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A history of genocide
The Native American Peoples
A History of Genocide
In the entire history of colonization, no people have been subjected to a more ruthless regime ofland-seizure, economic exploitation and genocide than have the original inhabitants of NorthAmerica.
At the time the present-day United States was settled by Europeans, it was abundantly populatedby scores of separate nations with diverse civilizations and cultures -- from the Cheyenne and theNavajo in the west and the Sioux and Arapahoe in the north to the Seminole and Choctaw of theSouth and the Cherokee and Mohawk of the east. Their numbers were never accurately recorded,but one major American encyclopedia estimates that the territory's pre-settlement population mayhave been as high as 12 million.
Today, fewer than two million survive in the U.S. (a mere 1.4 million according to the 1980census), though this figure is up from a low of 250,000 one hundred years ago. Many of theirancient languages and cultures have been lost except for the names given to towns, rivers andother landmarks.
Like other colonized regions, the indigenous people suffered first from the introduction of "oldworld" diseases to which they had no immunity. It is believed that millions died as smallpox,measles, whooping cough, and influenza swept the countryside. Some scholars estimate that suchepidemics were responsible for more than 80 million deaths during the early colonial periodalone. As the settlers advanced, they claimed new lands and drove the "Indians" -- so calledbecause the European explorers mistakenly believed they had landed in India -- farther andfarther into toward the west.
Aided by high birthrates and vigorous immigration, the European population expanded rapidlyduring the 18th and 19th centuries. When the census of 1790 was taken, there were slightly fewerthan 4 million of them in the U.S; nearly 10 million were counted in 1830, and the populationpassed the 50 million mark by the national census of 1880. By this time, white settlementsextended from coast to coast, and the surviving native peoples had been relegated to tribal"homelands" or "reservations."
Interestingly, local inhabitants fared better in other parts of the western hemi- sphere. Canada hadan estimated native population of 200,000 before colonization, and its indigenous people todaynumber 300,000 -- just a tiny part of Canada's 27 million people, but nonetheless an increase,rather than a decrease, over the past 400 years.
In Latin America, several of the original ethnic groups were completely eradicated underEuropean domination, and others were forced into slavery, where they intermingled with otherraces, leaving only descendants of mixed heritage.
In those regions most densely inhabited at the time of colonization, however, the nativepopulations generally still survive. About 30 percent of Mexico's people belong to indigenousethnic groups, as do 45 percent of the Peruvian people and over half the population of Bolivia.
The elimination of the native populations in the U.S. has historically been portrayed in text booksand folklore as something that "just happened." The whites rapidly became more numerous andthe original people were dispersed to unsettled regions, where they either killed each other off orjust "disappeared."
In reality, however, the demise of the original American people in the United States was theresult of a well-planned program of population control. Many of the tribes, forced to migrate tounfamiliar areas, died of starvation and cold. The British and the Dutch launched a program ofland "purchases" which led to conflict, as the colonizers claimed permanent ownership of landwhich the indigenous people were led to believe had been acquired for temporary use. And as thefrontier moved west, these confrontations grew increasingly brutal, and millions of indigenouspeople -- men, women and children -- were simply massacred by land-hungry settlers andspeculators.
Between 1778 and 1871, a total 389 treaties between the United States government and variousindigenous American groups were signed and, for the most part, promptly broken. In 1815, theU.S. officially adopted a policy of forced land confiscation, compelling the "Indians" to relocateto remote homelands administered by the government. And as the European populationexpanded, the land allocated to native peoples dwindled from 155 million acres in 1887 to barely47 million acres in 1934.
Essays written by the new republic's most esteemed leaders give a glimpse into the attitudes thatprevailed at the time.
Benjamin Franklin is one of the United States' best known and most influential intellectuals, astatesman and a hero. In fact, the name of the 18th century political leader has graced everythingfrom colleges to stores and streets across the U.S.A.
Franklin was also a racist, whose hatred of the original Americans is well documented. Hepublicly described them as "barbarous tribes of savages that delight in war and take pride inmurder." Franklin, like most of his contemporaries, was keenly aware of the demographicrealities confronting the settlers, and argued repeatedly for the speedy acquisition of lands heldby indigenous Americans on the explicit grounds that depriving them of land would place themat a reproductive disadvantage.
