JR'S Free Thought Pages
Christopher Columbus the Wétiko
To the Cree, and most Native North Americans, greed was a serious psychological malfunction. The Cree called it Wétiko.
Native American philosopher Jack Forbes explains that the overriding characteristic of a wétiko, a Cree word literally meaning “cannibal,” is “that he consumes other human beings for profit, that is, he is a cannibal” ... (from Columbus and other Cannibals, a book, in addition to American Holocaust by David Stannard, A Little Matter of Genocide by Ward Churchill and Native American History by Judith Nies, that ought to be required reading by every high school student)
By Johnny Reb
Ultimately, humility is the basis for democracy, just as arrogance is the basis for authoritarianism - Jack D Forbes
This culture is based on exploitation, domination, theft and murder…and the perceived right of the powerful to take whatever resources they want… it’s a culture that is killing the planet - Derrick Jensen
Kill every buffalo you can, for every buffalo dead is an Indian gone -Colonel R. I. Dodge, Fort McPherson, 1867
Are we “civilized”?
Mohandas Ghandi was once asked what he thought of Western Civilization. His response was “It would be a good idea.” As the latest manifestation of out-of-control exploitive capitalism has been discharged onto the world and even more rapidly ravages and wreaks havoc on the planet and which has now led to the demolition of the global economy, who can argue with that?
Ghandi’s terse response prompts us to ask “what exactly is civilization anyway?” It certainly has precious little to do with “civility” as any interchange with our dysfunctional culture of narcissism and greed quickly demonstrates. Dictionary definitions I have not found particularly helpful because they’re generally mired in self-serving ethnocentric bias. The OED is not particularly helpful, defining it as “a developed or advanced state of human society,” prompting one to ask what is meant by “developed” or “advanced.”
Religions, ideologies, doctrinaire world views and the need for certainty are invariably the refuge of the fearful, those who fear change, ambiguity and the loss of their privileged position within society. That’s why the modern monolithic nation state is founded on the written word, perhaps an offshoot of the ingrained notion of an unchanging Biblical literalism. It has become the bludgeon that provides for contraction of meaning and a singular mythology, loyalty, patriotism and devotion, the framing of discourse, entitlement and the affirmation of power for those who already have it.
This conception of a nation state was antithetical to the Native North American anarchistic world view. Castenada, a Franciscan priest who accompanied Coronado’s expedition, described the Hopis of New Mexico as living in “complete equality, neither exercising authority nor demanding obedience.” Castenada’s remark was a not uncommon observation by white Christian invaders of socialistic libertarian Native North American societies. Native peoples in North America believed that humans are merely a constituent of the natural world, not a chosen species instructed to master and exploit it with impunity. They had no conception of private property, believing that the world and its bounty was granted to all by their “Creator” and that no group or individual had the right to own any part of it. To the North American Indians, land had a very different meaning – culturally, economically and spiritually. “Sell a country!” Tecumseh shouted at a meeting of the representatives of the Northwest Territory in 1810. “Why not sell the air, the clouds, the rivers and the great sea as well as the entire earth?” Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?”
The Indians in California who had spent decades resisting or evading the Spanish missionaries and conquistadors were finally reduced to near total extermination by the American gold miners who overran their hunting grounds, villages and burial sites, murdered and scalped for bounties, kidnapped Indian women to serve as prostitutes and Indian children as slaves. Historian Alan Josephy called the treatment of California Indians “as close to genocide as any tribal people had faced, or would face, on the North American continent.”By the 1880’s 30 million buffalo had been killed merely for their hides and less than one thousand remained. In the Texas legislature General Sheridan, sounding like Heinrich Himmler, declared “for the sake of everlasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo are exterminated”, since it would do more to settle the “Indian problem” than anything else by starving them out. Also by that time, the Eastern Indians in the United States had been moved to substandard land on reservations on land that was deemed valueless to the Christian White Man at the time. The reservations were no better than glorified concentration camps and Indians died in the thousands from the inability to sustain themselves, corruption of Indian agents, neglect and disease. Segregated within reservations, they were excluded from the American economy and political system. They could not vote, had no elected representatives, had no voice in the political process and were forced into a complex web of treaties that had no legal status for them. Of the more than 400 treaties signed with the US government, many of which they did not understand, not a single one was honored. When the greedy capitalists discovered gold, oil and other valuable minerals on their originally considered useless land, they were ruthlessly exploited once again. It continues to this day.
*Contrary to Hollywood mythology, scalping was introduced and originally practiced by white Christian Europeans. In California it was declared “open season” on any Native American who resisted the intrusion of the greedy gold miners.
