AMENDMENT TWO POINT FIVE

Man is an imperfect being, and none of his creations, whether material or political, will ever achieve perfection. But some steps can be taken that will alleviate, though not eradicate, the problem of gun violence. These steps involve the regulation of firearms, tighter control of the trade in firearms, better enforcement of existing laws, and greater attention to the mental health of the population.

There are three good reasons why people want to have guns: first, they want to hunt, either for necessity or for pleasure; second, they want to be able to protect themselves and their property; and third, they enjoy such sporting events as skeet shooting. Guns suitable for these purposes should be freely available.

But there are other guns which are not suitable for these purposes, guns which have been designed for use in warfare: semi-automatic rifles (“assault weapons”), for example. These guns have no purpose other than to kill as many people as possible in the shortest possible time. And there are also guns which have elaborate features which are not necessary for hunting, protection, or competitive sport. The good old six-shooter has enough capacity; a 30-bullet clip is not necessary. Sale and possession of guns intended for use in warfare and guns which can shoot more than six bullets at a time should be illegal.

One goal of legislation should be to keep guns out of the hands of criminals as much as possible, and that is why background checks are necessary and should be required for all gun sales. Presently, I am told, some 40 percent of gun sales in the United States are made without background checks; and, moreover, the data bank to be used is incomplete. Now that there are smart phones and tablets, there is no reason why background checks at gun shows should be difficult.

Not all convicted felons should be included in the data bank; there are some nonviolent crimes, such as forgery and embezzlement, whose perpetrators may safely be allowed to have guns. But no gun should ever be sold by anyone to a person who has been convicted of a violent crime, and buying a gun to provide to such a person should also be illegal. If the National Rifle Association opposes this kind of prohibition, the purpose of the NRA can only be to protect violent criminals.

In addition, while the NRA publicly claims that enforcement of existing laws is adequate and no additional laws are necessary, NRA lobbyists are busily persuading — and paying — lawmakers to withhold from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms the resources it needs to enforce those laws. Most guns used in crimes are sold by a very small percentage of gun dealers, and yet the ATF is prohibited from performing the kind of investigations needed to identify these dealers and close them down. It arouses the suspicion that the NRA is in active collusion with the criminals.

But some of the most horrendous crimes recently, such as the Aurora movie theater massacre and the Newtown elementary school massacre, have been committed by persons who have no history of violent crime. There is also a registry of persons who are considered by mental health professionals to pose a potential danger to society, but fewer than half the states contribute to it. States that do not contribute should be denied many forms of federal funding, and use of this registry, as well as that of violent criminals, should be required for all gun purchases…

Given these four measures, there would not be a complete elimination of deaths by guns, but the numbers would certainly be fewer. Saving the life of only one person a year would be worth whatever expense and inconvenience the measures would incur.

*

The greatest obstacle to taking these steps is the National Rifle Association, which likes to pretend that it is a band of law-abiding hunters. Nonsense. The National Rifle Association is a creature of the corporations that manufacture guns. And of course we believe that corporations always put the public good ahead of profits, just as we believe that every time we lose a tooth the tooth fairy leaves a dime under our pillow.

Since the National Rifle Association is a private organization, it is not required to make its membership rolls public. If those rolls were available for scrutiny, I suspect that many of the law-abiding hunters who are members would be appalled to discover that some of their comrades were convicted felons who joined in gratitude for NRA positions that facilitate armed robbery and do nothing to prevent murder. In fact, if I were the head of a large criminal enterprise, I would shovel large sums to the coffers of the NRA, since it would be actively enabling me to carry out my business more smoothly.

It is noticeable that any time an advocate of gun control says, “We’ve got to keep guns out of the hands of crooks and crazies,” the NRA screams, “They’re trying to take our guns away from us.” If the NRA would only keep quiet, nobody would know that they have so many crooks and crazies among their members. Perhaps gun owners who are both sane and law-abiding should leave the NRA to the crooks and crazies and form their own organization.

