Indian Country

Forty-Five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty Six Days (or Thereabouts)


Many top stories are receiving their usual high levels of attention, from the structural taxation reforms bandied about in the face of the “fiscal cliff” that is really a graded driveway to Israel and Gaza. What receives no attention? The usual, including from among the far left advocates of “peace and justice” who pretend to be concerned with matters of indigeneity in Israel-Palestine. Indigenous America is at the heart neither of au currant left ideological interests nor the challenge to Western liberal democracy, so other than lending a terminological veneer to attacks on Israel, you will find no Code Pink or BDS for it, no section of The Daily Beast specially edited by a former editor of the New Republic devoted to changing the conversation about Native America. But consider…

This blog began in December 2008, nine months after I published “Aboriginal Sin” in Tikkun. A general survey of the nature of the conquest of Indigenous Peoples, focused mostly on the United States, the inciting story of the article was that of the Individual Indian Money Trust Fund lawsuit first brought by Elouise Cobell against the Department of the Interior in 1996. That story now concludes.

On February 8, 1887, the Dawes General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Severalty Act,was passed into law in the United States. The law’s purported intent was to help fully integrate American Indians into the general culture. Accordingly, it broke up tribal lands and  provided for the distribution of Indian reservation land among individual tribesmen, with any excess remainder from the equal allotments to be made available for public sale to non-Indians. In addition, many poor American Indians,  unacculturated to farming, unfamiliar with agricultural practices, accepted offers for their land. By the termination of the allotment policy in 1934, of the 132 million acres in the possession of Native Tribes in 1887 – already greatly reduced, through treaty and the abrogation of treaties, from the lands once home to Native America – 90 million had been transferred to white ownership.

Reservation life and European encroachment now preventing militarily conquered and ethnically cleansed Indians from living successfully as they had, and in return for the transfer of land for white settlement, the U.S. government, promised to provide health, education, and economic development to the Tribes and their people. The government took into trust relationship the remaining 56 million acres, of which 10 million were for individual Indians, in the Individual Indian Money (IIM) Trust Funds, and 46 million for tribes, in the Tribal Trust Funds. The U.S. government was to use its expertise and the power of collective leases to negotiate and manage the proceeds of  oil and other mineral leases and grazing rights.

On June 10, 1996, Elouise Cobell a Blackfoot Indian who the next year was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, filed as the lead plaintiff in a suit against the U.S. Department of Interior alleging historical mismanagement (misappropriation) of the IIM funds of as much as $176 billion. The suit dragged on for 13 years in the face of Bureau of Indian Affairs obstruction that included even the destruction of documents.

On December 8, 2009, Cobell accepted a settlement on behalf of as many as 500 thousand allottees: after so many years, and in the face of the poverty and death through aging of so many class members of the suit, Cobell thought the Obama administration offer – very far from what she and others believed was owed – was the best they would ever receive.

The offer was $3.4 billion.

Cobell died of cancer on October 16, 2011 at the age of 65.

The settlement still has not been disbursed.

After delays in congressional approval of the settlement led by Senator John Barosso of Wyoming, four American Indians decided to file their own suits objecting to the terms of the settlement. According to Dennis Gingold, Lead Counsel, who assumed responsibility for communications after Cobell’s death, the court found one case to consist of

 “blatantly mischaracterized” arguments that are “without merit” and [that] otherwise “ignore the history of this hard-fought litigation and enormous obstacles to producing an historical accounting.”

Nonetheless, all four litigants appealed. Why, in the face of such rejection? Gingold would not speculate, but he noted of the law firm whose counsel was representing one plaintiff that it

is the same firm that filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals on behalf of Competitive Enterprise Institute (“Institute”) in support of Craven’s meritless arguments.  The Institute is a tax-exempt organization and Wikipedia reports that it is funded by ExxonMobil Corporation, Texaco, Inc., Coca Cola Company, CSX Corporation, FMC Corporation, and others.  The Institute says that it is “dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.”

 Now, earlier this month, came news from Gingold that after one appeal was dismissed, the three remaing plaintiffs have dropped their appeals ” in return for Class Counsel’s agreement to pay their attorney’s fees and expenses out of attorneys’ fees we expect to receive.” Wrote Gingold on November 7,

This will greatly increase the likelihood that we can begin to disburse settlement funds to [class members] before Christmas and before winter ….  Most importantly, we also wanted to finalize the settlement before more Class Members die without realizing any measure of justice. Sadly, it is estimated that 12,000 class members have died since the settlement’s record date of September 30, 2009. As you know, the year and one half delay caused by the appeals prevented Elouise from seeing the results of her extraordinary efforts. In addition, each month that finality has been delayed has cost class members at least $300,000 out of their recovery.

