These Also Died for Their Country

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

My stepfather’s brother died with other Marines on the beach at Guadacanal during World War II.

My best high school friend was killed in the early days of the Vietnam War.

These men will be honored at next Monday’s Memorial Day ceremonies along with nearly a million of their soldier, sailor, marine, coast guard and air force compatriots who gave their lives in military service. No distinction is made between the hundreds of thousands who died fighting in wars most Americans would consider righteous and the hundreds of thousands who were killed in the furtherance of bad causes or died in vain because their criminal or reckless leaders sent them into harm’s way for greed, stupidity or empire. Those who fought in gray uniforms in a war of secession are given the same reverence, the same moments of silence, the same commemoration of sacrifice as those who wore blue into battle.

It doesn’t matter whether they were white boys from the First Tennessee Infantry Regiment who fell in the land-grabbing war with Mexico in 1847, or black soldiers of the 93rd Infantry Division fighting Germans in the war to end all wars, or Japanese-Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team slugging their way through Italy while their relatives lived incarcerated in camps back home.

It doesn’t matter whether their name was Hernández, or Hansen, or Hashimoto. Nor whether they caught enemy shrapnel or a bullet from friendly fire. Nor whether they were drafted or volunteered. Nor whether they died fighting for liberty more than 200 years ago at Bunker Hill or crushing it more than 100 years ago in the boondocks of the Philippines. On Memorial Day all American warriors who lost their lives are honored because they did lose their lives. They live on in our hearts and on paper with their deaths recorded in obituaries (similar to by their families.

However, there is one exception.

My great-great-great-great-great uncle was killed by U.S. soldiers during the Second Seminole War. Other distant relatives were killed during the Third Seminole War. Killed for trying to hold onto freedom, land, the right to self-determination.

Whether they killed warriors and women on the banks of the Pease River in Texas, the Washita River in Kansas, Sand Creek in Colorado, or Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota; whether they fought Shawnee in Indiana, Asakiwaki in Wisconsin, Lakota and Cheyenne in Montana, Chiricahua in Arizona, Nez Perce in Idaho or Modocs in California, the men in blue who were killed in the Indian Wars are among those who will be honored Monday.

But the thousands of warriors they killed – the ancestors of us original Americans – aren’t counted for the ultimately futile but unhesitating sacrifice they made for the freedom of their people. On Memorial Day, they are invisible. Monuments to the Rebel dead can be found in practically every town of the Confederacy. Memorials to Indian resistance are next to non-existent.  

Attempts have been made to correct this. In 2002, the 1909 memorial on the Denver Capitol grounds that honored the 22 soldiers killed as they and their compatriots massacred the southern Arapaho and Cheyenne at Sand Creek got a new plaque to replace the one calling that slaughter a Civil War victory for the Union. Seventeen years ago, the Custer Battlefield National Monument was renamed Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and now, intermixed with the white marble 7th Cavalry gravestones are a double handful of red marble gravestones for fallen Indian warriors. Steps in the right direction. But not nearly enough.

Scores of sites throughout America could display memorial statues commemorating events with succinct plaques: From this site in 17– or 18–, the Anishinaabe (or Comanche, or Alibamu) were removed to reservations in ——- after 50 (or 120, or 350) of their number were killed in a surprise attack by the U.S. soldiers, some of whom cut off breasts or scrota for use as trophies and tobacco pouches. Their lands were turned over to settlers, miners and railroad builders and the city/town of —— was built on their burial grounds.

Monday, when the nation’s war dead are remembered, when we are supposed to put aside political and ethnic divisions for a few moments of introspection, many of our politicians still won’t take a break from the lies – past and current lies – for which too many men and women went prematurely into the ground. Monday, for the eighth time and final time, Mister Bush will be stealing the rubric of patriotism, milking it for all the tears he can. Monday, we will hear from him and many another politician plenty about liberty, freedom and sacrifice associated with American wars, but nothing about the plunder, rapine and imperial machinations associated with some of those wars, the Mexican War, the Philippines War, the Iraq War, and, of course, the Indian Wars.