In 1751, Franklin wrote his notorious racialist manifesto: "The number of purely white people inthe world is proportionally very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America(exclusive of the new comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French,Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germansalso, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English make the principal Body of White Peopleon the face of the Earth. I could wish their numbers were increased."
In pursuit of his vision of acquiring vast open spaces for the expansion of the white race, hedefended cruelty to the native peoples by charging that they posed an obstacle to settlement andthus were guilty of nothing less than "killing thousands of our children before they are born."Those who seized "Indian" land were praised by Franklin as "the fathers of their nation, as theyare the cause of the generation of multitudes by the encouragement they afford to marriage."
Early population control strategies were, by no means, directed solely at the indigenous landdwellers. By the 1770s, Franklin had come to oppose the institution of slavery, but his papersmake clear that he was primarily concerned with the importation of Africans who might out-breed the European settlers. The traffic in slaving must stop, he wrote, because the presence oflarge numbers of African captives will only "prevent the increase of whites."
Franklin's views were echoed by others high on the ladder of political influence in the newcountry. For example, the nation's second president, Thomas Jefferson, wrote in 1804 againstfurther introduction of slaves to America on the grounds that "this blot in our country increasesas fast, or faster, than the whites."
The plan to clear the land of its natural inhabitants was pursued ruthlessly for more then twocenturies. Indeed, the first known incident of biological warfare in the United States occurred in1763, when white colonizers gave a "gift" of smallpox-infested blankets to a group of nativeAmericans who sought a peace treaty.
The original Americans were subjected to varying degrees of cultural warfare, too, theirlanguages and customs buried forever under the mudslide of "assimilation" imposed on them bythe economically dominant Anglo-Saxons.
The near-complete replacement of the native American population in the continental UnitedStates with persons of European extraction achieved every basic objective of population control.
First of all, it gained for the settlers formal and absolute control of the territory and its vastresources. The colonizers rapidly advanced from their original settlements on the easternseaboard toward the west, continually seeking new horizons for conquest and exploitation, andultimately setting the stage for the present international policy that relentlessly pursues newfrontiers for the expansion of American influence.
Second, it assured that the Anglo-Saxon elite gained the power to exercise social control, to setthe standards under which the civic order of the "new world" was to develop, and to define thedominant or "mainstream" culture. The importance of this last aspect of control cannot beoverestimated, although it would probably be a mistake to view cultural conquest in purely racialterms. The ability of a dominant group to debase and eliminate competing cultures is the veryfoundation of the class-structured society, which, in turn, is essential to the potency andpermanence of a racist system. Moreover, by gaining the power to authenticate certain culturalnorms and to reject others, an elite group is able to dictate to its own advantage the value andusefulness of a broad range of societal and personal characteristics and civic ethics, to mold theaspirations, expectations, beliefs, and lifestyles of the society at large, and thus to facilitatephysical control.
Last, the removal of the indigenous inhabitants of the region achieved the most fundamentalgoals of population control, "stability" and "security." The potential for conflict between theoriginal Americans and the settlers declined both in proportion to the loss of population sufferedby the native peoples and the gain in numbers experienced by the European migrants. In the late15th century, indigenous groups were 100 percent of the population of what is now thecontinental United States. Today, using 1980 census figures, they amount to a mere one half of
one percent of the total U.S. population.
The relative size of one's adversary, of course, is a key factor determining the capability of thatadversary to resist force and interference. As the native population declined, both in absolutenumbers and in comparison to the numbers of whites, their capacity for presenting an effectivemilitary obstacle to the expansionist goals of the settlers decreased dramatically. The smaller aminority they became, the less their economic concerns constituted a threat to whites, ensuringthat the new economic establishment of the Europeans would not be unduly disrupted bypressures to bend to "Indian" interests. And as a political entity, the indigenous peoples wereeventually rendered irrelevant by their insignificant place in the demographic order.
Thus the conquest of America serves as a terrifying example of the dangers of expansionist goals,cultural and political hegemony, and demographic intervention -- one that will have crucialsignificance in the developing world in the coming years.
Native American birthrates are about twice the U.S. average, according to a report in theJuly/August edition of Family Planning World, a journal written by and for internationalpopulation control professionals. The report notes that the promotion of birth control among theIndian population is made difficult by "centuries old anti-family planning traditions," but thatIndian Health Services (IHS) contraceptive clinics have "made strides since the 1970s in creatinga greater acceptance of contraceptives."
