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S. Brian Willson
This site contains essays describing the incredible historic pattern of U.S. arrogance, ethnocentrism, violence and lawlessness in domestic and global affairs, and the severe danger this pattern poses for the future health of Homo sapiens and Mother Earth. Other essays discuss revolutionary, nonviolent alternative approaches based on the principle of radical relational mutuality. This is a term increasingly used by physicists, mathematicians and cosmologists to describe the nature of the omnicentric*, ever-unfolding universe. Every being, every aspect of life energy in the cosmos, is intrinsically interconnected with and affects every other being and aspect of life energy at every moment.
*everything is at the center of the cosmos at every moment
All blog entries and essays posted on this site are authored by S. Brian Willson.
The US loves basking in its social myth of being a country committed to equal justice for all, but it operates in a social reality of being committed to profit for a few through expansion at any cost. It is called “American exceptionalism”. This idea that the US American people hold a special place in the world was first expressed as early as 1630 when Puritan leader John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sermonized that “the God of Israel is among us…for we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us”.
The US military has intervened over 560 times into the sovereignty of dozens of countries since 1798, and bombed 30 of them since World War II. It has been virtually at war with the world since World War II, building its economy on military spending and the use of military force. Nearly 400 of these military interventions have occurred since World War II! In addition, the US has covertly intervened thousands of times in over a hundred countries since 1947. The US has military ships in every sea space, planes in every air space, Special Forces teams operating in over 140 countries, and controls outer space as part of its proclaimed policy of “full spectrum dominance”. Its propaganda is so extraordinarily pervasive that it virtually controls most of our inner psychic space – our thought structures and parameters of acceptable critical thinking.
Every component of the US government, including its espoused humanitarian efforts such as the Peace Corps, National Endowment for Democracy, US Agency for International Development, the now defunct US Information Agency, among others, operate to further the US agenda for global dominance that requires a selfish pursuit of geostrategic interests. Policy is guided by a near religious ideology of capitalism and private enterprise.
So, as one can clearly observe, this pattern is overwhelmingly imperial. Why has this happened and what purpose does it perform? Historian William Appleman Williams describes this extremely well in his 1980 book, “Empire As Way of Life”. By the late 1800s, US industrial and agricultural production exceeded the capacity of its domestic consumption. It had to seek expanded markets overseas to assure continued profits for the captains of industry and agriculture. Before Woodrow Wilson became president he was a lecturer at Columbia University where in 1907 he recommended that the United States “command the economic fortunes of the world”. He explained: “Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed must be battered down…in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused”.
Growing up in US America conditions us to believe in our exceptionalism. We are insulated psychologically and intellectually from the rest of the world, just as the oceans on our east and west have insulated our country geographically. In the United States, abiding by the mythology of the “American Way Of Life” has, at least until recently, generally guaranteed a comfortable material life for Eurocentric people. There’s a reason for our comfort, however, that becomes visible when we are able to look beyond the illusions of the myth. As early as 1948, George Kennan, head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Committee, authored the following, brutally honest internal document: “We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population. . . . Our real task . . . is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. . . . We should cease to talk about . . . unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization . . . [W]e are going to have to deal in straight power concepts”.
Noam Chomsky has concluded that the United States is really only interested in a “Fifth Freedom” (a take-off on FDR’s speech in which he listed four essential freedoms - freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of religion) — the freedom to send in the marines when any group of people or a nation interferes with our ability to steal, plunder and murder at will in order to enhance our way of life and profits.
Though the statistics are a little different from Kennan’s 1948 data, the grotesque disparity continues: The US possesses but 4.6 percent of the world’s population but consumes anywhere from 25 percent to nearly half the world’s resources (depending on the resource examined). In essence, the United States can maintain this grotesque disparity only through force or its threat. This is the way our civilization was founded, and to date it knows no other way than arrogance, violence, and theft, while pretending (deluded by) noble “exceptionalism.” To this day it has enjoyed virtual total impunity for the millions murdered and maimed in its path. Our “national security” requires maintaining our insatiable consumption in relation to the remainder of the rest of the world, and to assure the obscene riches flowing to the captains of finance and corporations. Ironically, our collective material consumption is a major political force that enables huge oligarchic profits to continue. And the “captains” of money virtually own the political system to assure business as usual. The “Fifth Freedom” is necessary to assure our system’s plunder enabling a few of the world’s people to forcefully maintain their gross disparity.
So, in essence, in order to preserve our USA position of material superiority (insatiable consumption for the masses while guaranteeing exorbitant profits for a few), neoliberal globalism requires what Woodrow Wilson recommended in 1907: that “that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused”. If any political movement, political group, nation or ideology is deemed to be a threat to our “full spectrum dominance”, that threat must be eliminated one way or another. “The doors of the nations which are closed must be battered down”. Thus our belligerence and barbarity continue under the rationale of preserving “American exceptionalism”, the Grand Lie and delusion. It will kill us all and most life on the earth if not arrested. It is incumbent upon us to encourage people to sincerely look at and understand the historical patterns of our national cultural and historical behavior as a pre-condition for attaining our dignity as part of the loving human community.
In 1961 moral philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, a Jew, watched the trial of Adolf Eichmann (April – August), the architect of moving Jews to the Nazi gas chambers. She was surprised to discover that he was “neither perverted nor sadistic”. Instead, she wrote, Eichmann and many others just like him “were, and still are, terrifyingly normal”. In his defense, Eichmann and many other Nazis argued they were simply law-abiding men implementing the ordered policies of their government – policies that included exterminating millions of people.1 Arendt described the capacity of ordinary people to commit extraordinary evil as a result of social pressure or within a certain social setting, as “the banality of evil”.