*

One fantasy that the NRA has been promoting is that everybody would be safer if everybody had a gun. Well, we have had situations in the past where everybody had a gun, and safety was not noticeably increased. If the NRA is right, Wild Bill Hickok, who was armed, would not have been killed in Deadwood by Jack McCall, and in 1873 Dodge City would have been the safest place in the United States.

Again we turn to Huckleberry Finn Grows Up, where Huck describes some of the situations in which guns settled situations lethally that could have been solved more peacefully. I give only a selection; there are more. The scene is Kansas Territory in the years between 1854 and statehood in 1861:

Seems like it [the trouble] ’d started November 21 bout ten mile south of Lawrence. Two galoots had land claims right next to each other, Franklin Coleman and Charles Dow. Coleman was pro-slavery, and Dow was a free-soiler. They didn’t agree bout nothing, and one thing they didn’t agree on was where was the boundary between their two claims. They argeed and argeed and argeed, and on November 21 Dow went over to see Coleman and they argeed some more. I reckon Dow must a said some pretty hard words to Coleman, cause when he was walking away Coleman got out his gun and shot him in the back.

Well, that, of course, was a murder. And there warn’t no way of keeping the law out of that. But the law in Douglas County, which is whar Lawrence is, was Sheriff Samuel Jones, who’d been app’inted by the Territorial Legislature. And Jones was a pro-slavery man that come from Missouri, like all the sheriffs app’inted by the legislature. Coleman was skeered that Dow’s friends’d come a-gunning for him, so he run to Jones and asked Jones to perteck him. So Jones and Coleman went to Shawnee Mission to talk to Govnor Shannon, and then Jones took Coleman to Lecompton, where he’d be tried by pro-slavery men that’d be like to say shooting a free-state man in the back was self-defense.

 

Bout the same time feller name of Tom Barber got killed. He had a claim bout eight mile south of Lawrence and come to town to help us. On December 6 him and two friends, they lit out for home cause he wanted to visit his wife. Barber warn’t armed, but t’other two was carrying guns. They was stopped by bout a dozen Missourians and ordered to turn back. Barber and his friends said they wouldn’t go. There was shooting, and Barber was hit in the side and knocked off his horse. The two friends left his body lying there on the roadside and come back to Lawrence as fast as they could go.

. . . a farmer name of Jones come into Lawrence to buy a bag of flour at Mr. Corcoran’s store. On the way back home he run into a party of Law and Order men [members of the pro-slavery party]. They robbed him, took his gun away from him, and then shot him dead. When the word of that come back to town, some of the hotheaded young scamps rid out to the scene of the crime, wanting to avenge it. Well, they was a-looking for trouble, and they found it. They come up again two Law and Order men. First they traded words with them, then shots, and one of the Lawrence boys were killed. Course, they was blame fools, but if that carried the death penalty, there wouldn’t be many folks left alive.

. . . Jim Lane got into big trouble. He’d took a claim on some land up north in Doniphan County, in addition to his land outside Lawrence, and his next neighbor were pro-slavery. They argeed a lot bout politics, of course, but it come to a head when the neighbor claimed Lane were a-planting corn in his pasture land. They had words, and then it come to blows, and in the end Lane shot the man and killed him. The man’d pulled a gun on Lane first, so it were self-defense, but the case took old Jim outen the free-state battle for a while.

Of course, those were days in which the nation was sharply divided between two groups, the people who believed that slavery was right and proper and the Abolitionists, who believed it was an abomination. That division ultimately led to civil war. Aren’t we fortunate to be living at a time when there is no potential for violence because there are no sharp divisions among us; the right-wing Republicans and left-wing Democrats may disagree on a few minor issues, but on the big major questions they are in total agreement and regard each other with mutual respect and admiration. In a pig’s eye they do.

*

The second amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It is one of ten amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791. That date is significant because it leads to two further considerations.

