The first settlers who arrived in North America came from Asia, although I suppose they’re not the kind of people you have in mind when you hear of the first American settlers.
They have lived on the continent for at least 12,000 years, but as they didn’t have the opportunity to write history in the past 500 years, they play - as long as they appear at all - a more passive role.
Their first contact that we know of was with inhabitants of Easter Island more than 3,500 years ago, though it is not clear whether it was the Indians or the Polynesians who travelled.
The next discoverers were Vikings who explored parts of the American mainland around 1000. However, L'Anse aux Meadows is the only known permanent settlement.
When Columbus re-discovered America in 1492 he thought he’d reached India and consequently called the residents Indians. Within a short time the Spanish, the Portuguese, the British, the French and others started exploring, exploiting and colonising the Americas.
The men and women who were shipped in from Europe since then have been romanticised and heroised as refugees who were looking for a country that offered them political, religious and economic freedom (at that time freedom of speech was not considered more important than food, and no one had to be ashamed of being an economic refugee). And while this is true about a good deal of the immigrants, the other part isn’t mentioned at all - lawless adventurers, criminals on the run, convicted felons (many murderers were given the choice between the old gallows and the New World, and not all of them picked the rope) and religious fanatics (foremost the Puritans and the Pilgrims who did happen to be persecuted, but who insisted on burning witches and finishing off all those of other beliefs and races themselves).
Until the 18th century those who couldn't afford the passage to the Promised Land could enter a contract as indentured servants; an American employer paid for their voyage, and in return they would work for several years for them for food and lodging. It is thought that before the American Revolution more than half of the population had come under indentures.
You can imagine that not a lot of the European settlers knew how to farm, and many of them didn’t survive the first winter.
Some of them were luckier, though; they were found by Indians who fed them and showed them the skills they needed. Once the settlers got the hang of it they killed the Indians and extended their farms.
Massacres of Indians were common, starting with the Napituca Massacre (committed by the Spanish in 1539 in present-day Florida) and the first known British massacre, the Paspahegh Massacre in 1610 in Virginia, to the Kelley Creek Massacre in 1911. The largest known massacre might have been the Sacramento River Massacre on April 5, 1846, in which an expedition under John C. Frémont, according to one eyewitness, killed up to 1,000 Indian children, women and men, and which was only one of a string of massacres committed by him on his way to take California for the United States in an unauthorised mission. (10 years later he would become the first presidential candidate of the Republican Party).
Of course many Indians defended their homelands against the intruders, leading to a number of American Indian Wars; Metacomet's War (1675-1678) is generally considered one of the deadliest wars in history, proportionate to the population, and after his defeat Metacomet's head was on display in Plymouth for an entire generation.
There was land for every European at the Frontier - the most western line beyond which no land had been claimed yet. All one had to do was go there, stake the claim and get rid of the Indians.
Of course, as in any other colony, the natives were also taken as slaves since Columbus' first excursion. But Indians don’t last long in captivity, so African slaves were imported and the Indians exterminated.
Christians justified the enslavement of blacks with the Curse of Ham according to which Noah cursed his grandson Canaan because Canaan's father Ham had seen Noah naked. Therefore Noah proclaimed that Canaan would be his brothers' and his uncles' slave. (Genesis 9:20-27)
You may wonder what this has to do with black people. According to Christian mythology Canaan settled in Africa, and the Africans' dark skin is the sign of Ham's Curse. Makes sense, doesn't it?
On July 8, unaware that Trent had put the same strategy into place and that the smallpox was raging amongst the Indians already, General Jeffrey Amherst wrote to Colonel Henry Bouquet who was on his way to relieve Fort Pitt, 'Could it not be contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians? We must, on this occasion, Use Every Stratagem in our power to Reduce them.'
Bouquet replied, 'I will try to inocculate the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands, taking care however not to get the disease myself. As it is pity to oppose good men against them, I wish we could make use of the Spaniard's Method, and hunt them with English Dogs. Supported by Rangers, and some Light Horse, who would I think effectively extirpate or remove that Vermine.'
Amherst was delighted: 'You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blanketts, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race.'
It was decided to separate the powers of the United States into three branches: the Legislative (House and Senate), the Executive (President, Vice-President and the Departments) and the Judicial (the federal courts and the Supreme Court). Well, they're not entirely separated since the president appoints the judges to the Supreme Court.
Regarding representation, the smaller states wanted an equal number of representatives for all states while the larger ones argued that representation should be based on population. A compromise was found in which representation would be proportional in the House of Representatives while the Senate would consist of two representatives from each state. It was also agreed to have senators elected by state legislatures in order to preserve the interests of the elite. ('In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure... Landholders ought to have a share in the government... They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body.' - James Madison)
Now it came to the question of who counted as a person. Slave states wanted to have slaves considered as persons for the purpose of representation, the others argued that only free persons should be counted. So how much personhood should be assigned to a slave? The convention eventually agreed on James Wilson's and Roger Sherman's Three-Fifth Compromise.
Due to the Founding Fathers' fear of mob rule (i.e. democracy) it was agreed that the president would be elected indirectly through an Electoral College. And while in most cases the results reflect the will of the majority there have been four elections in which the College went against it and one in which, after no candidate had secured the absolute majority of College votes, the House decided against the candidate who had a strong lead in both the people's vote (condescendingly called the popular vote) and the electors' vote.
It was up to the individual states to decide who was eligible to vote, and in the majority of states this privilege was only granted to Anglo-Saxon Protestant male property owners.
When finally the United States Constitution was agreed upon it was decided that it should come into force when it is ratified by nine of the thirteen states.
At the ratifying conventions in the member states, the most contested points were the centralisation of powers and the lack of civil rights. Over the next three years the constitution was ratified by all states, but many of them attached the condition of amendments, mostly relating to civil rights. This led to the first 10 amendments to the constitution, ratified in 1791 and also called the Bill of Rights.
In 1789 George Washington, the only candidate, was elected president.
In October 1794 Washington once more put on his uniform, leading his army in order to quell the Whiskey Rebellion, a rebellion against the taxation of - you guessed it - whiskey.
In light of the French Revolution (which had many sympathisers amongst the Jeffersonian Republicans) and the tensions between the US and France Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, one of many acts and laws to undermine the 1st Amendment over the centuries, which criminalised criticism of the government, made naturalisation more difficult and allowed the imprisonment and deportation of non-citizens deemed dangerous.
Jefferson was the only known non-religious (and non-Christian, for that matter) president to date. (There is, however, a dispute over Lincoln's religious views.)
Shortly afterwards Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore and map the purchased area.
During the war many Indians fought on the British side in return for promises to see their lot improve. For a short time Great Britain even rekindled the idea of an Indian buffer state between the United States and Upper Canada. One of the leaders they supported was Shawnee chief Tecumseh who had led a coalition of tribes in a war against American invaders. However, his confederacy died with him in 1813.
After Louisiana was admitted as a slave state in 1812 new states were generally admitted to the Union in pairs (one free state and one slave state) in order to keep the balance, a practice that ended with the Compromise of 1850. Indiana was admitted as a free state in 1816 and Mississippi as a slave state in 1817, followed by Illinois as a free state in 1818 and Alabama as a slave state in 1819.
Adams' policy of using tariffs to protect industries in the North and invest in infrastructure, education, arts and science was highly unpopular and went, as some claimed, beyond the powers given to the government by the constitution. General Andrew Jackson, who had claimed foul play after losing his bid for the presidency, gathered a number of followers around him who called themselves Jacksonian Democrats (and, from 1828, the Democratic Party) to distinguish themselves from the Jeffersonian Republicans (also known as the Democratic-Republican Party), the remainder of whom started referring to themselves as the National Republican Party in 1830.
In 1836, shortly before the end of his second term, Jackson issued the Specie Circular which required buyers of land to pay in specie, i.e. in gold or silver rather than with paper notes. The idea behind this executive order was to counter land speculation which had become increasingly common since the Indian Removals.