The “banality of evil” was not unique to the Nazis. Eichmann’s trial began on April 11, 1961, and only three months after the start of the trial, a social psychologist at Yale University in July 1961 began a series of experiments to better understand the nature of obedience to authority. The results were shocking. Stanley Milgram carefully screened subjects to be Participants representing typical U.S. Americans. Briefed on the importance of following orders, they were instructed to press a lever inflicting what they believed were gradually escalating series of shocks at fifteen-volt increments every time the nearby Learner/actor made a mistake in a word-matching task. The Experimenter/authority figure calmly insisted that the experiment must continue, even when the Learners began screaming in pain. A startling 65 percent of the Participants administered the most dangerous level of electricity—a level that might have killed someone actually receiving the shocks. Additional experiments were conducted over the years at other universities in the United States, and in at least nine other countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia and all revealed similar high rates of compliance to authority. A 2008 study designed to replicate the Milgram obedience experiments while avoiding several of its most controversial aspects, found similar results.2
Milgram announced the study’s most fundamental lesson: Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process . . . The most common adjustment of thought in the obedient subject is for him(her) to see himself as not responsible for his (her) own actions. . . . He(she) sees himself(herself) not as a person acting in a morally accountable way but as the agent of external authority. “doing one’s duty” that was heard time and again in the defense statements of those accused at Nuremberg. . . . In complex society it is psychologically easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of evil action but is far from the final consequences. . . . Thus there is a fragmentation of the total human act; no one man(woman) decides to carry out the evil act and is confronted with its consequences.3
Milgram reminded us that a critical examination of our own history reveals a “democracy” of installed authority no less tyrannical, thriving on an obedient population of insatiable consumers dependent upon the terrorization of others, citing destruction of the original Indigenous inhabitants, dependence upon slavery of millions, internment of Japanese Americans, and the use of napalm against Vietnamese civilians.4
In the same vein, a 1971 experiment designed to study the effects of overt authority on humans was conducted by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, coincidentally a New York City high school classmate of Milgram. Called the Stanford Prison Experiment, a volunteer group of twenty-four college students was selected, based on their history of being well-adjusted young adults, to play the role of prisoner or guard in a simulated prison setting at Stanford University in California. Originally designed to last fourteen days, Zimbardo had to end the experiment after six days because the “guards” became so physically abusive and sadistic, and the “prisoners” so depressed and emotionally disturbed, that he feared permanent harm was being done to the participants’ psyches. Zimbardo himself was shocked at how quickly “ordinary” persons became perpetrators of evil. He concluded that almost anyone in the right “situational” circumstance can be induced to abandon deeply held moral principles and cooperate in violence and oppression demonstrating an easy transformation from the good Dr. Jekyll to the evil Mr. Hyde.5
Defection Not Allowed
Retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a professor of military science, has argued that humans have a deep, innate resistance to killing that requires the military to develop special training techniques to overcome.6 I had been unable to thrust my bayonet into a dummy during my USAF ranger training. But if I had been an army grunt instead of an Air Force officer, and a few years younger, I wondered, would I have killed on command? The military was very unhappy when I refused to use my bayonet, because the military is well-aware that men can only be made to kill by coercion. The tyranny needed to make an army work is fierce, as it knows it cannot allow dialogue about its mission and must quickly patch any cracks in the blind obedience system. As Milgram reported, “the defection of a single individual, as long as it can be contained, is of little consequence. He will be replaced by the next man in line. The only danger to military functioning resides in the possibility that a lone defector will stimulate others”7.
My commanders placed me on the Officer Control Roster, meted out royal scoldings behind closed doors of their offices, threatened to charge me with court-martial offenses, shamed me over and over, and accused me of being a coward and traitor who was creating morale problems that interfered with our mission. I was ordered out of Viet Nam a month earlier than scheduled, and there was threat of a court-martial which fortunately never materialized.
Zimbardo suggests a flip side to the social pathology of obedience to authority. Citing situational historic acts of heroism by a number of people including Rosa Parks who refused to sit in the “colored” section of the bus, McCarthy-era truth-telling journalists George Seldes and I.F. Stone, Army Sergeant Joe Darby who exposed the Abu Ghraib tortures, the first responders to the World Trade Center collapse on 9/11, Army Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson’s intervention in the My Lai massacre along with his two door gunners, Glen Andreotta and Larry Colburn, and the repeated historic actions over a lifetime as exhibited by people such as Mohandas Gandhi, Zimbardo suggests the capacity of humans for the “banality of goodness” or the “banality of heroism” as well. But it does require certain situational factors and conscious preparation to constrain the systemic forces that tend to shape us into automatons capable of monstrous acts.
Nuremberg Actions – Concord, CA Naval Weapons Station
At Concord, CA Naval Weapons, we called ourselves Nuremberg Actions, honoring with the presence of our bodies the Principles of Nuremberg, which prescribe disobedience to illegal orders and encourages ordinary citizens to do whatever they deem reasonably necessary to stop government crimes. (The Nuremberg Principles emerged out of the Nuremberg trials conducted by the Allies to prosecute Germany’s Nazi war criminals following World War II.) I believe that each of us chooses our path in life. The train crew on September 1, 1987 chose to follow illegal orders to not stop, and for that I condemn them. But I also have empathy for them. They are living the way I used to live; they were brainwashed as I was into believing they were protecting the American Way Of Life when accelerating the train running us over. They later sued me for traumatic stress. I’m sure they do have post-traumatic stress syndrome, but I am not the cause. The cause of their stress, and mine, is a system that runs roughshod over individuals even while demanding our dumbed-down obedience to authority.
