The Audacity of Hopes shallow view of American history
“There is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9
“The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that, when nations are strong, they are not always just, and when they wish to be just, they are no longer strong.” Winston Churchill
Just fifty to sixty years ago when I was a kid, Davy Crockett was a hero. Walt Disney immortalized him on film and his riding down to San Antone to become one of the last men to die at the Alamo was looked upon as an act of selfless courage. Popular TV shows ran nightly, like “Wagon Train”, about the westward movement of our forefathers from the east. And my grandmother and great grandmother who I knew personally had come into Texas in covered wagons, survived the Comanche wars and then moved up into Oklahoma, during the land rush. So we were only a generation or so away from many actual pioneers of the old west.
We knew that it hadn’t been all glory and that our forefathers not only hadn’t been perfect, they had at times been greedy and violent in their move to obtain new territories in what seemed like an unending west. We learned the stories of the “Trail of Tears” when the five “Civilized Tribes”, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaws and others were torn off their farmlands and ranches and forced to march all the way to the new Indian territories of Oklahoma. We were taught about the massacre at Wounded Knee among many others, and the chasing down of a badly outnumbered and out gunned Chief Joseph and his Nez Pierce.
Without a doubt, the Christianity of our forefathers played out very badly in real life at times and these misdeeds should not be forgotten. The practice of slavery, particularly the African slave trade was and is a horrible blot on American history. But we also understood that it was Christianity which played a major role in putting an end to that slave trade. Now however, it isn’t just the slave trade or our mistreatment of the Native Americans that is being called into question, but the expansionism itself. Our forefathers are lashed for even being so evil as for wanting to expand the borders of the country. In Barack Obama’s book, the Audacity of Hope, he spends a few paragraphs explaining our evil expansionist ways, and condemns John Quincy Adams and others, as well as the pioneers themselves for “forcing the Mexicans to defend themselves” among other atrocities.
He really can’t be blamed because he didn’t come up with these ideas on his own, he learned them at Harvard where American history is dissected under the micro-scope of politically correct doctors a hundred years or more after the fact. These doctors are sure they are capable of judging past generations of Americans because, they know that they are the most moral and ethical generation that ever lived on the face of the earth. If you don’t believe that, just ask them. I remember Bill Clinton being interviewed after the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky affairs, and I remember him telling the interviewer that he was the “most ethical President” the U.S. had ever had.
Bill Clinton could say that in spite of his moral failings because he knew he held all the right attitudes and ideas one needed. He was a doctrinaire feminist, pro “choice”, and very environmentally aware. In the same way the then Senator Obama could explain and judge the entire American pioneering era and West as one of sinful expansion. By this same attitude, this generation can condemn Truman and the WW II generals for demanding unconditional surrender with Japan, and for their bombing of Hiro Shima.
But to really be fair, I think it might be wise to try and understand the American attitude towards Japan by recognizing the dynamics of the time and not be so fast to pass judgement. After all, if you were on an aircraft carrier and had just received word that your uncle had died on Iwo Jima or at Guadalcanal, and that your nephew had disappeared in a sub off the coast of japan, you might have had a slightly different perspective then a Sixties Harvard professor.
And the same holds true for the early Americans. Many were against slavery from the very first, and even many farmers who kept slaves were convinced it was an economic necessity. There was of course no Constitutional right to keep slaves, but let me remind you that there is no Constitutional right to abort unborn human infants in their mother’s womb either.
And if you allow yourself to put down the egalitarian books you are reading by 21 century Harvard graduates, just for a minute, and read the actual journals of the men and women who dared to cross the Atlantic to escape from religious persecution, or just to seek a chance to find new opportunities for themselves and their families, you might find that they really don’t fit the “expansionist” picture that is often painted for us in academia. Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone and Sam Houston all fought the Native Americans during wars as the European settlers headed deeper into Indian territories. They all lost family members to raiding war parties, and sometimes had to lay in the brush and listen to a son being tortured all night long before he died an agonizing death. Many tribes on the east coast maintained a cult of torture, and while not as bad arguably as our pre-Christian Celtic and Saxon or Viking forefathers, they did not always behave in ways that our Harvard doctors might approve.
And yet despite this, none of those men hated the American Indians. When the Creeks finally settled down, Crockett lost his job in congress because of his fight to recognize the rights of Creeks and Cherokees as full American citizens, a fight he eventually lost and which led to the trail of tears. All three of those men lived with the Indians and if you read their journals, they had a deep love and respect for the courage and toughness of the Indian people. They did not harbor ill will towards them and I think on the part of Boone and Crockett this was largely due their Christian training and grace.
Despite what ever qualities they had, many Native American tribes themselves practiced ruthless expansionism among themselves and kept slaves. The Seminoles were not living in the swamp for no reason; they had fled there to escape being enslaved by the Creeks. Crockett s trip to the Alamo and the Texas war for independence is more complicated, but still not explainable in the half a sentence that Barack Obama gives it in his book. On the down side for many of the American settlers in Mexican Tejas, they were slave holders who wanted to grow cotton. And to the Mexican governments credit, they had just outlawed slavery. However that wasn’t the only thing they had outlawed. They made it a law that all Tejanos had to join the Catholic church and pay their tithes to it.
There may not have been a Constitutional right to slavery, but the American settlers did recognize the right to religious liberty. This and very heavy handed treatment by the distant Mexican government eventually led to the war, and interestingly many of those in favor of independence were Mexican born nationals. Go to the Alamo and read the list of the men slaughtered there, you’ll be surprised at how many were Mexican.
And I can’t help but wonder what these politically correct doctors think would have taken place if America had not expanded it’s borders? Britain was very interested in Texas, as were other countries and history shows that a vacuum is soon filled. And at what point does expansion become evil? Were the first pilgrims evil for escaping a menacing English government? Were the Iroquois evil for pushing the Cherokee farther south? There is no doubt that when America broke it’s land treaties with the various tribes, that was wrong and refusing to recognize the Cherokee and Creek and Choctaws as citizens was unexcusable. Chasing down the Nez Perce for trying to flee into Canada to join their relatives was grossly manipulative and unfair.
But do these Harvard scholars and this generation really think they are morally superior to the early Americans? The chapter of Obama’s book where he blithely denigrates our forefathers for their pioneering and expansion rings of cant and Pharisaical self righteousness and hypocrisy. And it fails to take into account all the social and cultural dynamics or put it into the perspective of other “expansion” movements throughout history.
But, that’s what they taught him at Harvard. And real history rarely serves Marxist ideology.