On Massacres And Victories

On August 1st and 2nd, 1832, we killed babies and women and children and weak old men, after the Sac Indian leaders (Black Hawk and a few remaining warriors) commanded his people to surrender to the US army while he and his few living men fled to the north.  He thought the army would spare the women and children, but that they would have killed the Sac warriors.  He thought wrong, because the US army massacred his people, lied about it (even to this day, although history has plenty of truth-tellers that have carried the real news report forward from that day to this), and then captured the warriors and kept them alive as trophies of victory.

I first became aware of this story when I was reading an early history of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa as part of my interest in my own family history, and read the author's horrified contemporary account of the whole Black Hawk war from her perspective as a founding settler of Galena, Illinois.  She told a compelling story, and it caused me to look up the Black Hawk War and the Battle of Bad Ax on Google.  What I read did not match her account; so I have been digging deeper ever since.  I even visited some of the battle sites, and drove to "Victory, Wisconsin" where the final massacre occurred.

I found it fascinating that two opposing stories of the war have carried down through all these years:  the official army version and the truth as relayed by early settlers and discovered by later settlers (they found mass graves with babies and little children) and memorialized by honorable writers who felt it was a tale that had to be told.

One of the most interesting recent books goes even further, and digs into the written record from the soldiers who committed this massacre.  It finds that the army had been brainwashed quite deliberately into seeing the world through a certain macho and racist filter that glorified the honor in exterminating these "savages" who stood in the way of white people settling safely into these new areas.  They very clearly saw the Sac as something other than real people like them, and very clearly valued male humans over female ones.  They did not see that they were inhumane savages themselves by murdering women and children and lying about the circumstances in which it happened; they were truly the heroes in the events that transpired, as they saw things.

This split view of history is echoed in so many other pieces of our past, from the civil war to other conflicts with Native Americans to Vietnam and Afganistan and Iraq.  It is emotionally important, when you are the aggressor, to have brainwashed yourself into seeing your actions as honorable and right; and in the aftermath it makes no sense emotionally to process guilt and horror if you have the option of maintaining a view where you were the hero in all that happened.  Even so, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) has stolen as much productivity, peace, and joy from our nation over these centuries as actual deaths, injuries, and monetary costs have stolen.

And here we are.  

If we want our present and future to be as free of the impact of PTSD as possible, and if we want to move forward in peace and joy and creative engagement with each other and with reality, we need to come to grips with "Victory, Wisconsin" and with all the other horrors of our past.  We need to understand the cognitive dissonance between a valuing of life and peace and a calling to be part of an ideology.  We need to understand our need to be part of a compelling ideological group and how motivating that can be.  We need to understand propaganda and social norming techniques that sell both healthy and abhorrent belief systems.  And, above all, we need to understand our individual responsibility and ability to evaluate ideologies and propaganda and the cultural norming techniques being used by us and on us.

You need to become mindful and informed, and start being the leader in your own story.  Your only alternative is to be led to believe and do things that history will show as the brainwashing of good people to accomplish the wrong things in the wrong way.  You may still make wrong choices and believe lies; but at least you will have attempted to push past that.  And in the end we will have raised kids and created a culture that is harder to fool and that has the skills to do better than the Battle of Bad Ax.

Figure out what matters.  Figure out what is true.  Figure out where you stand and what you should do with your time, energy, and money.  Figure out who you love.  And figure out what you want history to show about what you do today, tomorrow, and to your end.


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