Cultural Conditioning Contradicts Our Natural Beings
Of course, on closer examination, we discover the myth of this image of ourselves, since vast swaths of U.S. Americans have not benefited from a system that egregiously violates human rights while failing to meet basic human needs, despite rhetoric to the contrary. And now the short-lived, post–World War II middle class itself is deteriorating. And what can I say about an education system that really doesn’t value critical thinking? In fact it teaches obedience.8
I don’t want my life defined by a bunch of White men (or anyone acting like them) who ask others to kill and risk being killed to protect their money or career/ego interests. Was the purpose of thousands of years of evolution merely to send young people like me to Viet Nam and other countries to risk our own lives as we are ordered by another person to kill other, usually stranger men and women? I don’t think so. But to be true to myself, I have had to learn the art of constructive disobedience. Obedience has been our paradigm for so long, that apparently we need an epistemological break to shatter our passive obedience to vertical authority. We are capable of developing a deeper consciousness that mindfully disobeys top-down authority while seeking wholeness in community.
The ability to live as cooperative beings in small cultural units is already embedded within us as part of our evolutionary genetic history. We simply need to access it in our bodies. For centuries it has been blocked by the familiar, and therefore comfortable, conception of the world dominated by the dualism of Cartesian thinking—the terribly misguided idea that our feelings (our bodies) can be separated from our thoughts (minds) or that we as a species are somehow set apart from and superior to the rest of the natural world. We create ourselves. We are shaped by tradition, but we also create tradition. We can change whatever is necessary to survive. Thus, we humans make ourselves.9
Lewis Mumford, an intellectual giant and cultural historian, and contemporary of V. Gordon Childe, echoes this: “What the human mind has created, it can also destroy”.10 And, therefore, we create anew.
As a young man, I believed in the American Way Of Life. Just obey! Don’t question our formula for success, or our way of life. It is the greatest! Obedience of the masses enables power to preserve its control. But after tragedy, trauma and struggle, I began discovering a different Brian. When I was born on the fourth of July in 1941, I was born into the American Way Of Life. Embedded deeply within me, and each of us, however, are our species’ characteristics of cooperation and mutual respect, developed in small groups that prevailed until the advent of hierarchical “civilization” and its required obedience some six thousand years ago. I now realize that it is the American Way Of Life that is truly AWOL. As with all empires, it took a criminal departure from our deepest humanity. If my journey has a direction, it is to rediscover the psychological, spiritual wholeness that the Western way of life discourages and discards.
Another huge change occurred around 5,500 years ago, or 3500 BCE, when these relatively small Neolithic villages began mutating into larger urban “civilizations.” Domestication of plants and animals was followed by the domestication of people—creating slavery, class divisions, and imperial societies whose expansion was driven by the acquisition of more materials (and profits) enabled by slave labor. Over time, civilization, which we have been taught to think of as so beneficial for the human condition, has proven severely traumatic for our species, not to mention for other species and the earth’s ecosystem. As modern members of our species (excluding the lucky Indigenous societies that somehow escaped assimilation), we have been stuck in this model of large vertical power complexes requiring massive obedience now for three hundred generations.
With “civilization,” a new organizational idea emerged—what cultural historian Lewis Mumford calls a “megamachine” comprised totally of human parts to perform tasks on a colossal scale never before imagined.11 In Mumford’s analysis, civilization saw the creation of a bureaucracy directed by a power complex of an authority figure (a king) with scribes and speedy messengers, which organized labor machines (masses of workers) to construct pyramids, irrigation systems, and huge grain storage systems among other structures, all enforced by a military. Its features were centralization of power, separation of people into classes and lifetime division of forced labor and slavery, arbitrary inequality of wealth and privilege, and military power and war.12 Mumford makes clear his bias that autonomy in small groups is a human archetype that has become repressed in deference to obedience to technology and bureaucracy. The creation of human urban civilization has brought about patterns of systematic violence and warfare previously unknown,13 what Andrew Schmookler calls the “original sin” of civilization,14 and Mumford, “collective paranoia and tribal delusions of grandeur”15.
Joseph Conrad, in his 1899 novel Heart of Darkness, captured this ugly side of humans, depicting how “civilization” covers over the harsh realities of the cruel exploitation upon which it is built.16
“Surplus,” a sanitized word for the accumulation of wealth, bred another new problem – institutionalized greed. Initially this was manifested in king-directed city-states and early empires. Eminent social scientist Riane Eisler argues that patriarchy (Eisler prefers the term “andocracy”) gradually replaced goddess cultures with a warring male dominator model destroying a cooperative, partnership one.17 Reportedly, 14,600 wars have occurred during the 5,600 years of written history.18
“Civilization” has required massive civil obedience to enable vertical authority structures to prevail. Autonomous freedoms that people once enjoyed in pre-civilization tribal groups now defer to belief in authority structures and their controlling ideologies, which have been described as oppressive “domination hierarchies” where private property and male subjugation of women prevail, by force if necessary.19 The emergence of vertical authority structures, the rule of kings and nobles, ripped people from historical patterns of living in small tribal groups causing a primordial breach. Along with forced stratification, the separation of people from their intimate connections with the earth produced deep insecurity, fear, and trauma to the psyche. Ecopyschologists suggest that such fragmentation led to an ecological unconscious.20
This trauma is exacerbated by the acceptance of vertical authority structures that require us to bury unpleasant feelings of unworthiness and invalidity that are associated with class. These feelings can quickly turn to shame, a dreaded emotion that remains buried so deeply in our psyche that we normally do not recognize it.
