Mark Twain and "Injun Blood"

So celebrated an Amerikkkan writer he is.....history again rewards those who seek truth in her archives. Do the knowledge to this essay I found....typical imperialist propaganda. Today's mathematics is understanding knowledge which means to understand or see clearly the foundation of one's ideas (3+1=4) which remits the reality of the way one lives, their culture.

"So I’ve been revisiting Twain over the past couple of weeks. However scholars may dispute Twain’s record on racism vis-à-vis African Americans, there’s no disputing his sentiments towards American Indians. From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on, Twain’s Indian was an inherently murderous savage which the world would be better off without - a fairly common representation posed by avid exterminatists. The logic was simple: Indians, being inherently savage, can’t be educated out of their Indianness, they can only be entirely destroyed.

Some provided a bit of nuance to the argument, contending that since American Indians can only be degraded by contact with civilization, they might as well be annihilated. The most infamous example in this vein comes in a South Dakota newspaper directly after the Seventh Cavalry gunned down several hundred Lakota non-combatants at Wounded Knee. It was penned by no less than beloved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum.

The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies, inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation for the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are.

It was a sentiment he later followed up with.

Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.
That was a little too subtle for Twain, however. His Indians weren’t degraded by contact with civilization - their nature was degradation. Nor could Mark Twain have been unaware of the affect of such propaganda in encouraging open extermination. He spent a good portion of his career working in California newspapers at the tail-end of a period when those newspapers were openly encouraging - to great success - the citizenry to exterminate California’s indigenous inhabitants in the interests of commerce. It’s exactly his awareness of the consequences of this kind of rhetoric that makes it so chilling.

Examples? Well, let’s start with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer , wherein begging, thieving, villainous, drunkard Injun’ Joe explains the murder he’s about commit as being prompted by his "Injun’ blood."

"Yes, and you done more than that," said Injun Joe, approaching the doctor, who was now standing. "Five years ago you drove me away from your father’s kitchen one night, when I come to ask for something to eat, and you said I warn’t there for any good; and when I swore I’d get even with you if it took a hundred years, your father had me jailed for a vagrant. Did you think I’d forget? The Injun blood ain’t in me for nothing. And now I’ve GOT you, and you got to SETTLE, you know!"

And then, from Roughing It there’s Mark Twain taking up the mantle of the best of inveterate Indian-hating racists, from Vincent Carroll to Robert Montgomery Bird, cloaking his bigotry in a pretense of setting the record straight against so-called Romanticists - in this case James Fenimore Cooper. (There’s a whole separate post coming someday about Cooper’s so-called Romanticism.)

On the morning of the sixteenth day out from St. Joseph we arrived at the entrance of Rocky Canyon, two hundred and fifty miles from Salt Lake. It was along in this wild country somewhere, and far from any habitation of white men, except the stage stations, that we came across the wretchedest type of mankind I have ever seen, up to this writing. I refer to the Goshoot Indians. From what we could see and all we could learn, they are very considerably inferior to even the despised Digger Indians of California; inferior to all races of savages on our continent; inferior to even the Tierra del Fuegans; inferior to the Hottentots, and actually inferior in some respects to the Kytches of Africa. Indeed, I have been obliged to look the bulky volumes of Wood’s Uncivilized Races of Men clear through in order to find a savage tribe degraded enough to take rank with the Goshoots. I find but one people fairly open to that shameful verdict. It is the Bosjesmans (Bushmen) of South Africa. Such of the Goshoots as we saw, along the road and hanging about the stations, were small, lean, "scrawny" creatures; in complexion a dull black like the ordinary American negro; their faces and hands bearing dirt which they had been hoarding and accumulating for months, years, and even generations, according to the age of the proprietor; a silent, sneaking, treacherous looking race; taking note of everything, covertly, like all the other "Noble Red Men" that we (do not) read about, and betraying no sign in their countenances; indolent, everlastingly patient and tireless, like all other Indians; priceless beggars-for if the beggar instinct were left out of an Indian he would not "go," any more than a clock without a pendulum; hungry, always hungry, and yet never refusing anything that a hog would eat, though often eating what a hog would decline; hunters, but having no higher ambition than to kill and eat jackass rabbits, crickets and grasshoppers, and embezzle carrion from the buzzards and cayotes; savages who, when asked if they have the common Indian belief in a Great Spirit show a something which almost amounts to emotion, thinking whisky is referred to; a thin, scattering race of almost naked black children, these Goshoots are, who produce nothing at all, and have no villages, and no gatherings together into strictly defined tribal communities¬-a people whose only shelter is a rag cast on a bush to keep off a portion of the snow, and yet who inhabit one of the most rocky, wintry, repulsive wastes that our country or any other can exhibit.
. . .

The disgust which the Goshoots gave me, a disciple of Cooper and a worshiper of the Red Man¬even of the scholarly savages in The Last of the Mohicans, who are fittingly associated with backwoodsmen who divide each sentence into two equal parts: one part critically grammatical, refined and choice of language, and the other part just such an attempt to talk like a hunter or a mountaineer, as a Broadway clerk might make after eating an edition of Emerson Bennett’s works and studying frontier life at the Bowery Theatre a couple of weeks-I say that the nausea which the Goshoots gave me, an Indian worshiper, set me to examining authorities, to see if perchance I had been over-estimating the Red Man while viewing him through the mellow moonshine of romance. The revelations that came were disenchanting. It was curious to see how quickly the paint and tinsel fell away from him and left him treacherous, filthy and repulsive-¬and how quickly the evidences accumulated that wherever one finds an Indian tribe he has only found Goshoots more or less modified by circumstances and surroundings-¬but Goshoots, after all. They deserve pity, poor creatures; and they can have mine¬-at this distance. Nearer by, they never get anybody’s.

