• The 110th Anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre Some Chilling Modern Parallels

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    While
    it is a popular theme of books and movies, many of us are quite
    tired of hearing about the evils of the past. After all “it didn’t
    happen on my watch” as we used to say in the Navy. Not only did
    I have nothing to do with these atrocities, there is nothing I can
    do about it now. Sure the President can issue official apologies
    and token compensations but these actions fall far short of curing
    the ills of the past. They are essentially useless if not harmful.

    So,
    that is not the reason for this report. No, there is a far more
    important reason to take time to note the 110th anniversary of the
    Wounded Knee Massacre and to once again examine what happened on
    that very cold 29th day of December, 1890, on Wounded Knee creek
    in South Dakota. That reason is that the specific activities and
    causes of that tragedy are not as far removed from some recent events
    in the U.S. Given that, let us consider once again Santayana’s famous
    quote:

    “Those
    who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
    ~ from George Santayana’s The
    Life of Reason

    What
    Actually Happened?

    I
    will not go into a detailed discussion of the events surrounding
    the massacre of these “Native Americans”, a.k.a. “Indians”,[Note
    1]
    as they are covered extensively elsewhere. The web
    page of the Library
    Of Congress introduces the subject
    this way:

    “On
    December 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek, on the Pine Ridge Reservation,
    South Dakota, some 500 soldiers of the United States Seventh Cavalry
    opened fire on approximately 350 Lakota (Sioux) Indians of Chief
    Big Foot’s Miniconjou band. At the end of the confrontation, between
    150 and 300 Sioux men, women, and children, including Chief
    Big Foot
    , were dead. This event marked the end of Lakota resistance
    until the 1970s. Apart from the few minor skirmishes that followed,
    the Wounded Knee massacre ended the Indian Wars.”

    Further
    details will be provided below as necessary to support my major
    points. However, if you would like to examine the event in further
    details now, here are some of the better links on the web:

    Events
    and Issues Closely Related to Concerns We Have Today

    In
    reading the various documented reports of this incident, some statements
    are eerily close to events in our modern times. Following is a list
    of the major ones.

    The
    Cruel Blunders and Inaction of our Government – Including
    Congress

    Massive
    bureaucracy and Congressional inaction was a serious and often
    disastrous problem then as it is today. By a series of shenanigans
    and bogus treaties, the Indians had been progressively relieved
    of their land and pushed into relatively small reservations. This
    greatly reduced their hunting range while at the same time, the
    animals to hunt were becoming scarcer and scarcer (the buffalo
    had been exterminated by the white settlers and government
    hired hunters
    ). The efforts of the natives at farming in these
    barren “Badlands” was a total failure. For the winter of ’90,
    they were facing starvation and death by freezing as they had
    little food or clothing – both of which were promised by
    Congress and were part of the terms of the treaties.

    Congress
    was not giving the problem much attention. They were taking as
    long to approve the budget then as they do today — except then
    thousands of people were suffering and dying. You can imagine
    how serious it is for the Lakotas
    to be without food and clothing
    in the blizzards of the Dakotas
    while Congress continued to debate the budget in the nicely heated
    Washington Capitol building. The desperate situation is best described
    by a message General Miles sent to his superior in Washington
    on December 19, pleading for action by Congress (from Dr.
    Sally Wagner’s Testimony
    ).

    “The
    difficult Indian problem cannot be solved permanently at this
    end of the line. It requires the fulfillment of Congress of
    the treaty obligations which the Indians were entreated and
    coerced into signing. They signed away a valuable portion of
    their reservation, and it is now occupied by white people, for
    which they have received nothing. They understood that ample
    provision would be made for their support; instead, their supplies
    have been reduced, and much of the time they have been living
    on half and two-thirds rations. Their crops, as well as the
    crops of the white people, for two years have been almost total
    failures. The dissatisfaction is wide spread, especially among
    the Sioux, while the Cheyennes have been on the verge of starvation,
    and were forced to commit depredations to sustain life. These
    facts are beyond question, and the evidence is positive and
    sustained by thousands of witnesses.”

    The
    White Man’s hysteria about the Lakota’s Newly Adopted Religion –
    the Ghost Dance (the press dubbed it the “Messiah Craze”)

    Then
    as now, the citizens are fearful of the practice of any new religion
    and will induce the government to take drastic measures to suppress
    it, up to and including killing the participants – as evidenced
    by the Ruby
    Ridge
    and Waco
    tragedies.

    The
    Messiah Craze grew out the Lakota’s desperate situation. They were
    dying, they were surrounded by the Army and they were being told
    that they were going to be killed. The religion grew out of this
    situation and was a misguided effort to appease them into believing
    that they would somehow survive (the shirts would deflect the bullets).
    According to the article, “Massacre
    At Wounded Knee, 1890”
    ;

    In
    a desperate attempt to return to the days of their glory, many sought
    salvation in a new mysticism preached by a Paiute shaman called
    Wovoka. Emissaries from the Sioux in South Dakota traveled to Nevada
    to hear his words. Wovoka called himself the Messiah and prophesied
    that the dead would soon join the living in a world in which the
    Indians could live in the old way surrounded by plentiful game.