This measure was the main contributing factor of the Panic of 1837 and the seven years' depression that followed.
Following the disappearance (and probably murder) of Freemason would-be whistleblower William Morgan in 1826 the single-issue Anti-Masonic Party had been founded which, after initial success, incorporated other topics and opposed the Jacksonian Democrats. In later years the party gradually merged with the Whigs.
Because both main parties were divided over the issue of slavery since they included both supporters and opponents of slavery (some of whom actually owned slaves) some abolitionists founded the Liberty Party which ran their own presidential candidates in the elections of 1840, 1844 and 1848.
After his death Vice President John Tyler was sworn in as president. Aged 51, Tyler was the youngest president so far to assume office, a record that he would hold for his term in office.
His policies alienated the other Whigs who expelled him after 5 months in office, his excessive use of the veto angered Congress, and he came close to being impeached by his former party.
He was adamant to annex Texas as a slave state, and when it became clear that this wouldn't happen during his first term he hoped to be nominated as a candidate for the Democrats. This didn't happen, either, and so he formed a party for the sole purpose of his re-election. However, when the Democrats elected James K. Polk (who also supported the annexation of Texas) as their candidate he withdrew his candidacy, stating that Texas was what really mattered to him.
Whig Congressman Abraham Lincoln kept bothering the president with a number of spot resolutions in which he demanded information about the exact location ('the spot') where American blood had been spilled on American soil, the claim that had served as the pretext for the war.
Around the same time the United States claimed the area northwest of the Louisiana purchase up to 54°40' from Great Britain who claimed it for Canada. After the war against Great Britain, the United States themselves had suggested the 49th parallel as the border, but now that was not good enough any more.
And since Polk had expanded the US territory so far into the South and West, the Northerners expected him to put the same effort into Northern expansion. Their slogan was ‘54°40 or fight!’ (short, aggressive, catchy and unimaginative - you can almost see the cheerleaders).
However, years of negotiations and joint government in Oregon Country didn’t bear any fruit, and in 1846 the Oregon Treaty was signed, setting the border at 49°, with the exception of Vancouver Island which remained British.
One problem was that Indians who lived in the area got in the way and usually were massacred. In 1850 California passed the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians which, contrary to its name, provided for the capture and enslavement of Indians, the ‘adoption’ of Indian children to have them work in the mines, and for the dismissal of any testimony of Indians against settlers. The act was repealed in 1937.
The Mormon's encroachment upon Indian lands led to permanent conflicts in the area, known as Black Hawk War.
Utah received statehood in 1896.
Today the word abolitionist gives us warm fuzzies because we think of the progressive men and women who even back then knew that we all are born equal; but fact is that very few of them actually did.
While there were a handful of pro-equality abolitionists the majority was made up of white supremacists who considered all other races inferior (seriously, who the hell could be inferior to a racist?) but who opposed slavery for economic reasons; one was that cheap slave labour gave an unfair competition advantage in business and another that slaves carried out work that could have provided employment for whites.
Many if not all of the anti-equality abolitionists were colonizationists who, after freeing the slaves, intended to remove them from the United States.
For that purpose the Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America, known as the American Colonization Society (ACS), was founded in 1816. They occupied an area in Africa in 1821 and started deporting freedmen to Sierra Leone and what they called Liberia (which, of course, was populated by Africans already, creating tensions that last until the present day).
Some slave owners joined the society as well – of course they didn’t want to abolish slavery, but they wanted to make sure that no free blacks would roam the US.
The organisation became very influential, and their plan was supported by the majority of the Republican Party whose candidate Abraham Lincoln was the sixth ACS member (after Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson and Millard Fillmore) to become president of the United States. The ACS dissolved in 1964.
His opponents tried to discredit him and his party, claiming that he intended to grant blacks citizenship and equal rights, but Abraham Lincoln vehemently denied those allegations, stressing that he was ‘not in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office.’
Despite his repeated promise not to abolish slavery he had previously stated that ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently one half slave and one half free.’ He was sitting on the fence, trying to reassure both sides (and make them vote for him, of course).
Lincoln was elected in November 1860, and throughout his presidency he organised the deportation of freed slaves to Liberia and Haiti.
South Carolina declared its secession from the Union a month after his election; Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas followed, and in February 1861 they founded the Confederate States of America and elected Jefferson Davis as their president. Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky remained in the Union despite being slave states and were known as Border States.
Many Northerners saw an upside to this as the United States would not have to deal with the freed slaves of these states any more, but Lincoln didn’t intend to become famous for the separation of the United States. He left no doubt that he wouldn’t tolerate the secession; a few years ago he had strongly defended the right of every state to decide its own form of government - but of course this right didn’t apply to a member of the US! According to the Declaration of Independence, the United States were a perpetual union, he argued, and after being admitted to it nothing could alter a state’s membership.
In his First Inaugural Address in March 1861 he repeated his guarantee of having ‘no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery’ and stressed his willingness to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.
In the same speech he also endorsed the Corwin Amendment (‘No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State’) which Congress had passed under outgoing President Buchanan as a last-ditch effort to keep the Union together, and which would have guaranteed the states’ right to remain (or become) slave states. Lincoln said, ‘Holding such a provision to now be implied Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.’
Technically the Corwin Amendment is still awaiting ratification. So far it has been ratified by Kentucky, Ohio, Rhode Island, Maryland and Illinois between 1861 and 1862; Ohio rescinded their ratification in 1864 and Maryland in 2014. A ratification attempt in Texas failed in 1963.
All Union forces were sent away from the Confederate States, but the soldiers in Fort Sumter - who had only been brought in after South Carolina's secession - refused to leave. They were attacked by Confederate forces and surrendered after a bloodless battle which started the War of Secession.
After Lincoln, with the support of his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas (who had lost both his girlfriend and the presidency to him), started gathering troops Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee joined the Confederation. West Virginia in turn seceded from Virginia to remain in the Union and was accepted in 1863 after passing the Willey Amendment which provided for the emancipation of certain slaves and all children born after July 4, 1863.
On the day of his state's secession Virginia's General Robert E. Lee was offered command of the US army following the resignation of Winfield Scott, but he declined and, even though he opposed secession, accepted a similar appointment for the army of Virginia.
In 1863 Lincoln introduced male slavery (‘conscription’) for the working classes in the US (the better-off could buy themselves out with $300), an institution that would last, on and off, for more than 100 years. This led to the Draft Riots in New York City in which 120 were killed.
Both sides hoped for support from Britain, but to no avail. The Americans hadn’t made many friends there (the United States, to this day, make slaves and not friends), and the idea of them tearing each other apart seemed quite appealing.
In order to have a united front against the Confederation Lincoln admitted members of all factions to his cabinet, including War Democrats (Democrats who, like Stephen Douglas, opposed secession and supported the war) and the Radical Republicans. These were the handful of pro-equality abolitionists in Congress who successfully took the opportunity to promote their cause and were determined to use the war to put an end to slavery. The most influential ones were Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens who was also the most radical of them all: not only did he demand freedom and equality for all blacks, he even went as far as including Asians, Jews, Hispanics, Irish, women, Catholics and - most extremely - Indians. And he was not only a man of words: in 2002 it was discovered that Stevens had been part of the Underground Railroad which helped escaped slaves to reach safety in the North.
In 1862 US Congress (at this stage only consisting of Northerners) rejected three constitutional amendments proposed by Lincoln (see page 530 of the source): 1. That all states that abolish slavery before 1900 be financially compensated. 2. That all slaves that have been freed by the war remain free. 3. That Congress provide money to colonise freed slaves outside the US.
A few months prior, when preparing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln wrote, ‘My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. [SPOILER: He chose the third option.] What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.’
In the Southern churches preachers kept repeating, more often than before, the story of the Curse of Ham which, according to Christian mythology, justified the enslavement of the black race. Therefore, they claimed, God was on the side of the Confederation.
