The Nation: Naming America’s Own Genocide

By Richard White
August 17, 2016

This spring, the US Congress passed a unanimous resolution condemning ISIS for its genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shiites. “Naming these crimes is important,” Secretary of State John Kerry said after the vote, “but what is essential is to stop them.” It’s far too late to stop the genocidal crimes committed against California Indians that Benjamin Madley chronicles in An American Genocide; nevertheless, Madley is convinced that it’s still necessary to name them.

There are several reasons for this. Scholarly studies of genocide like actual accusations of genocide usually steer clear of North America, and Madley wants to change that. He also writes because in a world of genocidal violence, claims of American innocence and exceptionalism are dangerous. This dire election season has featured more than the usual number of references to our traditions, values, and history, and one assumption among pundits and politicians has been that our traditions and values protect us from going over to the dark side. This is sometimes the case, but not always. When candidates summon the darker angels of our nature and call for overwhelming violence against those who kill us, threaten us, hate us, or simply annoy us, they beckon us to go where the nation has, in numerous ways, gone before.

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Posted September 16, 2016, 3:07 PM PST