A major consequence of civilization, then, is that each of us likely nurses deep psychic trauma in the form of insecurity and shame. These feelings are usually so unbearable that to create viable personas we must develop defense mechanisms to mask them. Carl Jung described how we often play a trick on ourselves by projecting our dark inner shadows onto others. Arrogance rather than humility, ignorance rather than awareness, and violence against “others” rather than mutual respect, became major mechanisms to relieve the anxiety created by these insecurities.21
Denial serves as a convenient, unconscious defense mechanism that covers over or obscures painful reality. Because our official life as a nation is enabled and built on collective denial of extremely painful realities—the dispossession of others—fantasy politics in the U.S. has become a way of life in our country.22
Individual psychic defenses are reflected in the development of civilization itself, as successive generations of shame-based upbringing and shame-based ethics have led civilized cultures to systemic patterns of violence, a “poisonous pedagogy”23 , and a “pathology of violence”24 . Ancestral desire for collective mutuality has been turned into collective blood-lust against our “enemies”25 . Societies based on materialism have hampered the development of deeper human relationships based on mutual respect and caring.26
1. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963; New York: Penguin Books, 1994), 276.
2. Lisa M. Krieger, “Shocking Revelation: Santa Clara University Professor Mirrors Famous Torture Study,” San Jose Mercury News, December 20, 2008.
3. Stanley Milgram, “The Perils of Obedience,” Harper’s, December 1973, 62–66, 75–77; Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974; New York: Perennial Classics, 2004), 6–8, 11.
4. Milgram, 1974, 179.
5. In general, see Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House, 2007). Zimbardo distinguishes dispositional (personal) factors, from situational (social) and systemic (political) ones, concluding that the situational is far more powerful than the other two.
6. Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Boston: Little, Brown, 1995).
7. Milgram, 1974, 182.
8. See, for example, John Taylor Gotto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (Philadelphia: New Society, 1992), that describes a typical school mandate of teaching kids indifference and passivity while shattering their self-esteem, in effect a cruel assault on their humanity through a system of bells, grades, constant evaluation and various forms of coercion and punishment that ensure conformity and downright stupidity; Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1971) describing the process of how our society treats learning as a commodity that has created a generation of obedient, compliant people who follow rules without ever questioning whether their obedience interferes with their morality or values; or Paul Goodman, Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System (New York: Random House, 1960), 5, that describes how the child takes on the whole corresponding pattern of culture such that it diminishes discrimination, intellect, feelings, etc., such that he/she becomes too obedient and lacking in initiative or impractically careful and squeamish.
9. V. Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself (1936; New York: New American Library, 1983), xviii–xix, 179–80. Childe was an Australian archaeologist who, in this brilliant essay, synthesizes archaeology with philosophy, history, and the social sciences, arguing that the first significant break in humans’ past was the shift from Old Stone Stage food-gatherers to New Stone Age agriculturalists, what he called the Neolithic Revolution. The second break was the emergence of urban dwellers from the New Stone Age agriculturalists, to what he called the Urban Revolution. The latter produced the new idea of civilization, which led to plundering empires that were, in effect, tribute-collecting machines maintained by war for the benefit of the vertical monarchies. The vast majority of people, however, suffered from severe degradation. But Childe insists that nothing that humans create is fixed and immutable, that “Man makes himself”, that choices for change are always available.
10. Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power (1964; New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1970), 421.
11. Mumford started critiquing civilization in the early 1920s. Among his works are two complementary books: The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power (1964; New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1970) and The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1967). Mumford, born in 1895 in urban Flushing, New York, was a brilliant observer of the traumatic effects on humans and the earth of so-called civilization, and his thinking on the long view remains extremely illuminating.
12. Mumford, 1967, 186.
13. Ashley Montagu, The Nature of Human Aggression (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 43–53, 59–60; Ashley Montagu, ed., Learning Non-Aggression: The Experience of Non-Literate Societies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); Jean Guilaine and Jean Zammit, The Origin of War: Violence in Prehistory, trans. Melanie Hersey (2001; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).
14. Andrew B. Schmookler, Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds That Drive Us to War (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 303.
15. Mumford, 1967, 204.
16. First published in serial 1899, book 1902: Heart of Darkness, written by Polish-born English novelist Joseph Conrad (1857–1924), was originally published in 1899 as a three-part series in Blackwood’s Magazine (U.K.). It is considered one of the most-read works of the last hundred years, largely an autobiographical description of Conrad’s six-month journey in 1890 into the “Congo Free State,” at the time being plundered by Belgium. In fact the story could apply to almost anyplace in the world where European nations, later the United States, plundered peoples for profits and material privileges without acknowledging the terrible, ugly consequences. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 movie Apocalypse Now translates the “Heart of Darkness” to Viet Nam and Cambodia. Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost (New York: A Mariner Book, 1999) describes the diabolical exploitation of the Congo Free State by King Leopold II of Belgian between 1885 and 1908. Estimates of murdered Congolese in this period run as high as 13 million. Please don’t read this as if this is something that the United States or other European nations would not do, or have not done. Indeed the U.S. and Europe are founded on these practices, all under the cover of “civilization”.
17. Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987).
18. James Hillman, A Terrible Love of War (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004), 17.
19. Etienne de la Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, trans. Harry Kurz (ca. 1553; Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997), 46, 58–60; Eisler, 45–58, 104–6.
20. Roszak, Gomes, and Kanner, eds , Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1995). Ecopsychology concludes that there can be no personal healing without healing the earth, and that rediscovering our sacred relationship with it, i.e., our intimate earthiness, is indispensable for personal and global healing and mutual respect.
21. Michael A. Milburn and Sheree D. Conrad, The Politics of Denial (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996), 1–29.
22. Milburn, 23.
23. Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1983), 3–91.
24. James Gilligan, Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), 1–85.
25. Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1997).
26. Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1902, 1989.
When I was kid growing up in Geneva in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, I was fascinated with collecting arrowheads from the previous civilization that lived there until wiped out in 1779 by the Continental Revolutionary Army. Then it was called Kanadesaga, the headquarters for the forty-strong village network of the Seneca Nation, one of the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy. I did not know the real history of what happened to the Iroquois, and the Seneca, because nobody had told me.
Washington’s Orders in 1779 to “lay waste” and “total ruinment” of the Iroquois Confederacy
In 1779, the largest battles of the Revolutionary War were conducted in central New York. On February 25, 1779, Commander-in-Chief General George Washington submitted to the Continental Congress plans for a major Indian expedition, which the Congress authorized.1 The first of four major military invasions, one little known, against the Iroquois occurred in April when Colonel Goose Van Schaick with more than 500 soldiers moved against the Onondaga settlements in east central New York State, “laying waste their towns and crops, slaughtering their cattle and horses, and carrying off thirty-three prisoners”.2
Planning for the remaining invasions from three different directions were outlined, all converging on central and western New York in the heart of Iroquois country, especially the Seneca. General John Sullivan, overall in charge, with 2,500 forces, was to ready his forces at Easton, Pennsylvania in late April to move north upon orders. General James Clinton with 1,500 men, was to begin in Schenectady, New York and move south on the Unadilla and Susquehanna Rivers to later join Sullivan’s forces in Tioga, Pennsylvania, just south of the border with central New York not far from Elmira. Colonel Brodhead with 600 men, was to start out at Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) and move up the Allegheny River toward western New York.
Previously, Washington did not have the manpower to adequately fortify the frontier, but in 1779 the British began to concentrate their military efforts in the southern colonies, proving an “opportunity” to launch an offensive towards Fort Niagara on the Canadian border in western New York.
From his New Jersey military headquarters, Supreme Commanding General George Washington, who considered the Indians as “beasts of prey”3, issued his final orders on May 31, 1779, to launch the invasions:
The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects 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 now in the ground and prevent their planting more.
I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed.
But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.4
Chronicle of the Massacre
In June, Clinton began his march from Schenectady southwest to Otsego Lake, the head of the Susquehanna River. On August 9, with 1,500 men and 220 flatboats floating on the crest of a frontal wave formed by creating, then breaking, a dam at the river’s mouth, they were carried to Tioga, Pennsylvania where they arrived on August 22. Similarly, Sullivan marched west from Easton to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, then marched up the Susquehanna and Wyoming valley toward Tioga (Athens, Pennsylvania) where he arrived on August 11, to await Clinton. Meanwhile Brodhead was moving north up the Allegheny River valley to Fort Venango then onto Conewango in western New York.5
When Sullivan’s and Clinton’s forces merged with more than 4,000 men on August 22, they began preparations for their scorched earth campaign into the heart of Iroquois country, first into New York’s southern tier, then into the Finger Lakes region. At Newtown along the Chemung River near Elmira, New York, the Sullivan-Clinton forces armed with artillery overwhelmed 500 Indians under the direction of Brant and 250 Tory rangers. The Indians and Tories fled in an attempt to regroup 70 miles further to the northwest at Genesee. As it turned out Sullivan’s forces were so numerous and overpowering this was the only major battle that took place during this month-long expedition. By September 7, the Continental Army forces had moved up the east side of 40-mile long Seneca Lake and had arrived in the village where I was to be born nearly 162 years later in Geneva, then called Kanadesaga.6
Even the Continental Army soldiers were impressed with the exceptionally well-built towns and houses, the beautiful orchards of apple and peach trees, and extensive corn, beans and squash crops, the Iroquois staples. In Indian town after town, the new “American” army destroyed everything – all homes, crops and fruit trees. Even graves were plundered as soldiers looked for possible burial items of value. Soldiers committed gruesome acts like skinning bodies “from the hips down for bootlegs”7 . Virtually all Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, and Seneca towns had been totally destroyed.8
General Sullivan’s Description of “Laying Waste”
When the expedition was completed at the end of September, Sullivan issued a report to the Continental Congress:
“The loss of the enemy was much greater that was at first apprehended. [A]t Newtown…I suppose them to have been 1500 (p. 298). [S]aw… Indians, killed and scalped (p. 300). The number of towns destroyed by this army amounted to 40 besides scattering houses. The quantity of corn destroyed, at a moderate computation, must amount to 160,000 bushels, with a vast quantity of vegetables of every kind. Every creek and river has been traced, and the whole country explored in search of Indian settlements, and I am well persuaded that, except one town situated near the Allegana (sic), about 50 miles from Chinesee (sic), there is not a single town left in the country of the Five nations. It is with pleasure I inform Congress that this army has not suffered the loss of forty men in action…”(p. 303) (Italics added).