Things looked bad for the Union, and Lincoln decided to stir up the South by making the slaves turn against their masters: in 1863 he proclaimed the end of slavery in the Confederation (with the exemption of Tennessee as a favour to its military governor, War Democrat Andrew Jackson) - and no, he did not free a single slave within his jurisdiction in his lifetime. Besides trying to incite a slave revolt in the Confederation (which could easily have backfired if the slaves of the Union had joined them) he also hoped to get support from Europe by giving the impression this war was about slavery. Neither happened.
But his luck changed with the appointment of General William Tecumseh(!) Sherman (who was 'constantly in court facing charges for abusing his slaves'). Lincoln gave him the order to kill and destroy, and that’s exactly what he did. He left the Confederate troops where they were and marched through the countryside with an army of plundering and marauding soldiers, burning absolutely everything and everyone in his path, leaving behind a trail of blood and complete destruction. His scorched earth policy and his deliberate targeting of civilians earned him a place in history books as the first modern general. - That’s how the South was won.
Many of the freed slaves became sharecroppers while others flooded into the North from the destroyed plantations in the South. Needless to say they weren’t welcome. (At the same time, a flood of carpetbaggers was moving in the opposite direction.)
Five months after his re-election (during which, in order to attract more voters, the Republican Party had temporarily changed its name to National Union Party) and five days after General Lee's surrender Lincoln was shot on Good Friday 1865. He died the following morning.
After Lincoln's death his vice president, War Democrat Andrew Johnson, was sworn in as president. As military governor Andrew Johnson was one of the few Southerners who had freed his own slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation, even though he had succeeded in having Tennessee excluded from it. Despite remaining a racist, he came to oppose slavery solely for economic reasons.
On August 20, 1866, President Johnson declared the war ('insurrection') over.
Union General Benjamin Butler had asked the President what was going to become of the millions of slaves that were freed in the Confederation to which Lincoln replied, ‘I think we should deport them all.’
This sounded good in theory. But in the 50 years of its existence the American Colonization Society had removed some 20,000 freed slaves from US territory - now they faced the deportation of more than four million freedmen, a task that was completely unfeasible, technically as well as financially. It was considered to give them an isolated area within the United States or in South America, but no state was willing to give up part of its territory.
The freed slaves still had no rights. By means of Black Codes Southern States tried to put blacks back in their place; restricting their liberties and movements, fining them for not finding work, imprisoning those who couldn’t pay the fine (guess how many of them could) and hiring those imprisoned out for work - which is nothing short of slavery.
A number of Northern states also passed Black Codes which denied blacks entry to their states.
On March 3, 1865, the Freedmen's Bureau was established in order to 'direct such issues of provisions, clothing, and fuel, as he may deem needful for the immediate and temporary shelter and supply of destitute and suffering refugees and freedmen and their wives and children.' Its powers were later extended to help freedmen find family members and to provide education and legal aid.
Eight months after Lincoln’s death, on December 18, 1865, the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery in the whole of the United States and which had been greatly pushed by the Radical Republicans came into force after it had been ratified by the required number of states. From that day the slaves of Kentucky and Delaware were free as well. (Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia had already abolished slavery before the end of the war.)
In 1865 the Ku Klux Klan, the largest of many Christian terror organisations, was founded in Tennessee, aiming - just like the colonizationists in the North - at a purely Anglo-Saxon Protestant American society. Freedmen and abolitionists (amongst other minorities such as Jews and Catholics) were permanently terrorised and murdered.
Riots and street battles caused by racists attacking freedmen remained a common sight for decades.
In 1868, when the Radical Republicans had a vast majority in Congress, the 14th Amendment was passed (overruling President Andrew Johnson’s veto who claimed it discriminated against whites) which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalised in the United States, except Indians.
In order to get the necessary majority of states to ratify the amendment the former member states of the Confederation who refused to do so (which were all of them except Tennessee) remained under military rule and were only readmitted on ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendment between 1868 and 1870 (An act to provide for the more efficient government of the Rebel States, known as Reconstruction Act).
President Johnson obstructed Congress by vetoing all legislation providing rights for blacks, but Congress overruled these. He became the first president to be impeached in 1868 (albeit on other grounds), but the Senate voted 35-19 to remove him which was short of the required two-third majority.
His impeachment also inspired a group of citizens to petition for the abolition of the presidency, saying that 'only two types of governments are possible: absolute monarchy and absolute democracy', and that Johnson's abuse of power and his acquittal were the perfect example of how unduly powerful the office had become.
In 1868 Republican Ulysses S Grant became the last former slave owner to be elected president.
In 1870 the 15th Amendment was ratified which guaranteed voting rights for all citizens regardless of 'race, color, or previous condition of servitude.' (Of course this didn't include Indians because they couldn't be citizens.)
For a number of years equal rights for blacks, including their suffrage, were enforced. In 1870 and 1871, Congress passed a number of Enforcement Acts, making the use of terror, the intimidation of voters, the attempt to prevent anyone from exercising their civil rights etc a federal offence. Hundreds of KKK members and supporters were tried an convicted, and soon the others went into hiding. The Ku Klux Klan was dead - for the time being.
However, their work was carried on by Christian terror organisations like the White League who continued to kill opponents, intimidate activists and prevent blacks from voting to ensure the election of racist candidates.
The worst known incident, though by no means the only one, was the Colfax Massacre on Easter Monday 1873.
Fearing an attack on the local Republican government a number of armed blacks had dug trenches around the courthouse, ready to defend it, an action that was considered an act of rebellion by most whites and the local media. They were later joined by black families for protection.
300 paramilitaries under Sheriff Nash gathered at the courthouse and ordered the defenders to leave. After they refused they started firing on them, and the fire was returned.
When a cannon was brought in some of the defenders fled and were pursued by the militia who killed most of them.
After the courthouse was set on fire the defenders raised white flags and were told to disarm. After having done so most of them were shot. Around 50 were taken prisoner and killed during the night.
An estimated 150 black people died in Colfax that day.
Nine of the militiamen were charged and three of them convicted. However, their convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court in United States v Cruikshank.
In the presidential elections of 1876 Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, but his Republican opponent Rutherford B Hayes won the presidency by a single electoral vote in strongly disputed circumstances. It is generally believed that an informal agreement, the Compromise of 1877, had been reached in which the Democrats accepted Hayes' presidency in return for the immediate removal of remaining federal troops from South Carolina and Louisiana and a policy of non-interference with Southern politics.
With the end of the Reconstruction Period the South fell back to the racists who passed Jim Crow laws to disfranchise the freedmen and who applied a ‘separate but equal’ segregation policy, denying blacks the use of the same services and facilities as white Americans.
This policy was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1896 (Plessy v Ferguson).
In 1883 the Supreme Court also ruled that the 14th Amendment only forbids discrimination by the state, not by individuals; official segregation went on for another century (until a Supreme Court ruling in 1957), and their voting rights were restricted until the passing of the Voting Rights Act 100 years after the war.
The decline of Radical Republicans in the 1870s and the end of Hayes' presidency led to the Lily-White Movement intending to keep blacks out of the Republican Party and brought it back into the firm grip of white supremacists.
Before the attack two officers had complained about betraying the army's pledge of safety, to which he replied, 'Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! [...] I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians. [...] Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.'
Black Kettle was one of the few who escaped, just to be killed with a shot in the back in another US Army massacre.
The Transcontinental Railroad was also the final nail in the coffin for the surviving Indians who would soon be displaced by settlers from the remaining lands the US government had once guaranteed them.
The railroads advertised Hunting by Rail rides in which the trains would slow down beside buffalo herds, giving their passengers ample opportunity to shoot as many animals as they liked to be left on the prairie.
General Philip Sheridan opposed a proposed ban on the shooting of buffaloes, claiming that the relentless hunting had done more to get rid of the Indians 'than the entire regular army has done in the last forty years.'
By 1893 less than 400 wild buffalo were left.