So, roughly forty-five thousand, nine hundred and fifty six days, 125 years, since the Dawes Act fully legalized the process of expropriating and economically exploiting Native lands, 189 years since the Supreme Court decision of Johnson v. M’Intosh made it the law of the land – standing until this day – to accept the Papally-endorsed European Doctrine of Discovery, the religiously and racially superior right of ownership by conquest, 335 years since the oldest Indian reservation in the United States, the Pamunkey Indian Reservaton, was established in the colony of Virginia, 520 years after after Columbus first arrived in the Western Hemisphere, Native Americans will only now begin to receive some very small amount of the value in economic terms of what was taken from them.

Those are the Individual Indian Money Trust Funds.

The Tribal Trust Fund litigation is still outstanding.

History is not history. It is in the soil and the streets we walk on, the grazing lands, the oil derricks, the run down homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the drunken bodies in White Clay, Nebraska, just across the state line from Pine Ridge, where the modern versions of the opportunistic frontier trading post still sell alcohol to forlorn and forgotten Indians. It is in the dollars in a vault, on a ledger, unaccounted for – in 2012, still unpaid.

Forty-five thousand, nine hundred and fifty seven days.


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The Political Animal

Living in History

I am reading Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands. I would be interested in the history anyway, but I have a personal interest too. Snyder identifies the “bloodlands” thus:

The bloodlands were where most of Europe’s Jews lived, where Hitler and Stalin’s imperial plans overlapped, where the Wehrmacht and the Red Army fought, and where the Soviet NKVD and the German SS concentrated their forces. Most killing sites were in the bloodlands: in the political geography of the 1930s and early 1940s, this meant Poland, the Baltic States, Soviet Belarus, Soviet Ukraine, and the western fringe of Soviet Russia. Stalin’s crimes are often associated with Russia, and Hitler’s with Germany. But the deadliest part of the Soviet Union was its non-Russian periphery, and Nazis generally killed beyond Germany. The horror of the twentieth century is thought to be located in the camps. But the concentration camps are not where most of the victims of National Socialism and Stalinism died. These misunderstandings regarding the sites and methods of mass killing prevent us from perceiving the horror of the twentieth century.

All of my grandparents were born in Russian-controlled Ukraine: my father fled Soviet Ukraine, from a shtetl called Orinin in the Southwestern bloodlands. What passed for his childhood was lived out in the midst of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, pogroms that killed over one hundred thousand Jews, and the first Ukrainian famine. During the Great Depression, after finally having arrived in the U.S. in 1927, and unaware of the second Ukrainian famine, the Holomodor, my father returned, to Russia proper, believing the economic situation and the prospect of work might be better in the new proletarian society. They were not. He managed to depart again after a year, though tens of thousands of other American working class faithful who had emigrated to Russia in the same belief were sent to and lost in the Gulag. In August 1941, one month after the birth of my sister, my father’s first child, all of the Jews of Orinin were murdered by an SS Einsatzgruppe. One great aunt and one great uncle that I know of – of course, there were others – my father’s mother’s sister and brother and their families, disappeared in the bloodlands.

Of the fourteen million people deliberately murdered in the bloodlands between 1933 and 1945, a third belong in the Soviet account.

This is a history of political mass murder. The fourteen million were all victims of a Soviet or Nazi killing policy, often of an interaction between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, but never casualties of the war between them. A quarter of them were killed before the Second World War even began. A further two hundred thousand died between 1939 and 1941, while Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were remaking Europe as allies. The deaths of the fourteen million were sometimes projected in economic plans, or hastened by economic considerations, but were not caused by economic necessity in any strict sense. Stalin knew what would happen when he seized food from the starving peasants of Ukraine in 1933, just as Hitler knew what could be expected when he deprived Soviet prisoners of war of food eight years later. In both cases, more than three million people died. The hundreds of thousands of Soviet peasants and workers shot during the Great Terror in 1937 and 1938 were victims of express directives of Stalin, just as the millions of Jews shot and gassed between 1941 and 1945 were victims of an explicit policy of Hitler.

My father was, as we say, an ordinary man. He sought only safety at last, a way to live, and, as it turned out, a family’s love. That is what most people want. Yet the first thirty-seven years of his life – he served in the U.S. military during the Second World War too – were lived in the midst of epic historical events in which he played no role and the outcome of which, like most others, he was far too insignificant and powerless to affect. We all live in history, which is to say in time, but some of us live in history with a capital H. My father lived in it for nearly half his life. With some thought, it is probably decidably true that most people do.

