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