In 1980, in United States v Sioux Nation of Indians, the Supreme Court decided in favour of the Sioux and ruled that they were entitled to compensation for the Black Hills. The compensation, with interest, at present would amount to more than $1bn. However, to this day the Sioux have refused the money and insist on having their lands returned to them instead.
In 1891 Republican President Benjamin Harrison (who in 1888 had become the second president elected by the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote) awarded 20 Medals of Honor to the heroes of the massacre.
The United States always had an eye on Cuba, and they watched with interest how it got more and more difficult for the Spanish to suppress the Cubans. Already in the 1820s President John Quincy Adams predicted Cuba would eventually fall 'like a ripening plum into the lap of the Union' (the Ripe Fruit Policy), and since then several attempts had been made to purchase Cuba from Spain and admit it as a slave state.
By 1898 the Cuban War of Independence was in full swing, and as the Spanish empire was falling apart all over the world they felt their time had come.
Another war at that time was that between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Purlitzer, the fathers of yellow journalism, over the circulations of their newspapers. With sensationalistic headlines and articles about made-up and at best exaggerated atrocities supposedly committed by the Spanish they created a heated atmosphere in which many called for a war with Spain.
As in many other cases the United States offered to negotiate, but their 'assistance' was declined.
McKinley decided to send a battleship anyway, claiming to fear for the safety of American residents, and on January 24, 1898, the USS Maine anchored in Havana.
Three weeks later, on February 15, an explosion on the Maine killed 266 soldiers; the cause has never been established.
Several theories are still being spread - the accidental explosion of the fuel tank, an attack by the Spanish, an attack by Cuban rebels trying to blame it on the Spanish in order to get the US involved, or a false flag attack by the US to justify declaring war.
An attack by the Spanish seems implausible since they had no cause to conceal their identity - after all, the Maine was an uninvited American battleship in Spanish waters.
However, the United States blamed the Spanish and declared war. In their view Spain had started the hostilities by the supposed attack; the United States have always made a big deal about the ‘first shot’, and they have worked out a lot of ways to let others fire it. In my opinion war starts either with a declaration of war or with armed forces entering foreign territory (or refusing to leave it, as was the case in Fort Sumter). This war started with a US battleship entering Cuba, regardless of the cause of the explosion.
The war against Spain spread over several colonies and ended a few months later, on August 12, with the American annexation of all of Spain's colonies outside Africa, including the Philippines (for which they paid $20,000,000 to Spain), Puerto Rico, and Guam. (Around this time Mark Twain suggested to replace the American flag with a skull-spangled banner.)
The Philippines had declared their independence on June 12, but nobody took notice. After the Spanish were gone they kept fighting the United States in the Philippine-American War which ended with their defeat in 1902. They would eventually gain independence in 1946.
Resistance of the populations against American occupation remained as fierce as it was against the Spanish, and the atrocities committed by US forces were nothing short of what their predecessors had done to them.
The Teller Amendment prevented McKinley from annexing Cuba, but while Cuba formally gained independence in 1902 the US officially retained the right to interfere in Cuban affairs, which they repeatedly did.
Additionally the Platt Amendment forced Cuba to 'sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations', and the United States have leased Guantamo Bay since 1903. The Cuban government considers the area to be occupied by the US since 1898.
With the new century approaching the US decided to become a world power rather than just meddling in the businesses of Northern and Southern American countries. The spirit of the new era was probably best described in Senator Albert J. Beveridge's maiden speech in 1900. 'Mr. President, the times call for candor. The Philippines are ours forever, "territory belonging to the United States," as the Constitution calls them. And just beyond the Philippines are China's illimitable markets. We will not retreat from either. We will not repudiate our duty in the archipelago. We will not abandon our opportunity in the Orient. We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world. And we will move forward to our work, not howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength, and thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world.'
Since the turn of the century two fruit companies which were mostly dealing in bananas had spread in South American countries and controlled several of their governments: the Standard Fruit Company (now Dole) and the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita). These countries, foremost Honduras and Guatemala, became known as Banana Republics, a term coined in 1901 by writer O. Henry.
Whenever the fruit companies lacked the resources to enforce their policies US troops were sent in to occupy the area or to fight the rebels and help to (re-)instate regimes that were friendly towards both the United States and the fruit companies. These interventions are today known as the Banana Wars and include other military actions in South America and the Caribbean to protect corporate and US interests, such as helping the Cuban government to suppress the Negro Rebellion in 1912.
Trade with China played an increasing role at the turn of the century. All the colonising countries had an interest in occupying parts or all of China which would have severely affected their competitors. Therefore in 1899 US Secretary of State John Hay suggested an Open Door Policy to the other imperial powers according to which China may be exploited equally by all of them and which was agreed on.
The Chinese themselves felt increasingly encroached upon by foreigners and missionaries who threatened their traditions and their way of life. This led to the Boxer movement which attacked and killed foreigners and Christians. On June 20, 1900, they reached Beijing and lay siege to the foreign legation district. The next day the Chinese empress declared war on all foreign nations present in China. The Boxer Rebellion was quelled by an alliance of forces from the United States, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Netherlands, Japan and Russia in 1901.
After McKinley’s successful assassination in 1901 his vice president Theodore Roosevelt became president. One of his first projects was the completion of the Panama Canal which would connect the Atlantic with the Pacific so no one had to sail around the tip of South America any more. It had been started by the French, but after the company went bankrupt in 1889, nobody had seriously worked on it.
In 1903 he negotiated with Colombia in whose territory the canal was planned, but while the treaty was signed by the United States, it was rejected by the Columbian Senate.
No problem for Roosevelt: he promised to support the rebels in the Colombian province of Panama where the canal was planned and sent the US Navy to assist them. Panama declared its independence on November 3, 1903, while the USS Nashville impeded Columbian forces, and shortly afterwards the works (which were completed in 1914) commenced. (Leigh Mercer summarised the story in his brilliant palindrome, A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!)
In 1904 he attached the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, stating that the United States had policing power in Latin American countries and that some of these countries may 'require intervention by some civilized nation'.
In 1906 Roosevelt occupied Cuba and was awarded the Nobel Peace Price; not for the occupation, of course, but for his negotiations in the Russo-Japanese War.
Roosevelt's diplomatic technique became known as the Big Stick Policy, named after a proverb he frequently quoted and which says, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick' (i.e. giving the weaker negotiating partner the impression they are equals while at the same time demonstrating your military superiority to ensure they do as they're told). Roosevelt claimed the phrase was of West African origin, but since no earlier sources for it exist, it is generally believed he made it up himself.
In order to demonstrate the United States' growing military power and their will to enforce their interests he sent a large US Navy battle fleet, known as the Great White Fleet, on a voyage around the world that lasted from 1907 to 1909.
He still lives in every children’s room: the Teddy Bear was named after him, following an anecdote according to which he refused to shoot a bear that had been tied to a tree for him - in his opinion big game, other than Indians, deserved a ‘sporting chance’.
Euthanasia was also practiced. Although the most commonly suggested way were local gas chambers, most techniques used to kill them were subtler, such as feeding patients tuberculosis-infected milk, or simply by lethal neglect.
After the fall of Nazi Germany (whose euthanasia policies had been inspired by the example of the United States) eugenics increasingly fell out of fashion, although forced sterilisations continued until at least 2010, with a focus on black and American Indian women.
In Europe territorial claims, boundary disputes and fights over colonies had led to a tense atmosphere amongst the big empires that was calling for a cathartic war. Furthermore, in a world which depended more and more on oil for warfare, transport and manufacturing the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway which would provide Germany with quick and easy access to the Ottoman Empire (today's Middle East) was regarded as a threat to the interests of other countries.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife were killed by Serbian nationalists, and Austria-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Serbia, demanding to cease all anti-Austrian activities and to allow Austrian officials to participate in the investigations.
Serbia’s reaction was to mobilise, as did Russia, their ally.
The European countries now anxiously waited for the moron who would start the Great War.