Following the arrival of the brutal barbarian Columbus, they Native Americans were subjected to five centuries of racism, slavery, genocide and theft of their homelands. It’s ironic that Native Americans were referred to as “savages” by their European Christian invaders despite the fact they had a far superior conception of community, egalitarianism, family, justice and fair play than the greedy “enlightened” Christian white men who lied, pillaged, and murdered their way to total dominance, enslavement and subjugation of indigenous peoples throughout the world. Joseph Brant the great Mohawk Six Nations leader repeatedly argued for these lofty principles when he so eloquently and ironically said, “In the government you call civilized, the happiness of the people is constantly sacrificed to the splendor of empires. Hence your codes of criminal and civil laws have their origin; hence your dungeons and prisons. I will not enlarge on an idea so singular in civilized life. Among us we have no prisons.” (John Ralston Saul, A Fair Country, p. 28)
Unlike Christian Europeans and their Biblical fixations of certainty, Native peoples in North America had no written laws or doctrinaire religious codes, only an ongoing dialogue in which all verbal agreements were never calcified or immutable, but open-ended, often ambiguous and subject to change. As long as you continued the dialogue, violence as a solution to human conflict could be averted. Native Americans did not believe in inflicting the Old Testament idea of punishment, especially on their children, and cared for those who could not look after themselves. Their sense of the common good would not permit anyone in the tribe to wander homeless in the uncaring wilderness of a failed civilization. In our so-called “advanced” society of the 21st Century the majority of food bank users have jobs, forty to 60% of homeless shelter residents have jobs and over an eight month period in 2007, homeless shelters in metropolitan Vancouver had to turn a way 40,000 homeless people for lack of beds. Is this the best we can do? In my view it’s a flagrant failure of what any civilized society ought to be.
Unlike the depraved Christian notion of “original sin” in the Garden of Eden, First Nations people have never been compelled to suffer eternal torment and a daunting sense of guilt by being expelled from their land and natural environment by a vengeful ego driven Deity. They were never separated from their land by an oppressive mythology so it was neither perceived as a lost paradise nor an enemy.
Someone once asked Rick Santorum, a Christian fundamentalist and one of the most powerful people in the US Senate during the George W Bush administration why he consistently implements policies that are unsustainable and harmful to the natural environment. He replied that the natural world is inconsequential to God’s divine plan, explaining that the impending rapture and return of Jesus would solve all of mankind’s problems, including the devastation to the environment. “Nowhere in the Bible does it say that America will be here one hundred years from now.” It’s disturbing to realize that former president George W Bush* and 178 members of the United States Senate are also Christian fundamentalists who think like Santorum or are at the very least allied with the Christian right. These are the unthinking simpletons that Chris Hedges refers to in his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
*Bush stated publically that his reasons for invading Afghanistan and Iraq were that “God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.” Another disturbing fact: in a 1996 national poll it was revealed that more than 40% of Americans believe the world in its present form will end in the battle of Armageddon in Israel between Jesus and the anti-Christ. Presumably the opening bout will be between the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.
The real savages
History is the polemics of the powerful – William F Buckley
History is very selective, written by the holders of power who select those events in the narrative that legitimize the status with them perched at the pinnacle of the socio-economic order. Albeit very slowly, this has been recently changing with the publication of books such as Howard Zinn’s ground breaking A Peoples History of the United States and James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me. For centuries the traditional historical narratives have comprised the mythology of our culture – creating myths that are constantly in a state of flux. The idea for a chronology of Native American history grew out of the paradigm shift that resulted from the 500 year centenary celebration of Columbus's arrival in the western hemisphere in 1492. Like many people expecting a lively celebration of Columbus's heroism, courage, and mythic vision, the imagination of some was captured instead by the "view from the shore" that was later chronicled not only by the books by Loewen and Zinn, but David Stannard’s American Holocaust and Ward Churchill’s A Little Matter of Genocide. The point of view presented by indigenous peoples was one of great native cultural and societal contributions and great European savagery and injustice. Their perspective changed the narrative of time and challenged the conventional Hollywood myths of Native Americans.
The “discovery” of America is a distortion of language, a misnomer. It was at the very least an invasion, not a discovery, and the pattern of exploitation and murder was established right from the beginning. Once he arrived in the West Indies, Columbus immediately began herding the native Arawaks – “the best people under the sun, with neither ill-will nor treachery” – to take back to Spain to sell in the slave market. Those remaining were worked to death in the gold mines with a brutality so excessive that a priest who accompanied Columbus called it “fierce and unnatural cruelty.” Spanish violence and cruelty was incomprehensible to the natives: "[The Spaniards] made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow; or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babies from their mothers' breast by their feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks. . . They spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords ... [They hanged Indians] by thirteen's, in honor and reverence for our Redeemer and the twelve Apostles, they put wood underneath and, with fire, they burned the Indians alive. ... I saw all the above things . . . All these did my own eyes witness," wrote Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, the Spanish priest who came to the New World for land and ended by writing the famous Historia de las Indias, a history of the land Columbus mistakenly called India.
