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Editor’s note: the source of this recording is at

US Settler Colonialism and Its Inseparable Offspring, Attempted Genocide
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
11 October 2017
MP3 Recording (57:37, 138.3 MB)
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz with Nick Estes, 11 October 2017 at the  Lannan Foundation on Vimeo.
Introduction by Nick Estes
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
1680 Pueblo Indian Revolt
The Doctrine of Discovery
European Property Rights Acquired By Dint Of “Discovery”
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
Understanding Where the US Military Came From & What It Is
Deconstructing Consensus US History: Fort Bragg, CA
US: A Thoroughly Militarized Culture - Dangerous Because We Don’t Know It
Sources & Background

Nick Estes:

I greet each and one of you as a relative with a handshake and an open heart and mind. As a Lakota person who is a guest in this place I’d like to recognize the land belonging to the Original People. This place is known to the Tewa-speaking People in their language as Oh gah po wai po wai gah, the White Shell Water Place. Here a sacred hot spring existed, a Pueblo Holy Site, that Spanish settlers destroyed to erect the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. But Pueblo people remember this is their land and so must we.

I’d also like to thank the Lannan Foundation for making this event possible. And in particular, Barbara Ventrello for coordinating this talk and our arrival. With events like this it’s the tireless and usually thankless work of administrative staff that really makes these kinds of occasions possible. If Barbara is any reflection of the type of work the Lannan Foundation does then it is in good hands.

There is no greater honor for a young native historian, such as myself, than to introduce a respected elder of our movement and an elder to our craft. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is both historian and history maker, a rare position for a profession in this country that prides itself on detached objectivity and self-censorship.

And all sides matter narrative and historical revisionism are not ideas unique to this particular political moment but have been the hallmarks of a profession that often repeats the stories the United States likes to tell itself: that this is the greatest country in the history of the world, that it is greatest democracy the world has ever seen, and that, even if some mistakes were made, overall it is striving toward a more perfect union and given time the wrinkles will work themselves out.

Such statements are pure American exceptionalism. Roxanne has pushed me and countless scholars and activists of my generation, and her own, to study the United States not from the vantage point of a US citizen, but from the vantage point of the rest of the world. Exactly how does the rest of the world, the darker and the poorer nations, view the United States? In her many books Roxanne has consistently asked us to turn to the First Peoples of this land who have had the most intimate relationship with this settler nation.

The fledgling thirteen British colonies hugging the Atlantic coast in 1776, after all, didn’t rapidly expand and annex billions of acres of Indigenous Lands and hundreds of Indigenous Nations in less than a century by pure accident. This rapid expansion and the annihilation of Indigenous Peoples was not the result of a cultural misunderstanding or a clash of cultures as many mainstream historians would have us believe. And it wasn’t because white people innately hated Indians that they decided to take their land, wantonly slaughter them, take away their political authority, confine them to concentration camps called reservations, and reduce them to paupers in their own homelands. Nor were such projects passively accepted by Indigenous Peoples.

Roxanne reminds us such arguments ignore fundamental historical processes. We only need to look at this nation’s founding document for answers. While we are taught to revere the line, all men were created equal, in the Declaration of Independence, we don’t pay much attention to the rest of the text. Several paragraphs down, its primary author, Thomas Jefferson, wrote, King George “has excited domestic insurrections [or slave revolts] amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages”.

The life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, promised to early settlers and their descendants, meant securing, with horrific violence, the ownership of stolen Africans brought to this continent in chains and the ownership of Indigenous lands. Put simply the world’s greatest democracy was not founded on superior democratic ideals but rather on wealth extracted from stolen labor and stolen land. In this way the Declaration reads more like a manifesto for settler colonialism and not equality.