The moron was forty-three years of age and as determined as he was immature: Germany. Urged by Austria-Hungary to honour their alliance, Germany issued two ultimata: one to Russia, asking them to suspend mobilisation, and one to France, ordering them to remain neutral, threatening that the non-compliance with either ultimatum would lead to war on August 1, 1914.
On August 3, 1914, the Germans marched through neutral Belgium without permission in order to attack France. The war (which everyone expected to be over after a few weeks) had started. The following day Great Britain declared war on Germany.
In the course of the war Great Britain blocked all sea routes to Germany by means of ships and submarines to starve them out.
Despite their differences with Great Britain the Americans happened to support the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France and Russia) which was later joined by others to form the Allied Forces - the British were still closer to them than the Germans.
Although Wilson declared the US to be neutral the British and French were provided with arms by US manufacturers who transported them on British passenger ships. These vessels were often - usually after sufficient warning for evacuation - attacked by German submarines. The German government also issued ads in the New York Times and other newspapers, warning passengers not to board British ships that might carry arms and head for the war zone.
The arms manufacturers’ lobby demanded that the United States enter the war on the side of the Entente and even circulated the rumour that German soldiers cut off the hands of Belgian babies (don’t forget, we’re in America), but Wilson was hesitant; fighting industrialised European countries certainly involved more risks than invading some underdeveloped South American states.
The groups supporting America’s intervention had to think of something more convincing. Apart from the interest in supplying the US Army with arms they were also concerned about the payments for the weapons they had sold to the Entente - in case of a victory of the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) it was doubtful they would get their money.
In 1915 the RMS Lusitania, a British passenger ship, was stocked up with arms before sailing from New York to Great Britain, and someone tipped off the German authorities.
On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the Lusitania, which usually would only have sunk the vessel, not necessarily with the loss of lives - but the ammunition aboard exploded, and about 1,200 passengers, around 130 of them American citizens, were killed.
(Winston Churchill, who had previously tried to involve the US, had written shortly before the attack that 'it is most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores, in the hope especially of embroiling the US with Germany. For our part we want the traffic - the more the better, and if some of it gets into trouble, better still.')
To the disappointment of the arms industry this still wasn’t enough for Wilson to declare war on Germany; after all, the Lusitania was a British vessel sailing under British flag (though she didn’t fly any flag in the war zone). He issued, however, a firm warning against the German government.
His Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, resigned in protest, comparing the use of passenger ships for the transport of munitions to 'putting women and children in front of an army'.
Wilson was re-elected in 1916 with the slogan ‘He kept us out of the war’; but not for much longer. In January 1917 the decoding of the Zimmermann Telegram from the German Foreign Secretary to the German ambassador in Mexico turned the scales. It expressed the firm belief that the US would remain neutral; however, in case they joined the Entente, it was suggested to form an alliance with Mexico (which had frequent border skirmishes with the US), in return helping them to retrieve the territories they had lost to the United States.
In preparation for the war entry the Jones–Shafroth Act was passed which, amongst other provisions, granted US citizenship to Puerto Ricans born on or after April 25, 1898, so their young men could be drafted.
The Germans had declared unrestricted submarine warfare, and after the sinking of seven US merchant vessels Wilson was ready for a war declaration ('The world must be made safe for democracy. [...] It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war') which Congress approved on April 6, 1917. After the war Wilson would state, 'America's world role has come by no plan of our conceiving but by the hand of God.'
In June Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917 which was used to silence critics of US policies by accusing them of aiding the enemy. The act was largely extended with the Sedition Act of 1918, and while the Sedition Act was repealed in 1920 the Espionage Act is still used to sentence whistleblowers exposing civil rights breaches and war crimes, such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
1917 and 1918 brought other changes as well: the October Revolution, led by Lenin, put an end to the Tsar’s tyranny in Russia and discontinued its involvement in the war, and the November Revolution in Germany led to the fall of the government, the exiling of the Kaiser and the proclamation of a Socialist Republic two days before the armistice.
During the Russian Civil War which followed the revolution Wilson sent infantry to assist the pro-Tsarist White Guards who wanted the old tyranny back; partly because the White Guards had announced Russia would re-enter the war under their leadership, and partly because they fought communists.
One and a half years after the US had entered WWI (also called the War to End War at the time) it was over, and all parties agreed to put the entire responsibility for it on Germany. The Germans were excluded from the peace talks in Paris in 1919, forced to disarm almost completely, give up 10% of their territory as well as their colonies and pay all war damages (and more) - a sum of $60,000,000,000 (you don’t have to count the zeros, it’s billions) which would be the equivalent of $760,000,000,000 today. The last payment was made in 2010.
The rationale behind the Treaty of Versailles was that Germany should never again be able to fight a war. We know how that went.
Few had any idea of the price the world would have to pay for Versailles. One of them was Field Marshal Earl Wavell who predicted that the Treaty of Versailles had concluded the war to end war with a peace to end peace.
The Elaine Massacre was one of a number of ethnic riots that year, called the
Red Summer because the accusation of being communists, especially for those involved with labour unions, served as a justification for hunting and killing blacks.
Ethnic riots in the US continue until this day, and many of them, such as the Elaine Massacre, qualify as acts of ethnic cleansing.
Officially the massacre went down in the records as a 'Negro Uprising' with 36 deaths (10 white and 26 black).
As with any depression in any country the blame was put on minorities, mainly immigrants (especially Mexicans and Jews), and violence against them became a common feature.
But, especially with Stalin taking over the leadership of the USSR in 1924, a new enemy was found: communism. And the good thing about it was that anybody could be accused of it.
In the opinion of the United States communism had taken away the main foundations of human existence: freedom of accumulation of wealth and freedom of speech, and anyone who sympathised with them was silenced; in fact, anyone who in the slightest ventured to criticise US politics was shut up and branded a communist.
In order to combat unemployment he created the Public Works Administration which provided employment for many in public areas.
In an attempt to raise the price of farm products the newly created Agricultural Adjustment Administration compensated farmers to leave parts of their lands barren, leave harvested crops to rot and slaughter and discard millions of piglets while people starved. In 1936 the Supreme Court ruled that the act was unconstitutional regarding its financing, and it was replaced by the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938.
In 1939 Roosevelt introduced the Food Stamp Plan which ran until 1943 and was reintroduced in 1961 by John F Kennedy.
The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRI) introduced collective bargaining rights, amongst other provisions. The main part of the act was declared to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935, but important aspects of it were later included in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 which guaranteed employees the right to get organised in unions.
In 1935 the United States caught up with the rest of the industrialised world (well, kind of) when Congress passed the Social Security Act which provided for an old age pension, unemployment assistance, child welfare and support for the blind; this, together with his labour legislation, caused his opponents to denounce him as a communist. - However, the act did not apply to domestic and farm workers, ensuring that 65% of black workers were not covered.
Roosevelt also created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which recruited millions of unemployed to carry out public works.
The Housing Act of 1937 granted subsidies for local public housing agencies to provide accommodation for the poor.
In order to prevent the Supreme Court from striking down more of his legislation Roosevelt proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937 which would have allowed the president to appoint an additional judge for every judge who had served on the Supreme Court for 10 years or more and refused to retire within six months of their 70th birthday. His attempt, known as the court stacking plan, failed.
In February 1942 Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which authorised the internment of persons whose ancestors hailed from the belligerent countries, and soon concentration camps were filled with 120,000 people of Japanese, 11,000 of German and 3,000 of Italian ancestry, the vast majority of them US citizens whose families had lived in the States for generations. There was no indication of their disloyalty, and nowadays it is generally accepted that the motives were entirely racist.
The executive order was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1944 in Korematsu v United States.
And it was not only US residents who were affected by it. In the name of 'hemispheric security' 6,600 individuals were deported from Latin American countries and sent to the camps.
The Germans, British and Soviets had already commenced what would become the warfare of the future, and the United States were only too happy to embrace the new strategy: instead of soldiers killing soldiers, air raids were carried out on large cities, killing thousands of civilians without putting one’s own people in danger; at the same time it destroyed the enemy’s already damaged economy.
