It’s not as if a racist, Marxist, anti-American organization like Black Lives Matter has to try to be obnoxious, but nonetheless, it treated Thanksgiving celebrants with that holiday message this week. Normally Comment of the Day posts that arrive in an Open Forum are accorded guest blogger honors, but I couldn’t figure out a clean way to unlink the two comments presented here. I apologize to P.M. and Steve.
The “stolen lands” indictment has rankled me for a long, long time, and the two Ethics Alarms regulars between them have done an excellent job of covering the issue.
First up is Steve-O; P.M. Lawrence will take over later.
steal [stēl] VERB [stolen (past participle)}: 1. take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it. “Thieves stole her bicycle” ·
synonyms: theft · thieving · thievery · robbery · larceny · burglary · shoplifting · pilfering ·
2. dishonestly pass off (another person’s ideas) as one’s own. “Accusations that one group had stolen ideas from the other were soon flying”
synonyms: plagiarize · copy · pass off as one’s own · infringe the copyright of · pirate · poach · borrow · appropriate
conquer [ˈkäNGkər] VERB 1. overcome and take control of (a place or people) by use of military force. “The Magyars conquered Hungary in the Middle Ages”
synonyms: defeat · beat · vanquish · trounce · annihilate · triumph over · be victorious over · best · get the better of · worst · bring someone to their knees · overcome · overwhelm ·
So tell me, which of the above definitions more accurately reflects what happened here in the US? To steal something from someone, the other person must first possess it. Can you really steal from those who don’t believe anyone can own land? Not really. But you can conquer that area.
Unfortunately, history is almost nothing but conquests. It’s not the story of people becoming friends. History has been about conquests since Sargon of Akkad conquered the Sumerians and since Joshua led the Hebrews over the Jordan to attack and take the city of Jericho. In fact, if you go all the way back to the earliest Biblical stories, the Hebrews first came to be when and because a sheik in the Bronze Age Mesopotamian city of Ur answered a call that came directly from the man upstairs promising him the land originally promised to Caanan, grandson of Ham, because Ham proved himself unworthy by seeing Noah drunk and uncovered in his tent and doing nothing about it. Most of the rest of the Old Testament is about the Hebrews getting, losing, and getting back the land promised to them by God. Most of us grew up reading of Joshua bringing the walls of Jericho down and cheering on David as he stood up to Goliath, giving Saul’s army the chance to defeat the Philistines, and never once asking the question of whether they were right. However, come to the modern state of Israel, and suddenly it’s stolen land, stolen from the Palestinians, who were never a nation to begin with, and at any rate were Johnny-come-latelys since the Caananites, Hebrews, Seleucid Greeks, Romans, Persians (briefly), Byzantines, Crusaders, and Turks had the territory before them.
The fact is that it’s not really about the Israelis, the Palestinians, or any of these other folks who previously occupied the land now known as Israel. It’s about politics, and about delegitimizing the State of Israel, which the left hates for a lot of reasons, like being a strong US ally, like not putting up with terrorism, like standing up to Iran now and Saddam Hussein in his day. By proxy, it’s about delegitimizing the State of Israel’s supporters here, by calling them thieves, murderers, and so on, while telling bs stories about the warm, welcoming Palestinian people who do nothing but get victimized.
Yes, the Americas were conquered. Yes, the Indians got the short end of the stick pretty much every time. That’s what had happened pretty much every time in history that a less developed society took on a more developed one, like the Ethiopians with simple bows and clubs fighting the more organized and better armed Egyptians, or the chaotic and in some cases nomadic Irish facing the heavily armored and armed Normans (in fact the Irish word gallowglass, for armored infantry, comes from the Gaelic words for “gray stranger” reflecting the mail armor of the Normans, which was new to a lot of them).
