Socialist Worker

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on The imperialist origins of the US

Issue No. 1927

George Bush won re-election by proving himself a militarist and imperialist that would make the “founding fathers” proud.

The majority of the US voting population is white and descendant of the old settler class, both the wealthy white, Anglo-Saxon protestants such as the Bush family, and the more numerous Scots-Irish “frontier” settlers—foot soldiers of the US empire—who comprise the majority of the southern states’ populations. I was born of and raised in the latter group in rural Oklahoma.

The US left, historically and at the present, denies and rationalises the facts of the founding in order to continue the myth that the US is a benign democracy, viewing obvious contradictions as anomalies.

The left refuses to recognise that the overseas imperialism that became evident in the 1898 war with Spain was only a further manifestation of the continental imperialism against the nations and peoples now known as Native Americans begun with this country’s founding, soon followed by the annexation of half of Mexico.

We on the US left are stuck. We are stuck in a false past, and therefore are confused by the present. We can’t move forward. We tell others and ourselves lies, often claiming that it is necessary in order to “win” people over.

There is a “left” and a “right” interpretation of the lie of US origins. No social or political vision, realistic or otherwise, no ordering of priorities can be conjured until we realise that this is serious business, this lie, and no good can come of it.

Let’s take the first and second Gulf wars. Most of my left comrades named and names oil as the objective. I argue that these are “Indian wars”, a renewal of the birth of the nation by imperialism and genocide.

The Second Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) is a self-contained elite army unit that most know as having been at the head of Patton’s Third Army when it crossed Europe during the Second World War.

In the first Gulf war, at that farcical stage called “the ground war”, the Second ACR led the tanks into Iraq.

A retired commander of the ACR proudly told his TV interviewer that the unit was formed in the 1830s to fight the Seminoles and was responsible for finally defeating them in the Florida Everglades in 1836, in the third US war against the Seminoles over nearly two decades.

The first two wars were led by General Andrew Jackson, the third was under Jackson as commander in chief, elected president largely due to his role in those wars. Soon after, the five largest Native nations of the Southeast were forcibly expelled and driven to Indian territory or Oklahoma.

Again in the second Gulf war, the Second ACR led the invasion of Iraq, this time, while waiting orders on the Kuwait border, painting themselves and doing “Indian dances” and “war whoops”, as observed by an Associated Press reporter.

The US left needs to develop some curiosity. Who were the Seminoles and why are those three wars, given so little attention in US history texts, so important to the military to this day? Why is the term “Indian Country” still used by the military to refer to enemy territory?

How and why did the US military become the largest military machine in human history, larger and more deadly than all other militaries in human history combined?

Why does the US fight only “foreign wars”? Why are those wars so effective in binding US citizens? Why do we use the terms, “America” and “Americans”, to refer to the US and to US citizens, much to the ire of all the other countries of the hemisphere and the Caribbean?

If we as the US left are not about dismantling the empire, which will require dismantling the seats of power, and if we can’t stop claiming to be “the real patriots”, we will stay stuck, and irrelevant.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is a historian, writer and activist. She is the author most recently of Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie. Her book on Ronald Reagan’s Contra war against Nicaragua will appear in 2005.


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