So settler colonialism, as Roxanne points out in her latest book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, is the process by which an imperial power seizes native land, eliminates the original population by force and removal, or genocide, and resettles the land with a foreign invading population. For the United States the removal of Indigenous Peoples coincided with the expansion of the institution of slavery.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when last August white supremacists rallied at a statue of Thomas Jefferson chanting the Nazi slogan Blood and Soil at a University Jefferson founded in Charlottesville, Virginia. The next day a white supremacist killed one anti-fascist protestor and injured dozens others to consummate the celebration. Richard Spencer, a founder of the alt-right, wasn’t confused about Jefferson’s brutal legacy but identified the founding father as a heroic white supremacist, a slave owner, and an indian killer. The media’s portrayal of the rally however focused only on the controversy surrounding the removal of a monument of Confederate General Robert E. Lee entirely ignoring the torch lit rally honoring Jefferson.

In that moment the brave thing to do was to condemn Nazis and the Confederacy. On the other hand, Jefferson was considered a true patriot whose very words in the Declaration were evoked to condemn the rally. It’s easy to condemn a growing self-identified fascist movement who has an audience with the president but much harder to take this country’s history on its own terms. And we don’t have to look far to see celebrations of genocide and colonialism.

One month ago, right here in Santa Fe, a group led by Pueblo women protested the annual Entrada Celebration which reenacts the “bloodless” Spanish reconquest of the Pueblo People after the successful 1680 Pueblo Revolt. Any serious historian will tell you there was nothing bloodless about Spanish colonialism. For that reason Elena Ortiz, from the Okay Wingai [sp] Pueblos characterized the Entrada reenactment as little more than a genocide parade. At the behest of Entrada organizers, and the city of Santa Fe, police violently cracked down on what was otherwise a nonviolent protest. Eight were arrested on charges of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. Young San Ildefonso Pueblo leader of The Red Nation, Jennifer Marley, was also dubiously charged with two felonies which were yesterday dismissed.

When asked when asked by reporters, why the harsh police response, the Santa Fe Chief of Police cited fears of a similar deadly confrontation like that at Charlottesville. Clearly, Charlottesville had two sides: Neo-Nazis on one side and anti-fascists on the other. Santa Fe City Officials and Police took a side that day and every year for their Entrada Celebration, and history will judge them for it.

Perhaps the United States is exceptional in this regard for its view of history. When asked about the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, James Baldwin told an interviewer,

Americans have no attitude toward history at all. Because, in fact, the whole achievement of being American is the attempt to destroy history. It does not exist. It is not a concept. What Americans mean by history is something they can forget. They don’t know they have to pay for their history because the Indians have paid for it, every inch and every hour.

Perhaps if New Mexicans took seriously the history Roxanne describes in her book, Roots of Resistance: A History Of Land Tenure In New Mexico, they would understand that it was a broad alliance between native and henny sorrows, [sp] those of mixed Spanish and Native Ancestry that expelled Spanish overlords, we would be celebrating Entrada protesters and not arresting the real heroes who keep alive the spirit of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.

Perhaps if books like Roxanne’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States were read widely in classrooms, we’d understand the interlocking systems of oppression arising from from settler colonialism, the legacies of slavery, and Indigenous genocide.

And perhaps if we read Roxanne’s edited collection of oral history of Lakota elders and freedom fighters in The Great Sioux Nation, Sitting in Judgment On America, we’d understand that the heroic struggle of the Oceti Sakowin, to halt the Dakota access pipeline, was part of a long tradition of Indigenous resistance and that the 19th century Indian Wars are far from over.

And unfortunately, Roxanne’s forthcoming book, Loaded, A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, will continue to be relevant as long as homicidal white masculinity is culturally and legally mandated in this country.

From the first time I met Roxanne we have talked about Amilkar Cabral’s concept of Return to the Source, the source of oppression and resistance. For these Settler States of America, it is settler colonialism. Those who have thwarted the finality of settlement in the United States have been Indigenous Peoples. Roxanne instructs us that history and resistance are two pillars of liberation. The terms of history, in this way, are not hashed out in dusty archives or in academic debate alone. As we see in St. Louis right now, or at Standing Rock, or right here in this colonial settlement called Santa Fe, history is an active element of our current moment being fought for in the streets and primarily led by Indigenous and Black People.

Roxanne has been a comrade in that struggle and we are the product of that work. People have given their lives or currently sit behind bars, such as Leonard Peltier, for us to be here today.