The war spread over five continents (mainly Europe, Africa and Asia, with isolated attacks in America and Australia) as well as Oceania, and left half of the world in ruins. Up to 80 million people died, the vast majority of them civilians.
Besides the war dead another 11 million were killed in Hitler's concentration camps: 6 million of them for being Jews, the others for being Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled persons or regime critics.
Roosevelt was insistent to talk to Stalin in person, and the Soviet leader finally agreed to a meeting in Tehran in November 1943 and another one in Yalta in February 1945.
Descriptions of Roosevelt’s attitude towards Stalin range from conciliatory to servile, yet before the war he had portrayed him as a dangerous dictator. Most historians put this down to senility, but I am convinced that Roosevelt had worked out a detailed post-war plan for the world already, and he pussyfooted around Stalin in an effort not to endanger it.
After the defeat of Germany and Japan (Italy had surrendered already) the United States once more would emerge as the world’s leading power, followed closely by the USSR. I am certain that at this stage Roosevelt had the vision of an American empire covering all countries between the poles; but he knew that the time wasn’t ripe.
There were two possible scenarios for the post-war world: one was that a couple of empires would continue gaining and losing territories, creating alliances and fighting wars, and this was too much of a risk for American supremacy; the second was to divide the planet amongst the two strongest powers and then work on each other’s downfall, and that’s what he aimed at. A shark has a better chance against another shark than against a shoal of piranhas.
For this purpose he intended to set up the United Nations; he was aware that they’d be as powerless as the League of Nations was because the strongest countries would have to be given a veto, but they would succeed in preventing the emergence of other superpowers beside the US and the USSR.
(Oh yes, Churchill was at these meetings as well. But his presence was merely symbolic; in both World Wars he had schemed to get the United States involved at the earliest stage, demonstrating Great Britain’s dependence on them. Apart from that, Britain was actually the big loser of the war - within a few years, they lost most of their colonies, including India. To my knowledge, Great Britain is the only former empire ever to be dominated by its former colony.)
However, Roosevelt couldn’t openly discuss his vision of American world domination, and many of his subjects who didn’t grasp his subtle master plan thought he sympathised with communism. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage on April 12, 1945, just after having been re-elected for a fourth term, and just before the defeat of Germany; maybe the excitement of finally reaching his aim was too much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of his oblivious fellowmen had been involved, thinking he was doing damage control before the post-war conferences.
Roosevelt’s vice-president Harry Truman succeeded him and met with Stalin in Potsdam to ask for his support against Japan, discuss the world’s future and distribute the loot.
After their unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, Germany was divided into four zones (the American, British and French zones in the West and the Soviet one in the East), and so was the German capital Berlin itself which lay in the centre of the Soviet sector.
Remembering the disastrous result of the last German defeat and fearing the spread of communism the United States, speaking softly and carrying a big stick, decided to introduce a new system of domination: rather than plundering the defeated European countries and leaving them on their own they let them work for the United States while allowing them to elect governments that acted within their parameters. They also introduced a programme to assist participating countries in rebuilding their economies, the European Recovery Program, known as the Marshall Plan, which was offered to the European countries affected by the war but declined by the USSR and the states of their zone because it would have given the US too much influence.
The West Germans were leniently punished - at the Nuremberg Trials the figureheads of the Third Reich (who hadn’t committed suicide like Hitler or Goebbels) were executed, and others were sentenced to long prison terms; many of them were released after just a few years.
The others got away; the Americans, with their knowledge of the German mentality, rightly believed that they had just been carrying out Hitler’s orders, and that they would serve the US just as enthusiastically. Thus it was still possible for members of the Nazi party to become president or chancellor of West Germany.
A number of Nazi criminals were also employed by the US (such as Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, who was recruited by the CIC in 1947 at the time he was sentenced to death in France). Operation Paperclip, a US programme to recruit leading German scientists, engineers and technicians (many of whom had worked for the Nazi regime, such as Wernher von Braun), was put in place right after the war.
The Americans generously invested in the destroyed countries, set up American businesses, helped them manage their debts and taught them of the dangers of communism (and for those who wouldn’t listen they got out the big stick). The American economy (which had been booming since entering the war) kept on booming, the West Germans had their Wirtschaftswunder, the British colonies got their independence: the war had done everyone a world of good!
Well, maybe not the other countries... After 1945 no nation was able to remain entirely neutral (apart from Switzerland where communists and capitalists had their offshore bank accounts). Any country claiming independence was either sacked by one of the superpowers or accused of having been sacked by the other one - this would lead to sanctions and embargoes that automatically forced them to establish ties with the other one, making them more or less dependent on it.
Also, many satrapies declaring their independence were immediately invaded (‘liberated’ or ‘protected’) by their original owners to re-establish their rule, especially those providing crucial materials and those located on their doorstep. South American countries, for example, had been exploited by US companies and citizens for ages, and every emerging democracy was at once removed by the United States, like in Guatemala in 1954 or Chile in 1973. They also supported terrorists against democratically elected governments like in Chile and Nicaragua.
The one nation that hadn’t surrendered by May 1945 was Japan. But once the war was over in the West the US were able to focus on the Asian theatre, and after a number of victories the surrender of Japan was merely a matter of time.
This put Truman under a lot of pressure: the United States had just finished building the atomic bomb, and this could be the last opportunity in a long time to test its effects under authentic conditions.
On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb (uranium) was dropped on Hiroshima, killing an estimated quarter of a million people instantly or after days, weeks, months or years of agony and crippling, disfiguring and causing cancer to many others. On August 9 another A-bomb (plutonium) was dropped on Nagasaki which is thought to have killed 80,000 by the end of the year. The most macabre experiment in history was concluded, and on August 15 Emperor Hirohito surrendered.
The Cold War was also used to justify the suspension of constitutional rights, like that of free speech, in the name of 'fighting communism'.
On March 15, 1968, Captain Ernest Medina, believing that a large number of Vietcong were hiding in the village of My Lai, gave the order to destroy everything that was 'walking, crawling or growing' in it the following day. All civilians, he claimed, would have gone to market by 7am.
When the soldiers arrived the next morning they found a peaceful hamlet with no sign of enemy activity, and platoon leader William Calley gave orders to kill everybody. Only three of his men refused to do so at the risk of being court-martialled.
By the time the army broke for lunch they had slaughtered 504 civilians, mostly women and children, many of whom they had raped before they shot or bayoneted them.
Initially covered up the story of the My Lai Massacre broke 18 months later. Participants, including Calley himself, claimed they had 'only followed orders'. (Where have we heard that before?)
Calley was the only one convicted in a subsequent court martial and sentenced to life in 1971 but paroled three years later.
And while this massacre was a particularly horrendous atrocity it was far from being the only one.
The Vietnam War, besides the other Indochina Wars with US involvement, was the first war ever to be televised in the US, so Americans could order a pizza, grab a beer, sit back and watch crying children run through their destroyed villages while burning to death. But it had an unwanted effect on a lot of people: they realised that war wasn’t something abstract, and that all these atrocities happened to actual people. Opposition to the war increased rapidly, especially with almost 60,000 US soldiers having lost their lives (as opposed to three million Vietnamese, a third of whom were armed) in a war that was started merely to boost Kennedy’s damaged ego.
In 1973 the United States had lost the Vietnam War (which, in their absence, continued for another two years and led to the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam).
As a consequence, war journalism was being restricted from showing victims and, due to public pressure, male slavery (‘conscription’ or the ‘draft’) was abolished for a few years; draft registration was re-introduced by President Carter in 1980.
At the same time riots and murders of black people and their supporters spread over Southern states wherever black children and students enlisted in white-only schools and universities, and wherever other segregation measures were challenged.
This was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement which was largely inspired by Gandhi’s concept of civil disobedience and non-violence.
