Cockburn to Indians: get over it!

K d-m-c at
Mon Oct 26 04:36:12 PST 1998

>The hunters crashed out of the resort at 5 am. and I read a few
pages of
>Ward Churchill's A Little Matter of Genocide. He certainly
>victim,hood to the level of political manifesto arguing that his
purpose is
>to claim genocide for Indians on the grounds that genocide has
given the
>Jews moral authority and he wants the same moral authority for
his people.

Uuuummm. Isn't this a problem to anyone on this list? Sure Cockburn's is ahhh uuhh...well a dork for the last line in this essay. But, isn't he right in some sense to point out that this kind of moral entrepreuneurialism doesn't get anyone very far: You must agree that this was genocide on the same order as the Halocaust and if you don't then you're a denier (=neoNazi).

And aside from all that I just don't see how we must speak of genocide as either/or rather than as a continuum in order to say that, while surely the situations were similar, we can nonetheless make distinctions. The Halocaust was an event that systematically used rationalized science, rationalized capitalism, and rationalized techniques of bureaucratic control to slaughter millions, consciously, purposefully, coldly calculatingly. I'm thinking here of Jay Lifton's The Nazi Doctor's as well. This is surely a bit different than a series of events, sometimes purposefully designed to destroy and sometimes haphazardly resulting in destruction. Churchill's story simply demonizes. Native Americans=Good and anyone else=Evil. This is surely a path to hell.

<snipped Cockburn's elaboration of Churchill's "deny his argument=deny the holocaust=neonazi">

>Do Indians really need a holocaust to give them standing? Surely
not. To be
>frank, they've done better with casinos. Is it not more
uplifting to see
>Indians as gallant and savvy survivors than as victim-dead?

Now, the first two sentences are surely important and right on. Why on earth should we need to attend to indigenous movements because some of them and folks like Churchill run 'round portraying them as victims. Isn't there a rather vigorous discussion going on about the utility of that strategy, especially among feminists but also among those concerned about the plight of other oppressed and marginalized groups? And E.P Thompson did quite the same long ago with regard to the history of working class struggle. Isn't Cockburn drawing on that discussion and that approach to historical analysis?

It seems to me that Cockburn is advocating an educative strategy not unlike that used with regard to labor struggles. On the one hand, of course it's important to point out all the instances of violance and terror utilized to smash them. People need to open their eyes, to be sure. But, otoh, isn't it also important to counter the negative implications of that story--we're all doomed to get screwed over so what's the use?--with a story of how labor struggles nonetheless continued to fight the good fight despite and maybe even *because* of all that. The first story portrays power two dimensionally: some have it and the rest don't. Where's the escape hatch? How to you get out? Where do you begin? The second story, however, works with a three dimensional conception of power where power is never absolute (as in force/repression) but might also be generative, creative. And I don't think he's saying that Native Americans should go on to make their way in the White Man's world by making money, I think he's saying isn't it ironic that some have managed to make wads o cash by exploiting some folks proclivities for gambling which is said to be addictive and destructive for some in the same way that alcohol can be. Unfortunately, Cockburn might want to think about who all these folks are who're showing up at the reservation Casinos and why they do. And, of course, 'get over it' was stupid, careless, insensitive and he should be taken to task for that.

Cockburn's altogether too subtle point is important and I think that any of us involved in any sort of educative efforts in and outside the groves of academe must surely realize that the first story of power often leads to anger and despair. When people who have been historically exploited and oppressed learn just how screwed over they are they react, generally, in two ways. They are angry and they see domination, exploitation, oppression, marginalization everywhere. And they are consumed with unearthing it and pointing out to all who will listen, as well as those who won't. The other reaction is despair: fuck it, what can we do, gimme my MTV. Then, of course, there is the other audience, the 'oppressors and exploiters' who get angry as well: they deny, belittle, and ignore the entire story. Those of us who work in the groves of academe know this one all too well. But these things happen when the story is presented as if power were two-dimensional. When you work with a story that recognizes that people fought back, that power can be generative, that it's not an issue of those who have it and those who don't, then the story is, indeed, much more complex and challenging. However, it seems to me that this second story of power generates much more useful reactions eventually: this is possible, others have succeeded, though perhaps in not quite the ways we would have liked them to. Anger and despair may well accompany the knowledge of how things really work, but it is also accompanied with a sense of what might be possible based on stories of what has been achieved. Without that, any struggle is doomed.


>They certainly
>ended up with more land than two other ethnic grows on the
losing end,. the
>Spanish and Africans in North America. It's true that disease,
>and cultural dislocation wrought a devastating toll. On the
Plains there
>were massacres: Sand Creek, Washita, Marias River, Camp Grant,
>Knee. In these infamous events there were somewhere around 1260
>dead. Between 1789 and 1898 the U.S. Army records 1535 Indian
fights, with
>estimates of Indian dead running anywhere from 3000 to 6000. On
the other
>side, between 1789 and 1898 Indians killed maybe 7000, soldiers
>civilians. Of course Churchill would disdain such calculations
as obscene
>efforts to establish some sort of moral equivalence, which was
>the intent of some of the white historians totting up the
numbers and
>claiming that more Indians were killed in intertribal warfare on
the Plains
>than by the white soldiers. There's no need to haggle over moral
>equivalence. The whites were the latest of the arrivals on the
scene and
>got every thing. But rather than tout genocide as the battle
standard, It
>is surely better to see Indians as brilliant diplomat-warriors
who stood
>off three major sets of white invaders for centuries. In the
end, the true
>hero is Red Cloud, the warrior/diplomat, rather than Ian
Frazier's (and no
>doubt Churchill's) hero, Crazy Horse. Surely this is a more
bracing lesson
>for young Indians than the cover of Churchill's book, being
photographs of
>the dead at Wounded Knee, and a drunk Indian on Main St.,
Anywhere, USA. I
>say, Get over it.
>We drove across the rest of Montana, up over the road to the Sun
in Glacier
>National Park over the Lolo Paw, down through% Idaho and into
the tolling
>wheatfields of eastern Washington, like the most kitsch of
Soviet socialist
>realist posters; With a great red sun going down, a grain
elevator and a
>tractor in the foreground (and, as it happened, a child murderer
going down
>to lethal injection in Walla Walla prison, just the other side
of the
>horizon), Down the Columbia, past Sam Hill's strange museum,
down through a
>couple of stops by Washington and Oregon cops who probably
thought we were
>ferrying dope. Into Oregon City we came, in the '64 New Yorker
with 4000
>miles on the odometer, which now stands at 150,324. Back, most
surely, in
>late 90s civilization. Our hosts, Jeffrey St. Clair and Kimberly
>Willson-St. Clair, are moving house and had just boarded Sam the
>Newfoundland until new fences could be built. A chipper young
woman at the
>Clackamass Pet Spa had quoted him $14 a day for Sam's bed and
board, with
>optional extras. Sam could get a "nature walk" through Oregon's
>Douglas firs for $1.50 a day, a 'snack and snuggle for another
$4 a day,
>"Indoor play" for another $4, and "sunbath" with restoring oils
for $2 and
>a birthday party for $8. If he had a cat, she told the bug-eyed
>pussy could, at $4 a day, enjoy a "mock mouse hunt." So much for
>days. This is how the trail ends.

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