Skip to main content

Terrorism as 'Indian country' is wrongful assumption

  • Author:
  • Updated:

The latest insulting, matter-of-fact reasoning for Indian hating and Indian
killing, which, by the way, did not stop all that long ago in the United
States, is on display, again, in the pages of The Wall Street Journal.
Incredible as it may seem, a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, titled
"Indian Country", by Robert D. Kaplan, offers the be-all and end-all
justification for the genocide, as Buffy St. Marie sang it in the 1970s,
"basic to this country's birth."

How can it be, in 2004, that a major American newspaper will so blatantly
publish such a wrong-headed play on historical Indian wars and the current
military strategic debate? To casually connect, as Kaplan takes for a
given, the current war on "terrorism" with the wars of extermination
conducted by the United States at various points in the past against
American Indian nations is an historical insult. It feeds the
heart-wrenching realization that American public discourse is increasingly
revisionist, distorted, inherently biased and so self-absorbed in its own
supremacist thinking that it can only become the object of world

Kaplan's argument, such as it is, is worth engaging and rebutting, starting
as it does with the assumption that what was done to Indians was the right
thing to do. Kaplan's casual justification for genocide is, again, deeply

Considering that we are seeing this line of reasoning in The Wall Street
Journal, forgive us our here-we-go-again attitude. However, the public
record must be corrected with a more principled and accurate reporting and
scholarship. The Journal has published more consistent diatribe against
American Indians than any other major print publication in recent years.
Anything nasty that can be found or told or implied about tribal American
Indian nations, including not a few falsehoods, Journal editorial editors
have seen fit to print in the former venerable conservative newspaper.

Kaplan, a contributor to The Atlantic Monthly, might have known better. But
his assumptions embody too cynical a version of American political
identity, and so virulently, they shock any sense of comfort we might have
had this past week in the American public discourse. This article -
completely dismissive of any fair assessment of Indian history coincided
with the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on the
nation's National Mall. This is the new Smithsonian "jewel," to quote
Republican Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, which will receive over 4
million visitors annually. Last week, too, President George W. Bush hosted
a large delegation of Native leadership, and, for the first time,
forcefully reaffirmed the sovereign nature of Native tribal nations,
reiterating as well tribal government-to-government relations with the
federal government. Republican legislators, from John McCain to J.D.
Hayworth join the many Democratic voices who speak of America's "sordid
history" with Native peoples, and support the current efforts - in
economics, education and political rights - to help counteract 200 years of
miserable and contradictory U.S. government policies that supported
outright theft with policies of persecution, massacre and encirclement.
Sen. John Kerry's American Indian platform is one of the most enlightened
on record. So while the country as a whole moves in an honorable direction
of advancing beyond baseless assumptions, The Wall Street Journal harkens
for those days when simplistic and self-serving ideology passed for

Admittedly, Kaplan's primary argument focused on the principles and
practices of a quieter, leaner and meaner U.S. military posture around the
world. Kaplan writes about the need for the U.S. military to transform
itself from a "dinosauric, Industrial Age beast to a light and lethal
instrument skilled in guerrilla warfare, attuned to the local environment."
Interestingly, Kaplan concedes and uses as base of his argument that Iraq
was a loss. He writes that American military interventions are best,
"light, not 130,000, as in Iraq," which "constitutes a mess that nobody
wants to repeat - regardless of one's position on the war."

Of course, the argument that an invasion of Iraq would become a mess, was
in fact a clear position before the invasion. It was viciously attacked as
"unpatriotic." But then The Wall Street Journal contributor drops the
neo-con hammer: "In the way of the 19th-century Apaches ... the American
military is back to the days of fighting the Indians."

With a nod to the "liberal policy nomenklatura," for his use of the "red
Indian" metaphor and claiming that the use is meant as "reverence for them
[presumably Indians]," Kaplan launches into his argument, framing the war
of terrorism as the reconquering of "Indian Country," a term U.S. soldiers
have used since the Indian wars of the 19th century in referring to enemy

Scroll to Continue

Read More

This use of "Indian Country" is highly offensive in itself, but it only
tips the iceberg of Kaplan's fallaciously flawed thinking. "When the
Cavalry invested Indian encampments," Kaplan writes breezily, "they
periodically encountered warrior braves beside women and children, much
like Fallujah."

"Much like Fallujah," he writes. Can Kaplan not see how vicious this is?
What a terrible signal it sends to the American mind? "... Most Cavalry
officers tried to spare the lives of noncombatants ...," Kaplan feigns
sensitivity, but "inevitable civilian casualties" happened.

To continue: "The Plains Indians were ultimately vanquished not because the
U.S. Army adapted to the challenge of an unconventional enemy. It never
did. In fact, the Army never learned the lesson that small units of foot
soldiers were more effective against the Indians than large mounted
regiments burdened by the need to carry forage for horses ... Had it not
been for a deluge of settlers aided by the railroad, security never would
have been brought to the Old West."

This is either patently ignorant of the historical reality or simply
cynical. In either case, it is wrong. Security for whom, for the settlers
who were stealing Indian lands? For the miners illegally entering
treaty-guaranteed tribal territory? Fact: in the so-called "settling of the
West," the U.S. cavalry went ahead and behind the settlers, conducting
large and small military clean-up campaigns. The U.S. cavalry, though
occasionally defeated, sustained campaigns so unrelenting and large and
well equipped that they ultimately starved and decimated the valiant Indian
bands of warriors who fought for their traditional homelands while
attempting to protect their women and children from harm.

Kaplan makes a reasonable case for a leaner American fighting force,
intelligently rejecting the notion of invading nation-states such as
Afghanistan and Iraq, which leave behind restricted, easily ambushed
American forces. It is how he identifies the terrorist enemy to be killed,
as synonymous with Indian peoples and Indian country, that speaks volumes
about his mindset and that of Journal's editors. How he easily glosses over
the true history of the unrelenting attack on Indian peoples - conducted to
steal their rightful lands and resources - in order to reflect a shadowy
but politically prominent set of assumptions about the current problem of
fundamentalist terrorism, this is troubling and divisive.

To repeat the truth: The incidence of massacre of whole villages and bands
and families of Indian peoples was commonplace and even customary in the
so-called "taming" of the American continent. Massacres by soldiers and
civilians was the norm; often protected by policy it happened a lot, to
every Indian people, peaceful or not, in every decade. What happened to
Indian communities was as vicious and unjustified as the infamous lynchings
in the American South by the Ku Klux Klan. The sense of superiority and
brutal discrimination was the same only that in the case of Indian tribal
nations it was enforced by a willing and consistent use of massive military
and civilian violence.

Those unfortunate Indian "collateral" deaths of yesteryear's imperial
warfare, laments Kaplan, as his argument unfolds, "raised howls of protest
among humanitarians back East ... In Indian Country, it is not only the
outbreak of a full-scale insurgency that must be avoided, but the arrival
in significant numbers of the global media," he writes. Ergo, the loss of
U.S. military control in Iraq, or elsewhere, is the fault of those who
would object to the use of more "realistic" military methods that might
kill civilians en-masse, require the use of torture, targeted
assassination, and so on.

Kaplan's commentary is part of books in progress on the U.S. military's
strategic approaches to current warfare. He is likely onto something in
that thematic, even if severely over-enthusiastic for an American imperial
mission. His appropriation of the term "Indian Country" and his
all-too-facile assumptions on the justifications and methodologies of
warfare against American Indian peoples, however, are seriously flawed and
at times incoherent. We urge author Kaplan to reconsider his approach and
definitions of the term and the never-ending hostility that those imply for
the real and still-remembering people of Indian country.