When nine black students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas, in 1957 several segregationist councils decided to block the students from entering the grounds, and Governor Orval Faubus sent in the Arkansas National Guard to support them (the racists, that is). Little Rock's mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann asked President Eisenhower for federal troops to enforce the Supreme Court ruling. Eisenhower reluctantly sent in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army (without its black soldiers) who ensured the students could enter the building.
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first half-hearted attempt to address racial discrimination.
Beginning with the Dockum Drug Store sit-in a number of lunch counter and other sit-ins were organised in which black activists would sit at the counters without being served. In many cases these sit-ins proved successful.
The Civil Rights Act of 1960 established federal inspection of local voter registration polls and introduced penalties for those attempting to hinder anyone from registering to vote.
This was followed by the 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, which banned poll taxes and any other taxes in federal elections which were common in Southern states as an instrument to keep the majority of blacks, as well as poor whites, from voting.
Segregation was still practised on interstate buses, and starting in 1961 a number of Freedom Rides took place in which activists would travel South in mixed racial groups. Many were arrested and even more attacked by mobs as police watched.
In September 1962 the registering of James Meredith, escorted by 500 US Marshals, at the University of Mississippi led to the Ole Miss Riot in which two people were killed.
After police in Birmingham, Alabama, bombed the parsonage of Martin Luther King's brother and fellow activist A D King in May 1963 the Birmingham Riot of 1963 broke out which only ended with the deployment of federal troops.
When two black students had registered with the University of Alabama in June 1963 Democratic Governor George Wallace took his Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, blocking the students' entry and repeating his inauguration chant, 'segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.'
President Kennedy responded by issuing Executive Order 11111 which federalised the Alabama National Guard whom he ordered to clear the way for the students. After a short discussion with the general Wallace eventually moved.
In September the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Baptist church in Birmingham, killing four children. During the riots following the events two teenagers were killed.
In July 1964 the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law which outlaws discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin.
After a state trooper shot and killed a protester in Marion, Alabama, in March 1965 a march from Selma to Montgomery was organised for March 7 but not allowed by the governor. It took place anyway, and around 600 protesters were violently attacked by police and a white militia in what became known as Bloody Sunday. Two days later Martin Luther King (who had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few months prior) led a second march which was attended by 2,500. During the march one protester was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
After a federal judge ruled in favour of the protesters 25,000 turned up for a third march on March 25. The event concluded with a Stars for Freedom concert by some of the leading musicians of the time. Later that night Klan members murdered one of the activists who was bringing marchers from Montgomery back in her car.
In August the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed which prohibits racial discrimination against voters, including obstacles such as literacy tests.
Riots and murders continued over the following years, and in 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated (leading to the greatest civil unrest in a century) as the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was underway which provided for equal housing opportunities.
In a perverted twist of justice the all-male United States Supreme Court in 1973 (Roe v Wade) placed the right to privacy above the right to life and ruled that abortion was a 'fundamental right' of the mother. With an estimated 60 million children aborted in the US since 1973 (that’s 60,000,000, a number equivalent to the entire populations of California and Florida put together), the Supreme Court decision has killed as many as the Second World War.
Since 1995 Congress had passed several bills to at least ban intact dilation and extraction ‘abortions’, better known as partial birth abortions, which are technically not abortions since the child is delivered first and killed afterwards, by a procedure which is particularly painful (for the child, that is). However, these bills were vetoed by President Bill Clinton, and the ban was only signed into law in 2003 by President Bush Jr.
Ironically Norma McCorvey (the plaintiff in Roe v Wade) never had an abortion and subsequently changed her views. In her book Won by Love she writes, ‘I was sitting in O.R.'s offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them. I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me. “Norma,” I said to myself, “They're right.” [...] It's as if blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth.'
She remained a pro-life activist until her death in 2017 and has unsuccessfully petitioned to have the 1973 decision overturned.
In Iran which had been terrorised by its leader Shah Reza Pahlavi for almost four decades opposition to the monarchy increased rapidly, despite soldiers shooting into the crowds of protesters. He had allowed the country to be shamelessly exploited by the United States while torturing and killing all critics and opponents of his regime.
He had to flee Iran in January 1979, following the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution, and, after travelling from one country to the next, went to the United States for free medical treatment. Democratic President Jimmy Carter didn't want him to enter the country but was put under pressure by others, including Henry (Heinz Alfred) Kissinger (who, as Nixon's Secretary of State, had been responsible for most of the carnage in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). Kissinger threatened to withhold his support for SALT II, a decommissioning agreement with the USSR. Reportedly Carter hung up the phone, shouting, 'Fuck the Shah!'
There were emerging democratic voices in Iran, but the overwhelming majority hailed the return of Ayatollah Khomeini from exile, a radical fundamentalist who, following a referendum, created an isolationist Islamic state.
In the following years Khomeini had more than 20,000 opponents executed.
In November 1979 an angry mob stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took the remaining staff hostage, demanding Pahlavi’s extradition to try him for his crimes.
The negotiations led nowhere as President Carter refused the exchange; one rescue attempt failed, and after the Iranian despot died of cancer in July 1980, negotiations continued with a new set of demands. In the end an agreement was reached (the Algiers Accords), the main points being that the United States return Iranian assets that had been frozen under Carter and refrain from interfering in internal affairs.
On January 20, 1981, while Republican Ronald Reagan (who had left Hollywood to become president) was sworn into office, the remaining 52 hostages were released. According to Abolhassan Banisadr, who was president of Iran at the time, the release had been delayed until after the US presidential election at the behest of the Reagan campaign to prevent Jimmy Carter's re-election.
Also in 1979 US protégé Saddam Hussein took over the reigning Ba’ath Party in Iraq and assumed the presidency.
In 1980, taking advantage of the unstable situation in Iran, Hussein used the continuous border disputes to wage war on his neighbour, and Reagan and several Western European countries gladly supplied him with materiel and military intelligence.
In order to keep Iran safe from being sucked into the Soviet sphere, Reagan would have liked to provide them with arms, too, but an arms embargo against them prevented that. Also, he would have liked to help the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua to overthrow their democratically elected government, but the Boland Amendment stood in the way. The solution was simple: Israel supplied Iran with weapons and got resupplied from the United States. The proceeds were used to arm and train the Contras. Besides, the deal also helped to release the Hezbollah hostages in Lebanon. The Iran-Contra Affair was exposed in 1986.
Besides the United States the USSR also provided weapons to both sides of the conflict.
The war ended in 1988, with neither side having achieved anything.
With the dissolution of the USSR communism was largely defeated, and no longer did the government have to pretend to care about the individual in order to prevent communist sympathies. Therefore Reagan and his familiars, such as Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and Helmut Kohl in West Germany, spread the policies of neoliberalism which has destroyed Western civilisations ever since. In the name of the 'free market' large corporations, besides their virtual tax-free status, would be showered with enormous grants and concessions while at the same time social security measures would be severely cut (with the aim of eventually being entirely abolished), public services ruined by underfunding in order to justify their privatisation and excessively increasing unemployment and homelessness used to create fierce competition over the most substandard workplaces and accommodations. Besides this regular bank failures would lead to bailouts by the working class and be used as a pretext for austerity measures against the most vulnerable.
David Attenborough, rephrasing Kenneth Boulding, once said, 'Anyone who believes in indefinite growth on a physically finite planet is either mad or an economist.'
The concept of the ever-increasing exploitation of ever-decreasing resources in the name of the economy may appear illogical; and it is, but only when we look at the bigger picture. For the individual, as far as they can judge, the resources will be available for the rest of their lifetime, and anything beyond that is of no interest to them. Furthermore, the vast majority of the proponents of capitalism are Christians, and for two millennia Christians have believed the Second Coming is just around the corner; this means that they don't have to worry about the future of the planet or of mankind because their deity will fix everything soon, anyway. So there are three possible reasons for supporting capitalism: egoism, Christian beliefs or ignorance.