    A desperate Indian Agent at Pine Ridge wired his superiors in Washington,
    “Indians are dancing in the snow and are wild and crazy….We need
    protection and we need it now. The leaders should be arrested and
    confined at some military post until the matter is quieted, and
    this should be done now.” The order went out to arrest Chief Sitting
    Bull at the Standing Rock Reservation. Sitting Bull was killed in
    the attempt on December 15. Chief Big Foot was next on the list.”

    Both
    Wovoka and Koresh now know how serious it can be to your welfare
    to stir up the natives with a new, unapproved, religion!

    That
    not a single white man’s home had been burned or any individual
    harmed by this desperate religion was of no consequence to the politicians
    and bureaucrats.

    The
    Press and the Creation of Fear and Hysteria amongst the Indians

    The
    press, then as now, will do all it can to stir up the hysteria as
    it does sell newspapers. Not that it would have made any difference
    but the fact is that some of the Indians could read too. What they
    read and passed on to their fellow Native Americans must have been
    extremely terrifying.

    “There
    were numerous reports
    “(circulated in newspapers and authorized by the almost universal
    sentiment of the terrified settlers) that all the Indians were going
    to be killed, their arms taken away, and men, women, and children
    slaughtered without discrimination.”

    With
    that background, let us now look at the actual confrontation between
    the Lakotas temporarily camped on Wounded Knee Creek and the U.S.
    Calvary who had them surrounded on all four sides. The Indian braves
    were out-numbered five to one and their rifles were massively outgunned
    by the fire-power of the army, including four Hotchkiss automatic
    firing cannons.

    The
    Trigger to the Commencement of Hostilities

    A
    major contribution to the sudden start of hostilities was the actions
    of the soldiers going through the tents looking for guns. “The
    Sioux braves became agitated by the cries of their squaws, who attempted
    to prevent the soldiers from scattering their belongings…”

    Does
    this sound a bit familiar? Does this not sound a bit like the actions
    of the Swat teams and Federal lawmen who make their infamous “no-knock”
    entries into private homes where they search for drugs, in the process
    destroying the furniture, walls, and precious belongings of the
    inhabitants, and upon leaving often say, “Whoops,
    I guess we had the wrong house. . .”
    .

    They
    do not seem to understand that such activities can sometimes drive
    the victims to a desperate act.

    The
    Seizure of Weapons

    “The
    Indian thought more of his rifle and his knife as implements of
    the chase than as weapons of war”.

    The
    fact that these nearly starved braves would have no means to obtain
    game without their guns and knives was not an adequate defense to
    the Army. They insisted that all guns had to be relinquished. They
    surely knew that the braves would not give up their guns without
    a fight. Nevertheless, the soldiers after ordering the Indians to
    bring the guns out to them without success, proceeded to send a
    detail of 20 or so soldiers into the compound and into the tents
    to retrieve the weapons, by force, if necessary. It is part of what
    they call the “Darwin Award” that these 20 soldiers probably did
    not survive.

    In
    these modern times, governments have again had the occasion to fear
    the ownership of weapons by citizens and have acted to take the
    weapons from them. Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were successful
    in this endeavor, with the U. S. and England attempting to follow.
    No doubt, as it was at Wounded Knee, there will probably be some
    blood shed before this mission is completely accomplished.

    Soldiers
    Killed by “Friendly Fire”

    The
    effort to have so much firepower on hand as to assure total annihilation
    of the enemy with little risk to the adversaries, sometimes backfires
    and causes “friendly fire” casualties. This was in much evidence
    in the Gulf
    War
    . It is likely that nearly all of the casualties of the Army
    at Wounded Knee were also the result of “friendly fire”.

    One
    of the soldiers later
    testified
    ,

    “…fantastic
    as it sounds, the surrounding troopers were firing wildly into
    this seething mass of humanity, subjecting us as well as the Indians
    to a deadly crossfire while the first volley from the Hotchkiss
    guns mowed down scores of women and children who had been watching
    the proceedings.”

    I
    quote Jerry Green:

    Soldiers
    had been placed in a hollow square surrounding the Lakota in the
    council circle. The large number of casualties in companies A,
    B, I, and K who faced one another across the council circle has
    lead to the conclusion then and now that a great many soldier
    casualties were the result of cross fire.

    Unlimited
    Funds for Troops but None for Food and Clothing

    While
    the Indians were starving and freezing to death, U.S.
    troops were deployed at great cost ($2,000,000)
    instead of food
    and clothing being sent. Does this not sound like a familiar tactic?
    The whole “War on Drugs” survives because of this kind of approach
    by the government.