In graphical contradiction to centuries of national Columbus holidays and mainstream history texts, indigenous peoples throughout the hemisphere launched demonstrations to publicize the historical reality of the Arawak Indians and Columbus's genocidal search for gold. At the time Columbus landed on the island he called Hispaniola in 1492 there were an estimated 30 million people in Mexico and the Caribbean Islands (Columbus's brother counted over one million male inhabitants in what we now call the Dominican Republic in the census he conducted to determine how many adult males should be bringing in gold for tribute) and another estimated 50 million in the U.S., Canada, and South America, many of whom lived in highly complex cultures with sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, agriculture, metalworking, weaving, geography and measurement of time.*
*Population figures have been greatly revised over the past 20 years. Although all sites were not simultaneously occupied, population estimates at the time of Columbus range from 7 to 45 million people in South America; 7 to 30 million people in Mexico and the Caribbean islands; and one to 18 million people in the U.S. and Canada. Some revised estimates go as high as 110 million people in the entire western hemisphere. The variations are based on the interpretation of the numbers of settlements; the duration of settlements, the areas of land cultivated multiplied by the numbers of people they might have supported. I have used the more conservative of the revised estimates. About the only fact everyone agrees on is that there were far more people living in the Americas than was formerly believed or that our history books have told us.
Following the lead of his marauding Spanish Christian predecessor Christopher Columbus, the conquistador Hernando Cortés, shortly before razing Tenochtitlan (the present location of Mexico City) to the ground and slaughtering or enslaving most of its inhabitants, remarked that it was the most beautiful city he had ever seen. This contaminated conception of civilization has been commonly argued by so-called enlightened Christian Europeans throughout the world for the past five centuries. Captain John Chester wrote that the native Indians are to “gain the knowledge of our faith,” while, consistent with Biblical holy writ, Europeans would harvest “such riches the country hath.” It was similarly and universally argued by pious slave owners in the Nineteenth Century as philosopher George Fitzhugh stated that “slavery educates, refines and moralizes the masses by bringing them into continual intercourse with masters of superior minds, information and morality.” It’s just as commonly expressed today in the free market dogmas of unfettered capitalism with the relentless Western images of MacDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Jesus to the rest of the world, justifying dispossession of the poor in the Third World, forcing them into wage slavery and permanent penurious feudalism. With the recent calamitous meltdown of the global economy, the rest of the world appears to be destined to the same fate.
For example, how can one possibly make the case that the people of Africa have benefited from colonialism and their “economic interaction” with Western Europeans and Americans when an estimated 100 million died from the slave trade, while even many more were and continue to be impoverished and dispossessed? The same can be said for Aboriginal, Native Indians in America, the people of pre-colonial India and other hapless victims of the greedy ravages of capitalism throughout recent history. And nothing much has really changed since the Spanish conquistadors, as the recent invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by the United States imperialist empire clearly reveals. Our solution to those native people that didn’t like what was being done to them was simple: death.
Putting it within an historical context, Lewis Mumford described the primary features of a “civilization”, constant in varying proportions throughout history, as “the centralization of political power, the separation of classes, the mechanization of production, the magnification of military power, the economic exploitation of the weak and the universal introduction of slavery and forced labor for both industrial and military purposes.” The anthropologist/philosopher Stanley Diamond put it more succinctly, when he proclaimed that “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.”
Were Columbus and his fellow Christian European cohorts and successors for the next five hundred years simply greedy sociopathic sub-humans who would tolerate mass exploitation, racism, theft, brutality, sadism and genocide? Native American historian Jack D Forbes in his book Columbus and other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism states that the overriding characteristic of a wétiko, a Cree word literally meaning “cannibal,” is “that he ‘consumes’ other human beings for profit, that is, he is a cannibal”. By cannibalism Forbes does not necessarily mean eating the flesh of another human, but defines the concept in an extended metaphor as a form of spiritual dysfunction and psychopathic behavior, even insanity, in which in all its multifarious ways greedy predatory men have exploited and murdered and destroyed the cultures (most often indigenous peoples) of other humans deemed “savages” via war, colonialism and imperialism. In his own words Forbes informs us that “wétiko is a Cree term (windigo in Ojibway, wintiko in Powhatan) which refers to a cannibal or, more specifically, an evil person or spirit who terrorizes other creatures by means of terrible acts…the consuming the life of another for private purpose or profit.” He tells us that for the wétiko, “Brutality knows no boundaries. Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. . . . These characteristics all push towards an extreme, always moving forward once the initial infection sets in. . . . This is the disease of the consuming of other creatures’ lives and possessions.” Forbes would extend this perverse behavior to those who would transform a pristine old growth forest into slabs and two-by-fours or dam a salmon filled river and flood a beautiful valley for hydro-electric power.
The truth is evidently plain and simple: Columbus, Cortez, Pizarro, all the monarchs and patriarchs, the pope, and all those pious Christian Europeans who participated in the invasion and colonization and subsequent pillage, theft and slaughter of native peoples not just in the Americas, but throughout the world, suffered from the wétiko mind virus.
In his fascinating novel Three Day Road, the Native Canadian author and Literature Professor Joseph Boyden explains wétiko through one of his characters in the novel. He reveals it as a terrifying 'windigofication' of the main character's brother, Elijah. Xavier and Elijah enroll in World War I as Native Canadian Cree snipers when Elijah starts to revel in acts of barbarity (ironically, caused by his attempts to conform to white stereotypes about "Indian savages"), to the extent that Xavier deems it necessary to kill him in the novel's climactic ending.
