Newt Gingrich, a former History Professor, apparently understands U.S. history and politics better than I had given him credit for. In the Republican debate on January 17th, when asked by the moderator if Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was in Pakistan, would he support a similar attack to what Obama did to Bin Laden? He replied, “Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear cut idea about America’s enemies . . . KILL THEM.” The crowed went wild with applause. Andrew Jackson truly is a historical figure whose influences on U.S. Empire and colonial escapades persists even today.
Andrew Jackson was a wealthy slave owner and infamous Indian killer, gaining the nickname “Sharp Knife” from the Cherokee. He was also the founder of the Democratic Party, demonstrating that genocide against Indigenous People is a nonpartisan issue. His first effort at Indian fighting was waging a war against the Creeks. President Jefferson had appointed him to appropriate Creek and Cherokee lands. In his brutal military campaigns against Indians, “Andrew Jackson recommended that troops systematically kill Indian women and children after massacres in order to complete the extermination.” The Creeks lost 23 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama, paving the way for cotton plantation slavery. His frontier warfare and subsequent “negotiations” opened up much of the Southeast U.S. to settler colonialism.
Jackson’s theft of Indigenous land also aided in his land speculation ventures, wherein he would buy government land grants beyond the Euro-American frontier at low costs and then sell them for a profit, as settler colonialism advanced. These early efforts by Jackson set the stage for the process of forcing all Native People West of the Mississippi River.
Jackson also led the first Seminole War. Florida was still under the control of the Spanish, but there settler colonial efforts were inactive. Many Indians whose lands had been taken in the South, such as the Creeks, fled for refuge in the Florida swamplands. The Seminoles were taking in runaway slaves. Jackson was charged with eliminating this threat and lead a bloody campaign, burning villages and destroying food supplies. He urged that, “Seminole women and children be tracked down and ‘captured or destroyed.’” Victoriously he wrote to his wife, “I think I may say that the Indian war is at an end for the present, the enemy is scattered over the whole face of the earth, and at least one half must starve and die with disease.”
Jackson eventually became President of the United States and shortly after taking office worked to pass through congress the “Indian Removal Act.” The goal was to force all Native People to relocate West of the Mississippi River, into what was thought to be wastelands. Those few Indians that stayed were to become citizens of the U.S., holding their property as individuals not as a Tribe (allowing it to be sold to whites) and assimilate or as Wolf writes, “have our settler world, but lose your Indigenous soul.” The resulting “Trail of Tears” ensued:
They were rounded up and interned by troops, concentrated in camps until their numbers were sufficient to make efficient their being forced-marched at bayonet-point, typically without adequate food, shelter, or medical attention, often in the dead of winter, as much as 1,500 miles to their new “homelands.”
The Indian Removal Act dislocated tens of thousands of native people, killed tens of thousand more and added over 25 million acres of land to white settlement and the plantation system of slavery.
How does this relate to the current US wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan? What links Andrew Jackson’s Indian Wars to the war mongering wet dreams of Newt Gingrich? In his book Facing West, Drinnon shows how U.S. Indian Wars lead the way for U.S. Empire building globally, “All along, the obverse of Indian-hating had been the metaphysics of empire-building—the backwoods “captain in the vanguard of conquering civilization” merely became the overseas outrider of the same empire.” Once conquest of the West had reached the Pacific, it kept spreading from Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan… onward. Speaking of U.S. atrocities in Vietnam Drinnon writes:
But the massacres at My Lai and all the forgotten My Khes in Vietnam had a basic continuity with those of Moros on Jolo and of Filipinos on Samar at the turn of the century, and of Native Americans on the main land earlier—all the Wounded Knees, Sand Creeks, and Bad Axes. That linkage of atrocities over time and space reveals underlying themes and fundamental patterns of the national history that lawmakers, generals, and so many other compatriots were eager to forget.
The recent video of Marines urinating on the dead bodies of supposed Taliban fighters follows the long tradition of defecation upon and mutilation of Native People by U.S. Soldiers. Rick Perry, another Republican Presidential candidate, shared his insight into the matter, revealing the predator nature of colonialism and U.S. Empire. Arguing in defense of the Marines he maintained that when you are in war, things like this happen. Apparently, “history kind of backs up” peeing on corpses and, “to call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top.”
I think Andrew Jackson would be proud that his example would still inspire Marines today. As Ward Churchill explains, after the massacre “of the Muskoosa Red Sticks (Baton Rouge) at horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River, in Alabama, on March 27th, 1814: Andrew Jackson . . . supervised the mutilation of 800 or more Creek Indian corpses—the bodies of men, women and children that they had massacred—cutting off their noses to count and preserve a record of the dead, slicing long strips of flesh from their bodies to tan and turn into bridle reins.” Torture; burning villages, night raids on families, killings of women and children, these were all perfected by U.S. settler colonialism and spread to the ever expanding global “wild West” in the service of Global capital and Empire building. We should thank Gingrich and Perry for exposing the U.S. for what it is, as opposed to the candy coated lies of the Obama administration. As Malcolm X once said, “I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong. Than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.”