Terror and Preventive War are “American” Values

May 1, 2005

Systematic use of terror and preventive war are historic U.S. American values. Their roots are directly and inextricably interconnected to the defense mechanism we call racism. The defining and enabling experience of the Republic of the United States is the genocidal elimination of the human beings who originally lived on our lands. Eurocentric racism and so-called divinely inspired ethnocentrism have been inherent characteristics facilitating the “development ” of our civilization through a long history of brutal exploitation of land, labor, and natural resources. Once the Pacific Ocean was reached the attitude began to spread outward until it now stretches to every corner of the globe. These values did not originate with the United States but date to the first urban civilizations in the Fertile Crescent some 5500 years ago.

Nonetheless, most of us were raised to believe that the United States is an “exceptional” civilization, superior to all others in history. Americans have historically died and killed to maintain this belief. After my military experience, however, I was motivated to seriously study history for the first time.

Captain John Smith of the Virginia colony in the early 1600s referred to our original inhabitants as “subanimals” and “beasts” worthy only of “extermination.” Puritan leader John Endicott of the Massachusetts Bay Colony regularly ordered “death” to the Pequot Indians. Our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, refers to our original inhabitants as “merciless savages” and George Washington termed them “beasts of prey” to be “destroyed.” European settlers regularly called them “brutes” or “vermin” to be “eliminated.” General William Tecumseh Sherman in the 1870s ordered “extermination” as the “final solution” to the “Indian problem.” Hitler later took note.

During what we call the Spanish-American War, 1898-1902, U.S. forces fought against Filipino citizens, calling them “goo-goos,” while murdering upwards of a half million of them under orders such as “burn and kill the natives” issued by General Jacob H. (“Hell-Raising”) Smith to U.S. Marines.

Our Founding Father

The explicit origins of preventive/pre-emptive war through use of terror can be discerned in the behavior of our leading Founding Father. Continental Army Commanding General George Washington ordered Revolutionary War General John Sullivan in the summer of 1779 “to lay waste all the [Iroquois, especially Seneca] settlements around . . . 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 ruin 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” [italics added]. There it is — preventive war using terror.

Sullivan’s scouring of the countryside with axe and torch soon transformed that beautiful region from the character of a garden to sickening desolation. Sullivan’s campaign was nothing other than a scorched-earth policy, bearing comparison with Sherman’s Georgia march to the sea or the search-and-destroy missions of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. The Iroquois Confederacy was the most advanced Indian federation in the new World. It had made a territory that embraced the central portion of New York State into an area of flourishing farms, well-cultivated fields and orchards, and sturdy houses. In a little more than a month all of this had been wiped out.

But that simply prepared our civilization for the rest of the (his)story. Immediately after the Civil War, General Philip H. Sheridan described his mission to clear the west of Indigenous: “We took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this that they made war.” [SEE 200 Years: A Bicentennial Illustrated History of the United States, Vol. 2, U.S. News & World Report (1973).]

On hearing of the loss of Captain Fetterman’s entire detachment in 1866 near Fort Phil Kearney, General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote Commanding General Ulysses S. Grant: “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children. Nothing else will reach the root of this case.”

Thirty-five years later on Sumar (Philippines), General Jacob H. (“Hell-Roaring”) Smith issued Christmas Eve orders “to adopt a policy that will create in the minds of all the people a burning desire for the War to cease.” “Burn and kill the natives” soldiers appreciatively called the campaign. General Smith, an old Indian fighter, adopted tactics that had worked against Geronimo’s Apaches when they were captured, imprisoned, and finally herded into a reservation. He began by ordering all Filipino natives, under pain of death, out of the interior. Those who streamed down to the coast were immediately thrown into concentration camps.

Elihu Root, Secretary of War, under Presidents McKinley and T. R. Roosevelt, 1899-1904, justified the conduct of military operations in Samar by the “history and conditions of the warfare with the cruel and treacherous savages who inhabited the island,” citing two sustaining “precedents of the highest authority”: (1) General George Washington’s orders to general John Sullivan in 1779 to destroy the Iroquois, and (2) the “severity” General William Tecumseh Sherman proposed against the Sioux after the 1866 Fort Phil Kearny massacre.

Root unwittingly revealed two important truths. The first was that the national past contained authorizations of terror. The second was that throughout our past, justifications of traditional forms of violence had remained relatively fixed.

Nothing has changed!

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