Jack D Forbes tells us that throughout history wétikos have been primarily conservative elites, members of the educated and so-called civilized classes such as popes, monarchs, land barons and other rulers of totalitarian and hierarchical social orders. They are also the same powerful elites who have provided us with their own distorted propagandized version of history, as history as always been told by those who wield power and control, and like credulous children, we have believed it. Power, like property, the land, water (and not inconceivably, eventually the air we breathe) has become privatized and concentrated. They are the same people who today might listen to Mozart while reading Aristotle’s Ethics in the comfort of their grandiose mansions as they contemplate the bombing of primarily non-Christian brown people in Third World countries, especially those with huge oil reserves. Today they are by and large highly educated, the graduates of ivy-league universities, theological seminaries and military schools and other elite Western universities. They claim to have refinement, enlightenment and wisdom despite the fact they have provided us with arguably the most power hungry, exploitive and brutal era in human history where there is little chance for the survival of any charitable non-aggressive person other than as a lackey or wage slave.
Cultural theorist Tzvetan Todorov, in his study of Columbus, tells us that “the sixteenth century perpetrated the greatest genocide in human history…in 1500 the world population is approximately 400 million, of whom 80 million inhabited the Americas. “ Of the estimated 8 million that inhabited the islands in the Caribbean such as Haiti (where Columbus first landed) and Cuba, by the middle of the sixteenth century, out of these 8 million, none remained. After this genocidal miscalculation by Columbus his successors were forced to import millions of slaves from Africa, of whom very few survived either the voyage or subsequent enslavement. This orgy of racism, slavery and genocide by Western Christian Europeans continued unabated for another 450 years.
In Columbus and other Cannibals, Jack Forbes writes:
It is quite clear that in modern times we have witnessed the widespread brutalization of human beings. The history of Europe in the last 1,500 years and the history of European imperialism in Africa, Asia and the Americas reveal atrocities of almost unimaginable proportions. The brutality of the "religious" wars in Europe, the unrelenting exploitation of Original Americans, the sacrifice of tens of millions of Africans and First Americans in order to obtain slaves or peons, the genocidal policies of the English toward the Irish, of Europeans generally towards Native People, of the Nazis toward Jews, Slavs and Gypsies, represent only a few examples of large-scale cruelty, aggression and exploitation almost beyond belief.
Various terms, such as "wild," "savage" and "barbarian" have been used frequently to refer to violent, crude, brutal, cruel, destructive and aggressive behavior. Ironically, such terms have often been used by European writers to refer to non-white, non-Christian and non-European peoples whose customs were different and were therefore (because of that element of difference) called "wild" or "savage." The irony stems from the fact that few, if any, societies on the face of the earth have ever been as avaricious, cruel, violent and aggressive as have certain European Christian populations. Luther Standing Bear, a Native American thinker, summarized the more correct state of affairs in the following revealing passage:
We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and the winding streams with tangled growth as "wild." Only to the White man was nature a "wilderness" and only to him was the land infested by "wild" animals and "savage" people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it "wild" for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing; from his approach, then it was that for us the "wild west" began. (Luther Standing Bear, Land of the Spotted Eagle, xxvii) pp. 22-23
Wétiko continued unabated throughout the 20th century and into the 21st , the United States having taken over the role from the decadence and brutality of the former British Empire and other Western European nations, who have been the primary torch bearers of elitist exploitation, imperialism and genocidal attacks on indigenous peoples throughout the past five centuries. Forbes again:
Thus, the slaver who forces blacks or Indians to lose their lives in the slave trade or who drains away their lives in a slave system is a cannibal. He may "eat" other people immediately (as in the deaths of tens of millions of blacks in the process of enslavement or shipment) or he may "eat" their flesh gradually over a period of years.
Thus, the wealthy capitalist exploiter "eats" the flesh of oppressed workers and ravages his natural environment, the wealthy matron "eats" the lives of her servants, the imperialist "eats" the flesh of the conquered, and so on. Nazism, for example, may be described as a German form of cannibalism designed to consume Jews, Gypsies, Poles and other Slavs in order to fatten Germans. Anglo-American imperialism is a form of cannibalism designed to "eat" Indians and also to consume the Native people's land and resources (a process which continues in Central America and elsewhere today). Forbes summarizes:
It should be understood that wetikos do not eat other humans only in a symbolic sense. The deaths of tens of millions of Jews, Slavs, etc., at the hands of the Nazis, the deaths of tens of millions of blacks in slavery days, the deaths of up to 30 million or more Indians in the 1500s, the terribly short life spans of Mexican Indian farm workers in the US, and of Native Americans generally today, the high death rates in the early industrial centers among factory workers, and so on, all clearly attest to the fact that the wealthy and exploitative literally consume the lives of those that they exploit.
That, I would affirm, is truly and literally cannibalism and it is cannibalism accompanied by no spiritually meaningful ceremony or ritual. It is simply raw consumption for profit, carried out often in an ugly and brutal manner. There is no respect for a peon whose life is being eaten. No ceremony. No mystical communication - only self-serving consumption.
Who is Jack D Forbes?
Professor Jack D Forbes, former chair of Native American Studies and professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, was born in Long Beach but has lived in Berkeley and Davis since 1967. He attended the University of Southern California, earning A.B., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, the latter in history with a minor in North American ethnology. Forbes worked his way through college, serving on the fire crew of the Lassen National Forest and driving trucks for Meadow Gold Dairies. In 1960 he joined the faculty at California State University, Northridge. There he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and then in 1964 moved north to the University of Nevada, Reno.
