Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The "Hobbesian Dystopia" That Was Indian America

An excerpt from the prologue of 2013's The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend:
    The Natives' astonishing capacity for cruelty was like nothing the whites had ever experienced. The Plains Indians had honed their war ethic for centuries, and their martial logic was not only fairly straightforward, but accepted by all tribes without challenge—no quarter asked, none given; to every enemy death, the slower and more excruciating the better. A defeated Crow, Pawnee, Cheyenne, Shoshone, or Sioux not immediately killed in battle would be subjugated to unimaginable torments for as long as he could stand the pain. Women of all ages were tortured to death, but not before being raped—unless they were young enough to be raped and then taken as captive slaves or hostages to be traded for trinkets, whiskey, or guns. Crying babies were a burden on the trail, so they were summarily killed, by spear, by war club, or by banging their soft skulls against rocks or trees so as not to waste arrows. On occasion, to replenish their gene pool—preteens of both sexes were spared execution, if not pitiless treatment. This was merely the way of life and death to the Indian: vae victis, woe to the conquered. All expected similar treatment should they fall.


    Captured whites were scalped, skinned, and roasted alive over their campfires, shrieking in agony as Indians yelped and danced about them like the bloody-eyed Achilles celebrating over the fallen Hector. Men's penises were hacked off and shoved down their throats and women were flogged with deer-hide quirts while being gang-raped. Afterward their breasts, vaginas, and even pregnant wombs were sliced away and laid out on the buffalo grass... [P]atrols rode often to the rescue, but almost always too late, finding victims whose eyeballs had been gouged out and left perched on the rocks, or the burning carcasses of men and women bound together by their own steaming entrails ripped from their insides while they were still conscious. The Indians, inured to this torture ethos, naturally fought one another to their last breath. The whites were at first astonished by this persistence, and most of the solders of the 18th Infantry had long since made unofficial pacts never to be taken alive.
Dances with Wolves this was not. This explains why John Wayne wanted to kill Natalie Wood in The Searchers (1956). So it also was with forest-dwellers in these parts; similar cruelties we read about in The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca and see in Black Robe (1991). Of course, none of this excuses any atrocities committed against Indians, but it does put them into context.

Let us compare the picture above drawn with that we read in "The Origins of International Law," the title given to the seventh chapter of Thomas E. Woods' How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, which explains how in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, Father Francisco de Vitoria, noting the abuses he saw, came to the conclusion that "[t]he treatment to which all human beings were entitled... derives from their status as men rather than as members of the faithful in the state of grace," concluding with this profound statement from Peruvian libertarian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa:
    Father Las Casas was the most active, although not the only one, of those nonconformists who rebelled against abuses inflicted upon the Indians. They fought against their fellow men and against the policies of their own country in the name of the moral principle that to them was higher than any principle of nation or state. This self-determination could not have been possible among the Incas or any of the other pre-Hispanic cultures. In these cultures, as in the other great civilizations of history foreign to the West, the individual could not morally question the social organism of which he was part, because he existed only as an integral atom of that organism and because for him the dictates of the state could not be separated from morality. The first culture to interrogate and question itself, the first to break up the masses into individual beings who with time gradually gained the right to think and act for themselves, was to become, thanks to that unknown exercise, freedom, the most powerful civilization of our world.
Amen, amen, amen.

Had only the Jesuit Missions in North America more time to work their good. The Guaraní Republic's Catholic Socialism, for all its utopian faults, stood quite in contrast to anything this "Hobbesian Dystopia" or the extermination that followed could offer.

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