The first is that at that time a gun could shoot only one bullet at a time. The Colt six-shooter, called a revolver because the chamber that held the bullets revolved each time it was fired, was invented in 1836. The Sharps rifle, which was standard in the early days on the frontier, was single-action. One reason that the North defeated the South in the war was that the Northern army was armed with the superior Spencer rifle, the world’s first repeating rifle; it had been invented in 1860. The Winchester, “the gun that won the West,” did not appear until 1866.

The second consideration suggested by the date of the amendment is the political situation at the time. The formation of the federal government was extremely controversial. Until the Constitution was adopted, the “United” States was a weak confederation of independent colonies. Many persons, especially politicians who held power in those colonies, were suspicious of the federation; Hamilton, Madison, and Jay had to publish the Federalist in 1787-8 to reassure them. Some of these persons were simply concerned that they would lose some of their own power; they were big frogs in the little ponds of the states, and they feared becoming little frogs in the big pond of the federal union. But some were seriously concerned about the possibility of tyranny if too much power became centralized, and they wanted to retain the ability of the states to defend themselves against tyranny if it arose. These people wanted the states to have the right to create “well-regulated militias” of citizen soldiers who could leave their plows and grab up their firearms when called to action.

Another point to be raised about the political situation is that the international environment of the United States was very precarious, while its military ability was very limited.. It may be that the most significant phrase in the amendment is “necessary to the security of a free state.” The battle of Yorktown, in which Washington’s army defeated the British to put an end to military activity, had occurred only ten years previously, in 1781, and the peace treaty which formalized American independence was not signed until 1783.

The British still held Canada, from which it was possible that a new attack could be mounted; while George III had presumably learned his lesson, there was no guarantee that his successor would not entertain an ambition to regain the colonies. Moreover, the French held the western two-thirds of the continent on which the new republic was situated, with thriving colonies at places like St. Louis and Nouvelle Orleans. The French had supported the Revolution since 1778, but there was ferment in Europe and nobody knew what would happen; the French had their own Revolution in 1798, and the results were unpredictable. Jefferson did not purchase the Louisiana Territory until 1803.

Thus there was reason to be concerned about “the security of a free state.” Yet even in the Revolutionary War the colonists had nothing that could really be considered an army. It was a rag-tag group of embattled farmers that fired the shots heard round the world at Lexington and Concord. We won because of Washington’s tactical genius, not because we had a body of well-disciplined professional troops. Now that the war was over, the new nation had no standing army to defend itself against the kind of foreign incursion that actually occurred in 1812, when the British invaded Washington and burned the White House. What we had was only a collection of “well-regulated militias” raised and trained by the thirteen states. We were a poor nation; the militiamen had to supply their own guns and ammunition.

Even much later, as the Civil War began, the regular armies on both sides, which amounted to one army broken in two, were laughably small. That war was fought largely by militiamen; somebody with enough money and ego would declare himself a colonel and recruit himself a regiment. That process is described in my novel Huckleberry Finn Grows Up.

 

Jim Lane took his Jayhawkers [a militia Lane had organized to fight pro-slavery militias] and organized what he called the Frontier Guard out of them. They was the first military organization to reach Washington, and seen to the defense of the White House. . . . [Notice that the “regular army” wasn’t around.]

 

June 3 [1861] . . . the First Regiment of Kansas Volunteer Infantry was recruited at Camp Lincoln, near Fort Leavenworth. The Rebs was flying a Confederate flag at Iatan, Missouri, just a few mile away, and on June 4 twelve fellers from the First Kansas crossed the river, cut down the flag with a butcher knife, and come back cross the river with it. Three of them was wounded. Then on June 13 the regiment left to jine the Union Army.

 

. . . The Second Regiment of Kansas Volunteer Infantry was recruited in Lawrence [June 11]. They marched off to jine the Union Army at Kansas City on June 20, and me and Sarah took little Tommy to see them go. It like to broke my heart to see them beautiful young men going off so brave and cheerful to get shot down like so many rabbits. I made up my mind then and there that if there were any way I could help keep Tommy from ever having to march away like that, I’d do whatever I had to do.