There is probably no place and time in recorded history – which recording plays a prominent role in the creation of History – in which more people lived more outside of History than the United States, and less clearly, the Western democracies in general, in the decades after World War II. Vietnam returned some of us to History for a while, but if one wasn’t poor and male it was quite possible to be oblivious to it. Mental oblivion is a kind of commodity in affluent societies, bought cheap. At the fall of the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union, we could watch some of it, and other people living in it, on TV.

An identifying characteristic of ordinary people living in History is that, individually, most other people never know about it, or them, and these people – most of us – are forgotten, their Historic lives never recorded. History is like a great wave, or many waves, of events rolling over space and through time. The powerful and great can create their own waves, and ride like surfers over the rest, though assuredly they often fall and are lost, as daring surfers will be. Everyone else just tries to go with the currents, to be buoyed along the way, hopes for a soft landing and maybe some pleasure along the way.

There are a number of reasons I might be having these thoughts now. I have them a lot, and I am working on a book about my father – part of why I am reading Bloodlands – and the life of America outside of History is everywhere around me.

And then there is, too, an epigraph to Snyder’s book, one of several:

A stranger drowned on the Black Sea alone
With no one to hear his prayers for forgiveness.

“Storm on the Black Sea”
Traditional Ukrainian Song

And another:

Whole cities disappear. In nature’s stead
Only a white shield to counter nonexistence.

Tomas Venclova
The Shield of Achilles”

And these mordant lines from Vassily Grossman, who lived in History:

Everything flows, everything changes.
You can’t board the same prison train twice.

It isn’t that we should feel guilty about living outside of History. That is the hope, isn’t it, of every formulation, eschatological or merely political, of how we reach an “end of history”? It is, in its best sense, the middle class aspiration – to live in modest abundance, in peace and in love. I recall now, too, lines Peter Hitchens offered in writing movingly last week on the death of his brother Christopher, from Hilaire Beloc’s “Dedicatory Ode.”

From quiet homes and first beginning,
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There’s nothing worth the wear of winning,
But laughter and the love of friends.

Only the most inveterate of adventurers, I think, or the makers of all those waves (not to mention the young), would disagree. Yet if one would be conscious – conscious as Christopher Hitchens would have had us always be – one would always have, amid the soothing laughter and quieting love, the clang of Grossman, like a train bell, in one’s ears. For the following perversion of human being, of human consciousness and behavior, deformed by monstrous oppression, transpired this past week too, and has been crushing unrecorded lives beneath the weight of History for sixty years now. We owe them remembrance. We owe them full consciousness. We are carried by the waters too.


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The Political Animal

9/11/11: Goering’s Defense


(Eighth in a series)

Hermann Goering - Nuremberg2
Image via Wikipedia

In the matter of “squandered sympathies,” let history not lose the record that as early as November 2, 2001, fewer than two months after 9/11, Jean Baudrillard notoriously produced in Le Monde, under the title “The Spirit of Terrorism,” a logically homeless piece of postmodern theory-talk that evinced the equally postmodern irony of mistaking language for reality no less than might have any long-ago and innocent philologist. (The essay was later expanded and issued in book form, by, of course, Verso.) As Baudrillard explored, with clear conceptual relish, the nature of the “jubilation” some felt at the 9/11 attack, he added at one brief point the, by then, obligatory moral condemnation of it – and one can almost hear, in its requisite declamation, Richard Nixon, who lived in his own tortured, verbally constructed universe, talking about how it would be no problem to get the million dollars for the hush money and then adding unnaturally, “It would be wrong.” So Baudrillard seemed more comfortably true to his purpose when he stated that it is the U.S. that “through its unbearable power, engendered all that violence brewing around the world, and therefore this terrorist imagination which – unknowingly – inhabits us all.” In this way we are told that the forces of theocratic tyranny are somehow become a deviant Jean Genet staring at us from the balcony and declaring, “I am you.” Wrote Baudrillard,

That we have dreamed of this event, that everybody without exception has dreamt of it, because everybody must dream of the destruction of any power hegemonic to that degree, – this is unacceptable for Western moral conscience, but it is still a fact, and one which is justly measured by the pathetic violence of all those discourses which attempt to erase it.

This is unusually passionate theorizing restating a rather fundamental truism – about the natural resentment of the less powerful toward the more – but it is a restatement that seeks to construct a moral safety zone around any actions that might follow from that resentment, based on, one might ironically put it, the hegemonic nature of the resentment: any feeling that inherent in the relation to power is like a structural feature of reality – one can condemn it as a sop to the petty moral concerns of petty people in the petit world, but all the likes of Baudrillard can really do is analyze it. Well, not quite, because – there’s that passion – “we have dreamed of this event.” And in the world of that structural dream, it is “those discourses which attempt to erase it” (like this one, presumably) that are measured by their “pathetic violence,” not the wanton murder of thousands. This is followed by the rapturously rendered twin suicide of the towers.

