The latest monument to come under fire by the Left is one that they’ll probably need more than a chain and a small band of vandals to pull down. Mount Rushmore, a symbol of “white domination” and “white supremacy” — and, even worse now, the site of a President Trump speech — must be, as a recent New York Times article put it, “reconsidered.”
Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner believes the monument should “come down” but not via explosives. Blowing up giant 60-foot faces carved into the side of a mountain would, Bear Runner concedes, probably cause a bit more damage than whatever kind of unspecified damage is caused by their continued presence. Maybe we can just put a giant tarp over it. Or — here’s a better idea — to each sculpture we can affix a really big version of one of those gag glasses with noses and funny mustaches.
But the most interesting part of the belated Mount Rushmore backlash is the repeated claim that we must repent of the monument and somehow remove it because it was built on “stolen” land. Senator Tammy Duckworth also echoed this theme over the weekend, pronouncing the land “stolen” from “Native Americans,” who acquired it “during a treaty.” As so many woke Leftists tend to do, Duckwork speaks of Native Americans as if they were one homogenous and unified group. Americans stole from “Native Americans,” generally, she says. Which is like saying the British “stole land from Asians” when they occupied India. No, they were taking from Indians, not the Chinese or the Vietnamese, and the distinction is important. Indeed, Leftists would usually be the first to claim that it is racist to erase or minimize such distinctions.
Yet there is a reason why the “we stole land” crowd is hesitant to get specific on the matter of who we stole the land from. The problem is helpfully illustrated by this PBS article, which says the Black Hills were appropriated from the Lakota Sioux, who were “the original occupants of the area.” But the Lakota were the original occupants of the Black Hills in the same way that I was the first person to experience human flight when I took a plane from Baltimore to Charlotte in March. That is to say, I wasn’t. And they weren’t. Not by a long shot.
There has been a human presence in the Black Hills since prehistoric times. From that era until the US “stole” it, many groups of people fought, often quite brutally, for control of the region. Slightly more recently, the Arikara tribe moved in around the time that Columbus first sailed the ocean blue. The Cheyenne, Kiowa, Crow, and other tribes all arrived in short order to fight for their own share of the coveted mountain range. Finally, the Lakota — the alleged “original occupants” — came in the 18th century, drove all of their competitors away, and established control. It’s worth noting that, for Indian tribes, “driving competitors away” often meant violence and pillaging.
The U.S. did not take the Black Hills from its original occupants. The original occupants had long since been exiled or exterminated by other Native American tribes, who received the same treatment from the next tribe, who received it from the next, and so on. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that the U.S. took the Black Hills from the most recent tribe that had taken it from the tribe that had most recently taken it before them. This is not mere pedantry. The point is that white settlers and pioneers, by trying to claim and conquer new land, were not introducing some new horror to the continent. They were playing the same game of conquest that Indian tribes had been playing — that all people, everywhere, had been playing — since the dawn of human civilization.
It is simply absurd to treat the “theft” of land by Europeans and Americans as a unique evil for which we must repent and take down our monuments in shame. Wars of conquest had been waged in this part of the world for thousands of years before any white man graced these shores. Slavery, torture killings, rape, pillage — all of these were common features of Indian conflict. The white man jumped into that fray, he didn’t invent it. This is just how the world worked, long before air conditioning and Taco Bell and Twitter accounts.
And we certainly cannot say that white people were unique in their barbarism. Such claims are rendered absurd by even a cursory study of tribes like the Comanche, who were known to torture babies and roast captives alive; or the Iriquois, who committed a campaign of extermination against the Huron over a century before the United States was founded. As SC Gwynn explains in his book “Empire of the Summer Moon,” many Indian tribes in North America were brutal and warlike. And that is to say nothing of the Mesoamerican tribes, like the Aztecs and the Maya, who engaged in human sacrifice on a scale that is almost impossible to fathom. Archeologists are stll uncovering the endless and towering racks of skulls where the dismembered heads of the butchered victims were kept.
This doesn’t excuse the many acts of brutality committed by the Spanish, or any other group of Europeans or Americans during the 400-year clash of civilizations between the white man and the Indian, but it does underscore the need for historical context. It was a harsh and violent age, and the world was being tamed and settled by harsh and violent men. We should be thankful that we have the luxury to feel squeamish about it now.
Much has been said about the historical sins of white westerners. We have been confronting their sins for years now, and I’m sure the confrontation will continue for a while yet. But if this confrontation occurs in a vacuum, without taking into consideration the context of the time, or the brutality of the foes the westerners faced, then we will be left with the impression that white people today are the descendants of history’s great villains, and that nothing they did was justified, let alone admirable or worthy of celebration. And fostering this mistaken impression is, of course, the point. But those of us interested in truth and fairness should not go along with it.