Michael Medved: Denier of American Indian Holocaust

I only stumbled across his denial today. It was written this past September. Sadly, there are many supporters of his position among the commentors. He must have his own personal definition of genocide that has no dependence on reality. I guess not enough cultures were completely destroyed. Perhaps not enough human rights were denied to tribes. Perhaps not enough good land was taken. Perhaps the land exchanged wasn't bad enough. Perhaps not enough buffalo were killed to create famine. Perhaps too much promised food was delivered to tribes in exchange for peace and land. Perhaps not enough children were taken from their parents and put in boarding schools that shamed their cultures. Perhaps he hasn't been reading my blog where I write too much about genocide, human rights, and native Americans. Tribal Butterfly has a response from NDN News. NDN News has genocide article in small type. It's a painful read on the eyes and on the conscience. Some more information can be found at the American Indian Genocide Museum.
This United Nations' definition of genocide can be found at the National Holocaust Museum.
On December 9, 1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust and in no small part due to the tireless efforts of Lemkin himself, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention establishes "genocide” as an international crime, which signatory nations “undertake to prevent and punish.” It defines genocide as:

[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

Killing members of the group;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
I refer this long quote from the US Holocaust Museum. The link is an article about Mr. Lemkin who coined and defined genocide.
In his unpublished writings Lemkin also focussed on aspects of genocide that he considered were perpetrated by the English, French, and post-independence Americans, that constitute a comprehensive historical process over a number of centuries, including deep into the nineteenth century: dispossessing indigenous peoples of their land (with or without permission of central authorities), kidnapping, enslavement, removal and deportation often involving forced marches, removal or stealing of children, disease through overcrowding on reservations with inadequate food and medicine, self-destruction brought on by introduction and sale of liquor, curtailing and deprivation of legal rights, cultural genocide (as in re-education of children in boarding schools, cutting off of braids, forbidding of native languages, prohibitions on Indian culture and banning of religious ceremonies, forcing children to become Christians), mass death.

Lemkin links slavery with cultural genocide: “slavery may be called cultural genocide par excellence. It is the most effective and thorough method of destroying a culture, and of de-socializing human beings”. Lemkin here refers to slavery in New England with captives taken in the Pequot War, in Massachusetts, New Plymouth, and Connecticut; also slavery in the mid seventeenth century of Indians in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland. Lemkin observes that armed conflict always arose “when colonization took place”, though New Plymouth and Massachusetts were saved from conflict only because smallpox and measles had wrought such havoc that the Indian population was greatly reduced.

Lemkin makes a distinction between “cultural change” and “cultural genocide”. The Indians were forced to accept, after the loss of their hunting grounds, “the economic and social system of the white man”, and such may be referred to as “cultural change” of a “radical and perhaps inhumane type (considering the misery of the generations undergoing the change)”. Such severe cultural change only “becomes cultural genocide (and physical genocide)” when no adequate measures were taken to facilitate the charge from nomadic to agricultural life, with the Indians through cession and warfare being left “landless and foodless”.

Even when, however, Indian peoples were already “agriculturalized”, as with the five Southern tribes, there was “forcible removal to western territory under deplorable conditions”, which was both “cultural and physical genocide”: “There was here no question of purchasing uncultivated land and of ‘civilizing’ the Indian. The only intent was the expulsion of the Indian to make room for whites.”

In an unpublished essay on “Cultural Genocide Against Plains Indians”, Lemkin refers to the use of “concentration camps” as part of the white attempts to defeat them, which also included starvation and systematic slaughtering of food sources like the buffalo. The deployment of the term “concentration camps” is interesting if we think of Hannah Arendt’s contention that a distinguishing feature of twentieth century totalitarianisms, of the Nazis and Stalin’s Russia, is the presence not just of the detention but the concentration camp; in the concentration camp, Arendt passionately argued, an attack is made on the existential conditions for human life: “a present in which to think, a space in which to act”, an enforced denial of the spatial and temporal requirements of freedom.19 For Arendt, the concentration camp represented an unprecedented attack on human freedom in modernity, an unprecedented total dominion over human life. For Lemkin, it would appear from such references to North American colonization, concentration camps and their constituent total dominion were a recurring feature of historical genocide, including the history of Western colonialism.

Lemkin’s unpublished essays and notes present harrowing reading. Such is particularly so in Lemkin’s evocation of the forced removal and deportations of Indians, who always mourned the loss of their homelands. Lemkin refers, for example, to the deportation of the Cherokee from Georgia. The Choctaw deportation of the early 1830s involved great suffering, including a deportation insisted on by the authorities in winter, with Lemkin commenting: “I do not understand why they were not made to leave in the spring or summer.” Many deportees, poorly clad, died from exposure, demoralization, and cholera. Lemkin points out that the Choctaw were deeply soil-bound and unwilling to emigrate. In the Creek removal, warrior prisoners were chained together in a ninety mile march, the warriors followed by the old and infirm, in intense heat, with infectious diseases rampant; the sick were transported on overcrowded boats. There was destitution and misery. Lemkin observes that physical genocide was carried out on the remaining Creeks; while the Creek warriors were enlisted for service against the Seminole, their families remained East in “concentration camps”: again the use of a term usually associated with the kind of twentieth century phenomenon Lemkin himself studied at length.
Perhaps if Mr. Medved read some of this work, he'd recant?

update Dec. 2007. More education for Medved.


Anonymous said…
I think there were 2 kinds of genocide ivolved with Indians: there was unintentional genocide with disease; in New England some tribes [wampanoag] lost over 95% of their population from contagion before Plymouth was settled. During the wars particular tribes were slated for slaughter- in fact after the Gold Rush in California some tribes were actually hunted out of existence by white settlers. Thats what happened to Ishi [can't remember if that is his actual name] who was the last living survivor of his tribe inCalifornia and who was taken in by an anthropolgist who studied language and hunting/living skills before Ishi died of TB.
Since many tribes wsere warrior based, and had been taught fighting skills from a very young age, the tribes were much more successful in battle against whites than they are given credit for now. What really ground them down in war with whites was lack of ammunition/food/sacntuary, [also the use of enemy tribesmen was devastating]. The whites could sustain many defeats and keep coming back because they had the tech. and infrastructure and population. But the Indians had to keep moving to different territories once white armies were able to reach their settlements and destroy their crops and disrupt cultivation and hunting and raising children.
It was genocide but not always intentional. Its important to remember that the Indians were not helpless victims [and they still are not] Given the circumstances I think the Indians did very well in their wars with whites.These wars are still going on in the legal system; the government does not like Indians having control over their own economies and land base. As far as Medved goes, I think his position is a political one. Its not based on what actually happened. Is this because there is too much competition for victims of genocide?? If we admit the INdians to the club there won't be enough attention to our genocide??? Maybe.

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