 

The First and Second Regiments both fought under General Lyon at the Battle of Wilson’s Crick in Missouri. Eleven of the Second Regiment was killed in that battle. I knowed two of the fellers, Horace Dyke and Mennassee Glatheart, and it brought the war home to me when the word come that they was killed.

 

Jim Lane got appinted a brigadier genral of volunteers by Presdent Lincoln but resigned his commission so’s he could keep his Senate seat. But that didn’t mean he were out of the war. He took his Jayhawkers and went into Missouri, fighting the Rebs wheresomever he found them.

 

March 25 [1862] the Seventh Regiment of Kansas Volunteer Calvary come back to town after fighting the Rebs in Missouri, and we turned out to give them a heroes’ welcome. They paraded down Massachusetts Avenue, and the town band played, and everbody were a-waving American flags. Govnor Robinson were there, and course he made him a speech.

 

Soon as Jim Lane got through recruiting the Eleventh Kansas Volunteer Calvary Regiment, him and Charles W. Adams of Lawrence started recruiting the Twelfth Regiment of Kansas Volunteer Infantry. They made Adams kernl of it. Soon as the regiment were a-mustered in, they was put to guarding the border between Kansas and Missouri. Then Lane and Cyrus Leland of Atchison started recruiting the Thirteenth Regiment of Kansas Volunteer Calvary. It were organized September 10 and mustered in September 20.

 

In November I come across a dispatch saying that the first slave regiment in the Union Army, the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, had been organized. The kernl in charge were Thomas Wentworth Higginson, from Boston. Well, if Thomas Wentworth Higginson could recruit a regiment of niggers, Jim Lane figgered he could do it, too. So he put together the First Regiment of Colored Kansas Volunteer Infantry. These was mostly slaves that’d come over the line from Missouri, liberated by Lane and his Jayhawkers.

 

Govnor Carney appinted Kernl C.R. Jennison of the Kansas Militia to recruit a regiment of calvary to perteck the eastern border of the state. It were organized at Fort Leavenworth [1863].

 

In that way the Union army was cobbled together. That was even more true of the Confederates. A popular folksong of the Civil War tells how the unit surprised while “eatin’ goober peas” was the Georgia militia. And historians disagree about whether Quantrill’s gang, which raided Lawrence in 1863, had been legitimated as a militia.

Even as late as the Spanish-American War the U.S. army wasn’t big enough to fight a war all by itself and needed help from militias. “Colonel” Teddy Roosevelt led his Rough Riders, a militia force, up San Juan Hill.

But times and technology have changed. Firearms have multiple-shot capacities that the authors of the second amendment never dreamed of. The United States has an army second to none in the world, if not in numbers, then in advanced armaments. And each state has National Guard units who can be called into action at any time by the governor of the state; these constitute the “well-regulated militias” envisioned by the second amendment, and indeed some of them have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since the times and technology have changed, it is time to modify the second amendment to keep up with the times. Too many Americans are being killed by guns in ways that the authors of that amendment never dreamed were possible.

 

Canticles of praise and screams of outrage should be sent to samsackett@netscape.net.

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The Wild, Wild MidEast

George Bernard Shaw said it: “We learn from history that we never learn from history.”

In my novel Sweet Betsy from Pike there’s a scene where the wagon train, going upstream along the Platte River, comes to a Pawnee village.  Grass for the train’s animals has been getting scarce, and there in front of them is the Indians’ vegetable garden.  It’s a temptation some of the men can’t resist.

“Look at that corn!” Major North said enthusiastically. “Our animals need that. Let’s turn em loose on it!”

“No!” Aubry boomed. “You’ll git us kilt.”

“Capn Aubry,” the Major said, drawing himself up, “if our animals ain’t properly fed, we’ll never make it to Californy. Are you sayen thet you count these Injuns more important than us?”

“No,” Aubry snapped, “I’m sayen that if you harm them crops, the Injuns’ll swarm over us like bees out a the hive, and our chances of getten to Californy won’t be worth a tinker’s dam.”