    The
    Danger of Boredom within Police/Military units

    The
    Army troops were bored and spoiling for a fight.
    Not only were
    they bored, but revenge for Custer’s debacle was most heavily on
    their minds.

    We
    have the same dangerous situation with our modern Swat teams and
    the massive Federal police operations. They are way oversized, over-trained,
    and live in a state of idleness and mind-numbing boredom. A situation
    like Waco and the school shootings can really “make their day”.

    The
    sniper that killed Mrs. Weaver on Ruby Ridge reportedly had never
    had a chance to shoot at a real person before. With several years
    in the FBI as a highly trained sniper, the only thing he had ever
    shot was paper targets. Maybe you can imagine how excited he was
    that day in August of 1992. And how dull his life has been since
    then.

    Incompetent
    Administrator

    As
    is customary in American politics, a person’s qualification has
    no bearing on their selection to critically important posts –
    such as the agent for the Lakota reservation. According to Doctor
    Sally Wagner
    ,

    the
    hysterical new agent at Pine Ridge, Dr. Daniel Royer, who reportedly
    later lost his license to practice medicine in California because
    of his severe drug addiction. A man with “no previous experience
    with the Indians,” whose appointment was “purely a political one,”
    according to his wife, Dr. Royer repeatedly and frantically called
    for the army, and reluctantly, for the first time in the twelve
    year history of the reservation, troops came in to Pine Ridge.

    This
    is something to ponder when we realize that the heads of all of
    our government agencies are political appointees where the color
    of the skin or the gender is more important than experience and
    knowledge.

    Economic
    Factors

    “Follow
    the money”, we are always told. It seems that in every action of
    government, there’s money involved somewhere. This, of course, was
    also true of this tragedy. Having troops around meant income for
    citizens that were themselves nearly as poor as the Indians. I quote
    again from Doctor
    Wagner
    :

    This
    unrest among the Indians and the Indian Agent’s [Royer] request
    for soldiers fit well into the slow economy of the area and the
    business men in Rapid City and other towns in the West saw an
    opportunity to improve it. They joined with the Indian Agents
    in sending telegrams to Washington urging that troops be sent
    west. This was also welcome news to the Army that had been inactive
    for so long. They responded promptly and within a short time there
    was a cordon of regular army completely surrounding southwestern
    South Dakota. According to one newspaper report, this was the
    greatest peacetime concentration of U.S. Troops that had ever
    been staged. The soldiers were stationed from the Rosebud to Hot
    Springs, North to Slim Buttes and East to the Missouri River.
    The newspapers sent out great numbers of reporters and photographers.
    Business in the frontier towns was never better.

    Brutality
    and Cruelty

    Women
    and children were indiscriminately slaughtered in the ravines where
    they sought to hide. Victims had many bullet holes in their bodies,
    most in the back. While the army took care of its own, the victims
    were left lying in the snow in a fierce blizzard for two days before
    anyone bothered to find out if some might still be alive. Eye witness
    accounts report that “Children as well as women with babes in their
    arms were brought down as far as two miles from the Wounded Knee
    Crossing.”

    While
    the wounded and dead of the Army had been immediately evacuated
    to Pine Ridge, it was not until two days later that an effort was
    made to gather up the dead and wounded Lakotas. During this time,
    a blizzard had raged through the area. Yet it was found that some
    of the women and children were still alive in spite of being exposed
    to the extreme cold. Still most of them ultimately perished due
    to frostbite coupled with their wounds and the lack of adequate
    medical care.

    The
    Medal of Honor Awards

    While
    the kind of activities discussed here may be revolting to the average
    citizen, the government of course has a different view and will
    do all it can to reward the perpetrators, in secret, if necessary.
    Larry Potts, a chief honcho for the FBI in the Ruby Ridge fiasco,
    was promoted to “Deputy Director of the FBI” by Louis Freeh. Here
    is his statement:

    “Larry
    Potts was one of the twelve FBI employees included in my disciplinary
    decisions this past January. . . At the time I disciplined Larry
    Potts, he was the Acting Deputy Director. Shortly thereafter,
    I sought to promote him to be Deputy Director of the FBI.”

    (You
    don’t get to such posts as the Director of the FBI unless you are
    skilled in such logic!). Due to public and congressional uproar,
    that promotion was subsequently rescinded. It is reported that the
    agents and sharp shooters for the FBI, BATF, etc. were subsequently
    presented with awards in secret ceremonies. In any case, it is common
    to promote or reassign government employees that have been exposed
    to harsh public view after the ruckus has died down.