According to Georgia Crawford, director of a Navajo family planning clinic, propaganda andpersuasion are the necessary elements for success. "You've got to learn how to reach differenttribes," Crawford told the publication. She added that it is important for clinics not to fall undertribal control. "We're separated from the reservation politics that goes on," she explains.
Birth control is becoming acceptable to those Native Americans "who are closer to urban areasand who have more experience outside reservations," said another government family planningoperative.
The report explains that promotion of family planning on reservations has "long been hobbled byfear and mistrust of white society. Sensing a conspiracy to reduce their population, Indians haveoften met outside family planning programs with disdain."
Adds Patricia De Asisa, assistant secretary of IHS, "There are always some radicals who thinkthat family planning is another word for genocide."
DESPITE COMPLAINTS BY HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS ABOUT FORCEDSTERILIZATIONS AND LACK OF INFORMED CONSENT, THE `INDIAN' POPULATIONCONTROL PROGRAM IS STILL IN FORCE. AND SOME FAMILY PLANNING GROUPSARE NOW SAYING THERE NEVER WAS ANY GENOCIDE.
Several studies and reports indicate that minority women in the United States, including NativeAmerican women, are at least twice as likely to be sterilized as are their white counterparts. S. B.
Ruzek, in a 1978 book about women's health issues, revealed that only seven percent of allmarried white women in the U.S. have been sterilized, whereas 14 percent of indigenousAmerican women and fully 20 percent of African-American women have undergone theprocedure. Ruzek added that despite political protest against involuntary sterilizations, a surveyof doctors in four cities found that 94 percent of gynecologists favored mandatory sterilization ofwelfare recipients under certain circumstances. (The Women's Health Movement: FeministAlternatives to Medical Control, New York, Praeger, 1978).
In 1977, a Native American physician, Dr. Constance Redbird Uri, published even morealarming findings. Uri interviewed one thousand Native women who had been sterilized, andconcluded that only one of them had freely decided to forego childbearing. In her report, whichwas published in the Medical Tribune of August 24, 1977, Dr. Uri stated that she had becameinvolved in the issue of sterilization abuse 1972, after learning that the government wasconducting large numbers of permanent sterilization procedures on relatively young NativeAmerican women. She reported that thousands of sterilizations had been done in just four IndianHealth Service (IHS) regions between 1973 and 1976, and projected that at least 20 percent of allNative women in the U.S. have had the operation. Dr. Uri warned that if the coercivesterilizations continued at the same rate, all pureblood Indian races would be eliminated in only15 years.
In testimony presented August 6, 1987 before a subcommittee of the U.S. House ofRepresentatives. Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. a feminist critic of the IHS familyplanning program charged that the long-term injectable contraceptive, Depo Provera, was beingwidely misused. Both of the nature of the drug and the target population suggest, the statementsaid, that Depo-Provera simply cannot be ethically used as a family planning method. The drug,it was noted, causes such side effects as abnormal bleeding, permanent infertility, cancer,sickness, depression and birth defects; and because of its impact on the immune system, it mayalso increase the risk of AIDS. The testimony also questioned whether adequate informedconsent was obtained from incarcerated and institutionalized women, the mentally ill, theretarded, the poor, and minorities such as Native American women. Because the injectionsupplies a slow-release anti-fertility agent, it is essentially irreversible, in that users cannotsimply discontinue. Depo-Provera was used to curb births on Native American territories longbefore the government considered approving it for general contraceptive use.
Despite charges of genocide, family planning advocates continue to target indigenous peoples. Atthe annual meeting of the Population Association of America in April 1979, two scholarspresented a paper demonstrating the effectiveness of the IHS family planning campaign. Theauthors, R. G. LeNoir and J. H. Gundlach, found that fertility had fallen by about 26 percent infour years among the population using the IHS clinics, and credited an active family planningrecruitment scheme with most of the decline in fertility.
While many within the population establishment have become sensitive to charges of genocide,their response has primarily been to deny that it happened. An article appearing last June in thejournal Human Biology, for example, claimed that the indigenous peoples declined in numbersbecause of problems associated with "overpopulation," that the settlers had little or nothing to dowith it, and that present growth rate of the indigenous population -- along with new concepts of"who is a Native American" -- could make up for the loss.