“Capn Aubry,” the Major said, “I’m accusen you a cowardice, an if we get through this I’ll plaster your name over ever newspaper in the States.”

“Plaster away,” Aubry said. “The lives a the people in this train air my responsibility, and I say we leave thet corn alone!”

The Major turned to face the other men. “I mean to take my oxen down to that corn and give em a good meal. I’ve got guns, and I kin defend myself agin any Injuns that ever lived. Any a the rest a ya that wants to feed yer animals, grab yer guns and come along!”

Aubry drew a long-barreled Colt revolver. “You better not try it, Major.”

“Aubry, I’m callen your bluff.” The Major strode to his wagon and unhitched his team. From the wagon he produced a service revolver, which he tucked into his waistband, and a rifle. He led the team toward the Pawnee garden.

Aubry positioned himself so that he stood in the way. The Major halted.

Mr. Hopkins called out, “I’m goen with ya, Major.”

Mrs. Hopkins said, “Alfred, don’t you go.”

For a moment Mr. Hopkins wavered. Then he said, “Woman, this is man’s business.” Ignoring her continued commands, he unhitched his team, armed himself, and joined the Major.

The Major said, “Anybody else?”

Ike and Hiram looked at each other. Neither saw in the other’s countenance a desire to risk death, either from Aubry or the Indians.

John Belgrave, one of the unmarried men in the train, unhitched his mule and stood beside North and Hopkins.

“Are you gone a kill all three of us?” North demanded.

Aubry spat tobacco on the ground at North’s feet. “No,” he said, lowering his revolver, “I’m a gone a let the Pawnee do that. If you damn fools wan a die, I’m not gone a stop ya.”

As soon as North and his associates began to lead their animals down the hill, Aubry began to bark orders. “Circle up the wagons. Remember what I told ya, the tongue of each wagon under the wagon in front of it. And we can use them three’s wagons, too, if they’re not too heavy to push in place. Animals inside the circle.”

Hiram, Ike, and Betsy worked with the other emigrants to circle the wagons, casting occasional glances toward their comrades who were descending the hill toward the Pawnee garden.

As Aubry had predicted, the emergence of the Indians from their lodges resembled the swarming of bees from their hive. At first they merely yelled at the intruders, but then North fired his rifle at one of them, wounding him in the shoulder.

Immediately the Indians notched arrows to their bows and began peppering the invaders. Mr. Hopkins was the first to fall. Mrs. Hopkins screamed.

“Hurry up!” Aubry roared. “We ain’t got much time!”

The skirmish did not last long. In only a few minutes North, Hopkins, and Belgrave all lay dead, and the oxen belonging to North and Hopkins, together with Belgrave’s mule and the three men’s weapons, were in the hands of the Pawnee.

Mrs. Hopkins was sitting on the ground, weeping, moaning, rocking herself in her own arms. Betsy knelt beside her and put an arm around her, trying to comfort her.

In only a few minutes, the Indians had rounded up their ponies and were riding up the hill toward the circled wagons, yipping and yelling as they came.

Fortunately Captain Aubry was able to parley with the Indians and save the lives of the other Whites.  But the incident is a good illustration of the relationship between Whites and Indians in America in the nineteenth century.

*

When I was in school, American history books included the story of the Custer massacre at the Little Big Horn in 1876.  In the history books Custer and his men were brave heroes; the Cheyenne and Sioux who wiped them out were treated as villains.

What the history books never told was the story of how Custer and his cavalry had a few years previously wiped out a Cheyenne village on the Washita River, slaughtering men, women, and children.  The Cheyenne chief, Black Kettle, had made a good faith effort to be friendly toward the Whites.  “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” — pioneer proverb.

Another instance of White perfidy is referred to in another of my novels, Huckleberry Finn Grows Up.  Huck describes the event and then discusses it with his wife:

Some friendly Injuns was camped on Sand Crick, Colorado Territory, near Fort Lyon.  They was on their own reservation, and they’d been ordered to go there so they’d be safe.  Then on November 29 a blame fool Colonel named J.M. Chivington, with a company of Colorado militia, attacked them and killed nigh onto ever one of them, men, women, and childern.