On the centennial of the Sullivan scorched earth campaign, Reverend Craft, a Presbyterian minister at Wyalusing, Bradford County, Pennsylvania (between Wyoming and Tioga), delivered the following address that celebrated the devastation by Sullivan’s exploits in Kanadesaga: […p. 364] Early in the morning of the 7th [September 1779], the army again struck tents, and after marching about eight miles, came to the foot of Seneca lake, about five miles from Kanadesaga, where expecting an attack, the army halted and reconnoitered the ground. Finding no enemy they proceeded keeping close to the bank of the lake on account of a bad marsh on their [p. 365] right. In about half a mile they came to the outlet, a rapid running stream from twenty to thirty yards wide and knee deep. Fording this the army re-formed on the high ground on the left bank and marched about half a mile with a narrow marsh between them and the lake; they then came to a large morass or quagmire, now known as the “soap mine” and were compelled to pass a narrow and dangerous defile along the lake shore, which was flooded at intervals. Emerging from this, they encountered another morass now known as Marsh Creek, thence by a narrow path along the beach they came to a cornfield and Butler’s buildings, consisting of four or five houses at the north-west corner of the lake near the present canal bridge in Geneva. The path then lay along the north side of Castle Brook to Kanadesaga, an important Seneca town, of about fifty houses, surrounded by orchards and cornfields, distant nearly two miles in a westerly or north-westerly direction from the foot of Seneca Lake, General Maxwell’s Brigade going to the right and General Hands’ to the left to gain the rear and surround the town.
Kanadesaga was a large and important town, ]366] with orchards of apple, peach and mulberry trees surrounding the town. Fine gardens with onions, peas, beans, squashes, potatoes, turnips, cabbages, cucumbers, water melons, carrots and parsnips, abounded; and large cornfields were to the north and northeast of the town. All were destroyed on the 8th of September.9
Historian Page Smith declared that “Sullivan’s campaign was the most ruthless application of a scorched-earth policy in American history. Its destruction bears comparison with Sherman’s march to the sea or the search-and-destroy missions of American soldiers in the Vietnam war. The Iroquois Confederacy was the most advanced Indian federation in the New World. It had made a territory that embraced the central quarter of New York State into an area of flourishing farms with well-cultivated fields and orchards and sturdy houses. Indeed, I believe it could be argued that the Iroquois had carried cooperative agriculture far beyond anything the white settlers had achieved. In a little more than a month all of this had been wiped out”.10
Declaration of Independence, “merciless Indian Savages”
On July 4, 1776, the US American Declaration of Independence from the British Empire penned by Thomas Jefferson was adopted by the 1st Continental Congress. Jefferson severely excoriated Great Britain’s King George for, among many things, exciting “domestic insurrection amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions”.
Who Are the Real “merciless Savages”
In 1966, I was drafted out of my fourth semester of law school. In 1969 I “served” as a USAF Combat Security Police Section Leader in Viet Nam where I witnessed barbaric atrocities from bombings of inhabited, undefended villages. After I began speaking out against the criminal and lawlessness of the war my commander ordered me returned to the United States. Upon departure, in my parting words I reminded my commander of Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, “merciless Indian Savages”. I informed him that I now know who the merciless savages are – of course, they are us. I was one of them even as I personally had not pulled any triggers or dropped any bombs.
The truth of this brutal history, and that of more than 560 US military interventions since 1798, and hundreds of battles against Indigenous Americans, was concealed in those arrowheads I collected when a young kid. If I had only known that my life would have been radically different. However, the fact will not be taught to us by our elders, our churches, our schools, or our politicians. But the truth is present for all to see when opening wide one’s hearts and eyes.
1. Sullivan/Clinton Campaign, Then and Now, http://sullivanclinton.com].
2. Colin G. Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 51; Anthony F. C. Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999), 141-42).
3. Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), 65.
4. Wikipedia, Sullivan Expedition; John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of George Washington (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, XV, 1936), 189-93; Drinnon, 331.
5. Wallace, Death, 142.
6. Wallace, 142-43).
7. Calloway, 51.
8. Wallace, 143-44.
9. Major Gen. Sullivan’s Official Report written at Teaogo, NY, September 30, 1779, submitted to the (unicameral) Continental Congress, presided by John Jay; Re-published in Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan Against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 With Records of Centennial Celebrations, prepared pursuant to Chapter 361, Laws of the State of New York, of 1885, by Frederick Cook, Secretary of State (Auburn, NY: Knapp, Peck & Thompson Printers, 1887), 298, 300, 303, 364-6; T.C. Amory, The Military Services and Public Life of Major General John Sullivan (Boston, Mass.: Wiggin & Lunt, (1868, reprod. 1968), 130, & c.; A. T. Norton, History of Sullivan’s Campaign Against the Iroquois (Lima, NY: A.T. Norton, 1879).
10. Page Smith, A New Age Now Begins, Vol Two (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976), 1172.
Case Study Using Data From the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP is the one jurisdiction administering penal facilities in the United States that has maintained relatively accurate records since its 1930 founding, even though definitions of race have not been consistent.
