Sometimes learning the truth is very painful, especially when it has to do with a country that you love, a people that you love, and/or truths that you cherish and believe are unquestionable. Faced with this kind of situation, we have three choices: (1) Denial followed by fighting back; (2) Seeking the truth, no matter how it hurts; and (3) Accepting what we learn.
The United States of American has always prided itself on being the land of the free, a nation that welcomes everyone equally. Learning that only White folks are truly free can come as a huge shock, and often denial. “You lie! We accept everyone in our town!” Try brining a black, brown, red or Asian friend for a visit and “reality” suddenly changes. You are welcome, but they are not, and you are likely to be criticized for your “error.”
I remember when I first learned that American Indians were regarded as “wards of the government.” It made no sense to me. Why was I free, but they were not. When I probed more deeply as an adult, I began to find out things that shocked me. From the beginning, before our nation was formed, America’s Indigenous people were regarded as savages who needed to be exterminated. Here are some quotes by some of our “Founding Fathers.”
Benjamin Franklin, from his autobiography, 1750s
“If it be the design of Providence to extirpate these Savages in order to make room for cultivators of the Earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means.”
George Washington to General John Sullivan, May 31, 1779
“The immediate objectives are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops in the ground and prevent their planting more.”
Governor William Henry Harrison, of the Indiana Territory (1800-1812) while defending displacement of the Indians. Harrison was later elected US President.
“Is one of the fairest portions of the globe to remain in a state of nature, the haunt of a few wretched savages, when it seems destined by the Creator to give support to a large population and to be the seat of civilization?”
John Quincy Adams, 1802, when rationalizing territorial imperatives as God’s will
“What is the right of the huntsman to the forest of a thousand miles over which he has accidentally ranged in quest of prey? Shall the fields and vallies, which a beneficent God has formed to teem with the life of innumerable multitudes, be condemned to everlasting barrenness?”
President Thomas Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, December 29, 1813
“This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate.”
President James Monroe, in a letter to Andrew Jackson, October 5, 1817
“The hunter or savage state requires a greater extent of territory to sustain it, than is compatible with the progress and just claims of civilized life, and must yield to it. Nothing is more certain, than, if the Indian tribes do not abandon that state, and become civilized, that they will decline, and become extinct. The hunter state, tho maintain’d by warlike spirits, presents but a feeble resistance to the more dense, compact, and powerful population of civilized man.”
Shocking, isn’t it? “We” are civilized; “They” are savages and must be removed. Why? We want, and we will have the land they have lived successfully on for thousands of years. We do not care how many we have to kill to get it. Settler societies, which the U.S. is, are like that. For an excellent history on the subject, read An Indigenous History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz. It is detailed, it is shocking, and it is a very important book to read.
In my most recent post, I reblogged a post by my friend Rabbi Brant Rosen titled
Standing Down Legal Segregation Yom Hashoah, which happens to be Holocaust Remembrance Day. In his post, Rabbi Rosen talked about just and unjust laws, and learning to resist laws that are unjust. Hitler, he reminded his readers, passed laws that discriminated against Jews and other “unwanted” people (Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally ill, mentally retarded). These, Hitler went on to say, could be legally exterminated. We all know where that led. We also know where discriminatory laws in the U.S. led for Black people.
Raising these questions relative to Israel, is horrifying to some people, who seem to believe that Rabbi Rosen (and I) is attacking Israel, the safe, secure homeland of the Jewish people. Instead, he asks us “to commemorate this sacred day by redoubling our resolve to eradicate laws that segregate peoples on the basis of their national, ethnic or religious identities.”
Does everyone get this? No, many do not; for them, criticism of Israel is antisemitic, just like criticism of the U.S. is traitorous to some US citizens. I remember people saying years ago “America, love it or leave it!” They were not interested in hearing the truth. Professor Dunbar Ortiz, by the way, has been bitterly attacked for writing and publishing her book. The critics clearly do not want to hear what she has to say. But if we listen to what Indians have to say, she is saying what they have lived their entire lives. In Israel, the Occupied Territories and Gaza, Palestinian people have suffered what our Indians have suffered from the moment Jewish settlers arrived with the clear intention of founding a Jewish homeland. Had they included the Palestinian people as part of this new homeland, treating them as equals, there would be no problem today. But they did not; they sought to exterminate, and continue on this path today. All we need to do is seek out what is going on. That is what Rabbi Rosen has sought to do, and that is what I seek to do. Not everyone will like it. It must be done anyway, our the future for both countries will be bleak.