[The following review of Murphey’s monograph The Historic Dispossession of the American Indian – and Other Key Issues in American History was published in The New American on June 10, 1996, pp. 37-38.]
Exposing Leftist Mythology
Review by Fr. James Thornton
A favorite tactic of the Left is to deluge defenders of traditional America with denunciations of our past, including accusations against prominent historical figures heretofore seen as great men and heroes, as well as accusations against the country as a whole, and against our way of life, our history, and our ideals. The author of The Dispossession of the American Indian, Professor Dwight Murphey of Wichita State University, relates that “many aspects of American life and history have come under attack by those who feel a deep alienation against the mainstream of American society.” Although as a nation we are certainly not above criticism, Murphey writes, nevertheless we “are not and have not been, as a people, ‘befouled,’ as the critics from the Left have long wished us to believe.”
The author has chosen six issues, constituting some of the most cherished and effective weapons in the leftist arsenal, and has attempted to examine the facts involved in each as dispassionately as possible. “What would a scholar,” Murphey writes, “seeking to be thorough and objective, and yet at the same time not bringing to the subject a deep animus against the United States, think about what happened?” The essays presented in this volume are the result of his inquiry.
The titles of the six essays are as follows: “The Historic Dispossession of the American Indian,” “The Relocation of the Japanese-Americans During World War II,” “Kent State, May 1-5, 1970,” “The ‘Hollywood Blacklist,’” “The J. Robert Oppenheimer Case,” and, “Lynching: History and Analysis.” Each of these subjects is obviously highly valued by our leftist adversaries in their litany of hate against America. How refreshing to see an outstanding scholar debund each one, silencing, as it were, a shrill, tiresome melody of malignity. Let us touch briefly on two examples.
Settling the New World
Were our American forebears some sort of monsters because their culture largely displaced the native cultures that they found when they arrived in the New World? Liberals, especially since the 1960s, have shouted an emphatic “yes.” With typical leftist hyperbole, they describe the settling of the American continent as “genocidal” and our forefathers as men motivated by “greed, racism, and national egoism.” What is the truth? It is, in fact, complex and sometimes subtle and the capturing of its essence requires certain attributes sorely lacking in modern liberals, among which are a sense of objectivity, a sense of proportion, and a sense of history. It is very easy for leftist academics to sit back in the security and serenity of university campuses, or in the safety of luxurious homes in suburbia, and pontificate smugly on the wickedness of our ancestors of 150, 200, or 300 years ago. How facile it is to judge the dead, holding them to the strangely warped criteria of the late 20th century; how effortless to harangue a captive audience in tawdry tones of treachery, waxing grandiloquent about the imagined “crimes” of explorers and settlers; how cunning to pocket handsome salaries from parents and taxpayers, while at the same time stealthily fitting young student minds with ideological straitjackets.
Genuine historians, however, eschew anachronistic preachifying and instead seek to understand the past in the context of the time and circumstances. They undertake to transport themselves, through their objective scholarship, back in time, so to speak, to see through the eyes of men long gone, men who actually lived through the epoch being explored. That is the only way fairly to consider earlier periods, and that is what Professor Murphey endeavors to achieve in this excellent essay about the historic dispossession of the American Indian.
First we must understand that the conflict between European settlers and native Amerinds was, as the author puts it, “a confrontation between European civilization… that had been out of the Paleolithic Age for some 8,000 years, and a variety of Indian cultures that for the most part had never ascended to, must less passed through, the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages…. The settlers who came to this continent beginning in the early seventeenth century were the offspring of a high civilization that knew its cathedral of Notre Dame, its Galileos, Ciceros, Euclids, and Newtons…. [T]hey sprang from an enormously cultivated civilization.” We need only compare “Notre Dame with a wigwam,” he writes, or “a settled countryside full of a bustling population with its towns and villages and farms to a limitless expanse of forest and uncultivated prairie,” to envisage the gulf that separated these two peoples hundreds of years ago. The contrast between the two ways of life was so vast, he writes, “that the European settlers never thought of the New World as an inhabited continent. Nor did the average settler think of the Indians as owners, much less as rightful owners.” Moreover, we must be mindful that for our ancestors, “reality was brutal,” as the author notes, and to disregard that stark reality for even a few moments was, in those days, to court a horrifying, violent death for oneself and one’s wife and children.