So what are the stakes of history? It is to say, as Roxanne and those like her have been saying for more than five centuries, colonialism and capitalism are not naturally occurring systems nor are the ills that they bring such as slavery, genocide, imperialism, racism, hetero-patriarchy and white supremacy. So we should be turning to those Indigenous Societies who have resisted colonialism and capitalism for centuries to imagine a world otherwise. Because the mandate is to return to the source as Roxanne constantly reminds me. We are the source. We are the past and we are the future.

And so with that it is my great honor and privilege to welcome my comrade, my relative, and elder Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

I can’t see you because of these bright lights but I know I have a lot of friends out there and new friends I haven’t met yet. I’m really happy to be here in this beautiful theater in Santa Fe and many thanks to Patrick Lannan and all associated with the Lannan Foundation particularly Barbara Ventrello, the Director of Cultural Freedom Public Events for the Lannan Foundation. And thank all of you for being here. And especially I thank Nick for his very kind remarks and the fact that he’s a very essential part of this talk tonight. We’re having a conversation tonight. But we’ve been having conversation for about, almost 10 years now I think, a long time.

1680 Pueblo Indian Revolt

I want to acknowledge that we are present on the unceded traditional territory of the Tewa Peoples’ towns and farms which were brutally invaded and occupied, the people’s lives disrupted and displaced in 1607, four hundred ten years ago, when the Spanish established their first proclaimed center of dominance in this area. This is also the central site of perhaps the most important liberation movement and revolution in North America if not the world.

This was the 1680 all Indian Pueblo Revolution which occurred a century before the future and present colonizer, the United States of America even existed. That revolutionary spirit is the primary means by which the Indigenous Peoples of New Mexico, and actually the whole Southwest, have continued thru the past three centuries. And they are the future of this place.

I want to say a few words about that twelve year revolution of the 1680s. As a doctoral student in history at UCLA in 1974 I wrote my dissertation on the history of land tenure in New Mexico from pre-colonial times to the present which became my book Roots of Resistance [at Univ of Omaha Press and] and the template for my research and writing on settler colonialism and its inseparable offspring, attempted genocide. So I owe much to the people and the place that we are in.

The Pueblo Revolution brought the Spanish colony to a quick end in 1680. Some years, at least twenty, perhaps much longer, of organization produced a unified offensive on the part of all but a few Southern Pueblos. Remember there were dozens and dozens of Pueblos then, not nineteen or twenty-one. There were ninety at first. They were reduced in population and numbers during Spanish colonization. But this unified offensive of the Pueblos included the Hopi, of course, and the Zuni to the west, as well as Apache, Navajo, and Ute allies. Many low in the Spanish caste hierarchy—African, Mestizo, and Indigenous servants living in the servant sector of the Santa Fe Barrio Del Analco—joined the revolt.

The entire population of settlers, priests, and military were forced into exile to El Paso where they planned a return which took place again, violently, in 1692. And as you know this is called La Entrada. But it was much more than an entrance. And it is officially celebrated right here in Santa Fe and there are monuments and plaques that present the people who conquered once again as heroes, as heroic.

So why did the Spanish colonizers believe they had the right to appropriate the lands, a peoples over five thousand miles and across a great ocean from Spain? Indeed how did the British, first as colonizers along the Atlantic shore, then as Anglo Americans forming their own empire from sea to shining sea? And why is this a continuing current event and not just history? This brings me to the Doctrine of Discovery.

The Doctrine of Discovery

In 1982 the government of Spain and the Holy See—that’s the Vatican—which is a non-voting state member of the United Nations; so that’s a state that’s one square mile with no population. So if you wonder why a Native Nation can be a member of the United Nations just look at the Vatican. Why not?

So they, the Spain and Holy See, proposed to the United Nations General Assembly that the Year in 1992 be celebrated, in the United Nations, as an encounter, an encuentro, between Europe and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. A commemoration that would honor Europeans for having brought the gifts of civilization and Christianity to the peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

I was sitting in the non-governmental gallery. We had just started our work at the UN, five years before that. And still learning, we didn’t know much about headquarters. We had been doing it at the UN Human Rights Center in Geneva, Switzerland. I was trying to monitor these beatings to see how things worked. I was taking notes about tedious parliamentary disputes and I was almost nodding off when I was jolted out of my boredom. I felt panic, helpless to do anything that wouldn’t get me ousted from UN headquarters permanently.