On the way from Baudrillard to Slavo Zizek, that is, from Western to Eastern Europe, Julia and I stopped in Nuremberg. Germany was not a focus of our trip, though I did look forward to driving through it. The only notable and easy destination along our route from Paris to Prague was the city that played both an early, celebratory and a culminating role in the Nazi saga. I was intrigued by the history, in any event, but I could not help but be drawn personally. It seems to me unlikely that a historically conscious Jew can pay a first visit to Germany without experiencing a kind of reverse and uncanny homecoming, as if to the sight of a calamity one missed by chance or to the habitation of the bogeyman who once occupied one’s dreams, now rendered harmless. Inevitably, this will be less so for those of future generations, not born as I was in that epic aftermath. My own father, who was oddly fortunate enough to be effectively abandoned by his parents in infancy, felt compelled at age ten, when his grandfather died during the first great Ukrainian famine, to seek to follow his mother and father to the United States. He and his older sister were rowed at night across the Zbruch River from Ukraine into Poland and began their multi-year journey. They arrived at Ellis Island in 1927, and so missed what was to follow in Europe. All but one of my father’s uncles and aunts, and their families, disappeared in the maelstrom of history that sucked at the southern Ukraine during the Second World War.

So I sat in the famous courtroom and tried to feel the force of all that history, which is as generally insensible to us in our daily lives as the felt duration of time. Remarkably, the courtroom is still a functioning seat of justice, so tours are offered only on weekends. The “tour” is really just a half hour lecture, followed by a fifteen minute video and Q&A, all in the courtroom itself, and all in German, which I do not speak, so I had nothing to do but look and think. The room is about forty-five by ninety feet, and very much as it appeared sixty-six years ago. The dock in which the twenty-one prisoners sat remains. For the showing of the video, the television stood just in front of where the witness stand had been during the trials. When Hermann Goering appeared on the stand – speak of “hyper-reality” – it was as if I could see him sitting before me in the courtroom just as he had sat then. I am subject, perhaps, to odd and inexplicable experiences of fulfillment, but to be in the room where once and finally Goering and Hess and Speer and Von Ribbentrop and so many of the others available received, one way or another, their too meager and non-compensatory justice was to move from a connection merely hypothetical between them and me to one supernaturally real. Fifty-five years later, in some strange nexus of time and space, they and I had shared the same space, the bogeymen made to face me, and the disturbance of my existence in their absence.

“Everybody knows this is not a trial,” Goering said before the court. “This is just an arrangement where the victors will take revenge on the defeated.”

Such was Goering’s argument. As true as was the fact that Germany was, to the great good fortune of the world’s peoples, the defeated, and the allies the victors – and by that fortune of might in the position to judge and not be judged – Goering acknowledged no other basis upon which to differentiate among them. Reason and morality, however diminished by human imperfection and muddied by reality, could form no basis by which to distinguish between the seekers of the humane and just and the enactors of barbarous inhumanity. This was Herman Goering’s analysis of human and political affairs on this earth, and those who have argued so smugly in the ten years since 9/11 that one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist are either foully or ignorantly his inheritors.


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The Political Animal

Twenty-Five Hundred Years before 9/11

(9/11/11: fourth in a series)

Van Gogh’s Eyes

Before my drive to Normandy and my second stay in Paris, I had left Julia in St. Remy-de-Provence, where she taught a photo workshop to the eight students who had braved their fears to fly there less than two weeks after 9/11. I stayed a few days myself before leaving and did some historical and artistic touring.

Along one of the primary spoke roads that lead to the center of St. Remy, about a mile out, are the ruins of the ancient town of Glanum. Dating back over twenty five hundred years, Glanum was settled by the Saylens, a Celto-Ligurian tribe, and evolved, after conquest, over subsequent Greek and Roman eras. Though, except for a couple of monuments, the town was long covered over by soil and time, its entire foundation has now been unearthed, as well as some nearly whole structures.

Throughout the preceding month, I had engaged, amid my travels, in much historical re-imagining, imagining soon to be concentrated by circumstance. At one point, then, as I walked the ruins of Glanum, I chose to descend the winding stairs that lead to the once sacred waters of an underground stream. I stood and tried to inhabit the sense of life that would have accompanied the bare feet dipped hopefully into the now fetid water I declined to enter. What, I wondered, was the wholeness of that world, the totality of that belief unconcerned to justify itself through reason, beyond reason, at once at home with itself, in complete conviction, yet sufficiently agitated by its contrary to seek to destroy it. For, though they were a spiritual people, the Glanic people were also a war-like people, and the frieze around the town’s intact Mausolée and monument to its dead enshrines, with faces worn away by time, but with vividness and vitality, the fierceness and slaughter of battle. I try to imagine that, too.

