Sins of Omission

Whose Atrocities?

The Last Samurai is the latest movie to treat us to the spectacle of the U.S. Army slaughtering American Indian women and children.  Playing a disillusioned captain, Tom Cruise suffers from nightmares for his role in the dastardly deed.  He finds honor and redemption as a Great White Samurai in Japan.  Many movie reviewers have criticized the $120-million epic for making Cruise the King Kong of Samurais.  None have criticized the movie for its portrayal of Cruise and the Boys in Blue killing squaws and papooses.

What is most surprising about the Army’s campaigns in the Old West is how few women and children were killed, although you would never know it from Hollywood portrayals after the mid-60’s.  Moreover, such deaths were almost always unintentional and a consequence of skirmishes and battles taking place in or near Indian villages.  This contrasts sharply with Indian warfare.  When one tribe caught another by surprise, wholesale slaughter of women and children was common.  The same was true when Indians caught whites by surprise.

From the southern plains to the northern plains, from 1850 to 1890, it is difficult to find an engagement in which more than a few Indian women or children were killed.  Only Wounded Knee, at the very end of the period, would be a significant exception, and, in that case, the Indians started the fight, and explosive rounds from...

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