Where, says Murphey, was a philosopher prepared to declare to incoming Europeans that America was already occupied, that this land was not open for settlement, despite appearances? There was no such philosopher, and had one existed he would have been ignored. Had such a philosopher surfaced, would he have been correct? Even that is by no means clear. Churches did not seem to think so, because although every religious denomination was represented in the New World, none spoke out, none urged the new arrivals to return to their European homelands. “Who can say,” the author asks, that Paleolithic Man had a moral right to claim a vast continent to sustain a primitive hunting culture as against the spread of European civilization? The answer is nowhere written in the sky….”
Cruel and harsh the struggle between the two cultures sometimes became, about that there is no question. But leftists have sought in recent years to exaggerate and distort certain incidents, such as Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, and to speak of a deliberate policy of genocide, where, in fact, no such policy was ever contemplated. We relate here only a few of the significant points in Professor Murphey’s lengthy essay; it is well worth reading in full. The history elucidated here and the numerous arguments presented are compelling evidence that we need not feel ashamed of, or apologize for, the winning of North America by Christian European civilization.
Another beloved concoction of the Left discussed in the present work is the well-known Hollywood blacklist myth. Purveyors of this story would have it that a number of prominent film personalities in the ’40s and ’50s were unjustly accused of treasonable activities against their country and were victims of an on-going wave of bigotry and hysteria. Not only were they victims, according to professional leftists, but each was a paragon of goodness and honesty, a veritable martyr who sacrificed himself on behalf of such estimable causes as social justice, human rights, economic reform, and civil liberties, and who suffered gross injustice at the hands of anti-Communist thugs. Today, with the television and film industries almost totally in the hands of the Left, documentaries such as Hollywood on Trial and Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist continue to foster the same legends. Since few Americans are sufficiently knowledgeable or brave to dispute them, younger Americans have been systematically inculcated with these fabrications.
The author states that many of those Hollywood notables called before various governmental investigative groups were not the sweet angels of social reform depicted in the propaganda of the establishment. On the contrary, they were hardened operatives and zealous disciples of the International Communist Conspiracy at the very time that the totalitarian nature and aggressive militarism of Communism were most evident – during the height of the Stalin regime. This was a time when tens of millions languished in the Gulag and when the whole world was witness to Stalin’s utter depravity, typified by his murder of countless opponents. But, as Murphey points out, the media have generally been successful in portraying the Stalinists as “well-meaning idealists and innocents,” while the defenders of our free, open American society are made to seem intolerant, ignorant, authoritarian, and self-serving.
Even more outrageous was that those purportedly “martyred” through “blacklisting” actually continued to work in their professions, either abroad or under assumed names, while the Hollywood establishment undertook a concerted program of vengeance against persons genuinely pro-American and anti-Communist, endeavoring to destroy their careers and in some instances succeeding. What this means is that the “blacklist” against the Communists and pro-Communists was largely a fiction, while the little-known blacklisting of anti-Communists by Hollywood was fact. The details of this excellent study are riveting, involving famous Hollywood personalities both on the pro-Communist and anti-Communist sides and involving the subversion of an industry that continues to enjoy access to homes and schools across this land, and to influence the thinking of large segments of the American people.
Americans are repeatedly castigated for committing “genocide” against the Indians, for incarcerating Japanese-Americans during World War II, for “lynch mob justice,” for allowing ourselves to become unjustifiably “obsessed” with Communists, and for persecuting many kindly intellectuals, humanitarians, and progressives in the postwar period. The truth of the matter is that these and other creations of the militant Left were foisted on us by a foe that sought, and that still seeks, our destruction. Reading Professor Murphey’s essays, we are astonished to discover just how little substance there is in any of these fractured fables of far-left fanaticism.
However, as the author observes, even more astonishing is “the spinelessness of the mainstream of ‘educated Americans’ since World War II.” Since that time, the Left has advocated an acquiescent posture towards the rabid totalitarianism of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China and it has advanced various radical agenda for the United States, severely damaging the social fabric of the country. To accomplish its nefarious ends, it continuously taps its reservoir of legends, like the ones we have just considered. That the promoters of this hate propaganda continue their activities with impunity, and that there is so little protest against it, is evidence, says the author, of a pathology that encompasses the surrender of our heritage, of our identity, and of the traditional understanding of our own history. “We will have no chance to be free of it until its existence is acknowledged and it is seen for what it is,” he concludes. Dwight Murphey’s book is a superb piece of scholarship, providing precisely the ammunition we need to expose and defeat the planned dismantling of our country.
Fr. James Thornton