1. Incarcerated federal prisoners on June 30, 1952 totaled 18,896 (75% White, 25% Nonwhite). [Federal Prisons 1952, Report of the Work of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Table 18, p. 75]
2. Incarcerated federal prisoners on an average day in 1970 totaled about 21,000 (71% White, 29% Nonwhite). [FBOP Annual Reports and BOP periodical data sheets]
NOTE: November 13, 1969, President Nixon ordered Attorney General John Mitchell to prepare a 10-year federal corrections system “reform” plan to construct new prisons and modernize existing ones. The BOP created its Long Range Master Plan (LRMP).
3. Incarcerated federal prisoners on September 11, 1977 totaled 30,343 (60.5% White, 39.5%. Nonwhite) [BOP Annual Reports and BOP periodical data sheets]
4. Between 1972 (when the BOP unveiled publicly its first LRMP) and 1977, the Bureau opened 21 new penal facilities capable of housing nearly 6,000 additional prisoners. In that same period of time the number of Nonwhite federal prisoners increased by approximately the same number — 6,000! In effect, the initial prison expansion was “reserved” exclusively for Nonwhite prisoners which proved to be a catastrophic prophetic warning of increased racial repression for the years ahead. When the rapid expansion began, especially after 1975 which revealed the first expansion in rates’ trends in BOP history, the incarcerated federal prisoner population quickly rose by 45%, but Nonwhite prisoner population experienced an extraordinarily disproportionate increase of 97%!
5. Incarcerated federal prisoners in September 2004 totaled 153,084 in BOP facilities, plus 27,234 in non-BOP contract facilities, for a grand total of 180,318 (24.5% White, 75.5% Nonwhite).
6. The BOP had an internal 2003 rated capacity of 106,046 prisoners. [Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2003, Table 8]. Thus, with over 153,000 internal prisoners (those not contracted out to private or state facilities) it operated at 144% capacity. Since 1970, the BOP’s internal capacity has risen from approximately 21,000 to 106,000 beds, a spectacular 300+% increase of 85,000 beds, while relying increasingly upon contractual facilities, which capacity has jumped from 4,000 to 27,000 beds, nearly a 500% explosive increase of 23,000 beds.
Thus, the BOP has over 34 years (1970-2003 inclusively) increased its capacity by a net additional 112,000 beds (85,000 + 27,000). In that same period of time, 1970-2003, the number of Nonwhite prisoners jumped an unbelievable 2,100%, from 6,100 in 1970 to more than 136,000 in 2003-04, an astonishing increase of 129,000 minority prisoners! Every one of the new 112,000 BOP beds has been filled by a Nonwhite prisoner!
Though White prisoners did jump more than 200%, from 14,000 in 1970 to 44,000 in 2003-04, an increase of 30,000, its rate pales when compared to the 2,100% increase for Nonwhite prisoners! The added BOP capacity of 112,000 beds easily accommodated 30,000 additional White prisoners. But even with this staggering expansion in prison capacity, the shocking explosion of Nonwhite prisoners has been produced by the rapidly expanding criminal law/crime control/industrial complex, including the ill-fated “war on drugs”. Over 54% of the FBOP’s inmates are doing time for drug offenses. [FBOP Quick Facts, September 2004]. This phenomena has dramatically outpaced the ability of the BOP to operate anything but a terribly overcrowded, racist system. [S. Brian Willson, “Racist Nature of Juvenile Facilities, Jails and Prisons in the United States” (Washington, DC: National Moratorium on Prison Construction, February 1978)].
The Broader Context of the US Love Affair With Incarceration and Torture
The US imprisons 2.5 million of its citizens on an average day in more than 9,000 jails and prisons, boasting the highest per capita detention rate in the world by far – 800 prisoners for every 100,000 people [Local jails: 745,000; state and federal adult prisons: 1,600,000; juvenile facilities: 141,000; and immigrant detention: 34,000 = Grand Total: 2,520,000 U.S. prisoners]. Rwanda has the second highest detention rate at 595; Russia comes in third at 568. The world’s average per capita detention rate is 146.
Equally startling, is the fact that on an average day 6.9 million US Americans are on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole (under local, state or federal government “correctional” supervision), or 3.2% of U.S. adult residents (1 in every 32 adults). But on any given day, 30 percent of African-American males aged 20 to 29 are “under correctional supervision” [Tara Herivel and Paul Wright, Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor (London: Rouledge, 2003), 31].
More than 60 percent of US prisoners are from racial and ethnic minority groups yet they comprise only 36 percent of the general population. The US, with 4.6 percent of the world’s population, holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. At least 80,000 of these, and as many 110,000, are locked up in solitary confinement in facilities, often for years, such as at Pelican Bay Prison in California, and Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana, among dozens of locations. Being held in solitary for more than 15 days was determined in 2011 by the UN Special Rapporteur to begin devastating, often irreversible physical and mental ill effects, and is therefore considered torture. Force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes in the US is also not unusual, itself another form of torture in violation of international law. Solitary confinement inevitably contributes to increased risks of prison suicides, of which hundreds are reported every year.
I studied the regular use of torture in Massachusetts prisons in 1981, where force feeding of striking prisoners was common; as was the withholding of rights and privileges such as necessary medicine, mail, or winter clothing during cold weather; the imposition of hazards such as flooding cells, igniting clothes and bedding, providing too little or too much heat, and spraying mace and tear gas; inflicting physical beatings of prisoners filing prison complaints or litigation, of those protesting conditions using hunger strikes; and various forms of intentional psychological abuse such as arbitrary shakedown of cells and brutal rectal searches, ordering prisoners to lie face down on cold floors or the outside ground before receiving food, and empty announcements of visitors or family only later to say it was a joke.
