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Rebuttal of the Day: America's History with her Native Inhabitants

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Posted on October 8 2009 5:00 am
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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It would appear that one of our most thoughtful commenters is a fan of the work of author Jared Diamond.
From Cas Balicki on Ben Johnson’s post from today.

“There’s no doubt that when it comes to our treatment of Native Americans as well as other persons of color in this country, we’ve got some very sad and difficult things to account for…”

Let us put a stop to this myth right now. The native populations of North American were for the most part hunter-gatherers. What is mostly swept under the rug is that these native tribes were also traders and warriors. Why this is ignored is that it doesn’t fit a Rousseau-noble-savage myth. Indeed, the singular fact of their trading relationships is in large part responsible for their demise as tribal cultures.

Once these hunter-gatherers were introduced to the gun, they were trapped by their own needs. Just as it is impossible to go back to a world without computers, North American natives could not go back to the bow and arrow once they saw the effectiveness of the gun at killing supper. (As an aside, any that think it is possible to regress to a world without computers have not been in a major air terminal when a computer system failed. ) The reason these early natives were trapped was that they could no longer live without western technology (the gun). In short they needed us much more than we needed them. As proof of this native dependence on “white men” one only has to point to how quickly natives adapted to horses—a European import to North America—and the gun, the two of which combined to change the buffalo hunt forever. This idea of dependence is significant and is often overlooked in the rush to condemn Europeans, yet it forms the essence of why we captured this continent so completely. Ours was a superior technology that could neither be resisted nor withstood. Again to prove the hold technology has on culture, all one has to consider is where a Saudi prince in need of heart surgery would prefer to have that surgery done: Riyadh General or the Mayo.

The other problem tribal culture could not overcome was purely economic. Hunter-gatherers cannot, no matter how hard they try, produce the elevated calories per acre with the same degree of regularity and predictability that farmers can. The consequence of a steady, predictable, and abundant food supply is that the farm population can produce more babies than the hunter-gatherer population and those babies, because they are fed, can survive to maturity. One should never underestimate the value of survival in contributing to societal strength. (An unintended consequence of our domesticating animals was our developing strong immunities to diseases that more often than not gestated in these animals, which fact had devastating consequence on native that came in contact with Europeans.) Since farmers must control land while hunter-gatherers must roam that same land, the two methods of land management were incompatible from the outset. Consequently, what we got was manifest destiny with its accompanying battle over land. It should be pointed out that conquest in an age of conquest against warrior tribes is not theft, no matter how it is painted in hindsight. But, had white men never fired a shot in this war, we would still have won by virtue of the fact that we could produce more food on a per acre basis than the natives. In short, had the option been available we could have paid more for the land than the natives. It was the fact that we had a superior technology, of which farming formed an integral then, as it does now, that allowed Europeans to out-compete Natives. But, then competition is a dirty word to socialists, isn’t it?

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