Then there’s the following, in the same vein, from an article entitled "The Noble Red Man," which first appeared in The Galaxy. Twain begins by describing the Noble Red Man as he has read of him in books. He then corrects the misimpression, outright endorsing extermination:
He is little, and scrawny, and black, and dirty; and, judged by even the most charitable of our canons of human excellence, is thoroughly pitiful and contemptible. There is nothing in his eye or his nose that is attractive, and if there is anything in his hair that-however, that is a feature which will not bear too close examination . . . He wears no bracelets on his arms or ankles; his hunting suit is gallantly fringed, but not intentionally; when he does not wear his disgusting rabbit-skin robe, his hunting suit consists wholly of the half of a horse blanket brought over in the Pinta or the Mayflower, and frayed out and fringed by inveterate use. He is not rich enough to possess a belt; he never owned a moccasin or wore a shoe in his life; and truly he is nothing but a poor, filthy, naked scurvy vagabond, whom to exterminate were a charity to the Creator’s worthier insects and reptiles which he oppresses. Still, when contact with the white man has given to the Noble Son of the Forest certain cloudy impressions of civilization, and aspirations after a nobler life, he presently appears in public with one boot on and one shoe-shirtless, and wearing ripped and patched and buttonless pants which he holds up with his left hand-his execrable rabbit-skin robe flowing from his shoulder-an old hoop-skirt on, outside of it-a necklace of battered sardine-boxes and oyster-cans reposing on his bare breast-a venerable flint-lock musket in his right hand-a weather-beaten stove-pipe hat on, canted "gallusly" to starboard, and the lid off and hanging by a thread or two; and when he thus appears, and waits patiently around a saloon till he gets a chance to strike a "swell" attitude before a looking-glass, he is a good, fair, desirable subject for extermination if ever there was one.

There is nothing figurative, or moonshiny, or sentimental about his language. It is very simple and unostentatious, and consists of plain, straightforward lies. His "wisdom" conferred upon an idiot would leave that idiot helpless indeed.

He is ignoble-base and treacherous, and hateful in every way. Not even imminent death can startle him into a spasm of virtue. The ruling trait of all savages is a greedy and consuming selfishness, and in our Noble Red Man it is found in its amplest development. His heart is a cesspool of falsehood, of treachery, and of low and devilish instincts. With him, gratitude is an unknown emotion; and when one does him a kindness, it is safest to keep the face toward him, lest the reward be an arrow in the back. To accept of a favor from him is to assume a debt which you can never repay to his satisfaction, though you bankrupt yourself trying. To give him a dinner when he is starving, is to precipitate the whole hungry tribe upon your hospitality, for he will go straight and fetch them, men, women, children, and dogs, and these they will huddle patiently around your door, or flatten their noses against your window, day after day, gazing beseechingly upon every mouthful you take, and unconsciously swallowing when you swallow! The scum of the earth!

Anyway, all this is fairly standard stuff. Twain’s main contention is that Indians are inherently prone to a degraded state of near starvation and absolute poverty. Half of that statement is fairly inarguable - most Indians did indeed live in horrific conditions at the end of the nineteenth-century. But, contrary to Twain, it wasn’t a result of their inherent proclivity to degradation, it was a result of deliberate US Indian policy. Even Baum doesn’t miss that point.

So, why am I so interested in this particular rhetorical tack? Because, like most good American Indian-hating rhetoric, it gets recycled.

The following from MSNBC:

In a capital where public services barely function and five straight hours of electricity is cause for celebration, Sadr City stands out.

An estimated 2.5 million people, nearly all of them Shiites, live in the northeastern Baghdad community. Many of them lack running water and proper sewerage. Hundreds of thousands have no jobs and subsist on monthly government food rations, a holdover from the international sanctions of the Saddam Hussein era.

Streets in some parts of Sadr City run black with sludge. Damaged power lines provide at best only four hours of electricity a day.

Many U.S. soldiers were unprepared for what they found.
During a patrol last week, American troops brushed flies from their faces as they drove through rotting heaps of refuse and excrement piled outside houses. One soldier opened the door to his Humvee and vomited.

Improving the quality of life of Iraqis - including those in Sadr City - is part of the U.S. strategy, articulated by the new U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus. Once areas have been rid of insurgents, criminals and death squads, the Americans hope to pump in cash to encourage small businesses and revive the local economy.

The plan is for the Americans and their Iraqi counterparts to remain in the neighborhoods to keep the militants from returning.

But first comes security: Economic improvement will have to wait until the streets are safe.

"This is their lifestyle. This is how they’ve been doing it for hundreds of years. And they’re not going to change overnight," said Marine Capt. Seth Crawford, who works in Sadr City. "That’s what works for them right now."

The trick is the same: Iraqis forced to live in poverty and filth due to specific conditions - i.e., nigh two decades of crippling sanctions, infrastructure bombing, and, of course, invasion and war - are dehistoricized, and presented as inherently savage. Worse, they’re presented as such by exactly the same people forcing them to live in poverty and filth.

That Mr. Crawford’s statement is horseshit goes without saying. This is not how Baghdad has been for "hundreds of years." Not even for a few decades. Say what you like about Hussein - and I’m no admirer - he was pretty good at keeping Baghdad’s infrastructure together. Up to the commencement of our two-decade bombing campaign, Baghdad had hospitals, schools, electricity and water. They’ve just been obliterated by Mr. Crawford and those like him.

I’ll grant that there’s no call for extermination in the article. There’s an implicit demand for occupation and colonization, of course, but not extermination.

But given the nature of our current occupation one has to wonder what the hell the difference is."


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