In 1967 he assumed the post of Research Program Director at the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development in Berkeley. He then became a professor at U.C. Davis in 1969. In 1981-82 he was named a Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Warwick, England, and in 1983-84 he was honored with the Tinbergen Chair at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. In 1986-87 he served as a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Social Anthropology, Oxford University, England.
Of Powhatan, Delaware and non-Indian background, Professor Forbes became very active in Native American affairs very early, organizing the Native American Movement in 1961. In 1960 he formed the American Indian College Committee with Navajo artist Carl Gorman and others to create proposals for an Indian university. At Cal State Northridge he developed a proposal for an American Indian Studies program in 1960, ten years ahead of its time. In 1967 he was a co-founder of the California Indian Education Association and in 1971 of D-Q University, the Indian college near Davis. From 1968 through 1969 Forbes was a co-organizer of United Native Americans in the Bay Area and served as editor of Warpath. During the same period and later he served as editor of the Powhatan newspapers Tsen-Akamak and Attam-Akamik.
Forbes' published writings include twelve books, over twenty short books and monographs, ninety-five scholarly articles, over one hundred popular articles, numerous short stories, and poems. His first book, Apache, Navaho and Spaniard, remains in print after thirty-two years. Columbus and Other Cannibals is the current culmination of Forbes' thinking about the ultimate social causes of white Christian aggression and exploitation and about Native American philosophical beliefs and cultural norms. His earliest version of the book was sketched out in 1976 and published in a preliminary version in 1978.
Although focusing upon tragic issues of violence, exploitation, terrorism, slavery, genocide and violence, Forbes does not offer only a negative view of human evolution. He goes beyond a condemnation of aggression to undertake an analysis of how colonialism, imperialism and doctrinaire socio-economic systems of hierarchy systematically alter and brutalize individuals. Most importantly, he offers cultural options based upon traditional Native American philosophy and antidotes to the disease of cannibalism. Here’s Forbes:
Modern capitalism has been a major source of negative appraisals of human life, but dogmatic communism, Calvinistic and Lutheran Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and many other European or Euro-Mediterranean systems of thought have also viewed humans in a negative way, to one degree or another. Another powerful source of such thinking is (or has been) authoritarian political agencies and hierarchical social systems (ranging from Fascism and Nazism to the ancient cult of empire to the militaristic-right wing police officer syndrome).
And, of course, if one only looks at European history or the history of Europeans in Africa, Asia and the Americas one might indeed ' become persuaded that the Machiavellians and wetikos are correct in their judgments, European history is replete with almost continuous examples of human depravity - epoch after epoch of imperialistic wars, frequent examples of the systematic murdering of followers of different religions or members of different ethnic groups, almost continuous campaigns to liquidate or forcibly assimilate this or that nationality, rigid systems of class exploitation, the brutal subjection of peasants, slaves and workers and, finally, literally thousands of examples of lying, deceit, poisoning, duplicity, torture and sadism, ranging from the murders by Byzantine monarchs to the atrocities of the Catholic inquisition to the Italian Renaissance assassinators to the ruthless Bismarks to the individually depraved Marquis de Sade types.
Many people have labeled Hitler a madman. But what they fail to see is that Hitler's behavior was not really different from that of numerous Popes who authorized crusades against heretics, or of Ferdinand of Spain, who tortured and murdered thousands of ex-Jews and caused the murder of millions of Americans, or of Charlemagne, who systematically slaughtered the Saxons, or of many English kings who caused the death and exploitation of thousands of Irishmen, Scots, Americans and others. What makes Mussolini different from Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great? Only that he was not so successful and that he is closer to us in time.
Winston Churchill, the supposed antithesis of Hitler, was really a product of the same kind of thinking. Churchill was an avowed imperialist, a man very unwilling to end British rule over India, the African colonies and so on. True, Churchill did not kill as many people as Hitler, but then again, he was defending an already established empire, not trying to carve out a new one. The latter process is apt to be much more openly violent and repulsive to those who view such things from a distance.
It is very sad, but the "heroes" of European historiography, the heroes of the history textbooks, are usually imperialists, butchers, founders of authoritarian regimes, exploiters of the poor, liars, cheats and torturers. What that means is that the wetiko disease has so corrupted European thinking (at least of the ruling groups) that wetiko behavior and wetiko goals are regarded as the very fabric of European evolution. Thus, those who resist wetiko values and imperialism and exploitation specifically, such as the Leveler rebels in England, St. Francis of Assisi, Swiss mountaineers, or Scottish clansmen, are regarded as "quirks," "freaks," or rude democrats ("peasants") who could never exploit enough people to build a St. Peter's Cathedral or a Versailles palace.' (p. 37-38)
Forbes has modified the Ten Commandments , a revision by what he calls the “Ecumenical Council of Right-Wing Christianity convened by the Archbishop of Anti-Communism and attended by distinguished theologians following orthodox religious orders: the Society of Bible-Belt Racists, the Order of Secret Police, the Brothers of Military Glory, the Captains of Anti-Union Industry, the Society of Extortionists, Pornographers and Hit-men, the Sons of Apartheid, the High Priests of the CIA, the Improved Order of Successful Medical Doctors, the Mystic Order of International Bankers, and sundry other respected, powerful, and wealthy bodies":
1. Thou shalt make a profit.
2. Thou shalt disown thy parents when they become old and send them away to perish alone; but thou shalt put on an expensive funeral for them for appearances sake.