But then after a few minutes of the Norway and Irish delegates teasing each other that their own ancestors had actually been the first to discover North America, with other European and North American diplomats heartily laughing, all of the African diplomats, scattered around the meeting room, seated in alphabetical order by their Nation’s names, rose in unison. So in other words, of course they’re all black—African.

And it was just amazing. I don’t know how—this was before texting and the internet or cell phones—I’m not sure how they communicated, but they did in that five minutes or so. They all rose up at one time and walked out.

So the jesting and laughter stopped and the befuddled Europeans and Euro-Americans looked around at each other in confusion. One saying into a live mic, ‘What does Columbus have to do with Africa?’ What indeed? A recess was declared. An hour later the meeting reconvened. The African groups’ chosen spokesperson delivered an impassioned statement, condemning any proposal that would celebrate the onset of European colonialism, genocide, and the transatlantic slave trade in the halls of the United Nations, which was established, as they pointed out, for the purpose of decolonization.

So the Doctrine of Discovery had reared its head in the wrong place. The resolution was dead. But it was not the end of efforts by Spain—remember this is not fascist Franco Spain, this is democratic, Socialist Party Spain—the Vatican, and others in the west, particularly the Reagan-Bush administrations, to make the quincentennial a cause for celebration. But it was a failed endeavor, ultimately, thanks to the powerful solidarity of the world’s Indigenous and oppressed peoples along with growing European and Euro-American allies.

As I said, only five years before the incident, in the UN General Assembly, the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas Conference at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland headquarters, had proposed that 1992 be designated as the United Nations “year of mourning” for the onset of colonialism, African slavery and attempted genocide of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, and that October 12th be designated as the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Although Indigenous peoples won a designated United Nations Day, Year, and even, a Decade, the compromise was to not designate—the compromise with European, US, and some Latin American still dictatorships—not to designate October 12th. Rather August 9th as the UN Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples. 1993, not 1992, as the UN Year for Indigenous Peoples. And 1994 to 2004 as the UN Decade for Indigenous Peoples. Actually those decades have been repeated. We’re now in the third decade for the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the UN.

However that year’s Nobel Peace Prize was bestowed upon Guatemalan K’iche’ Mayan Leader Rigoberta Menchú. It was announced in Oslo on October 12, 1992, a decision that infuriated the Spanish government and the Vatican who withdrew their ambassadors for a time. In Rigoberta’s speech at the Nobel Ceremony, accepting the prize, she accepted it not for herself, but on behalf of the world’s Indigenous Peoples and was subsequently appointed UN Honorary Ambassador for Indigenous Peoples, a position she holds to this day.

So what is the Doctrine of Discovery? According to this Medieval Canon Law, European Christian monarchies acquired title to the lands they discovered and Indigenous inhabitants lost their natural right to that land after Christian Europeans had arrived and claimed it. Under this legalistic cover for theft, European and Euro-American wars of conquest and settler colonialism in the Western hemisphere devastated Indigenous nations and communities, ripping their territories away from them, and transforming the land into private property, or real estate, along with another form of private property, enslaved African bodies.

In the United States most of that land ended up in the hands of land speculators who were also slavers and agribusiness operators called plantations, such as most of the US founding fathers, so-called, and most of the US Presidents and other government and military officials up to the Civil War. Arcane as it may seem, the Doctrine of Discovery remains the basis for US federal laws still in effect that control Indigenous peoples lives and destinies, maintaining a regimen of suffocating settler colonialism under the color of law.

From the mid-fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, most of the non-European world was colonized under the Doctrine of Discovery. This is the first principle of international law that Christian European monarchies promulgated to legitimize the investigating, mapping, and claiming lands belonging to non-Christian peoples outside of Europe.

