Genocide By Any Other Name IsŠ

by Mitakuye Oyasin

Ethnic cleansing is a modern euphemism for genocide, the violent attempt by one race or culture to exterminate another. The term was first used in the indictment of German war criminals following World War II. Genocide is an ugly word befitting an ugly deed, and I have wondered why it has not been used to describe what is even now happening in Yugoslavia.

While I feel myself aching for the plight of the Albanians, the irony of the United States leading NATO forces in the bombing of the Serbs continues to pester my thinking. Where was the interference from foreign powers when my ancestors needed help?

Of course the white European transplants who invaded the homeland of my ancestors did not think of themselves as war criminals committing genocide. They coined another phrase to describe their version of ethnic cleansing. It was a popular phrase and caught on rapidly as a justification for wholesale theft of land and eradication of the ''hostile'' savages that were in their way. In fact, the phrase sounded as though it might come from the Bible or, at the very least, from Its Author. The phrase was Manifest Destiny. Talk about a euphemism for genocide! It's a wonder the Serbs haven't adopted it as their own.

The irony, then, is that what is happening in Yugoslavia today is a replay of the history of the United States. Jump in at the beginning and you have George Washington sending 5,000 troops to burn and destroy 40 villages of the Seneca, killing those who couldn't get away, and setting the rest up for certain starvation because their fields and storehouses were burned. Move on to the death march of the Cherokee and surrounding tribes instituted by Andrew Jackson and enforced by Van Buren. In between, you can sandwich BIackhawk and his people, run from their homelands by the treachery of William Henry Harrison before he became the 30-day President. Oh, and don't forget the Delaware, who were promised a state of their own and then treatied out of existence.

When it became evident that the Mississippi River would not stop the westward surge of greed for more land, the Great Plains became, at first, something to pass through to get to Oregon and other lands of the West. Then came Mr. Deere with his plow and new plans were laid with an eye for lands previously thought useless, which means they were good enough for the Indians, those who had been there and those who were shipped there from the East and the South. Now the squeeze was on to ''tame'' these savages by either killing them or putting them in prisons called reservations.

And in the Southwest, we must not overlook General James H. Carleton, who ordered Kit Carson and his troops to force the Navajo from their homes in Canyon de Chelly to the reservation known as Bosque Redondo in the arid lowlands of southeastern New Mexico. When Carson and his troops were finished, they had turned a prosperous community into a barren wasteland, and then forced the Navajo, under aimed guard, to march 300 miles in what is referred to today as ''The Long Walk.'' The Bataan Death March, which enraged many Americans against the Japanese, was only 80 miles by comparison.

ThIs is not an exhaustive presentation of the effects of Manifest Destiny. VoIumes have been filled itemizing acts of physical and cultural genocide by the United States against the Natives of the land.

In many cases, whether true or false, the rationalization was presented that, to safeguard the settlers, the Indians had to be tamed (killed, exited, jailed, moved, etc.). Frequently, the Indians of various tribes did go on a rampage of war against the white man, usually after much provocation by the settlers and/or the military.

Then, with a military victory to their credit, the government could do with the prisoners whatever suited them. This always resulted in confinement to a reservation, followed by the systematic destruction of Native culture. Children were forcibly removed to brainwashing centers called Indian schools where they learned that it was bad to speak their own language or celebrate their own social and religious heritage. The survivors of military ethnic cleansing thus became the victims of cultural genocide.

Only within the past few years has this begun to change. The first two centuries of existence for the United States are indelibly blackened by deeds no different from what the Serbs are doing to the Albanians. And so I ask the question: why? Why is America interfering in a civil war in Yugoslavia? If the reason is some newly found humanitarianism, then what about the dozen other places in the world where genocide is being practiced or has only recently concluded?

Could it be that the bombing of the Serbs has more to do with Monica than with Milesovic? Is Bill Clinton looking for something to be remembered by besides a cigar? Or is he just a pawn in the hands of the military-industrial complex which is anxious to try out its new technology? Don't get me wrong. I feel badly for the Albanians, but bombing hasn't helped them. It has probably done them more harm than good.

Maybe it's tine for America to become a leader for peace and to put down its sword before the prophecy is fulfilled.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website June 2, 1999

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