Somewhere in Joel Kovel's book Red Hunting in the Promised Land, there is a reference to the American mythology that pictured America as a shining "City on a Hill," a term popularized in the American context by John Winthrop. In Kovel's thinking, the second "red scare" (i.e. anticommunism) was derived from the first "red scare," the attempt by white European settler leadership to scare the followership away from the society of those "savage" First Nations people. Kovel's analysis can be read on the Web in this interview.
Of course, the society of the First Nations people was a much friendlier, more ecologically-harmonious society, so it had to be wiped out. And in the early days of the European conquest of the New World, numerous settlers went to live with the Indians. After all, European settlements were hardly shining cities on hills. From Howard Zinn's book:
In the North American English colonies, the pattern was set early, as Columbus had set it in the islands of the Bahamas. In 1585, before there was any permanent English settlement in Virginia, Richard Grenville landed there with seven ships. The Indians he met were hospitable, but when one of them stole a small silver cup, Grenville sacked and burned the whole Indian village.
Jamestown itself was set up inside the territory of an Indian confederacy, led by the chief, Powhatan. Powhatan watched the English settle on his people's land, but did not attack, maintaining a posture of coolness. When the English were going through their "starving time" in the winter of 1610, some of them ran off to join the Indians, where they would at least be fed. When the summer came, the governor of the colony sent a messenger to ask Powhatan to return the runaways, whereupon Powhatan, according to the English account, replied with "noe other than prowde and disdaynefull Answers." Some soldiers were therefore sent out "to take Revendge." They fell upon an Indian settlement, killed fifteen or sixteen Indians, burned the houses, cut down the corn growing around the village, took the queen of the tribe and her children into boats, then ended up throwing the children overboard "and shoteinge owtt their Braynes in the water." The queen was later taken off and stabbed to death.
Twelve years later, the Indians, alarmed as the English settlements kept growing in numbers, apparently decided to try to wipe them out for good. They went on a rampage and massacred 347 men, women, and children. From then on it was total war.
Zinn continues by showing how the "City on a Hill" was itself physically contstructed:
Not able to enslave the Indians, and not able to live with them, the English decided to exterminate them. Edmund Morgan writes, in his history of early Virginia, American Slavery, American Freedom:So the Puritans invoked a "City on a Hill" mythology, envisioning their society as a haven of God amidst a sea of barbarism, in order to scare their membership away from this temptation. At the same time, they used subterfuge and brute violence to destroy the native populations, while at the same time declaring them to be nonhumans.
Since the Indians were better woodsmen than the English and virtually impossible to track down, the method was to feign peaceful intentions, let them settle down and plant their corn wherever they chose, and then, just before harvest, fall upon them, killing as many as possible and burning the corn. . . . Within two or three years of the massacre the English had avenged the deaths of that day many times over.
In that first year of the white man in Virginia, 1607, Powhatan had addressed a plea to John Smith that turned out prophetic. How authentic it is may be in doubt, but it is so much like so many Indian statements that it may be taken as, if not the rough letter of that first plea, the exact spirit of it:I have seen two generations of my people die. . . . I know the difference between peace and war better than any man in my country. I am now grown old, and must die soon; my authority must descend to my brothers, Opitchapan, Opechancanough and Catatough--then to my two sisters, and then to my two daughters. I wish them to know as much as I do, and that your love to them may be like mine to you. Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions and run into the woods; then you will starve for wronging your friends. Why are you jealous of us? We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple as not to know that it is much better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my wives and children, laugh and be merry with the English, and trade for their copper and hatchets, than to run away from them, and to lie cold in the woods, feed on acorns, roots and such trash, and be so hunted that I can neither eat nor sleep. In these wars, my men must sit up watching, and if a twig break, they all cry out "Here comes Captain Smith!" So I must end my miserable life. Take away your guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy, or you may all die in the same manner.When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a "vacuum." The Indians, he said, had not "subdued" the land, and therefore had only a "natural" right to it, but not a "civil right." A "natural right" did not have legal standing.
Today, indeed, Sidney Blumenthal sees the same "City on a Hill" mythology at work in Bush's mentality toward Iraq. In a recent article he wrote, published in Salon but more easily available here, we read that Bush Sr. asked Bush Jr. to replace Don Rumsfeld at Defense. Bush Jr. resisted: "Bush redoubles his efforts, projects his firmness, in the conviction that the critics lack his deeper understanding of Iraq that allows him to see through the fog of war to the Green Zone as a city on a hill." It's hard to read that metaphor without thinking of the analyses of Zinn and Kovel, of a chain of "cities on a hill" created through violence, arrogance, and deceit. Indeed, we must regard the enormous US embassy in Iraq as a city on a hill, if it is nothing else.