The western hemisphere was never going to stay undiscovered forever. The Indians were not peaceful tree-huggers, although some were more peaceful than others. Those tended to get knocked about, conquered, sacrificed, and even eaten by those who were not, i.e. the Iroquois in North America, the Caribs in the islands, and the Aztecs in Mexico. Everything was against them once Columbus landed, immunities, demographics, technology, everything. By the time Pontiac’s Rebellion ended at Bushy Run, three new settlers came for every one the Indians killed, while every Indian brave lost in battle was close to irreplaceable. That wasn’t theft, that was flat-up conquest in a war that Pontiac and his compatriots lost because they had neither the numbers nor the weaponry to defeat the forces of the British Empire.
As with the attacks on Israel, the stolen land theme wielded against the United States is about politics, and about the Left trying to shame the rest of us for what was inevitable and unavoidable.
P.M. Lawrence takes it from here with some clarifications, contentions, and complications….
“Can you really steal from those who don’t believe anyone can own land? Not really.”
This is at the heart of the whole Terra Nullius argument here in Australia. I looked into it and came to certain conclusions:-
(1.) It is accurate as far as it goes, but only as regards land proper* It is no coincidence that these words are conceptually as well as lexicographically related.and in a narrow technical way that omits certain things.
(2.) The effective reversal here of the Terra Nullius argument by the Mabo decision created more issues, which have not yet all matured and shown their consequences but which I will cover in point (4.) below.
(3.) You certainly can “steal from those who don’t believe anyone can own land”, you just can’t steal land as such from them. For instance, most Australian aborigines (not Eddie Mabo’s lot) believed that the proper *subject matter of property* rights was women, weapons and dogs, not necessarily in that order, so anyone freeing their women was – in their eyes – stealing them.
(4.) Aboriginal cultures can be construed as having had property* rights that operated in relation to land, such as hunting rights, even though those rights did not emanate from land owning as such and were vested communally or collectively rather than individually (see also our own history of the Enclosure of the Commons and the Highland Clearances, and look at the interplay of Brehon Law and the Penal Laws in various stages of the pacification of Ireland). To the extent that these property* rights existed and were infringed upon, they could and should have been compensated for, e.g. with properly* negotiated quitclaims and/or quitrents – concepts that hark back to dealing with very similar topics in our own history. Without that, there was indeed stealing.
(5.) It often backfires when there are attempts at compensation that work through treating those other cultures’ property (It is no coincidence that these words are conceptually as well as lexicographically related) subject matter concepts as though they are our concepts. This happened quite often and far earlier when there was an attempt to do the right thing from the beginning, e.g. British handling of Ryotwary in India and the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand (where things overheated a generation later, when British outright land purchase came up against Maori sale of lifetime enjoyment without prejudice to heirs’ rights – think entailment, and get a wider insight into our own lost customary practices by reading Meir Kohn’s work on preindustrial European finance at https://sites.dartmouth.edu/mkohn).
More importantly for us today, attempts at setting things right that way are a form of unintended cultural imperialism, in that they force the compensated to start working with unfamiliar concepts. This is a big deal as it creates a pathway to alienation as the new owners have trouble hanging on (see the Indian allotment movement in the U.S.A. I came across this when I was attempting to research the English allotment movement that aimed at setting up potato grounds and similar for the support of the poor, only to find that U.S.-centric internet search engines kept steering me wrong.). And precisely that is hitting aborigines in Australia who are being given land rights “back” as though they were Eddie Mabo’s lot even when they are not. Almost as soon as they find themselves land owners, many find themselves hit with hefty local land tax bills they do not have the liquidity to cover as they have not enjoyed the yield long enough to gain that, and they have trouble getting capital on decent terms and/or knowing how not to lose it (land tax being an exception to actual property* rights in land that has encroached on land ownership in our culture over time, but which would have struck many other cultures as outrageous theft).
For what it’s worth, with the possible exception of the Jackson Purchase of the western parts of Kentucky and Tennessee, every last square inch of the U.S.A. was on one or more occasions either stolen outright, obtained under the colour of purchase after the application of duress, or obtained from others with no better title – and, considering that, the funds for the Jackson Purchase are of dubious origin. Of course, there is nothing special about the U.S.A. in this; have a look at the Declaration of Arbroath sometime….