“The Boy General With His Flowing Yellow Curls”

So Mr. Obama has included Sitting Bull among the “Great Americans” eulogized in his children’s book Of Thee I Sing. Sitting Bull’s story is indeed an epic, tragic Indian saga, but as has been pointed out elsewhere, it is simply logically impossible that someone who was a mortal enemy of the United States could also be an “American.” But at this point perhaps it may be beside the point to oppose Mr. Obama’s view of what constitutes an American on the basis of logic and non-contradiction. His claim makes perfect sense according to the liberal view of American-ness that has taken root since the 1960s. In that view, anyone in the world of any background whatever who manages to arrive in the United States and reside there permanently is an American. A corollary principle is that anyone who ever resided within our borders is also an American – and in fact, American Indians have more or less been granted status within the culture as the truest Americans, as indicated by the title “native Americans” by which they are now known.

Well, I can’t imagine that any American today would have the audacity to deny Indians their special status and right to be here. I would suggest to my fellow (non-Indian) Americans, though, that they think twice before consenting to the notion that American sovereignty belongs to the Indians. The Indians are not about to re-take the United States, but the non-Western immigrants who are currently carrying out an aggressive transformation of our demographics and culture are very much emboldened in this endeavor by the belief that white Americans are, at best, “immigrants” with no particular right to this country, and at worst, invaders who ought to be expelled. Thus an African illegal alien and welfare recipient like Mr. Obama’s Aunt Zeituni claims that America belongs to God, not Americans, and that Americans owe her a living – a sentiment I have also heard expressed by Somalis living here. Thus “Hispanic” immigrants justify their hoped-for takeover of our society on the grounds that they are genetic kindred to American Indians – “we didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us.” (In the linked article, “conservative” Linda Chavez, who had a civil rights appointment under President Reagan, advises Hispanics not to use this slogan, for strategic reasons.) No, we had better affirm America’s European, English-speaking identity and announce that we intend to keep it that way. Do we really want to go the way of Aotearoa/New Zealand?

While Sitting Bull was not an American, George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876), killed by a coalition of Indian forces who had gathered at Sitting Bull’s camp, certainly was. It is not a matter of liking or disliking Custer; it is simply a fact that Custer was a soldier and citizen of the United States and an ethnic member of that nation. But is there any point in saying this to those numerous Americans of European descent who, as a result of 50 years of a liberal-left rewriting of American history, have never once entertained the notion that they belong to nation of people with a particular nature and history?

Such deracinated Americans are likely to buy into the view of Custer presented in the 1970 film Little Big Man, which portrays him (admittedly with obvious satirical intent) as a delusional, narcissistic lunatic. If you scan the comments on the YouTube video showing the scene of Custer’s death in that film, you will find self-professed Americans saying things like “This land belongs to the Indians,” “Custer was a genocidal killer,” etc., in the usual atrocious spelling and mixed with the usual obscenity. Similar comments are made by foreigners who clearly despise the United States, but this apparently doesn’t strike the Americans as meaningful. In Custer’s case there are a few comments made by Americans who sympathize with the man or defend him. For this we should be thankful.

Who the heck was this Custer anyway? An ambitious military officer, one of the best known of the Civil War, distinguished by his fearlessness and readiness to strike quickly and decisively, though the high casualty rate for his men may be taken as an indictment of his tactics. A practical joker who graduated last in his class at West Point and accumulated numerous demerits for stunts and violations of rules – though we should remember that about two-thirds of his entering class were culled out by graduation; anyone who graduated was a success! A Michigander (and partial Ohioan) who led his Michigan Brigade into battle at Gettysburg with the call “Come on, you Wolverines!” A self-promoter and publicity seeker, but to some extent necessarily so – military leaders, then as now, needed to paint their deeds in a good light and cultivate political connections if they were to succeed.

…A prodigious letter writer. An anti-Abolitionist Democrat and sympathizer with the South who nevertheless took the Union side with no hesitation. A critic of Indian agents who sold goods for personal profit that were meant to assist the Indians, and wrote “If I were an Indian, I often think, I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people adhered to the free open plains rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation, there to be the recipient of the blessed benefits of civilization, with its vices thrown in….” (1) And, undeniably, a figure who owes his present fame not to his interesting and impressive career, but from being immortalized by his disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. The exact sequence of events at that battle will never be known, although archeological excavation seems to shed some light on the matter. This historian gives what sounds like a balanced account, refuting the idea that Custer was a megalomaniac or madman.

At different times and by different people, Custer’s merits and flaws have both been exaggerated. Yet the drama and horror of his “last stand” quite understandably excited the imagination of his fellow Americans. How could one be indifferent to an event like this? Custer is one of ours, and we relate to him, and easily imagine ourselves, with horror, in his place. If we relinquish our right to judge for ourselves his merits and demerits, or indeed whether to remember him at all, we are giving up a piece of our heart. You might as well ask us to stop caring about missing white girls. No, that way lies extinction. The history of a people is in part a spiritual drama, represented by iconic events remembered collectively. The nature of this drama, and how it shall resolve itself, is the great question we face, and this is a question which no number of archaeological digs can resolve.