Very near Glanum, across a field, is the thousand year old St. Paul’s monastery, the asylum where Vincent Van Gogh sought care after cutting off his ear in 1888.

“I do not hide from you the fact that I would rather have died than cause or suffer so much unhappiness,” Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, before entering St. Paul’s.

Van Gogh stayed at St. Paul’s for just over a year. Although he suffered several incapacitating depressions during his time there, he managed to produce over a hundred and fifty paintings, many of them among his greatest and most famous. Then, within two months after Van Gogh left his monastic asylum, he was dead.

Beyond the entrance to St. Paul’s, one can take a walking tour of locations at which Van Gogh painted eight of his well-known works. At each site is a reproduction of the painting, for comparison with the actual view. The first is The Mountains of Saint Remy. In the foreground of the painting is a small house, in the background the peaks of the Alpilles Mountains. The tour exists because, of course, it is fascinating to view the great paintings alongside, so to speak – in the very space and prospect – that gave rise to them. This is the world (as I am seeing it) and this is how Van Gogh saw it. How alike. How different. How totally the product of imagination, of hope, desire, fear, foreboding. How to tell the difference among them all.

What is also fascinating, in an entirely different way, beyond matters of aesthetics and creation – yet somehow the same? – is that the area in The Mountains of Saint Remy just behind the house is where Glanum stands, perhaps fifty yards from where Van Gogh painted, though Van Gogh would not have known this, since the ruins of Glanum were not uncovered until thirty-one years after his death: the world’s, and history’s, pentimento, marking off the invisible boundaries of all we can and cannot see – can ever understand completely in all our certainty.

St. Paul’s has cared for the mentally ill for much of its thousand-year history. It still does. Quiet and reverent in its atmosphere, as one would expect, the monastery guards the privacy of its current residents while earning funds through its Van Gogh connection. For a fee, one can enter and visit a replica of the small, sparsely furnished room in which Van Gogh lived. A brief video movingly considers both the man’s artistic genius and the human dimensions of his illness. A note from the director of the institutional program astutely even asks that travelers not reduce their visit to mere tourism, in disregard of the human being who suffered. The visitor cannot help but ponder the nature of that suffering – the daily struggle of a human life – against the product history makes of it.

By the time I left the monastery grounds, hours of roaming and solitary consideration had led me deep into myself. The ancient and recent impulses to conflict, the sources of inner turmoil, the search for accommodation to circumstance and peace, pressed against me like a humid skin. From the front gate of St. Paul’s, I walked the long avenue of trees to which Van Gogh, in his illness, was often accompanied by an attendant to paint. And in the curve of the road before me, in the onion-domed tree hoods bending concavely as if under some unseen pressure of sky, in the curling profile of the Alpilles’ slopes cutting geometries out of the air, I suddenly saw, in utter revelation, in the world, the startling, swirling visions that seemed before then always surely the product of Van Gogh’s eyes alone.



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The Political Animal

The Culture War of Attrition

At Tapped, Paul Waldman puts clear focus on a point I’ve been making recently, including earlier today. It is worth recalling every time some says that the U.S. is a center-right country. Many may conceive it so, but it is not.

But it’s never bad to remind ourselves that with the important exception of abortion rights, the culture war moves in only one direction, and that direction is the one progressives want. In all of the spheres the culture war touches on, we’re a more progressive country than we used to be. Gay people can serve in the military, women can own property, beating children is generally frowned-upon, and so on. You can say that’s simply the march of modernity, but whatever you want to call it, it’s a long line of victories for progressives values.

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The Political Animal

On love, loyalty, patriotism, and human nature

(The following is a guest post by Adam Levick of CiF Watch. Adam responds to two of my recent posts. I will reply, answering Adam’s questions and furthering the discussion, next week.)

There’s much to dissect in Jay’s “Churchill Doctrine“, as well as his follow-up, “Incoherence on Race and Culture.”

I’ll stay clear of Newt Gingrich’s completely indefensible reduction of President Obama as quoted in “The Churchill Doctrine”:

“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

Instead I’ll focus on Jay’s follow up, based on Christelle Nadia response to Jay’s post,   at The Republic of Dissent, and the broader points he makes about race, culture, and determinism.  I won’t address every item, simply the broad themes in his reply I deem as worth exploring.

Jay says:

If it does not mean anything at all that we are a nation of immigrants and not of an identifying ethnic stock, does not mean anything that we are the inheritors of a European colonizing culture and not of – among the most bitterly – colonized African cultures, does not mean anything if our President, as I dreamed in that post, might someday be the descendent of a conquered American Indian nation, and not of their conquerors, then what does anything mean?

