A Long History of America’s Dark Side

Posted: 11/01/2010 by Lynn Dartez in We The People

by Peter Dale Scott and Robert Parry
Consortium News

Recently by Peter Dale Scott: Supplanting the US Constitution: War, National Emergency and ‘Continuity of Government’

Editor’s Note: Many Americans view their country and its soldiers as the “good guys” spreading “democracy” and “liberty” around the world. When the United States inflicts unnecessary death and destruction, it’s viewed as a mistake or an aberration.

In the following article – cobbled together from previous stories published at Consortiumnews.com – Peter Dale Scott and Robert Parry examine the long history of these acts of brutality, a record that suggests they are neither a “mistake” nor an “aberration” but rather conscious counterinsurgency doctrine on the “dark side”:

There is a dark – seldom acknowledged – thread that runs through U.S. military doctrine, dating back to the early days of the Republic.

This military tradition has explicitly defended the selective use of terror, whether in suppressing Native American resistance on the frontiers in the 19th Century or in protecting U.S. interests abroad in the 20th Century or fighting the “war on terror” over the last decade.

The American people are largely oblivious to this hidden tradition because most of the literature advocating state-sponsored terror is carefully confined to national security circles and rarely spills out into the public debate, which is instead dominated by feel-good messages about well-intentioned U.S. interventions abroad.

Over the decades, congressional and journalistic investigations have exposed some of these abuses. But when that does happen, the cases are usually deemed anomalies or excesses by out-of-control soldiers.

But the historical record shows that terror tactics have long been a dark side of U.S. military doctrine. The theories survive today in textbooks on counterinsurgency warfare, “low-intensity” conflict and “counter-terrorism.”

Some historians trace the formal acceptance of those brutal tenets to the 1860s when the U.S. Army was facing challenge from a rebellious South and resistance from Native Americans in the West. Out of those crises emerged the modern military concept of “total war” – which considers attacks on civilians and their economic infrastructure an integral part of a victorious strategy.

In 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman cut a swath of destruction through civilian territory in Georgia and the Carolinas. His plan was to destroy the South’s will to fight and its ability to sustain a large army in the field. The devastation left plantations in flames and brought widespread Confederate complaints of rape and murder of civilians.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Col. John M. Chivington and the Third Colorado Cavalry were employing their own terror tactics to pacify Cheyennes. A scout named John Smith later described the attack at Sand Creek, Colorado, on unsuspecting Indians at a peaceful encampment:

“They were scalped; their brains knocked out; the men used their knives, ripped open women, clubbed little children, knocked them in the head with their guns, beat their brains out, mutilated their bodies in every sense of the word.” [U.S. Cong., Senate, 39 Cong., 2nd Sess., “The Chivington Massacre,” Reports of the Committees.]

Though Smith’s objectivity was challenged at the time, today even defenders of the Sand Creek raid concede that most women and children there were killed and mutilated. [See Lt. Col. William R. Dunn, I Stand by Sand Creek.]

Yet, in the 1860s, many whites in Colorado saw the slaughter as the only realistic way to bring peace, just as Sherman viewed his “march to the sea” as necessary to force the South’s surrender.

The brutal tactics in the West also helped clear the way for the transcontinental railroad, built fortunes for favored businessmen and consolidated Republican political power for more than six decades, until the Great Depression of the 1930s. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Indian Genocide and Republican Power.”]

Four years after the Civil War, Sherman became commanding general of the Army and incorporated the Indian pacification strategies – as well as his own tactics – into U.S. military doctrine. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, who had led Indian wars in the Missouri territory, succeeded Sherman in 1883 and further entrenched those strategies as policy. [See Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide.]

By the end of the 19th Century, the Native American warriors had been vanquished, but the Army’s winning strategies lived on.

Imperial America

When the United States claimed the Philippines as a prize in the Spanish-American War, Filipino insurgents resisted. In 1900, the U.S. commander, Gen. J. Franklin Bell, consciously modeled his brutal counterinsurgency campaign after the Indian wars and Sherman’s “march to the sea.”

Bell believed that by punishing the wealthier Filipinos through destruction of their homes – much as Sherman had done in the South – they would be coerced into helping convince their countrymen to submit.

Learning from the Indian wars, he also isolated the guerrillas by forcing Filipinos into tightly controlled zones where schools were built and other social amenities were provided.

“The entire population outside of the major cities in Batangas was herded into concentration camps,” wrote historian Stuart Creighton Miller. “Bell’s main target was the wealthier and better-educated classes. … Adding insult to injury, Bell made these people carry the petrol used to burn their own country homes.” [See Miller’s “Benevolent Assimilation.”]

For those outside the protected areas, there was terror. A supportive news correspondent described one scene in which American soldiers killed “men, women, children … from lads of 10 and up, an idea prevailing that the Filipino, as such, was little better than a dog. …

“Our soldiers have pumped salt water into men to ‘make them talk,’ have taken prisoner people who held up their hands and peacefully surrendered, and an hour later, without an atom of evidence to show they were even insurrectos, stood them on a bridge and shot them down one by one, to drop into the water below and float down as an example to those who found their bullet-riddled corpses.”

Defending the tactics, the correspondent noted that “it is not civilized warfare, but we are not dealing with a civilized people. The only thing they know and fear is force, violence, and brutality.” [Philadelphia Ledger, Nov. 19, 1900]

In 1901, anti-imperialists in Congress exposed and denounced Bell’s brutal tactics. Nevertheless, Bell’s strategies won military acclaim as a refined method of pacification.

In a 1973 book, one pro-Bell military historian, John Morgan Gates, termed reports of U.S. atrocities “exaggerated” and hailed Bell’s “excellent understanding of the role of benevolence in pacification.”

Gates recalled that Bell’s campaign in Batanga was regarded by military strategists as “pacification in its most perfected form.” [See Gates’s Schoolbooks and Krags: The United States Army in the Philippines, 1898–1902.]

Spreading the Word

At the turn of the century, the methodology of pacification was a hot topic among the European colonial powers, too. From Namibia to Indochina, Europeans struggled to subdue local populations.

Read the rest of the article

November 1, 2010

Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat and English Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of Drugs Oil and War, The Road to 9/11, and The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War. His book, Fueling America’s War Machine: Deep Politics and the CIA’s Global Drug Connection is in press, due Fall 2010 from Rowman & Littlefield. Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

Copyright © 2010 Consortium News

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Comments
  1. I like this post, and your stuff is and has always been good

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