09 May 2007

U.S. Violence Is Nothing New

Whenever the lazy and historically oblivious mainstream media reports that an event is the best, worst, smallest, tallest, or biggest in American history, I become skeptical. For the most part, it probably doesn’t make a difference—but that's the point. If it doesn’t make a difference, why do the media always use those excessive superlatives? Ratings I guess.

I wondered about this after the Virginia Tech shootings. Was it really the worse massacre in U.S. history? It was one of those questions that float around in my mind and give me something to ponder when I am riding the city bus.

But even before I read anything to the contrary, I was concerned that this was just one of the media’s fabricated statistics. See the problem is this, even when the media prints something that might technically be accurate—they offer the reading public no historical context. They fail to mention or discuss other massacres in American history—and more importantly, they never take the time to even define what their terms mean.

Let me explain what I mean by historical context and definition—because it makes a great difference here. At VTU, one student shot and killed over 30 individuals. If you believe the mainstream media, a massacre of this proportion has never taken place before. But wait…..let’s think about that for just a minute. My thoughts immediately turned to several critical historical issues: race and Indian removal. Even without doing any research, I had a gut-feeling that there has been larger numbers of African Americans or Indians killed at some time in America's past. Wouldn't you agree?

But without any historical context, and without an explanation of what a massacre even means—the media is able to make up its own definition. In this case, what we really have is the worst massacre in U.S. history by a single gun-toting individual against other middle-class, mostly white individuals.

Lo and behold, I soon found out I wasn’t the only person concerned about these ambiguous distinctions. CommonDreams posted an article by Carla Blank entitled,
“Worst U.S. Massacre?” Unlike yours truly, Ms Blank actually did some research and wrote a wonderful piece about this very subject.

I urge you to read her short expose and seriously think about America’s extremely violent past. In addition, it seemed hypocritical to me that the media harped about this recent violence while we continued to kill Iraqi citizens each and very day—but I guess that doesn’t really count now does it?

Let me just quote two of Blank’s examples, and then add one of my own.

-In 1913, during another nationally publicized action known as the Ludlow Massacre, more than 66 people were killed, including 11 children, and two women who were burned alive. Sparked by a strike against the Rockefeller family-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation by the mostly foreign born Serb, Greek and Italian coal miners after one of their union organizers was murdered, it eventually involved the Colorado National Guard, imported strikebreakers and sympathetic walkouts by union miners throughout the state. The union never was recognized by the company, and a U.S. congressional committee investigation failed to result in indictments of any militiaman or mine guard.

-In 1860, Bret Harte, a well-known California writer, had just begun his writing career, working as a newspaper reporter in Arcata (known then as Union). Harte was expelled from Humboldt County because he recorded the Gunther Island Massacre of Wiyot Indians, committed on Feb. 26, 1860, when a small group of white men murdered between 60 and 200 Wiyot men, women and children. The massacre was encouraged by a local newspaper. Extermination was once the official policy of the California government toward Native Americans, as Gov. Peter H. Burnett stated in 1851: “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected…”

One more example—and I know there are many others. Here in my own home state of Minnesota, 38 Dakota Indians were killed in a mass hanging/execution in 1862. Many still see that as a massacre as these 38 were singled out (with little specific evidence) and blamed for violence that erupted in central Minnesota earlier that summer.

There are those who will say I am quibbling—that it doesn’t matter, Virginia Tech was a tragedy. It was. But why is the U.S. media so god-damned stupid when it comes America’s violent past? Could it be because most of that violence has been carried out against Africa Americans, Indians, immigrant laborers and other groups that have often been written out of the history books?

All American citizens should know about these other massacres and atrocities—starting with Columbus’ genocide, extending through slavery and Jim Crowism. We need students to know about this bloodshed and carnage—it’s an uncomfortable but critical part of this "great nation's" legacy.

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