According to the Associated Press, new billboards in northern Colorado are controversial for using the fate of the Native Americans as an illustration of the dangers of gun control. The billboards are in the style of a reddit meme and feature a photograph of three men in traditional Plains Indian attire, with the caption “Turn in your arms. The Government will take care of you.”
According to the AP, one person condemned the billboard for “making light of atrocities the federal government committed against Native Americans.”
Had the journalist or anyone interviewed for this story done any actual research on this matter, he or she would have quickly learned that the billboard is obviously based on a series of memes that have been around for years in various forms, and far from “making light” of atrocities against the Indians, are intended to be deadly serious (for the most part) in their references to the genocidal wars waged against the Indians.
Some interviewed for the piece went on to declare the message of the billboards as “extreme,” and it says a lot that pointing out the indisputable fact that the treatment of Native Americans throughout most of American history has been based on deception and murder is considered by some people to be “extreme.”
The issue of Indians and gun control is of course an important one, because it illustrates so well that disarming a population is a key factor in subjugating it. The case of the Indians is a little different from modern variants of gun control, however, because Indians were so rarely considered to be full-blown American citizens.
Unlike the policies toward Indians adopted in the Spanish colonies, which were based on conquest and assimilation, including citizenship for all baptized Indians, Indian policy in the United States and Canada was based on apartheid and extermination. So, the Indians in the U.S. never really had any reasonable chance of having any of their universal rights respected by the U.S. government.
For this reason, the treatment of the Indians, perhaps more than that any other group, serves as the most “pure” example of the consequences of being disarmed. Obviously, any claim that Indians were legally protected by treaties with the U.S. government would be darkly laughable, and because of their status as legal unpersons, we can indeed make the claim that the Indians’ arms were often the only thing standing between them and total genocide.
When Indians were able to gain some small concessions, it was often thanks to the uncompromising resistance of men like Geronimo who repeatedly embarrassed and exhausted military forces to the point where they were willing to negotiate. (Geronimo today, of course, would be labeled a “terrorist” and assassinated by drone without trial.)
Most Indian tribes were always negotiating from a position of weakness, because they were so massively outnumbered by endless waves of whites who immigrated to North America. But often, it was their guns that won tribes some modicum of negotiating power when dealing with the U.S. government.
In top of this, we might note that Indians often received treatment from private citizens that was at least as bad as what they got at the hands of the U.S. Cavalry. The history of mob justice waged against Indians in California, the Southwest, and a host of other locales is appalling and grotesque to say the least. Indeed, personal arms carried by Indians were perhaps the only thing that might have helped against a gang of drunk and rampaging white miners on the frontier. The disarming of Indians also put them at the mercy of these Indian-hating rubes.
This situation became even worse for the Indians after the Civil War when battle-hardened war veterans were only too happy to participate in massacres of Indian civilians. Such was the case as the Sand Creek Massacre when Colonel John Chivington, Civil War Union “hero” and racist scumbag, lead a group of Colorado and New Mexico soldiers to murder Cheyenne and Arapahoe women, children, old men, and babies on the Colorado plains in 1864, thus wiping out entire extended families in some cases. Does anyone seriously contend that it would not have been a good thing for the victims to have been better armed?
We might also note that the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 started out as an effort to disarm the Lakota. Having learned by experience that one should not trust the U.S. government, however, some of the civilians resisted, and the men in the 7th U.S. Cavalry went berserk, murdering over 200 women and children.
Some might contend that the Lakota (and the Apaches and all other resisters) should have just given up their arms and negotiated. That’s an easy thing to say in hindsight, especially when by 1890, the Lakota had already endured a campaign by the U.S. government to exterminate the buffalo as an effort to starve the Plains Indians to death.
The Wounded Knee massacre was just one of many massacres and skirmishes that began as operations designed to disarm the Indians. The U.S. government knew then, as it does today, that disarming a population is a necessary part of the “peace” process in which peace consists of the absolute surrender of any and all groups who might offer resistance.
The indisputable justice of disarming the Indians was once met with widespread approval, of course. A common theme in popular culture, specifically in the Western genre, is the righteousness of disarming “savages” and other non-whites.
In my book Commie Cowboys, I examine the frequently-employed subplot in Western films in which villains attempt to sell guns to Indians, thus endangering the lives of the good and decent white people of the frontier. It is explicitly noted in numerous cavalry films of the 1940s and 1950s (such as those of John Ford), that an important function of the U.S. Cavalry was to enforce embargoes against arms sales to the Indians. To emphasize the savagery of the Indians themselves, these arms dealers are often killed by the Indians after the sales “go bad” for some reason.
One film in which this theme is key to the central plot is The Man From Laramie (1955) in which a U.S. Cavalry veteran, played by James Stewart, hunts an evil capitalist who attempts to sell repeating rifles to the Indians. The result of these sales, we are told, will lead to a general uprising among the Indians and the extermination of the whites for miles around. One can imagine 1950s movie audiences bobbing their heads in agreement as the film strains to explain to us the calamitous evil that will befall us if the U.S. government does not enforce gun control.
In such pop culture propaganda of the good old days, government soldiers are always honorable, always rational, and always doing the right thing. To show American soldiers doing what they really did at Sand Creek would be considered “politically correct” and unpatriotic by the purveyors of nostalgia as history. Indeed, as Mark Crovelli has shown, the sort of deference shown toward the U.S. government by tradition-minded Americans has paved the way for modern gun control.
Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the “enemy” is us. If you see something, say something, citizen, for your neighbor is probably a nutcase and murderer, although you may not know it yet. Fortunately, we have the government to disarm the modern savages, which is a category that includes you.
Although the supreme irony of this situation may escape some adherents of Geezer Conservatism, the irony certainly isn’t lost on younger Americans who are increasingly familiar with the endless train of atrocities committed by the U.S. government in the name of civilization and peace.
It’s silly to think that those Colorado billboards are somehow insulting Native Americans. If anything, the real fear of the government now felt by many modern Americans has made them sympathize with one of the chief victims of the American regime. The only insult here is that the sympathy has come about 200 years too late.