Letter: Indians were not killed by Nazis

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The Independent Online
AS A SPECIALIST in American history I was disappointed with John P Fox's review of James Wilson's The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America ("Red or dead?", Review, 26 July). He reduces a complex story of cultural conflict and interaction which lasted more than five centuries to a "single word and phrase: land and its possession". Such an approach flies in the face of much of the scholarship on this subject.

The overwhelming majority of American Indians who died as a result of contact with Europeans and European-Americans died from disease, not in battle or from massacres at the hands of whites. Massacres indeed occurred. The number killed in them is in the tens of thousands. The number who died from disease is in the millions.

Dr Fox assumes the displacement of American Indians was the result of a concerted programme like that of the Nazis. Such a view is difficult to sustain when describing a process which occurred over five centuries and involved the governments of Britain, France, Spain, the United States, Mexico and Canada. Removal and extermination are not the same thing. In the main the United States pursued the former rather than the latter. And many white Americans opposed the horrific treatment of American Indians during the 19th-century.

The whole thrust of the review casts American Indians in the role of victims and white Americans as predatory aggressors. The story is much more complicated than that. Still the history of the treatment of American Indians is a shameful one. The horror and injustice is manifestly obvious. Dr Fox should let the facts speak for themselves.

Frank Cogliano

Department of History

The University of Edinburgh