I told Sarah bout it, and she said, “What a horrible thing!”

I said, “Yep, an’ it’s a good ‘zample o’ what I been sayin’.  Them Injuns ain’t a-goin’ to take that massacree a-lyin’ down.  They’s a-goin’ to be hoppin’ mad, an’ they ain’t a-goin’ to be too partickler who they kills.  They ain’t a-goin’ to stop people an’ say, ‘Is yore name Chivin’ton?’  If you’s white, they’s a-goin’ to kill you an’ scalp you.”

“I’m afraid you’re probably right.  But does that mean that the Indians ought to forgive the white people for doing that terrible thing?”

I thought about that for a while, and then I said, “That ain’t in human nature.  But what ought to happen is the Govnor o’ Colorado Territory sh’d ought a take Chivin’ton out to wher as many Injuns as possible could see it, an’ hang him.  An’ then he sh’d ought a say to the Injuns, ‘This is the man that done that turrible thing to the Injuns at Sand Crick, an’ you see what we done to ‘im.  We punished ‘im for ‘is crime.  An’ ever’ soljer that follered ‘is orders’ll be punished, too, by bein’ put in prison.  An’ we beg yer pardon, an’ we ask yer forgiveness for the turrible thing we done to you.’  Thet’s whut’d ought to happen.”

“Would that make the Indians feel better after so many of them had been killed?”

“Well, no, but it’d at least show the Injuns that white folks ain’t all bad.”

“Do you think anything like that will actually happen?”

“‘Course not.  Most white folks think, ‘Well, they’s only Injuns,’ an’ don’ b’lieve they has any feelin’s.  Or they think that all Injuns is bad an’ desarves killin’ anyhoo.  I jedge they’ll most likely give Colonel Chivin’ton a medal.  An’ the result is goin’ to be that the Injuns’ll take revenge an’ vengeance an’ ‘tack more an’ more white folks, an’ the white folks’ ‘ll call for revenge an’ vengeance an’ kill more an’ more Injuns, an’ it’ll keep gettin’ wuss an’ wuss.”

And I was right.

Much of the Indian violence against Whites was in fact a reaction against White violence against the Indians.  Indeed, the reason Custer was at the Little Big Horn in 1876 was that the Cheyenne and Sioux had been crowded into a reservation in the inhospitable setting of the Black Hills — and then gold was discovered on the reservation and Whites were crowding in, pushing the Indians around.  The role of the army units of which Custer’s unit was a part was to protect the intruders.

The truth is that since the first permanent settlement by Whites was made in what has become the United States of America in 1620, we Whites have deliberately and systematically stolen the land the Indians lived on.  We have made a few pitiful gestures toward repayment, but most of what we have given the Indians in return is syphilis and drunkenness.

Our justification has always been that we were civilized, and the Indians were, as Mr. Hopkins had said on a previous occasion, savages.  In fact, we were successful only because there were more of us and we had superior weapons.

*

While the Bible describes the territory inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean as a land flowing with milk and honey, much of it is inhospitable desert. In the earliest time that we have records of, it was inhabited by the Philistines.  Since the languages in that area are based on triliteral roots, that is probably the origin of the name “Palestine” (labial consonant + vowel + l + vowel + st + grammatical termination).

The Philistines held it until the arrival of the Hebrews under Joshua, who led his troops to capture Jericho.  But they refused to stay defeated, as the story of Samson attests, until finally David established Hebrew control.  This lasted until the Romans came; when the Roman Empire fell apart, the Muslim Arabs swept through on their way to conquer North Africa.

Be that as it may, Palestine was regarded by Jews worldwide as their homeland, from which they had been forced by various accidents of history.  Through the centuries many dreamed that the chosen people would one day return to their chosen land.

Palestine was held by the Ottoman Turks until they made the mistake of backing the losing side in World War I.  With the Turks gone, the British claimed it as a protectorate, and it remained fairly peaceful until World War II, before and during which six million European Jews were annihilated by Hitler’s Nazis in the name of Aryan racial purity.