"Recent research on human skeletal samples and related archeological materials suggests thatmorbidity and mortality were increasing throughout much of the Western Hemisphere before1492 in response to increased population density," the report states. "The evidence suggests thatafter 1492 population reduction was caused not by continental pandemics but by localized orregional epidemics augmented by social and economic disruption." In any case, insists thepublication, there has been a "remarkable Native American population recovery," which has beenthe result of higher-than average fertility, better health care and "changing definitions of 'beingIndian.'"
At least one contemporary scholar has argued convincingly that America's colonial and post-colonial policy of racial expansion forms the basis of modern U.S. foreign policy.
In a 1987 book, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy, Michael H. Hunt, a professor of history at theUniversity of North Carolina, argues that the old concepts of America's "manifest destiny," deep-rooted beliefs in the "superiority" of the white race and its culture, and an innate horror ofrevolution abroad ("global instability") are still the theoretical basis for U.S. actions overseas.
Hunt notes the similarities between the cold war military and political strategy for the"containment" of communism and today's "international development" program:
"Like containment, development policy drew inspiration from the long-established ideology. Butwhile containment underlined the obligations of a great nation to defend liberty, developmenttheory drew its inspiration from the old American vision of appropriate or legitimate processes ofsocial change and an abiding sense of superiority over the dark-skinned peoples of the ThirdWorld," he writes.
The foreign aid program, he continues, may also "be seen as a response to the fourth wave ofrevolutions Americans had had to confront. Rolling across the face of Latin America, Africa, andAsia, the most recent wave of radicalism and unrest raised for American leaders the specter ofSoviet meddling at the same time that it directly challenged American values. .Condescendingand paternalistic, development theory also carried forward the long-established American viewson race. [T]he idea of the Third World as a single entity survived, sustained by the Americanconviction of its backwardness and the repressed American consciousness of the color of itspeoples."
In the early years of the United States, as Hunt's book shows, each different section of the
country "fought the war for racial supremacy in its own way and in accord with the economicprize in question, the nature of the opposing people, and the power disparities between them.
Seizing Indian land in New England in the 1600s differed from holding a black population undercontrol in the antebellum South, just as evicting Mexico from the Southwest and subordinatingthe resident Latino population differed from the struggle to control the immigrant tide washingthe urban East at the turn of the century." But the basic concept of Anglo-Saxon privilegeremained the same, and this concept continues to motivate foreign policy.
J.D. Jackson, an architect of the "international development" strategy and a key Eisenhoweradvisor in the 1950s, explained the American view in terms loaded with colonial arrogance: "Thewestern world," said Jackson, "has somewhat more experience with the operations of war, peace,and parliamentary procedures than the swirling mess of emotionally super-charged Africans andAsiatics and Arabs that outnumber us."
The tactic of reducing population among those who "outnumber us," likewise echoes theterritorial and racial struggles of the settlement period, waged against indigenous people andAfrican slaves alike. As Hunt ob- serves about the early U.S., "The exploitation of blacks hadbecome a way of life, and their submission essential to a sense of security among oftenoutnumbered white communities." The maintenance of a "proper order" among races, he adds,required highly- organized repression. "Close supervision and control and the threat of severepunishment, including castration for sexual as well as other offences, served to keep them incheck."
As the depopulation of the country's indigenous strains and its watchful eye toward black fertilityallowed European- Americans to dominate the country both politically and demographically,present-day interference with lifestyles, economies and birthrates in the developing worldfacilitates international hegemony.
As Hunt explains it, the geopolitical stage was seen by early leaders as being "like a chessboard.
Each major power would seek to control the greatest expanse of space. The more territory itcontrolled, the greater its population and natural resources, and the greater in turn would be itspower and capacity to acquire yet more territory and further augment its power in a cycle thatwould leave a rival weakened and isolated."
Hunt further comments on the fears of demographic marginalisation that have historicallyhaunted U.S. policy planners. "In international competition among the races," he explains,America's Anglo-Saxon leaders worried that "victory might not go to the refined and peacefulpeoples but rather to the amoral, the cunning, the fecund, and the power hungry." In other words,the world would be treated in much the same way as was the U.S. frontier, with populationgrowth among non-whites viewed as a direct threat to western expansion.
