Saturday, May 9, 2009

Michael Medved and the Indians

I am reading Michael Medved’s The 10 Big Lies About America: Combating Destructive Distortions About Our Nation.

The first big lie that Medved identifies is “America was founded on genocide against Native Americans.” As nearly as I can tell, Medved’s only objection is the use of the word genocide. If the statement were “the Indians got screwed over pretty damn badly,” I suspect that Medved might be forced to concede its truth. Nevertheless, Medved correctly points out that most Native Americans died of European diseases to which they had no immunities and you can’t really call that genocide.

I particularly enjoyed Medved’s discussion of the Battle of Wounded Knee. After noting that only 25 soldiers died compared to 153 out of 350 Indians including 44 women and 18 children, Medved makes the case that there was nothing genocidal about the encounter.
The statistics indicate the one-sided nature of the fight, but it was a fight.
(emphasis in original) Neither the soldiers nor the government that
commanded them had any intention of killing Indians that day, despite the
mythology that’s grown up around the tragedy. With true genocidal intent,
the soldiers could have simply used the artillery they brought with them.
On several they tried to encourage the Miniconjou to surrender (by shooting
them?), but the Ghost Dance Warriors chose to continue the struggle. The
commanding officer himself, Major Samuel M. Whiteside, lifted an Indian infant
from the arms of the child’s dead mother and placed him with some of the female
Mininconjou survivors for protection.

As far as I can tell, Medved’s whole argument boils down to “Things could have been a lot worse for the Indians.” After all, the soldiers didn’t blast away with their cannons, the Indians managed to take a few soldiers down with them, and the commanding officer retained a sufficient shred of humanity to take pity on an infant. What’s not to like?

I just don’t understand why conservatives like arguments like this. It wasn’t genocide! We weren’t as bad as the Nazis! Do we really want to set the bar that low? Don’t we diminish ourselves by doing so?

5 comments:

  1. Sounds like the literary equivalent of John Stossel

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  2. You seem to assume that this argument means a belief that our gov't back then was as pure as the driven snow. If asked, I can assure you that Medved would likely agree we have always had our faults. But when you look at the world at the time, territory was still aquired by taking it, ideas about equality were still forming, not only here, but everywhere in the world and indeed, as described in the book, "1491-New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus", such attitudes existed amongst the tribes as well.

    So he's not fending off the lefty view of history that America was a bunch of savage murderers by suggesting we were angels. Only that we weren't the devils the left now tries to portray us as. It's important to render history as accurately as possble.

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  3. My point is that Medved calls it a "big lie" but he really only makes a case for it being a "big overstatement."

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  4. To overstate is to distort the truth, is it not? But I get your point. A small distinction, however.

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