wright’s Stolen Continents. pp. 114-140. See Charles Mann’s 1491, pp. 329-337.
 See Daniel Fogel’s Junípero Serra, the Vatican and Enslavement Theology, p. 89.
 Reproduced in Hugh Thomas’s Conquest, p. 536.
 See Jenifer Marx’s The Magic of Gold, p. 341. Cellini unsuccessfully tried to reproduce the Aztec goldsmiths’ artwork.
 See Alexander von Wuthenau’s Unexpected Faces in Ancient America, p. 10.
 See Ellen Meiksins Wood’s The Origin of Capitalism and The Pristine Culture of Capitalism.
 See Stanley Wolpert’s A New History of India, pp. 174-188.
 See Noam Chomsky’s Year 501, The Conquest Continues, pp. 11-14.
 See Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts, p. 27.
 See Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts, p. 311.
 See Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts, p. 294.
 See Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts, p. 297.
 See Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India. p. 301.
 See Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India. p. 296.
 See Thomas Pakenham’s The Scramble for Africa.
 See Jim Yong Kim, et al.’s Dying for Growth, pp. 91-125.
 See Jim Yong Kim, et al.’s Dying for Growth, pp. 94-98.
 On the early 21st century’s Scramble for Africa, see Maximilian Forte’s Slouching Toward Sirte; NATO’s War on Africa and Libya, and Robin Philpot’s Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa.
 See Steven Hiatt, ed., A Game as Old as Empire.
 See Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream, p. 431.
 See William Arens’s The Man Eating Myth.
 See Hernan Cortés’s “The Second Letter”, Letters from Mexico, translated by Anthony Pagden, p. 146.
 See Hernan Cortés’s “The Third Letter”, The Third Letter, Letters from Mexico, translated by Anthony Pagden, p. 245.
 See James Sandos’s “Junípero Serra’s Canonization and the Historical Record”, American Historical Review, 1988, pp. 1253-1269.
 Sherburne Cook’s work is largely contained in the research papers published in the periodical Ibero-Americana. His research and scholarship was seminal and crucial in developing the more accurate views today toward the indigenous Californians and the effect of the white man’s arrival.
 See Carey McWilliams’s Southern California Country, An Island on the Land, pp. 21-48, esp. p. 29.
 See James Rawls’s Indians of California, The Changing Image, p. 60.
 See Anastasia Toufexis’s “Mind Games with Monsters,” Time, May 6, 1991, pp. 68-70. I wrote to Time when that article came out, letting them know what I thought about it. I never heard back from them.
 See, for instance, Angela Davis’s Women, Race, Class, pp. 172-201. She made the case that white men committing rape was far more prevalent because of their special status in America. Men of color were far more likely to be punished for that crime than white men were, and that situation is obviously alive and well in the early 21st century.
 See David Weber’s The Spanish Frontier in North America, pp. 73 and 170.