It originated in a Papal Bull, issued in 1455, that permitted the Portuguese monarchy to seize West Africa for slave raiding. Following Columbus’s infamous exploratory voyage in 1492, sponsored by the king and queen of the infant Spanish state, another Papal Bull extended similar permission to Spain. Disputes between the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies led to the Papal initiated Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 which, besides dividing the globe equally between the two Iberian empires, clarified that only non-Christian lands fell under the Discovery Doctrine.

This Doctrine, on which all European states relied, originated with the arbitrary and unilateral establishment of the Iberian monarchies’ exclusive rights under Christian canon law to colonize foreign peoples, and this right was later seized, and absorbed, usually explicitly, if not by common law, by Protestant, Christian, European monarchical colonizing projects as well.

But not only monarchies. Following the revolution that overthrew the monarchy, the French Republic applied the Doctrine of Discovery to legalize its nineteenth- and twentieth-century settler colonialist projects in North Africa, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. As did the anti-monarchy, independent United States when it continued the settler colonial project of North America, begun, but then halted by the British monarchy, in 1754.

Indeed the populist settler colonialism of those republics, as well as the late Spanish settler colonies—Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile—when they won independence and became republics, proved to be the most insidious, including genocidal policies, which in terms of the 1948 Genocide Convention, includes forcibly removing children from the group, forcibly preventing births within the group, creating conditions of life that make the group’s continued existence impossible, destroying the groups means of subsistence, forced removals or ethnic cleansing, and other acts such as killing, that constitute genocide in international law.

Indicating the intentions of the newly independent United States, in 1792, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson asserted that the Doctrine of Discovery, developed by European States, was international law, applicable to the new US government as well. Codifying the Doctrine of Discovery as domestic law in 1823, the US Supreme Court issued a decision, actually a collection of decisions, three decisions, concerning the Cherokee Nation in Georgia. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Marshall held that the Doctrine of Discovery had been an established principle of European Law and an English Law in effect in British North American colonies, and was also the law of the United States.

European Property Rights Acquired By Dint Of “Discovery”

The court defined the exclusive property rights that a European country acquired by dint of discovery. Marshall writing: “discovery gave title to the [United States] government by whose subjects or by whose authority it was made against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.” (Johnson v. McIntosh (8 Wheat., 573))

Therefore European and Euro-American “discoverers” had gained real property rights in the lands of Indigenous peoples by merely planting a flag. Of course they were, and still are, met with resistance by the peoples whose land they claim. The court held that the Indigenous “rights to complete sovereignty as independent nations were necessarily diminished”. (Ibid, 574)

Indigenous peoples could continue to live on the land by grace of the federal government but title resided with the United States Republic. Of course this came to be called the Trust Relationship or the Trust Doctrine, which still exists.

Soon it turned out that the Indigenous people in question, who brought the cases to the Supreme Court, the Cherokee Nation in the state of Georgia, were not allowed to remain in their ancestral territory and Cherokee citizens were force-marched 1,500 miles on foot through an abnormally cold winter during which half their number died of exposure, starvation, and disease, what the Cherokee people call to this day, the Trail of Tears.

Already the Muscogee peoples had been deported from Alabama and Mississippi and by 1850 all the other Indigenous peoples east of the Mississippi had been forcibly relocated to Indian Territory, west of the Mississippi which comprised what is now all of Oklahoma and part of Kansas and Arkansas.

Parallel to and enabled by this ethnic cleansing was the rise of a cotton kingdom in the Mississippi Valley, and the Industrial forced-breeding of enslaved Africans in the older slaver states. The foundation and birth of United States capitalism burrowed into and destroying Indigenous sacred land and African sacred bodies as exchange commodities, and the source of wealth that built the richest nation state and largest and deadliest military in human history, the United States of America.

So the Doctrine of Discovery, at least in the United States, is so taken for granted that very few people even know it exists as a fundamental element of the United States law. Although we do know that the US purports to be a nation of laws, we don’t iterate this particular one in law schools or in conversation. The Doctrine of Discovery is rarely mentioned in any historical or legal texts although the Marshall Court Cherokee decisions are regularly the introduction to US Constitutional Law, after Marbury. Yet the Doctrine of Discovery is the legal basis upon which the United States government controls Indigenous Nations whose territories it claims under a continuing colonial system.

