What White Supremacists Know

What making America great again really means.

| Spring 2019

memorial-corridor
More than 4,400 African-American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Alabama, is a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection about racial terror in America and its legacy. Photo and caption courtesy Soniakapdia via Creative Commons.

The United States has been at war every day since its founding, often covertly and often in several parts of the world at once. As ghastly as that sentence is, it still does not capture the full picture. Indeed, prior to its founding, what would become the United States was engaged—as it would continue to be for more than a century following—in internal warfare to piece together its continental territory. Even during the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies continued to war against the nations of the Diné and Apache, the Cheyenne and the Dakota, inflicting hideous massacres upon civilians and forcing their relocations. Yet when considering the history of U.S. imperialism and militarism, few historians trace their genesis to this period of internal empire-building. They should. The origin of the United States in settler colonialism—as an empire born from the violent acquisition of indigenous lands and the ruthless devaluation of indigenous lives—lends the country unique characteristics that matter when considering questions of how to unhitch its future from its violent DNA.

The United Sates is not exceptional in the amount of violence or bloodshed when compared to colonial conquests in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. Elimination of the native is implicit in settler colonialism and colonial projects in which large swaths of land and workforces are sought for commercial exploitation. Extreme violence against noncombatants was a defining characteristic of all European colonialism, often with genocidal results.

Rather, what distinguishes the United States is the triumphal mythology attached to that violence and its political uses, even to this day. The post–9/11 external and internal U.S. war against Muslims-as-“barbarians” finds its prefiguration in the “savage wars” of the American colonies and the early U.S. state against Native Americans. And when there were, in effect, no Native Americans left to fight, the practice of “savage wars” remained. In the twentieth century, well before the War on Terror, the United States carried out large-scale warfare in the Philippines, Europe, Korea, and Vietnam; prolonged invasions and occupations in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic; and counterinsurgencies in Columbia and Southern Africa. In all instances, the United States has perceived itself to be pitted in war against savage forces.



Appropriating the land from its stewards was racialized war from the first British settlement in Jamestown, pitting “civilization” against “savagery.” Through this pursuit, the U.S. military gained its unique character as a force with mastery in “irregular” warfare. In spite of this, most military historians pay little attention to the so-called Indian Wars from 1607 to 1890, as well as the 1846–48 invasion and occupation of Mexico. Yet it was during the nearly two centuries of British colonization of North America that generations of settlers gained experience as “Indian fighters” outside any organized military institution. While large, highly regimented “regular” armies fought over geopolitical goals in Europe, Anglo settlers in North America waged deadly irregular warfare against the continent’s indigenous nations to seize their land, resources, and roads, driving them westward and eventually forcibly relocating them west of the Mississippi. Even following the founding of the professional U.S. Army in the 1810s, irregular warfare was the method of the U.S. conquest of the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, Southeast, and Mississippi Valley regions, then west of the Mississippi to the Pacific, including taking half of Mexico. Since that time, irregular methods have been used in tandem with operations of regular armed forces and are, perhaps, what most marks U.S. armed forces as different from other armies of global powers.

By the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829–37), whose lust for displacing and killing Native Americans was unparalleled, the character of the U.S. armed forces had come, in the national imaginary, to be deeply entangled with the mystique of indigenous nations — as though, in adopting the practices of irregular warfare, U.S. soldiers had become the very thing they were fighting. This was part of the sleight of hand by which U.S. Americans came to genuinely believe that they had a rightful claim to the continent: they had fought for it and “become” its indigenous inhabitants.

laser147
3/15/2019 1:27:24 PM

There's a lot to chew on here. It seems very accurate in a general way but the diversions into bias are highly visable to anyone with a mild grasp of history. For instance, Jefferson did not send the Marines to "invade" the Berber enclaves on the coast of North Africa. These Arabs had been capturing and otherwise trapping any ship passing through Gibralter and probably other areas of the Mediterranean and holding them for ransom. It's how they made their living. Once the U.S had become a sovereign country able to stand on its feet, the Muslims of Barbary could not be allowed to continue their trade. Other countries had put up with it, paying ransome. I'm no historian but I have the idea they did this for many generations. The Marines went to the shores of Tripoli to retrieve Americans who had been kidnapped and were being held for ransome. Jefferson simply decided to put a stop to it, for the good of the U.S. and the good of free trading nations everywhere. There's at least two, maybe three, maybe more dips into deliberate bias in this otherwise very excellent article.


JohnCowan
3/15/2019 8:53:25 AM

The First Barbary War doesn't belong in this article, any more than World War II does. Both of them were wars for the liberation of the captured and oppressed. The early 18C governments of Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis, and Morocco were themselves pirates and slave-takers who had taken American citizens as slaves.


Annie
3/15/2019 7:33:23 AM

Hard to read, hard to know but thanks for what you do!!!




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