During the Spanish-American war in the Philippines, President Teddy Roosevelt proudly defended water boarding torture as part of the arsenal of techniques to achieve “the triumph of civilization over the black chaos of savagery and barbarism” of the Filipinos, or “googoos”. In Haiti in 1920, the NAACP investigated the conduct of US Marines who were murdering thousands of Haitians while practicing widespread torture to overcome a Haitian revolt of “savage monkeys” against the continuing unwanted U.S. presence there. The word googoo morphed into “gook” as the derogatory term used by US soldiers against the Vietnamese.
In 1931 President Hoover’s Wickersham Report (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement) concluded that the use of torture (intentional infliction of various methods of pain and suffering) was “widespread” throughout the entire US criminal justice system. The US school of the Americas has been teaching torture (“interrogation”) to Latin American military personnel since 1946.
Over dependence on Incarceration and torture are US American values.
The first authors who alerted me to the nature and problems of corporations were Morton J. Horowitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 (Harvard University Press, 1977); and Edwin Sutherland’s White Collar Crime (Dryden Press, 1949), which edition conveniently omitted the explosive list of criminal corporations and their list of violations. The UNCUT version was published posthumously in 1983 by Yale University Press, 34 years after the Dryden edition, 33 years after Sutherland’s death.
Horowitz‘ book describes development of U.S. corporations from the municipality (1700s) carrying out public functions, to the business corporation in the 1800s organized to pursue private ends for individual gain. The Dartmouth College Case (Sup Ct, 1819) held that a corporate charter was a private contract. Political and economic power had shifted from precommercial and antidevelopmental common law values, to merchant and entrepreneurial ones, a radical transformation accomplished a decade before the Civil War. The rise of legal formalism subordinated natural laws and custom to disproportionate economic concentration in individuals or corporations, with the latter allowed to “contract out” pre-existing legal obligations. Law was no longer paternalistic or protective of the moral sense of the community at-large, but a device to facilitate individual and corporate desires for achieving economic and political power. It was the legal transfer of power from workers, farmers, and local consumers to the mostly White men of commerce and industry. Thus, was witnessed the active redistribution of wealth waged against the “weakest” groups in society who did not sufficiently revolt against the increasing stratification that was becoming entrenched in the political-economic structure of the Republic itself. This was unfolding before the 1886 Supreme Court case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, that in some cases personhood includes corporations, apparently due to a clerk’s fraudulent (mis)interpretation of the Justice’s decision in that case. However, as can be seen, the idea of corporate personhood was already a happening policy in practice.
This was consistent with the theme of the Constitution as a document with one fundamental purpose to create a national political system to preserve commercial and financial interests. It created a system of checks and balances that strengthen private power with a Bill of Rights that protects monied interests and individuals in their pursuit of property while failing to guarantee genuine freedom of fair participation and liberty. Jefferson had described the new republic as an ”empire of liberty” while Madison described it as an “imperial republic.”
Edwin Sutherland, one of the leading criminologists of the 20th century, gave his presidential address before the American Sociological Society in 1939 that shook up the professional “crime control” community. His presentation, entitled, “The White Collar Criminal,” altered the study of crime in fundamental ways by focusing on lawbreaking by persons in positions of power. He talked about the collusion between businessmen and politicians, and suggested the root causes of crime lie within the values of the social system itself and its corresponding structures. He spent the next 10 years extensively researching this subject of “White Collar Crime,” published ultimately by Dryden Press in 1949, but not before it demanded that Sutherland write a final chapter on theory of crime, AND that the chapter on naming criminal corporations be deleted from the book.
He concluded that White Collar crimes are very frequent and, therefore, that “crime” cannot be attributed to poverty and its related pathologies. Only the type of “crime” could be generally associated with socio-economic class, but the damage to society became more severe as one examined the heretofore exempted crimes of the wealthy.
In 1983, Yale University subsequently published his 1949 book without the deletions of criminal corporations/organizations. This explosive chapter summarized 980 decisions of courts and administrative bodies made against serious unlawful behaviors of the 70 largest manufacturing, mining, and mercantile corporations in the U.S., discovering an average of 14 formal decisions of unlawful or criminal behavior per corporation over their average life span of 45 years. A separate chapter examined the crimes and unlawful behavior during time of War of those 70 corporations. This revealed substantial padding of the costs to reduce reported profits, the systematic juggling of financial data, illegally selling munitions to enemy nations, etc. Thus proved beyond doubt that profits are way more important than patriotism. Sutherland quoted Eugene Grace, the president of Bethlehem Steel: “Patriotism is a very beautiful thing, but it must not be permitted to interfere with business” (White Collar, p. 190). And he quoted Pierre DuPont, president of his family gunpowder company: We cannot assent to allowing our patriotism to interfere with our duties as trustees (White Collar, p. 190). This latter quote is taken from the U.S. Senator (R-WI) Nye Committee Report (1934-36) examining the role played by U.S. businessmen inducing the nation’s entrance into WWI through various violations of State department policies.
Ah, yes, the trustees must preserve their profits, while we accept public decay and deterioration. Bring on the revolt, revive the central role of the human in our evolutionary journey, and pray that we shall soon understand our need to cease any further the politics of our obedience to voluntary servitude.