Notes
(1) George Armstrong Custer, My Life on the Plains, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK: 1962.

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12 Responses to “The Boy General With His Flowing Yellow Curls”

  1. VA says:

    Stephen
    Excellent post.
    It is criminal, the extent to which Custer has been made out to be some kind of small-scale ”Hitler”.
    He was more or less lured into a trap at the Little Big Horn, and he was, I believe, summoned by the Crow tribe to defend them from the Sioux. He was not the ‘genocidal’ hater that the brain-dead left tries to make him out to be.
    He and his brothers were honorable men who served their country. But our history books and media have all done a posthumous character assassination on him.
    I don’t know if that wrong can ever be undone.
    -VA

    • stephenhopewell says:

      Thank you, VA. You encourage me in my own feelings for these men who died for their country, and are so wrongly scorned now.

  2. Hail says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thanks for writing it.

    it is simply logically impossible that someone who was a mortal enemy of the United States could also be an ‘American’.”
    It seems today that -only- if you are a mortal enemy of the USA can you be an American.

    • stephenhopewell says:

      Thank you, Hail. It looks like you are doing some valuable data-gathering on your blog.

    • Siobhan Sheehan says:

      Native Americans are not “American”??
      I am not a United Stater, but I am an “American”.
      Your remark is totally offensive to all of those who while not citizens of the United States are still, American.
      What you are is a European emigrant who now is living in NORTH America. The U.S is just one country on the great continent of North America.
      Americans also live in countries like Brazil, that would be South America.And let us not forget about Central America.
      At least Sitting Bull and all others like him are the only true North Americans, not you!

      • stephenhopewell says:

        Siobhan,
        I am using “American” in the sense it has always been used in the United States, referring to a member of the European-founded nation known as the United States of America. I am aware that when including Canada in the discussion it is polite to refer to “North Americans,” and I’m aware that Latin Americans use the word “American” to describe themselves, but my post was not about Canadian or Latin American issues. Of course, these people are entitled to call themselves “Americans” in their customary sense.
        If you read more of my blog you will find much respect and sympathy for American Indians. What I don’t accept is using their history as an assault on the sovereignty of PRESENT-DAY white Americans.
        Would Sitting Bull have wanted to be an American citizen? I think he had more pride than that.

  3. bgwillia says:

    Regarding the events at LBH, two articles I found recently shed much light:

    First is is a summary of Custer’s character:

    “Custer’s shortcoming was not his intuitive prowess, which can be important and even indispensable in military decisionmaking, as it was for most of Custer’s career. Rather, it was his poor self-awareness. An impressive record and undeniable abilities notwithstanding, Custer had a fatal flaw—quite literally—in his inability to ask, simply, ‘Might I be wrong?'” (Gompert, David C, and Kugler, Richard L. “Custer in Cyberspace.” Defense Horizons 51 (Feb 2006): 11. PDF. 31 Jan 2011.)

    And then the tactics:

    “When examined within the limited context of the event that occurred on June 25, 1876 [Battle of Washita], Custer’s actions at the Battle of the Little Bighorn that resulted in the frontier Army’s greatest Indian Wars disaster appear inexplicable. Custer failed to conduct proper reconnaissance of that turned out to be one of the largest-ever assemblies of Plains Indians; he attacked the Lakota-Cheyenne village before determining its size, extent and precise location; he divided his command into four seperate battalions, despite knowing that the Indians outnumbered his Soldiers (the Indian force turned out to be at least three times larger than he expected); he sent the battalions along routes that made it impossible for them to support one another; he attacked while his mule train carrying the bulk of his regiment’s ammunition lagged far behind; when he observed his initial attack force (Major Marcus Reno’s battalion) become hotly engaged, he decided to let it fend for itself while he led his five-company battalion north, ever farther out of supporting range; and as increasing numbers of Indian warriors swarmed around his isolated battalion, he continued to move toward the north end of the village until he was finally trapped and annihilated. Although thee of Custer’s four battalions survived the battle, the Little Bighorn disaster left 268 officers, troopers, scouts and civilians dead on the field. This number represented about 40 percent of the 7th Cavalry’s total strength that day, and was approximately 1 percent of the U.S. Army’s total strength in 1876. If a disaster of that magnitude were to happen today it would be equivalent to 5,000 U.S. Soldiers dying in a single afternoon.” (Morelock, Jerry D. “Custer’s First Stand.” Armchair General Jan. 2011: pp 36-37.)

    • stephenhopewell says:

      bgwillia,
      Thank you for these quotes – I was not familiar with these publications, but they look like great sources for military history and analysis of contemporary issues.

      • bgwillia says:

        Oddly, Custer did the almost the exact same thing at Washita eight years previously and that win made him into a “great Indian fighter.” This showed Custer as a creature of habit: “If I did it before and won, I can do it the same way again.” So the decisions Custer made at LBH becomes understandable if one studies his reasoning at the “first stand” in Washita.

  4. stephenhopewell says:

    bgwillia,
    Yes, this makes sense. I do think Custer was a creature of habit. But of course no one at that time was very “experienced” fighting the plains Indians.

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