The Doctrine of Discovery was once again invoked, and validated, in the 2005 US Supreme Court case, City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. [544 US 197], in which the 1820s US Supreme Court decisions were cited as precedent for denying the Oneida Nation the land claim in this case. Significantly, it was a unanimous decision, with the most liberal judge on the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing the decision.

The United Nations 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, whose anniversary was last month (ten years), specifically repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery as has the World Court in the case of the Western Sahara. This is actually a prerequisite in the United States because it’s codified in law, it’s more common law in Latin America. This is a first step toward Indigenous Decolonization.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Three years ago I published a history of the United States titled An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States [at Beacon Press and] which has found a wide audience and has been adopted in many public and private middle and high schools as well as colleges and universities in countless community and church reading groups. The most frequent question readers ask after reading this book, is why hasn’t it been written before? Why hasn’t this book been written before? I’m really flattered by that question because it’s the one I ask about texts that deeply move me. At the same time that the information or argument or story is new to me and seems like a revelation, it also seems that it was already hidden in the recesses of my brain or heart, a truth actually also embedded in our subconsciouses.

But why hasn’t this book been written before? We believe we don’t suffer academic censorship in the United States but we do. Rather than being mandated by the government—although Trump seems to be getting into that action, getting professors fired right and left, no just left—rather than being mandated by the government professional historians self-censor in response to institutionalized policing of the parameters of what’s acceptable and what will be marginalized. A broad consensus, reached by the US history professions elite, along with school textbook standards made by states, namely in the last 20-30 years—Texas, plus the graduate history students desire to complete the doctorate as easily as possible and start a successful career and then to get tenure.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, along with the powerful Native, Chicano, Puerto Rican anti-war countercultural, Women’s Liberation, and Gay and Lesbian and Trans Movements, broke down the existing consensus and created a window of opportunity that institutionalized revisions through the bottom-up creation of Black, Native, Chicano, and Gender Studies. But that devolved into a kind of multiculturalism supporting the narrative of diversity and contributions to the greatness of the United States.

In achieving a new consensus the new narrative had to ignore Native issues of sovereignty and territorial rights and treaties. Rather, twisting the inclusion of indigeneity as a racial discrimination question rather than a question of sovereign Nations living under settler colonialism.

One of my favorite writers, late writers, William Burroughs, narrator in his 1984 novel which I highly recommend, The Place Of Dead Roads, observes that “people are not bribed to shut up about what they know. They are bribed not to find [it] out”. This is particularly true in the writing of US history, my profession. It’s not a free speech issue, but one of asking questions that challenge the core of the scripted narrative. Historians are validated to the extent that they remain guardians of the United States origin narrative with various tweaks to adjust to demands of the excluded, to prevent revolutions.

Even those flawed advances are currently in retreat and US gun violence, and endless wars are endemic. Various polls show that even the educated general public doesn’t know basic facts about the structure of the US government, the Constitution, the rights of states and the division of powers. Yet there is a widespread acceptance of the greatness and goodness of the United States along with the extreme mistrust of government. Except for the military.

Understanding Where the US Military Came From & What It Is

A recent tiny Associated Press story provided polling information of US American public regarding their confidence in federal government institutions. Reporting only six percent have confidence in Congress (probably zero in this [unintelligible]). Fourteen percent of people said they have confidence in the executive branch which includes the president and all of the cabinet agencies. Twenty-four percent say they have confidence in the Supreme Court. However eighty-four percent have confidence in the military.

The military is the only unifying government institution, the only one trusted. So we have to understand where that military has come from and what it is. Why is there so little information, analysis, or curiosity in the origins and development of the US military? In history and political science texts, it doesn’t exist. And teaching at any grade level [and] graduate school, the military history field, small as it is, is usually made up of war mongers and former military people and people who certainly never write about what actually happened to form that military.