Let me be crystal clear. I’m for moving ahead, for transcendence, Indians and non-Indians alike. We live in the 21st Century, and people alive now bear no responsibility and should carry no guilt for what was done more than a century or two ago.

But Monday is Memorial Day, memory day, and, just as we do not forget the men who froze at Valley Forge or took bullets at Fort Wagner or were blown up at Khe Sanh, there is no excuse for the nation to retreat into convenient amnesia and forget the deaths of those who resisted the theft and genocide led by leaders masquerading as divinely inspired messengers of freedom in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Until the nation remembers all its dead warriors, you’ll pardon me if my Memorial Day reverence is tempered with rage.


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  1. …as a proportion of their population, more American Indians have served in the U.S. military – all branches – than any other ethnic group.  

  2. Every Memorial Day we hear politicians give speeches about honoring our war dead.  But the only way our war dead, and all victims of war, can be honored is if we finally summon the wisdom to fight no more forever.

    Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce:


    “I am tired of fighting.

    Our chiefs are killed.

    Looking Glass is dead.

    Toohulhulsote is dead.

    The old men are all dead.

    It is the young men who say no and yes.

    He who led the young men is dead.

    It is cold and we have no blankets.

    The little children are freezing to death.

    My people, some of them,

    Have run away to the hills

    And have no blankets, no food.

    No one knows where they are-

    Perhaps they are freezing to death.

    I want to have time to look for my children

    And see how many of them I can find.

    Maybe I shall find them among the dead.

    Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired.

    My heart is sad and sick.

    From where the sun now stands

    I will fight no more forever.”

  3. There really is no excuse for this omission.

    As long as we manage to “forget” those killed in wars, we have no chance at all of finding peace.  Peace requires consciousness of all of those who have been lost and the vow that there must be no more.

    Thanks for this diary.  

  4. may have died in wars.  But your fury echoes mine about the Native Americans who died because of an undeclared war on Native persons.  This one happened in Lancaster, PA, and while a quick Google didn’t turn up any results, here’s what I remember from history class:

    In the mid 1770s, some Susquehannock Indians (who were not the enemy) were being threatened by a bunch of thugs (usually called the Paxton boys) from the Harrisburg area.  “For their protection” the Indians were put in the Lancaster jail.

    The Paxton boys showed up and murdered them all.

    I’ll return to this thread when I can find the appropriate links.  It’s a little-know chapter of genocide in PA; and it would never have happened under the Quaker William Penn.  But he was dead already, and it did happen.  Probably within an easy stroll of where I now reside.

    • Robyn on May 22, 2008 at 00:48

    When I lived in Conway, AR, I was intensely aware that Cadron Settlement was a stop along the Trail of Tears…and the lack of understanding there was among the people who lived in the area.  

  5. I’m out of words at the moment, but thankyou.

  6. In the state of Washington there were seven “indian wars”. How each was started varied, but none was far from the racist methods a serious person should automatically suppose.

    Very generally, the way to start an “Indian war” was to cheat an indian. The indian had (1) no access to or experience with white methods of justice, and (2) a tradition of methods of justice whites were not aware, or contemptuous of. Once the traditional method of justice was carried out, satisfying the indigenous, the interlopers would run to the local Army post shouting “Massacre”, regardless of whether anyone had been killed. The Army would then mount a punitive expedition. Thereafter, the land once possessed by that indians’ tribe would be free to any who wished to occupy it.

    So you see, cheating an Indian was a very profitable enterprise. Just like accusing a witch was in old Salem town. Naturally, there are variations on the theme.

    I moved to Bandon Oregon ten years back. The local history is as follows. GOLD WAS DISCOVERED on the Coquille tribes’ land. So late at night a bunch of miners made a surprise attack on their main village, located across the river from the town, near where the lighthouse now stands. Many of the tribe were killed. Shortly thereafter, the Army removed the survivors, FOR THIER OWN PROTECTION.