3. Thou shalt deceive with false looks and flattering words, for appearances are everything.
4. Thou shalt gather to thyself alone as many material things as thou can obtain.
5. Thou shalt save and hoard, sharing not with others unless for thy own self-interest.
6. Thou shalt adulterate the foods which people eat, and deprive them of healthy sustenance.
7. Thou shalt take whatever thou can from the forest, from the earth, from the air, or from the defenseless and weak.
8. Thou shalt kill whenever it profits thee, and thou shalt exalt killing and violence since all progress results therefrom.
9. Thou shalt be arrogant, aggressive, and bold since such qualities insure success.
10. Thou shalt not worry about thy sins for the Almighty has arranged a means whereby thou can be forgiven, even at thy death bed. (p. 84)
If the indigenous victims of the wetiko imperialists and capitalists resisted, they were simply exterminated, as Forbes tells us:
Revenge can, of course, become a curse among the victims of imperialism because the fulfillment of that desire can lead to incessant warfare, great cruelty on all sides, and eventual annihilation for the weaker party.
In the 1760s many natives sought to resist British expansion in the Pennsylvania and Western Virginia area. Their resistance led General Jeffrey Amherst, British commander, to write to Colonel Henry Bouquet in 1763, "Could it not be contrived to send the small pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians?" Bouquet answered that he would try to start an epidemic and mentioned a wish to hunt "the vermin" with dogs. Amherst replied, "You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets [in which smallpox patients have slept], as well as by every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race. I should be very glad if your scheme of hunting them down by dogs could take effect."
Sadly, this type of viciousness, recognizing no "rules" of warfare, is still commonplace in the Americas, especially where people of American race are involved. Thus in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, the local right-wing elites supported by the United States have committed in recent decades atrocities against Indians and part-Indians of a type which remind us of Columbus, Nuno de Guzman, Pizarro, and other notorious brutes of 400 years ago. Tens of thousands of Americans have been tortured, bombed, burned alive, raped, disemboweled, decapitated, and forced into exile in order to preserve the privileges and wealth of multi-national corporations, small white minorities and their corrupted mixed-blood cohorts.
White scholars and popular writers often speak of "human sacrifice" as if it were a practice confined to the Aztecs, Carthaginians, Pacific Islanders, or other non-European peoples. Since 1978, however, perhaps a quarter of a million Indian lives have been sacrificed in Central America for the sake of the social status and profits of wealthy people and corporations. A grotesque "anti-communist" ritual has been created in order to provide the ideological-ceremonial trappings for this secular ceremony of human sacrifice. We must no longer allow Eurocentric scholars to define "human sacrifice" in such a manner as to lead us to believe that a priest in a weird costume must cut the heart out of a victim in order for the act of sacrifice to become human sacrifice. Quite the contrary, the greatest and most extensive acts of human sacrifice have been, or are being, carried out by secular forces acting within the framework of ideologies that justify the necessity of sacrificing human lives for some larger goal, be it the attempted Nazi conquest of the Soviet Union, the anti-communist crusade, the earlier Roman Catholic crusade to convert the Americas, or the capitalist's demand for cheap raw materials and compliant economic fiefdoms. Perhaps most victims are now being sacrificed at the feet of the god "Profit."
As Barbara Cavalier of the California, Manufacturers' Association is quoted as saying in 1986, "We believe you should not inject social standards in investment practices." Thus the desire for profit in the financial centers of Europe, North America, Japan, Latin America, Africa, and everywhere, takes precedence over "social standards" and sets in motion the most far-reaching crimes imaginable. Cheap rubber, bananas, coffee, uranium, whatever resource it is, demands first a blood sacrifice, a cannibal feast. (pp. 103-04)
Subsequent US policies in the Philippines after 1898 and in Central America and Caribbean America often continued procedures developed against Native Americans. But especially in the latter two regions the US leadership learned that it was cheaper to use local white or non-white elites and their armies to control the local (often indigenous) population rather than to send in the marines or to assume direct colonial administration. This was known as "Dollar Diplomacy" or, as in the British Empire, "indirect rule." In this system brutal treatment of the Maya and other Native peoples occurred from Mexico and Guatemala to Panama, but the US was able to pretend that its hands were clean. Of course, direct interventions in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Haiti, Chile and elsewhere exposed the lie in such claims.