As Hunt reveals about the early 20th century presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, it was thenassumed America's rise to power could only be achieved through a kind of "warfare of thecradle" (Roosevelt's own words) which was to be waged "against the more prolific lower orders"across the oceans.
Indeed, long before Roosevelt, American leaders were consumed with the idea of increasing the
numbers of whites. John L. O'Sullivan, a well-known proponent of the "manifest destiny" theory,predicted in the mid 19th century that the United States would "soon surpass the greatness of anyEuropean power," exceeding all rivals in size and eventually overtaking the Chinese inpopulation.
A striking comparison can likewise be made between the "public rhetoric" which was commonduring the North American settlement era and the propaganda that supports contemporarydevelopment activities "in the national security interest," as U.S. leaders are fond of saying.
At the height the continental expansion, native Americans were almost exclusively portrayed asvicious degenerates who preyed on innocent women and children. General William T. Sherman,who either led or oversaw several military conquests in native American territories, wrote in1868: "The more we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed the next war, for the more Isee of these Indians the more convinced I am that all have to be killed or be maintained as aspecies of pauper." And an 1813 school book titled Guardians of Tradition explains the demiseof the indigenous groups as nothing less than essential to "the increase of mankind, and for thepromotion of the world's glory and happiness."
Today's selective reporting of droughts and natural disasters in the so-called "third world," offailed insurrections, religious conflicts, and growing indebtedness, serve in the very same way toportray the people of developing nations as a dependent, unproductive species, unfit for real self-government and undeserving of equality with the more "advanced" or "civilized" nations in thehierarchy of global politics. At the same time, of course, this impression helps U.S. leaders tojustify enormous expenditures on foreign operations which have the potential to become asunpopular at home as they are abroad.
As Hunt points out, "Public rhetoric is not simply a screen, tool, or ornament. It is also, perhapseven primarily, a form of communication, rich in symbols and mythology and closely constrainedby certain rules." In other words, such rhetoric creates the images and defines the perceptions thatmold public opinion.
It was not until the last two decades that any significant general protest was made by U.S.
citizens about America's treatment of its original inhabitants. Today, however, increasingnumbers of activists are challenging official histories that ignore the genodical aspects of westernnation-building and attacking the ugly racial stereotypes of indigenous Americans that are stillprevalent in the media.
The developing world, too, is beginning to have a constituency in the north. But, say manyopponents of imperialism, controversy at home is no guarantee that genocidal policies toward thesouth will cease to do harm. Only when the people of the developing countries themselvesbecome fully aware of the dangers of western hegemony and of its sordid history, they argue, willthe poison of intervention begin to lose its potency.
Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy is published by the Yale University Press in London and NewHaven, Connecticut.
During an "Open Forum" in July, State Department Counselor Timothy Wirth discussed the"new diplomacy" of the Clinton White House and the administration's "new approach to globalissues." Four goals will become State Department priorities in the coming years, Wirthannounced, and these will be reflected in USAID policy. The four are: "democracy, population,the environment and sustainable development."
Plainly troubled by of the growing public hostility toward interference abroad, Wirth stressed theurgency of "constituency building as a necessary ingredient to foster support for these fourgoals," according to an in-house USAID newsletter.
He added, "We in the State Department . have a major job to do to think much more clearly andmuch more carefully about who our constituents are, how we deal with them and how we letthem know that their scarce taxpayer dollars are, in fact, producing what they have requested ofthe United States of America."
Quotes from USAID's Front Lines, September 1993. Subscriptions to Front Lines are availablefree upon request from the Agency for International Development, Office of External Affairs,Washington, DC 20523-0056.)
A proposed amendment to the Foreign Assistant Act, known as the Population Stabilization andReproductive Health Act, would double Congressionally-appropriated population funds.
Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, a sponsor of the legislation, said of the population bill, "Peopledon't like to deal with it. It has elements of ethnicity, religion, racism . but [the populationfunding bill] is a very important step."
Sponsors in the House of Representatives are Maryland Representative Constance Morella andCongressman Tony Bielenson of California. At a September 22 hearing, Morella, who herself hasnine children, urged a House Foreign Affairs panel to take into consideration "the growingimpact which population issues have on our ability to pursue our nation's foreign policyobjectives and to maintain the quality of life of citizens of the United States."
Said Beilenson at the same hearing, "This rapid [population] growth underlies virtually everyenvironmental, developmental, and national security problem facing the world today."
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