The war’s carnage left hundreds of millions of Europeans homeless.  Among these was a sizable number of Jews, who considered that now was an opportune time for them to reclaim their ancestral home.  For several years the British tried valiantly to keep them out; but the British were bedeviled by such terrorist organizations as the Stern gang, Irgun, and Haganah.  At length international pressure, especially from American Jews, forced the British to throw up their hands, and the nation of Israel was born.

History repeated itself.  As David had established Jewish hegemony over the Philistines, David Ben-Gurion established Jewish hegemony over the Palestinians.  The Israelis forced many Palestinians to become refugees, fleeing to neighboring countries like Jordan and Syria.  The remaining Palestinians were largely herded into two reservations, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  The Israelis justified their treatment by saying that they, bearing European culture, were civilized.  They stopped short of calling the Palestinians savages, but I have heard Israeli politicians say that the Palestinians didn’t deserve the land because they weren’t doing anything useful with it.

Sound familiar?

*

Of course, there are differences.  We Whites outnumbered the Indians; the Palestinians outnumbered the Israelis.  The Israelis at the outset didn’t have as much superiority in weaponry over the Palestinians as we did over the redskins.  The Indians didn’t go to Mexico as refugees, and only a few went to Canada.  The Indians had no co-religionist nations in the area to support their cause.  But the situations are eerily similar.

Consider that we Whites have been trying to subdue the Indians since 1620.  The last important military confrontation was the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890, 270 years later.  In the more than 120 years since Wounded Knee, we have not been able to solve the problem of what to do with the Indians.  The Plains tribes, at least, cannot go back to their old way of life; for one thing,  most of the buffaloes on which Plains culture depended were killed, in order to feed buffalo meat to the crews building the railroads, by such hunters as William F. Cody.

Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill,

He always shoots, and he aims to kill,

He never misses and never will,

And the railroad pays his buffalo bill.

A few Indians have successfully been assimilated into American life.  A great many have become dependent on government attempts to support them now that their way of life has been taken from them, like the “drunken Ira Hayes” of Johnny Cash’s song.  The vast majority are living between these two extremes. They are an unsolved problem, and the easiest thing to do with an unsolved problem is to forget it — which, by and large, the United States has done.

In contrast to the nearly 400 years in which the United States has been dealing with its Indians, the State of Israel is only some 60-odd years old.  Why do we expect Israel to be able to solve its Palestinian problem?

We couldn’t “give the land back to the Indians,” as was jocularly proposed some years ago; we had built great cities and had plowed extensive farms on that land.  Similarly the Israelis have built great cities and have “made the desert blossom like the rose” by sinking wells into the underground aquifer.  So the Palestinian desire to reclaim their lost land and drive the Jews away is totally unrealistic.  Israel exists, it’s not going to go away, and it has the right to defend itself.

But the Palestinian thirst for revenge and vengeance is only natural, as was the thirst of the Indians for revenge and vengeance after the massacres along Sand Creek and the Washita River.  The fact that the Palestinians are lobbing rockets into Israel is a problem the Israelis have created for themselves.  The desire of the Israelis for the Palestinians to stop doing it is both completely understandable and completely illogical.  It is in defiance of human nature.

The situation is a standoff.  It is a tragic standoff, but it is a standoff nonetheless.  Any hope that a “peace process” will succeed is an illusion.  We should not lament our failure to achieve a solution, for a solution is impossible.  Israel and the Palestinians will likely continue to flounder on in mutual hostility for several centuries, as did Catholics and Protestants in Europe after the Reformation.  The conflict will not be resolved until enough people on both sides simply get tired of it, as the Catholics and Protestants did everywhere except in Northern Ireland.

All this, however, is not to say that the diplomats should stop trying.  Devising peace processes keeps them out of mischief, and it is better to do something futile than to do something destructive.

Pats on the back or slaps in the face to samsackett@netscape.net.

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