The military isn’t even presented as a branch of government as we know there are only three branches of government. Rather it is placed under the formerly civilian, elected president and commander in chief of the armed forces. This is meant to scare you because Trump isn’t just president, he’s the commander in chief of the armed forces. And as he said, I heard him on TV tonight say, that he can do anything he wants, because he’s that.

However from the earliest settlements in the 1600s to the adhesion of the thirteen British colonies into an independent nation state and up to the present, the military has been the engine that drives US nationalism; that is, patriotism. Yet generations have little knowledge of interaction with the military. But the annals of military history reveal the architecture of its formation and function and dominance.

Air Force officer and military historian John Grenier gives me hope that this is beginning to change, writes,

For the first 200 years of our military heritage, then, Americans depended on arts of war that contemporary professional soldiers [at that time] supposedly abhorred: razing and destroying enemy villages and fields [read: Native Americans]; killing enemy women and children; raiding settlements for captives; intimidating and brutalizing enemy non-combatants; and assassinating enemy leaders.... In the frontier wars between 1607 and 1814, Americans forged two elements—unlimited war and irregular war—into their first way of war. [The First Way of War, American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814, John Grenier, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 5, 10]

From this period, Grenier argues, emerged the problematic characteristics of the US way of war and thereby the characteristics of US civilization which few civilian historians, or even anti-war activists, acknowledge.

Deconstructing Consensus US History: Fort Bragg, CA

Here’s an example of the matrix that is deconstructed when a thread from the weave of consensus US history is pulled and why the public discussion of Confederate fetishism provides a teachable moment. In July 2015, the California State Legislature’s Black Caucus (I live in California), called on State Authorities to change the name of the town of Fort Bragg, California, the site of a former military base, 170 miles north of San Francisco (now just a town by that name) because it was named after Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Who knew there was a Confederate General name on an army base, or a former army base, a town in California?

In the course of his long military career, Bragg, an 1837 West Point graduate, was Commander of the Confederate Army in the Civil War and owned a plantation and over a hundred enslaved Africans. But that’s only half the story of General Bragg’s career as it is of most of the Confederate, as well as Union, military commanders.

The Black Caucus rightly raised the issue in the wake of the June 17, 2015 Charleston, South Carolina assassination of Senior Pastor and State Senator Clementa C. Pinckney along with eight worshippers at the oldest historical Black Church in North America, Mother Emanuel, which had been founded by Denmark Vesey, a formerly enslaved African, a carpenter by trade who purchased his freedom and later organized a failed slave revolt for which he and a dozen other insurgents were hung. This event happened on that date of the hanging of Denmark Vesey.

Shocked attention to the Church Massacre quickly turned to the continued presence of the Confederate Flag on the South Carolina Statehouse in Charleston. The assassin being a self-identified white supremacist, his internet photos showed him toting the Confederate flag.

A national debate ensued not only about the proliferation of Confederate flags throughout the South and in white supremacist enclaves and at gun shows all over the country, but also public monuments and place names, particularly army bases named after Confederate Officers. There are in fact nine other US military bases, in addition to Fort Bragg, that are named after Confederate Officers, most of them in the South. But Fort Bragg reveals a more complex history.

Few in California knew that their state hosted a base, now a town, named after a Confederate General. But the argument began immediately. Those who objected to changing the name, especially the people living in Fort Bragg (there aren’t many there), pointed out that General Bragg was a decorated US Army Officer in 1857 three years before the founding of the Confederacy, when Fort Bragg was built and named. That’s certainly different from those bases in the South named after Confederates, all of which occurred in the post Civil War Jim Crow Segregationist Era of the early, and up to the mid, 20th century.

In Bragg’s case the naming honor recalled his actions as a Captain serving under Major General Zachary Taylor in the United States Army and Marine invasion and occupation of Mexico City in 1847, forcing the Mexican Republic to cede the northern half of its territory. And the purpose of establishing Fort Bragg a decade later in 1857: to carry out the confinement of Indigenous Californians rounded up and forced into the newly established Mendocino Indian Reservation where a military base was also established and named after Bragg. All before the Civil War.