    But
    the government went a bit overboard with regard to the soldiers
    at the Wounded Knee Massacre (maybe out of shame?). It awarded them
    with 20 Medals of Honor! Some reports say 30, but 20 is most likely
    correct for the actual participants. This issue is discussed in
    many books and essays but the best summary is again Doctor
    Wagner’s testimony:

    .
    . . they gave out congressional medals of Honor to the participants
    in the Wounded Knee affair (eighteen) and 12 more to the people
    who did next to nothing at the Mission and White River fracas
    later of which were of minor importance. They built a great monument
    at Ft. Riley eulogizing the dead soldiers in this lamentable affair.
    When one considers that in World War II, sixty four thousand South
    Dakotans were engaged for the better part of four years and that
    they received only three congressional medals the incongruity
    of the Army’s attitudes toward Wounded Knee is emphasized.

    Another
    report, this
    one by Jerry Green
    , is even more telling:

    In
    spite of – or maybe because of – the general turmoil
    and debate surrounding the Wounded Knee operation, thirty-two
    men were cited for their actions in the fight. This figure does
    not include those officers recommended for brevet promotion. A
    total of twenty-five men were recommended for the Medal of Honor.
    Of these recommendations twenty were approved, and medals were
    issued.

    At that time neither of us had ever heard of Wounded Knee. He
    was speaking of the upcoming Court-Martial of then Lt. William
    Calley for his role in the massacre of civilians at Mi Lia, South
    Viet Nam. He said of Calley. “Hell they ought to give him the
    Congressional Medal of Honor, after all it takes a lot of guts
    to kill women and children.”

    In
    spite of many attempts to get these medals rescinded, these awards
    still stand – right up there with the recipients of awards
    for bravery at Iwo Jima, Normandy Landing, and the Battle of the
    Bulge.

    None
    of the officers involved in this massacre ever spent a day in jail,
    of course. And neither did Lieutenant Calley.

    Conclusions

    What
    has been the American citizen’s feelings toward all this. After
    all these soldiers were only slaughtering a bunch of “savages”,
    right?[Note 1] No further clarification
    seems to be needed with that!

    Unrestrained
    police powers are very dangerous. After all, World War II, which
    exhibited the greatest savagery in the history of mankind is not
    that distant in time. Whatever it is in the human makeup that allowed
    those brutal actions is still with us today. At the time, we were
    spared the problem of having to face this disturbing characteristic
    of humans because we were told that the Japanese and Germans were
    unlike the rest of us and were in fact mindless monsters.[Note
    2]
    Very quickly after the war, we were told to forget
    that. They really are nice folks – just like you and me. Logically
    then, that must mean that you and I also have the capacity for such
    cruelty.

    In
    recent times we have lots of examples of powerful bombs being guided
    to their target remotely, bombs being launched from planes from
    15,000 feet, and innocent lives being taken by snipers at hundreds
    of yards. What happens when the bombs hit? The soldiers do not know
    and apparently do not care. Yet logic tells both us and them that
    innocent civilians will likely be killed, that men, women, and children
    may be horribly maimed and burnt and may suffer for days without
    medical care.

    My point is that while our soldiers may today be more reluctant
    to kill or commit atrocities when they are face to face with their
    victims, they have no qualms about it when they don’t see the blood
    and gore or hear the suffering. I quote from the closing paragraph
    of a fascinating book on this subject, On Killing, by Lt.
    Col. Dave Grossman:

    “…
    that force for life, Freud’s Eros, is balanced by the Thanatos,
    the death force… We have learned how to enable the Thanatos.
    We know how to take the psychological safety catch off of human
    beings almost as easily as you would switch a weapon form “safe”
    to “fire”. We must understand where and what that psychological
    safety catch is, how it works, and how to put it back on.”

    Surely
    it must be disturbing to the thinking citizen that shortly after
    the Civil War and while the Federal Government was still basking
    in its release of the slaves in the South, that the American Indians
    were subjected to brutalities and slaughter far greater than anything
    that the Negro slaves had ever experienced.

    The
    difference was that this brutality was conducted by the U.S. government
    – not the citizens.

    Notes:

    Note
    1
    : In this essay, the terms “Indians” and “Native Americans”
    are both used and no disrespect is meant in using the term “Indian”.
    We may use the PC term “Native Americans” or the not so PC term,
    “Indians”, but at the time they were simply referred to as “Savages”.

    Note
    2
    : One of the soldiers that participated in the Wounded Knee
    Massacre is quoted as saying, “Men, women and children were piled
    up on that little flat in one confused mass. Blood ran like water…Big
    Foot’s band was converted into good Indians.” “Good
    Indians” is a reference to the popular saying of that time, “The
    only good Indian is a dead Indian”.

    December
    28, 2000

    Leon
    Felkins is a retired Engineer, Army officer and former teacher of
    Computer Systems. He now maintains a web page on Political Philosophy,
    "A Rational Life",
    and another on the history of politics, "Political
    Almanac
    ."

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