Let me ask:

First, it may not mean “nothing”, but it doesn’t appear as if you explain precisely what it does mean? What does “a nation of a European colonizing culture” mean?  What is its significance?  Are Americans to be divided into those descending from colonizers vs. those descending from the colonized?  Is there not, a huge distinction, in your mind, between, a protestant immigrant from England and a Jewish immigrant who escaped Poland in the 1930s?

Does one inherit the sins of his fathers? And, if so, does one also inherit the achievements of his fathers?  If so, don’t we also, as European Americans (whatever that denotes to you), also inherit the noble sacrifices of our ancestors which defeated the twin totalitarian movements in the 20th century – fascism and communism?

Why do many on the left who mock the notion of “American Exceptionalism” – the inherited mantle of the grit, determination, and unimaginable sacrifices made my so many Americans in the service of the successful battles against the totalitarian movements, her contribution to the spread of democracy around the world, and civil liberties and economic prosperity that would have seemed simply unimaginable to generations of men and women throughout history – seem so eager to accept the inherited guilt of a people who, admittedly, also colonized and enslaved?

Further, while I don’t deny that, if my father were of Kenyan background, I’d likely see Churchill much differently, let me ask: do the descendants of “colonized” African people also inherit their own ethnic/national legacy of brutality, misogyny, and oppression against one another? (You wouldn’t deny, would you, that even historically colonized people have their own history – prior to, and after, colonization?  You, further, wouldn’t deny, would you, that they possess moral agency, and can’t possibly be reduced merely to the sum of their experiences with European colonizers?  You seem, in certain passages to admirably reject the rigid categories of post-colonialism but, in others, seem to accept them – at least in your understanding of the West’s (and the America’s in particular) relationship with those previously colonized.

Post-colonial ideology, in its essence, assigns quite arbitrary, and static, moral labels – and represent s an intellectual paradigm which, in my mind, has, more than any other political dynamic, eroded support for, and confidence in, the Western world (not to mention, Israel) among progressives.

Such an ideology (what Pascal Bruckner terms “the tyranny of guilt”), which sees the world through this facile, and seemingly immutable, oppressor vs. oppressed paradigm, I fear, also has the deleterious effect of sapping the moral confidence of the U.S. – a confidence which will be desperately needed to fight the scourge of radical Islam and any subsequent totalitarian movements which may emerge.

I once read that Churchill’s greatness lie in his ability to inspire the British people to see themselves as courageous as he saw them. That is, though the British people were compromised – as all people are – with historical moral failings and human frailty, Churchill understood that he couldn’t rally a nation to defeat the existential threat posed by Nazism which was plagued by self-doubt and guilt.

I have argued elsewhere that – while, naturally, it’s okay for other nations to possess that same cockiness, that same self-assurance of its own proud legacy and achievements – it does concern me if Americans (and an American President) not only accepts that others may feel the same way, but views such views as a negation of the truth of their own exceptionalism.  (Look at it on a personal level.  I might intellectually understand that other men may be as “in love” with their wives as I am with my wife.  But, on a deep and personal level, I quite honestly can’t fathom how anyone can love anyone else as deeply as I love my wife.  My wife, Chana, is the most incredible woman I’ve ever met, and I really can’t fathom – nor do I care to understand – how I could ever possibly love another woman as much as I love Chana. This lack of curiosity isn’t ignorance, nor is it chauvinism. It’s called loyalty, and is, it seems, fundamentally consistent with human nature.)

Beyond this emotional reality – the human tendency to “discriminate” in the positive sense of the word (that is, to choose one from another) however – it is also a fundamental rational truth in the political realm that merely because every nation thinks that it is great, doesn’t mean that it is, in reality, so.  This seems to be the fundamental argument of multi-culturalism – this stubborn refusal to acknowledge that not all civilizations are indeed equal.  Some have produced exceptional cultures, governments, and economies, and others have not.  Is this even debatable?

I love my wife as I love my country – not uncritically, but unconditionally – out of passion, loyalty and reason.

Finally, while Obama may have a view of Churchill (based, perhaps, on his ancestry) that isn’t in sync with mine (I have a paperweight on my desk which quotes Churchill: “never, never, never give up” as an inspiration for me personally, and for me an Israeli, a citizen of a nation who stubbornly refuses to surrender to its enemies.), I hope you would agree that the truth or falsehood of ideas (or the merit of one’s achievements) have nothing to do with their racial, ethnic, or religious origins.  The mantra (epithet) of the “Dead White Male”  back in college used to describe what the multi-cultural set thought was the inherent irrelevance of the Western classics (in literature, philosophy, etc.) due merely to the color or gender of the author –  has always struck me as, at the very least, ad hominem, and inherently anti-intellectual.