The Black Caucus statement asserted that it was inappropriate to honor an individual who committed treason against the United States in defense of slavery. Nearly everyone who has argued for the change of names of military bases has invoked treason. Yet all of the West Point graduate officers who led the Confederacy, after whom the bases are named, has been honorably recognized for their feats in the invasion and brutal counterinsurgency over a two-year period in Mexico, occupying and terrorizing the civilian population in Mexico City until the government officials, with guns at their heads, signed a Treaty of Cession. Including Robert E. Lee and several others who served and led the US war against the Seminole Nation in Florida. There were three US wars against the Seminole nation over the period of 1816 to 1858, all of them counterinsurgent, irregular wars and all led by West Point graduates, who then, in the later years, became either Union or Confederate soldiers.

But it seems it would have been appropriate had these officers not chosen the Confederate side and stayed in the US Army to slaughter Native Americans during and after the Civil War. Like nearly every military officer of the Union Army: Sherman, Fremont, Grant, Custer to name the most famous of the Union officers who later formed the leadership of the so-called Army of the West.

In fact, the majority of US Army Bases on the continent were initially outpost for wars against Indigenous Nations: Fort Snelling, Hayes, Kearney, Leavenworth, Sill, and Riley, the latter the base of George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry, now the First Infantry Division. All named after US Army Officers who commanded genocidal wars.

For most of the period from the US war of independence to the 1890s, the sole function of the US military was to kill, roundup refugees, relocate and confine Native Americans and appropriate their land and resources to replace with Anglo American settlers, and sometimes from other countries like Scandinavians. Particularly, slave-owning planters involved in mono cash production got most of that land. The Army Officers of both the Confederacy and the Union had made their careers in genocidal campaigns against Native Nations and against the Indigenous and Mestizo Peoples of Mexico, which included where we are now, annexing half its territory and including three major declared wars against the Seminole Nation before the Civil War.

Both Union and Confederate Armies posted regiments west of the Mississippi to invade territories of the Dakota, Cheyenne, Navajo, Apache, and Comanche Nations among others.

Wars against the Native Peoples did not miss a beat during the Civil War which saw the military rounding up and deporting the entire Navajo population, that Kit Carson could round up, to a desert concentration camp where one-third succumbed to starvation, exposure, and disease. And the ethnic cleansing of the Dakota people in their traditional territory of Minnesota to be replaced by Scandinavian settlers.

After the Civil War, when the US Army was supposed to prioritize occupation of the defeated Confederate States, forcing a reconstruction in which liberated African Americans could become participating and leading citizens, the commander in chief of the armed forces, the President, kept shifting armed forces from the South to the West where a twenty-five year total war was waged to destroy the Native Nations in the Northern Plains, the Intermountain West and Southwest.

US: A Thoroughly Militarized Culture - Dangerous Because We Don’t Know It

The United States is a thoroughly militarized culture, all the more dangerous because we don’t know it. It’s subliminal. And it has been since it’s bloody birth. The blood being mainly that of Indigenous Peoples in the path of the colonist’s relentless expansion during their Revolutionary War. We see the signs of militarism all around us and in the media. (Just take the NFL thing in the last few weeks.)

But as military historian John Grenier notes, the cultural aspects of militarization are not new. They have deep historical roots reaching into the nation’s racist settler past and continuing through unrelenting wars of conquest and ethnic cleansing over three centuries. Grenier writes,

Beyond its sheer military utility, Americans also found a use for the first way of war in the construction of “American identity”.... the enduring appeal of the romanticized myth of the “settlement” (not [calling it] conquest) of the frontier, either by actual men like Robert Rogers or Daniel Boone or fictitious ones like Nathaniel Bumppo of James Fenimore Cooper’s creation, [Last of the Mohicans, it all] points to what D.H. Lawrence called the “myth of the essential white American.” [The First Way of War, p.222]

US nationalism, its national narrative and origin story is white nationalism and any historical analysis or current social crisis cannot be comprehended without acknowledging US settler colonialism and colonial violence centering on Indigenous America, historically and in the present.

So I thank you.

Sources & Background

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