The Star-Spangled All-American Embrace of the Philosophies of Pride

We continue with this excerpt from my book MARY, MOTHER OF THE SON (available on Kindle at the link):


Similar notions found a home right here, not merely among organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, but among the educated elite. The eugenics movement, for instance, found a warm welcome in the United States and programs to forcibly sterilize roughly sixty thousand of the “unfit” were enacted.[1] In one famous Supreme Court case, the forcible sterilization of a mentally disabled black woman was upheld by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.—himself a student of eugenics—with the brutally clear words of an opinion that would help form the intellectual and legal philosophy of the architects of Nazi forced sterilization programs:[2]

It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.[3]

On December 29, 1890, the United States concluded the nineteenth century project of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Native Americans with one of the single most despicable acts in American history: the slaughter of between 150 and 300 men, women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.  The Army had ordered the Lakota Sioux—already a beaten people who were performing a pathetic “Ghost Dance” in the muddled hope that Jesus would return and restore the buffalo—to disarm.  They surrounded a small encampment, a tussle over a gun broke out, shots were fired, and then the slaughter commenced in which not only the few men who had fired on the troops were targeted but hundreds of innocents as well.  Artillery was trained on the tipis where the unarmed women and children were huddled against the freezing winter.  As they fled they were systematically hunted down and murdered. 

It was a shameful bookend to a century that had opened with the illegal and immoral infliction of the Trail of Tears on the Native Americans of the southeast.  In that act of ethnic cleansing the United States (led by President Andrew Jackson) ignored the rule of law (in the form of a decision from the Supreme Court), saying “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”[4]  He ordered the forced relocation and movement of several southeast Native American populations. The removal included many members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, among others in the United States, from their homelands to Indian Territory (eastern sections of the present-day state of Oklahoma). Thousands died in this act of ethnic cleansing—for the crime of living on land coveted by white settlers.

Similar policies of ethnic cleansing, theft and murder were systematically pursued against Native populations throughout the nineteenth century by the United States.[5] And this was done, in many cases with the smiling approval of conscience and even the supposition of divine blessing.  Here, for instance, is Senator Thomas Hart Benton addressing his colleagues on the floor of the Senate and explaining how the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” showed that the civilizing mission of his own—higher—race justified the ethnic cleansing and extermination of lower races:

It would seem that the white race alone received the divine command, to subdue and replenish the earth! for it is the only race that has obeyed it—the only one that hunts out new and distant lands, and even a New world, to subdue and replenish…. Three and a half centuries ago, this race, in obedience to the great command, arrived in the New world, and found new lands to subdue and replenish…. The van of the Caucasian race now top the Rocky Mountains, and spread down to the shores of the Pacific. In a few years a great population will grow up there, luminous with the accumulated lights of European and American civilization…. The Red race has disappeared from the Atlantic coast: the tribes that resisted civilization met extinction. This is a cause of lamentation with many. For my part, I cannot murmur at what seems to be the effect of divine law. I cannot repine that this Capitol has replaced the wigwam—this Christian people, replaced the savages—white matrons, the red squaws and such men as Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson, have taken the place of Powhattan, Opechonecanough, and other red men, howsoever respectable they may have been as savages. Civilization, or extinction, has been the fate of all people who have found themselves in the track of the advancing Whites, and civilization, always the preference of the Whites, has been pressed as an object, while extinction has followed as a consequence of its resistance.”[6] “Thus,” as Hitler would have said, the U.S. government ably demonstrated that it by no means believed in “an equality of the races, but along with their difference” recognized “their higher or lesser value” and felt “obligated, through this knowledge, to promote the victory of the better and stronger, and demand the subordination of the inferior and weaker in accordance with the eternal will that dominates this universe.”

[1] Daniel J. Flynn, Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas (New York: Crown Forum, 2004), 150.

[2] See Stefan Kühl, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[3] Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927).

[4] Joan Gilbert, “The Cherokee Home in the East”. The Trail of Tears Across Missouri. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996). 14.

[5] For a heart-breaking history of this campaign of murder, theft, and ethnic cleansing, see Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York: Holt, 1970).

[6] William Montgomery Meigs, The Life of Thomas Hart Benton (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1904), 309-310.


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