The notion that we are, at the core, more than sum of our racial, ethnic or religious identities; that human nature is universal; that the insights of Sophocles, Shakespeare, or Thomas Hobbes into the challenges of the human condition are as relevant to a boy with Jewish Eastern European parents growing up in Philadelphia as they are to a kid who grew up in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Illinois to a Kenyan father and a white European mother are profound and important truths.  They are, also, it seems, quintessentially classical liberal notions – and, yet, fundamental truths which many on the left seem to have tragically abandoned.


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Indian Country The Political Animal

Facing National Wrongs

Over the past several days Jeffrey Goldberg has been blogging about what I like to refer to as recalcitrant Southern boobs – the kind of people who display the Confederate Stars and Bars, who advocate and maintain that flag as any part of a state symbol, or who argue that there was anything honorable in the Confederacy. The kind of people who promote state programs honoring the veterans of the Confederacy, and who do not include any mention of slavery. You know – outright racists, ignorant fools, or, maybe worst of all, cynical political retrogrades.

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Goldberg reported on his failed attempts, at the Washington Ideas Forum, to get Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to acknowledge the problematic nature of the Southern GOP’s continued veneration of the Confederacy. In a later post, Goldberg wrote about “Slavery Nostalgia” among some Southerners. He acknowledged along the way that fellow Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates has long been commenting on this fantastical phenomenon.

Most recently, Goldberg’s post on “historical memory” referred us to Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, in conversation with Goldberg on the topic. Goldberg had wondered,

Just imagine if this discussion was about the Holocaust. Do we really think the world would allow Germany to venerate the Nazis? Well, slavery was the Holocaust of the African-American experience, and yet, here we are, listening to respectable governors of large southern states rationalize the celebration of evil.

Drum replied,

For what it’s worth, I’d say Germany is the exception, not the rule, here. Most countries with sins in their past have mixed feelings about it, from French veneration of Napoleon to the longstanding Turkish insistence that no genocide of Armenians ever took place to the Japanese supernationalists who have long baited their politicians to visit Yasukuni Shrine every year. I suspect the almost unanimous German condemnation of the Hitler era is fairly unique in history, partly due to the sheer intensity of its evil and partly due to the fact that it was so short-lived. Unlike the other examples, it was never around long enough to become associated with an enduring cultural or nationalist tradition.

I have been writing on this subject from time to time to time myself. For what it’s worth, I’d say Drum is right. Germany is the exception. For all the, shall we say, more than appropriate historical excoriation Germany has suffered for its Nazi history, the country has also faced up to that history, condemned it, and attempted to atone for it beyond what has been done by any other nation. To draw the obvious parallel, Japan has not remotely offered similar acknowledgments, regrets, or reparations for its Second World War crimes. There is absolutely nothing to be said, obviously, about Turkey, for the Armenian Genocide, or Russia or China for the tens of millions of victims of their worst, horrific totalitarian eras. The Western World – indeed, the Catholic Church – only grudgingly concedes to some level of wrong in the colonial conquest of the Western Hemisphere and multiple indigenous genocides, and this brings me to my further point.

Every time someone, like Goldberg, now, addresses the issue of the still incomplete acknowledgement of the American wrong in slavery, and its discriminatory aftermath, I cannot help but marvel at the still more incomplete acknowledgment of the conquest and genocide of American Indians, highlighted by the very failure, always, even to mention it. That contempt and disregard are more original still, and continue unabated. If you have a similar supply of Alka Seltzer handy as that for which I felt need, you might find instructive this instance of my attempts to discuss any responsibility toward Native America with an assortment of sneering conservative voices. Americans will not infrequently saddle up a high horse about the foreign failures of historical reckoning mentioned above, but their own record is quite a sorry one.

One doesn’t even have to go back so far – no distant nineteenth century – to confront the terrible and disregarded American abuse of an indigenous people. Read Tony de Brum’s account of the U.S.’s treatment of the Marshall Islanders in its conduct of post World War II nuclear testing. That story is reprinted in the same volume with my Tikkun article on the more general U.S. situation and, more specifically, the fourteen-year Individual Indian Money Trust Fund litigation (Cobell v. Salazar) that was an early subject of this blog. Just last week, my students, unfamiliar with the Marshal Islanders and the woeful tale of their expropriated islands, and the destruction and contamination of their land, were full of the kind of outrage their greater society appears unable to feel or act on.