To choose a single nation would have been silly, because after its defeat a new enemy would have to be found; this only left a race, an ideology or a religion to pick from.
As mentioned earlier, the US support of the genocide in Palestine had always put a great strain on their relations with the Arab world, so Bush chose War on Islam.
The ideal point to start with was Iraq. Hussein (the Americans, however, still call their old buddy by his first name) had fought the tiring war against Iran, he had used up the chemical and biological weapons the US had provided to get rid of the Kurds, and his country was worn out. He needed money - and his best bet was to get oil.
- Hussein wanted to expand Iraq, he needed money to pay off his debts from the war against Iran, and there had always been border disputes with Kuwait (which, as he argued, was historically a part of Iraq, anyway); what better way of starting the war than encouraging him to invade his neighbour?
In a meeting in 1990, US ambassador Glaspie assured Hussein, ‘We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instructions first given in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.’
The Iraqi leader took the bait and invaded and annexed Kuwait in August 1990. Bush and the world were appalled (Bush even pretended that the United States were suddenly concerned about the Kurds), the UN condemned the invasion, and the US led a coalition to liberate Kuwait in the Gulf War. (Hussein offered to withdraw from Kuwait if Israel would withdraw from the occupied areas in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, but of course this wasn’t considered.) One month later Iraq was defeated, and the Carlyle Group was saved.
Following the war Hussein remained in office, but he was not allowed to possess biological or chemical weapons any more.
Al Gore became the fourth candidate to lose the presidential election despite a majority of voters. In 2000 Republican George Bush Jr, despite losing the popular vote, won one of the closest presidential races ever.
Florida turned out to be decisive in the election. Fortunately its governor Jeb Bush (George Bush's brother) was responsible for the voting system which was designed to exclude as many black and minority voters as possible. Black voters were also reportedly intimidated by police swarming around polling stations, setting up a checkpoint in a black neighbourhood and questioning them on their criminal records.
Bush supposedly won Florida by a majority of 537 out of 5,963,110 votes (= 0.009%) in an election marred by a number of irregularities.
In the end Bush won by a single vote: that of a judge of the Supreme Court which put an end to the recount of votes in Florida in Bush v Gore.
That morning President Bush visited an elementary school in Florida. When he arrived in the hallway he was told that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. 'That's some bad pilot,' he replied and proceeded to the classroom.
Minutes later, as he sat in the class while teacher and children read The Pet Goat to him, his chief of staff came over to tell him that a second plane had flown into the second tower and that the nation was under attack. With a blank stare Bush remained seated until The Pet Goat was finished. He didn't seem surprised; after all, only a month ago he had been briefed by the CIA on an imminent attack by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. He also appeared to be aware that he himself was not in any danger.
In the course of the 9/11 attacks two hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers (which subsequently caught fire and collapsed), one damaged the Pentagon and a fourth was brought down in a field by courageous passengers who, after learning of the previous suicide attacks, tried to overcome the hijackers. 3,000 people died, including firefighters and police.
The Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre and WTC 7 were the only steel-framed skyscrapers ever to entirely collapse supposedly due to fire. There are physicists who argue that this would not have been possible without explosives being placed in the buildings.
Nobody claimed ‘responsibility’ for the attacks.
Bush declared War on Terror, the current perpetual war which conveniently, other than declaring war against a country or organisation, can be carried on indefinitely, regardless of the results. Just like the Red Scare in the days of the USSR the War on Terror became a carte blanche for the suppression of civil rights and the invasion of sovereign nations.
Bush also designated an 'axis of evil', namely Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Saudi Arabia as an important business partner wasn't mentioned and their involvement in 9/11 kept quiet.
Bush kept implying that Saddam Hussein had masterminded the attacks to prepare the public for the planned invasion of Iraq and at the same time delivered an ultimatum to Afghanistan to hand over Osama bin Laden or face attack. The Taliban demanded proof of his guilt which the United States refused to provide. Meanwhile the government organised the safe departure of important Saudis, including members of the bin Laden family, from the States while all other aircraft were still grounded.
A delightful side effect of 9/11 was that Bush had no problem in eliminating civil rights by having the USA PATRIOT ACT (The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) passed just a month after the attacks.
US and UK troops, amongst others, invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to ‘smoke them out of their holes’ for a war that hasn't ended yet and cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians.
Despite all the efforts the US supposedly put into the manhunt, bin Laden was not captured during George Bush’s presidency. His killing by US Navy in Pakistan was reported in 2011, but the Obama administration refused any requests to release evidence to the public.
In 2002 the Bush administration established the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on their naval base in Cuba. It serves as a military prison, mostly for those captured (or purchased from bounty hunters) during their invasions of Muslim countries. Inmates are detained indefinitely without trial and severely tortured.
His greatest achievement was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, generally known as Obamacare, which enabled a lot more people to get health insurance cover. However, the United States remain to this day the only industrialised country without universal healthcare.
Starting in 2010 several Arab nations experienced increasing unrest in what was called the Arab Spring. Protests against their oppressive regimes, many of whom were close trading partners of the United States, swept through the Arab world and were often met with violent responses from authorities. Civil war broke out in some of these countries, and the Islamic State, denounced as a terror group by most Islamic nations, used the opportunity to move into some of their countries, trying to absorb them into their caliphate.
In Libya Colonel Gaddafi, trying to avoid a fate similar to Hussein, announced the voluntary destruction of his nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal in 2003 and invited weapons inspectors, but he was not able to save himself from the wrath of his people, and during the Libyan Civil War in 2011 he was killed by rebel forces, assisted by NATO forces (including the US).
The worst affected arena is Syria where a civil war is raging since 2011, with four different belligerents: the Syrian government and their allies (including Russia), the Free Syrian Army with their allies (including the United States), the Syrian Democratic Forces and their allies (including Russia and the United States) and the Islamic State. Estimates of civilian deaths in the conflict are close to half a million. 8 million have been displaced which led to the worst refugee crisis in decades.
While he presented his blatant lies as 'alternative facts' he called critical media 'fake news' (Lügenpresse) and excluded them from briefings. Since taking office he ruled by issuing a number of executive orders, putting severe restrictions on public health care, civil rights and environment protection.
On January 25 he ordered the construction of a wall between the US and Mexico but couldn't convince Mexico to pay for it nor get Congress to appropriate funds, and on January 27 he issued the first Muslim ban which denied entry to the United States by citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen (countries from which no citizen ever launched a deadly terrorist attack on American soil), claiming that these pose a terrorist threat. Between 9/11 and Trump’s inauguration 94 people had been killed in the United States by Islamic extremists, most of whom were legal residents of the country, and none of them coming from any of the affected countries. Not included in the ban were Islamic-majority countries in which Trump is doing business, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Egypt (the countries the 9/11 hijackers originated from), Indonesia and Turkey.
Families were torn apart, children handcuffed and mobile phones checked for social media posts.
Shortly afterwards his travel ban was blocked by District Court Judge James Robart. Trump tweeted, 'if something happens blame him and court system'. And, after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Robart's decision the president, calling him a 'so-called judge', tweeted at him, 'See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!' to which a parody Robart account replied, 'You are already in court, you friggin genius!'
A few days later his senior advisor informed the press that the constitutionally mandated separation of powers would not be tolerated by the Trump administration.
Trump continued his efforts with different versions of the ban, and in December 2017 the Supreme Court allowed his latest one to be enforced while a number of legal challenges proceeded.
Trump kept insisting on an imminent threat of an attack from Muslim immigrants, and his administration - lacking real life events - kept making up terror attacks that never happened. His attempts at creating an anti-Muslim hysteria could indicate a plan to create or provoke an event similar to 9/11 to consolidate his power, curtail the rule of the courts and govern by executive orders alone, effectively ending the separation of powers in the US.
We have to deal with the fact that the United States have eliminated all competitors for world domination. But the civilised countries should not allow them to lecture us about freedom, morals or human rights; we should measure our cultural standards against a more challenging benchmark.