These policies have continued into our own era, since the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations chose to directly support client regimes in the latter's oppression of their own peoples or in direct US efforts to prevent any national independence governments (in other words, "socialists") from coming to power as in Nicaragua. The 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s saw the open use of terrorism against indigenous Americans from Guatemala to Nicaragua by US supported, trained, and supplied forces. Still today, forensic anthropologists are excavating the remains of hundreds of Mayas massacred in Guatemala and buried in secret mass graves. One excavation has uncovered remains of 350 villagers, including 100 children, massacred by the US supported military in December 1982. (p. 127)
Jack D Forbes on Organized Crime by the State
Until recently it has ordinarily been the state (that is, governments) that have been engaged in organized crime, either directly or by sanctioning (or licensing) their subjects to engage in criminal acts. Some states (such as perhaps certain "pirate" kingdoms) were expressly organized for the purpose of stealing, looting, extorting, enslaving, and so on. But many larger states have also engaged in extensive activities of a similar nature, activities of such economic-significance as to suggest that "armed robbery" was, in effect, the state's major activity (overseas, at least).
The British, Portuguese, Spanish, Belgian and Dutch empires, for example, were at various times extensively engaged in the crime of seizing persons and selling or using them as slaves. This captive trade cannot be viewed as ethically being in any way different from Mafia kidnapping, murder, or extortion except in the sense that it was infinitely more bloodthirsty, profitable, and vicious.
The leaders of the Sicilian Mafia must appear as mild-mannered, almost decent persons when compared with the Liverpool, London, Boston, Lisbon, and Cadiz dealers in human flesh and butchers of entire nations.
Thus true organized crime commences with the state or with state-approved aggression. In the 1880s the United States adopted the "Dawes Act" and thereby enabled appropriately placed white citizens to systematically steal land and oil from Native Americans who were supposedly under the guardianship of the United States. This organized thievery, accompanied by threats and murders, was never corrected and never halted, until virtually all parcels of value had been secured by white people, as in much of Oklahoma.
Similar examples of state-initiated or approved organized crime include the US wars with Mexico designed to steal California and New Mexico, the US seizure of the Filipino Republic, and the City Los Angeles’s acquisition of water of Eastern California (Owens Valley and Mono Lake Basin) in order to make land speculators rich by subdividing the San Fernando Valley.
State-sanctioned organized crime also includes passing laws which give highly unfair advantages to the wealthy as opposed to the poor, as in making corporations persons in the eyes of the law and making the owners of a corporation not liable for debts, losses, and so on, or in allowing income tax deductions for fictitious losses (for example, accelerated depreciation on apartment houses or oil depletion allowances).
It is clear then that we live in a world where many states, especially the larger imperial powers, have been or are now formidable forces in the realm of crime. Significantly, state-initiated organized crime must surely set a pattern of behavior which will be imitated at various levels by private persons. Historically the state itself, and especially the European-style expansionist state, is one of the major corrupters of human morals (although it is itself a creature of the wetikos who have seized control of its power apparatus).
Many states also tolerate a great variety of organized crime which, although not directly sanctioned, is in some manner profitable to the ruling classes. Thus many large corporations (such as the Standard Oil Company before 1910 or the Southern Pacific -Central Pacific Railroad) have often operated in a criminal way. That is, the purpose of such bandit corporations has been to secure the greatest possible profit (or resources for producing profit) even if illegal or unethical activities had to be used. The state usually winked at such large-scale thievery because it was convenient to do so (the railroad will be useful to the state so what does it matter if a few people get rich siphoning off government grants or bankrupting farmers?); or because the state's leaders (congressmen, for example) are sharing directly in the loot.
The State of Nevada tolerates gambling casinos which are alleged as being largely controlled by Mafia or corporate syndicates because it is profitable to Nevada-based land speculators, contractors, businessmen in general, and public officials to have such businesses in what would otherwise be a very poor and sparsely populated region. (pp. 152-54)
The tragic thing about all this is that most ordinary citizens will ultimately suffer in such societies, regardless of the temporary benefits received by them. Thus black slavery and Indian removal in the US south did not ultimately benefit the working-class white population. Instead it led to the creation of an oligarchic ruling class which has, even to this day, often depressed wages and living conditions for both poor whites and poor blacks.
Similarly, the wealth created by the British Empire means very little today to the average Briton who must put up with a stagnant or declining standard of living made worse by the overpopulation of the British Isles. This overpopulation, and the depletion of many original natural resources, has been, in part, the result of early industrialization controlled by "robber barons" and overseas imperialism controlled by the same class of people.
The United States, too, will witness the same decline in the not-too-distant future. An aggressive foreign policy will keep oil, aluminum, uranium, and other essential raw materials coming in for a few years more, but corporate control of the economy and inequality will ensure that the profits primarily reach the ruling class. In the meantime, the artificial standard of living created by overseas investments, raw materials, and the exploitation of low-wage labor in Indonesia, Vietnam, Central America, China, Mexico, South Africa, and so on will gradually be eroded from within.
Imperialism creates the illusion of wealth as far as the masses are concerned. It usually serves to hide the fact that the ruling classes are gobbling up the natural resources of the home territory in an improvident manner and are otherwise utilizing the national wealth largely for their own purposes. Eventually the general public is called upon to pay for all of this, frequently after the military machine can no longer maintain external aggression.