    It seems this was a more popular idea than hanging most of the white men in town. Popular with the white men, that is. For a long time the history read very differently. That is because of who wrote it. The history has been corrected. The situation has not been. The descendants of the murderers still own this land, and still live on it. The Coquille tribe does not.

  7. I can’t think of another country that has used genocide so thoroughly, over such a long time, as America. Even Hitler in Germany, the poster devil of genocide, only practiced for a few short years and killed about 6 million people. If my memory serves correctly, I believe hearing that the native population was around 12 million when the first whites arrived, and over 2/3s of the native population was killed, by either war, slaughter, or disease, over 200 years.

    Beyond sad, beyond dispicable, beyond belief.

    Be well, and, please, be at peace.

    • ANKOSS on May 23, 2008 at 00:11

    I repudiate the political correctness of unconditional praise of warriors. Soldiers are a necessary evil and should not be glorified. A civilized nation reduces its military to the smallest possible size. Switzerland has even contemplated completely eliminating its military.

    America is a nation poisoned by militarism and violence. The last thing we need is another avenue for the glorification of forgotten warriors. The entire warrior culture should be forgotten forever.

  8. During the Thanksgiving holiday a few weeks ago, I took a walk with some friends and family in a national park. We came across a gravestone, which had on it the following inscription: “Here lies an Indian woman, a Wampanoag, whose family and tribe gave of themselves and their land that this great nation might be born and grow.”

    Of course, it is not quite accurate to say that the indigenous population gave of themselves and their land for that noble purpose. Rather, they were slaughtered, decimated, and dispersed in the course of one of the greatest exercises in genocide in human history. Current estimates suggest that there may have been about 80 million Native Americans in Latin America when Columbus “discovered” the continent – as we say – and about 12 to 15 million more north of the Rio Grande. By 1650, about 95 percent of the population of Latin America had been wiped out, and by the time the continental borders of the United States had been established, some 200,000 were left of the indigenous population. In short, mass genocide, on a colossal scale, which we celebrate each October when we honor Columbus – a notable mass murderer himself – on Columbus Day.

    Hundreds of American citizens, well-meaning and decent people, troop by that gravestone regularly and read it, apparently without reaction; except, perhaps, a feeling of satisfaction that at last we are giving some due recognition to the sacrifices of the native peoples, presumably the reason why it was placed there. They might react differently if they were to visit Auschwitz or Dachau and find a gravestone reading: “Here lies a woman, a Jew, whose family and people gave of themselves and their possessions that this great nation might grow and prosper.”

    I’m not a historian or a journalist, only a layperson. But I have a growing sense that everything that we’re taught about our history and the events of our own time has to be questioned — how that history is recorded, and by whom. We trust, and so quietly and subtly we are given the lie, which we take in without even knowing, like breathing the air.

    I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.

                                                                                                                    —Thomas Jefferson

  9. our Native Americans who died for what they believed in, we continue to treat the ones remaining as second-class citizens.  Drive through any “indian reservation” and you’ll see the proof.

    Shame on us twice.

    • Edger on May 23, 2008 at 22:06

    An Explication of “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

    The sixth stanza opens with Tennyson’s second question, “When can their glory fade?” Perhaps he is asking this question because he fears that these men and this incident may not be remembered or worse yet, that they will be remembered as men that failed. This dual perception is implied in lines 50 and 51 where he again uses two words that appear to be used as double entendres. In line 50 he uses “wild” to refer to their charge, which can mean it was a fantastic charge or a disorderly charge. In line 50 he repeats and uses the word “wonder” in a manner similar to his use of it in line 31. According to Dr. LuAnn McCracken Fletcher, a third possibility for the question may be that Tennyson may be saying, “When can we stop glorifying actions like this?” – even as we honor the men that engaged in this action. He concludes in lines 53-55 that all of the men should be honored for their actions that day, both those that gave their lives in the line of duty and perhaps more importantly, those that chose to retreat when they realized that “someone had blundered.”

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