The old tales of the conquest of “Indian Country” are sobering reminders of human folly, delusion, tragedy and hubris that may provide an ominous foretelling concerning the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I have in the last few years, since the invasion of Iraq heard a term of military slang or jargon that disquiets me deep down to where the spirit meets the bone. Most people have heard the “safe” area in Baghdad where Americans and their allies have created forts referred to as the “Green Zone”. I have also heard or read accounts of the area outside the “Green Zone” referred to as the Red Zone- or sometimes “Indian Country”.
During the first Gulf War, Brigadier General Richard Neal, briefing reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, stated that the U.S. military wanted to be certain of speedy victory once they committed land forces to “Indian Country.” The following day, in a narrowly publicized statement of protest, the National Congress of American Indians pointed out that 15,000 Native Americans were serving as combat troops in the Gulf. Since General Neal’s comment, however, the term “Indian Country” has become military slang that is often used by troops and leaders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was also used in the Viet Nam war. I have heard it occasionally used in T.V. news interviews and documentaries with and about military personnel.
You see, beyond the “Green Zone” one encounters a “terrorist”-infested territory- a wilderness as dangerous to the “justice bearing liberators” as the lands inhabited by by “Redskins” with the resistance they offered during the Indian wars- wars that opposed the conquest, the theft, rape, murder and cultural genocide and treaty breaking mendacity of the allegedly Christian colonizers.
This linguistic use of the term “Indian Country” speaks volumes about the intellectual ignorance and dishonesty of many in the United States’ self image of the soul of America. It reveals an often willful ignorance of the perception of the rest of the world. It bespeaks of arrogance, hubris, and self imposed paternalism, exceptionalism and imperialism.
On Monday, March 24, 2003 Christian Broadcasting Network’s news program CBN reporter Paul Strand, traveling with the Army’s Third Infantry Division in Iraq, stated in a dialog with Pat Robertson:
“Everywhere we’ve gone we have seen artillery ahead of us and then artillery behind and we’re getting reports that there’s fighting in all of the cities that we’ve already been through. So I guess if this were the Old West I’d say there are Injuns ahead of us, Injuns behind us, and Injuns on both sides too, so we really don’t want to give the enemy any hints about where we are.”
As an American Indian I can state unequivocally that this telling catch phrase that projects the warzones of the “wars on terror” as “Indian Country” is as deeply offensive as it is counter-productive to the stated mission in Iraq. My immediate thoughts- the first time that I heard the reference to the war torn streets of Baghdad as “Indian Country”- was that after 515 years of conquest- in the minds of Imperial America- the First
Nations of the “Americas” are still regarded as enemies, hostiles, obstacles to progress… as terrorists. “Indians” then, in the American mindscape are yet sub-humans with no intrinsic value and no redeeming qualities and no contribution and/or partnership in contemporary society save as cartoonish sports mascots and fodder for the myth making propaganda of manifest destiny and fantasies of the “master race” as portrayed in Hollywood western movies and literature.
Take heed that this collective psychosis, this self adulation and lack of self criticism that plagues America is well noted by those who oppose us in the bloody streets of Baghdad and in the “Indian Country” of Afghanistan. One can accuse voices such as mine as emboldening the enemy by offering critical analysis of the situation in America’s wars in the “Middle East” (“Middle East” being another colloquialism coined from the Western perspective of the planet). But- with these not so subtle attitudes couched within the phraseology of “Indian Country”- is it any wonder that they have resolved to fight us to the death- there in their home territory? Is it any wonder that America is seen as invaders, imperialists and controllers rather than liberators? Indian country they call it? Isn’t it more likely that the attitude that lies behind colloquialisms like this are what emboldens our enemies and gives them the resolve to oppose the American agenda as they perceive it?
During the conquest of the “Americas”- Indians were reviled as a species that could not be reasoned with and that their extermination was necessary to progress and order. Don’t you think its at the least imprudent for Americans to tacitly refer to the people that they are allegedly trying to liberate as “Indians”? The experience of “American Indians”- on their own ancestral ground is a testament, to this very day,to the often racist, dehumanizing and marginalizing power of the blight and rot in America’s self indulgent soul. Why would the Arabs in the “Indian Country” of their own homeland desire a status resembling anything like what “American Indians” have experienced?
In 1779, George Washington instructed Major General John Sullivan to attack Iroquois people. Washington stated, “lay waste all the settlements around…that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed”. In the course of the carnage and annihilation of Indian people, Washington also instructed his general not “listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected”. (Stannard, David E. AMERICAN HOLOCAUST. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. pp. 118-121.)
In 1783, Washington’s anti-Indian sentiments were apparent in his comparisons of Indians with wolves: “Both being beast of prey, tho’ they differ in shape”, he said. George Washington’s policies of extermination were realized in his troops behaviors following a defeat. Troops would skin the bodies of Iroquois “from the hips downward to make boot tops or leggings”. Indians who survived the attacks later re-named the nation’s first president as “Town Destroyer”. Approximately 28 of 30 Seneca towns had been destroyed within a five year period. (Ibid)
Though America has forgotten, ignored or never internalized the fact that much of its history and many of its god-like heroes like George Washington, the so called father of “our” country are constructed out of pure propaganda and balderdash- the rest of the world is quite painfully aware. Despite Washington’s sentiments that the American nation could not be put together so long as the “Indians” existed as “Indians”- it was built… and in case one needs to be reminded… we are still here.
Now, critics of this article will be quick to point out that “American Indians” don’t have it so bad these days- what with the casino industry booming and all. Fair enough. For the record, as an “Indian” traditionalist, I do not approve of the smoke shop, tourist trap, bingo parlor/casino culture that is erasing our spiritual legacy and replacing it with the value system of our colonizers and thus detracting from our voice of moral authority and stand upon moral principles. Nobody understands the fallibility of human nature, the power of money, propaganda and politics better than one who maintains their identity as an “American Indian” and also a believer in the true Christ of the Gospels as opposed to that of opportunistic political operatives.
“Indian Country” indeed. The analogy does bring one event from American history to mind. There is another tale of arrogance and hubris that is a sobering and perhaps ponderous and foreboding omen concerning the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Revisit and contemplate the tale of General George Armstrong Custer and the battle of Little Big Horn. Pride of the kind considered one of the seven deadly sins can carry a heavy toll in “Indian Country”.
author- Scott E. Starr