A good example of how this works on a small scale occurred after World War II when a front corporation reportedly controlled by General Motors, Standard Oil, and a tire manufacturer bought up many of the electric railway transportation systems in the United States. This corporation allowed streetcar service to deteriorate, then it tore up tracks and sold themselves their own buses, rubber tires, and diesel fuel. The new bus lines contributed greatly to air pollution and traffic problems, and when patronage declined the all-bus systems were sold to the public. So "socialism" was used to unload unprofitable businesses onto the public while a continuing purchase of buses, tires, and diesel fuel was guaranteed. No significant prosecutions have taken place for what seems to have been an organized conspiracy to destroy rail mass transit systems. Now, of course, taxpayers are being asked to build new rail lines at tremendous cost.
This illustrates on a small scale what happens to entire economies under imperialism. The wealthy classes accumulate wealth, leaving the masses to suffer the consequences of the loss of basic resources, overpopulation, air pollution, environmental contamination, and, more significantly, a society and culture distorted in the value area by decades or even centuries of state-approved violence and aggression.
In the United States today it is the masses, and especially the poor and working class, who did the fighting and are paying for the Vietnam War and other military adventures and waste. The Vietnam War wasted many tens of billions of dollars (creating an inflation which eroded the earnings of the poor), incredible quantities of petroleum, and other basic resources which precipitated shortages in the US, an adverse balance of payments, and so on. But the rich did not suffer from the Vietnam aftermath because they had the means to raise their incomes to keep ahead of inflation, and being the owners of multinational corpora-i ions, they could obtain resources from many quarters.
Organized crime, in its many forms, is the most important manner in which the wetiko disease finds concrete expression. It is true that individual wetikos, operating on their own, may cause great misery at times, but it is much more common for the most brutal aggression to take place as a part of an organized, systematic assault. In the Americas, for example, the terrible Portuguese attacks upon Native people in Brazil, the actions of Spanish conquistadores, the expansionist pushes of Anglo-Saxon of pioneers, and the operations of all manner of exploiters from fur traders to rum sellers to slave hunters took place within imperialist systems whose overall objectives revolved around the central purpose of seizing native lands, resources, and lives for the profit of the system.
Even today an Original American's life is worth very little in the Americas, because the organized criminal syndicates posing as governments in many areas still regard the exploitation of the Indians and their resources as a legitimate activity. Ache Indians could not be sold as slaves in Paraguay without the existence of a pro-Nazi government controlled literally by gangsters. Indians could not have been murdered in South Dakota in the 1970s, with no thorough investigations and prosecutions, unless the terrorizing of Indians was indeed a continuing state-approved objective. Mayas could not have been murdered and terrorized systematically in Guatemala during the 1970s to 1990s without the approval of the Guatemalan state (the military) and of the United States, (since the US pays the bills and provides training for the terrorist officer corps).
In the United States many white people and government agencies are still actively seeking possession of Native land and resources. If this were part of a general campaign to break up large landholdings, create small farms, and open up resources for development, we could at least see it as a non-racial, non-imperialist issue. But when low-income, land-poor Indian people are the sole target and large landholding corporations (such as the Southern Pacific Railroad) and government agencies (in other words, the Bureau of Land Management) experience, little pressure we can be sure that the Native American is still officially and socially perceived as a legitimate victim.
The federal government of the US is very aggressive in seeking to condemn Indian land for dams and is extremely reluctant to return even admittedly-stolen land. On the other hand, that same government gave the Southern Pacific and Central Pacific railroads fantastic quantities of Indian land which was to be sold to pay railroad construction costs. Much of the land is still owned by the Southern Pacific or its successor corporations (11 percent of California). Some of this land was apparently obtained by fraud (for example, claiming that the Sierra Nevada’s extended to Utah in order to get a larger land grant) but the federal government has never taken any land back from the S.P. Railroad on legal grounds.
The former S. P. Railroad, for some reason, was not perceived by European-Americans as being a fitting target for their animosity but Wisconsin and Washington State Indians (with virtually no land base left, in most cases) are. So are the Sioux, the Yavapai, the Pit River Indians, and so on. One is tempted to repeat the words of Black Hawk, in reference to the white people who had invaded northwestern Illinois in the 182Os-1830s: "I had not discovered one good trait in the character of the Americans that had come to the country! They made fair promises but never fulfilled them!"
Another facet of organized systems of aggression is that the governments, syndicates, corporations, or groups controlling or profiting from such behavior also control the greater part of the organs of public opinion modification. Historically the state, the Christian churches, powerful newspapers, and so on, have conspired frequently to use patriotism, sectarian fervor, news, and propaganda to not only justify aggression, genocide, slavery, and torture but also to make the masses willing (or even anxious) participants. More significantly, as indicated earlier, the entire national culture becomes pervaded by myths, values, and habits of action and thought conducive to the perpetuation of a wetiko society. (pp. 156-159)
"Finding a Good Path," Forbes' final chapter, rests upon the notion that the real test of a spiritual path is not to see how many monuments result, or how many converts are obtained, or how many prayers are repeated over and over again by imitative voices, but rather the test is: How do people who follow that path behave? How do they behave towards other humans? How do they behave towards the earth? How do they behave towards other living creatures?