"They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they kept but one--They promised to take our land...and they took it."
BEFORE A SUMMER SUN is simply the tapestry of a tragedy of innumerable recurring unspeakable acts. And it all began with Genesis and the Bible, along with money, the prime motivators for the destruction of the Red race. It examines this blood-ridden path of religious and political terrorism in pursuit of profit. Then, as now, God’s word was invoked to justify the slaughter of innocents. Then, as now, fraudulent documents and statements supported vile political ambitions and actions. Then, as now, peace, freedom, and liberty were euphemisms for murder, capture, and enslavement. The deliberate liquidation of the American Indians, done in God’s name, is the taproot of America’s liberty tree. Then, nothing could stand against the Bible. Today, America is powdered with the bone-dust of murdered Indians.
My book is not impartial. It stands foursquare in advocacy for a mostly vanished race of people. It is an American book, written by an American who has experienced many of the great opportunities afforded by America. But it is written by an American disturbed by the violence visited upon the world by an America that obstinately refuses to examine the sins that its forebears visited upon its children. What was done to the American Indian is prologue to today’s tapestry of violence. It is time to examine the trail of evidence that led to the destruction of this enormously complex, sophisticated American Indian society. Today, I hope my book affords that opportunity.
The tragedy began with a disastrous misreading of religion. It continued with the demonization of a sophisticated aboriginal society. Just who were these killers and their advocates that sought such devastation? What was religion’s role? Who stood opposed? Who spoke out? And what did writers of books write then? Just what is the literary legacy of these centuries of horror and terror?
The book describes how the demolition of aboriginal American people served as the grist for the capacious maw of America’s imperial machine now into its third century. Without clearing the forests of its aboriginal population, without suspending the precepts of the high-blown rhetoric that founded America, without killing vast numbers of American Indians and relocating the rest to the “empty” land west of the Mississippi River, without all this atrocious behavior, there would be no America as it is today. The taproot of the American tree of liberty, its imperial ambitions, and its slave economy was brutal, barbarous, red, and black. The devil’s pact to destroy the Indians was the key to assuring the economic survival of post-colonial America.
Thus has the world always been. It is a long, sad, one-sided story. And it has always been about commodities, inanimate things—land, corn, precious metals, cotton, rubber, and today, oil. Behold the stuff of empires. The lust for inanimate things gave birth to violent hegemonies: Roman, Spanish, British, Belgian, American. And in 1851 Herman Melville wrote a mighty book about a mighty, ubiquitous fish, and about a globe-encircling economic machine named after a destroyed tribe of Indians, the Pequod.
But my book bores even deeper in time, to 12th century Rome. Fraudulent documents enabled successive generations of popes to grant colonizing rights to the then great powers, Portugal, Spain, and England. Using Old Testament violence as doctrinal guidance and the conquering God-driven Israelites as exemplars, exploration and occupation of the Americas commenced with a mighty vengeance. With God’s words their marching orders, colonial America’s religious clergy exalted the nation’s founding as God’s personal work. While the Declaration of Independence championed the right of all Americans to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it ignored completely the aboriginal American Indians. Instead, they were demonized in this historic, founding document as “merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.” Thus arose America’s first terrorist enemy.
The already inhabited new world was invaded and occupied by European powers. The aboriginal tribes, vastly outmatched militarily, victimized by biological (disease) and chemical (alcohol) warfare, were malevolently driven from their ancestral lands. In these early days many were sold into slavery. In their final throes in the late 19th century, they were starved by the deliberate slaughter of their food supply, then summarily relegated to a gulag of internment camps called reservations. Therein, many of their offspring remain today, wards of the American judicial system, legitimized by a bizarre legal precedent called the “doctrine of discovery.” For centuries the world witnessed the demonizing, dividing, killing, cheating, and extirpation of these proud people. Where was the conscience of the so boldly begotten country called America? Seeking other opportunities, that’s where. The beneficiaries of the French Revolution and the rights of all people, simply had other priorities.
While the American Indians were doomed, American literature was not. Certain writers railed against the racial prejudice and religious arrogance of their people, and the criminality of their government. But in the short term literature cannot save anyone but the reader. Except for James Fenimore Cooper’s early novels, classic American writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville had precious few readers in their lifetimes. Cooper, striving to break the shackles of the European style, gave us heroes. Perhaps the nation’s first conservationist, Cooper lamented the destruction of the eastern forests and its denizens. And as forests fell so too did the Indians who had walked so reverently therein. Moby-Dick, published to faint applause, fell out of print as Melville fell out of luck. At his death in 1891, the initial printing of 3000 copies had yet to be exhausted. Hawthorne sought to consign the religiose, black-minded fundamentalism of the Puritans to the ash pits of the middle ages, while Melville used Moby-Dick to rewrite the Bible Indian-style, giving the Nantucket Indians preemptive claim over all land and sea.
These three writers comprised the small phalanx of contemporary literary opposition to the destruction of the American Indian. Yet they fulfilled an important literary and civic duty. They reaffirmed that morality is not necessarily found in religion any more than justice is found in the courts. And so begins my literary autopsy of the demise of the American Indian.