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 17: Elouise Cobell (R) w...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Of Cobell, as a reminder, there was, last December, a settlement at last negotiated with the Obama administration, for just a fraction – $3.2 billion – of the tens of billions of dollars owed to and misappropriated from hundreds of thousands of American Indians, going back to 1887. The settlement had a six week deadline for congressional approval, a deadline that has now been extended six times. Congressional Republicans, led by Wyoming Senator Barasso – latest in a historic line of patronizing government figures to want only the best for Native America while delivering to it the worst – have thrown up roadblock after roadblock to any ratification of the settlement agreement. The latest roadblock is a truly perverse act of disadvantageously yoking together, at the last minute, and to no one’s liking, the disparate claims of these two victimized peoples, American Indians and African-Americans. But I’ll let lead plaintiff, Blackfoot Indian and MacArthur award winner Elouise Cobell describe the current situation in her letter from last week.

Since my last Ask Elouise letter (August 10, 2010), I have been monitoring the Senate and our representatives have been meeting frequently with Members of Congress and their staffs, both Republican and Democratic, to assess our chances of passage and address concerns raised by some Members. An important part of our efforts included a series of discussions with Senate Indian Affairs Committee staff about concerns raised by Senator Barrasso….

With these modifications, I don’t know of any Member who opposes our settlement. It was my belief that such widespread acceptance would lead to passage of legislation authorizing our settlement to go forward. Unfortunately, this was not the case and, once again, we were unsuccessful in getting legislation passed before the Congressional session ended.

The reason our settlement was not passed is singular: The Government has decided that Cobell must be linked to a political settlement between black farmers and the U.S. Government, known as the Pigford II settlement. Pigford I was filed in 1997 as a racial discrimination case against the Department of Agriculture. Pigford II is intended to make up for notice and distribution mistakes in Pigford I and to provide funds for new payouts.

Members of Congress have expressed concern about the Pigford settlement, with some alleging “massive and widespread fraud.” Some Republicans charge that upwards of 75% of all claims are infected.

Since our case has been linked to Pigford by the administration, we have struggled mightily to get through Congress, but the Pigford problem appears insurmountable after over seven months of effort and dedication from all involved. At this late date, with mid-term elections looming, it is unclear whether Pigford’s representatives will be able to convince members of Congress of the fairness of their cause. It is clear that the opposition to Pigford was again sufficient to torpedo our chances of passage this session.

Unfortunately, we are caught in the middle. We have more than broad support in Congress on the merits, but the administration and the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, have refused, to date, to separate our settlement from the newest Pigford settlement. Under these circumstances, passage appears to be impossible. After all these months, it is clear that we can’t carry Pigford, too. As I mentioned in my last open letter, the settlement agreement had been extended through October 15, at which time a status conference will be held by the district court. Congress returns for a lame duck session (following mid-term elections) in mid November. Between now and October 15, I will consult with our attorneys and our champions in Congress to determine if (and how) our settlement legislation can be passed, as well as our options if we determine that there is no reasonable chance of passage. [Emphasis added]

Goldberg titled one of his posts “Slavery Nostalgia.” We might call the above Indian Abuse Nostalgia. Why go too far into the twenty-first century without another good screwing of the Indian?



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The Political Animal

Analogize This

From time to time on this blog I have offered my opinion on the use of analogies in political argumentation. Generally speaking: not well done. An analogy became the culminating point of focus in that Jeffrey Goldberg-Glenn Greenwald dispute a couple of weeks ago that I covered over a series of posts. In “Pino/Cheney,” I wrote,

People love to argue politics by way of analogy. It’s easy and it readily prejudices the mind, burdens it unhappily with all of the baggage carried by the basis of the analogy. “Another Vietnam”? Get me out. “Another Munich”? Call up the army. “Another Hitler”? Death to tyrants!

This was what was so disingenuous about Greenwald’s analogy of Nazi invasions to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, supposedly solely to Goldberg’s point about the Kurdish welcome of the invading U.S. army. Greenwald gave himself what I called a “get out of jail free card” by advising,

It should go without saying, but doesn’t:  the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions.  It may or may not be, but that’s irrelevant.

Thus, when various parties took umbrage at the apparent Nazi analogy, Greenwald was able to point to that warning and turn himself inside out in multipost-and-update stupefaction that his adversaries were so unbelievably stupid (or, better really, dishonest) that they claimed him to be offering a Nazi analogy when, at the end of offering an analogy that was not a Nazi analogy, but that made use only of Nazi references, he specifically and clearly stated that he was not necessarily offering a Nazi analogy, though he just as clearly and specifically stated that he was not necessarily not offering a Nazi analogy.

Jim Wald at To Find the Principles gets to the heart of it:

It is perfectly legitimate to make an analogy and specify a limited application. Most of us do that from time to time.

Indeed, I did in “Pino/Cheney.”

However, if the only point is that the welcoming of an invader by any part of the population is no proof of the morality of the invasion, then that’s unexceptionable because it’s banal and utterly uninformative. In that case, citing 5 duplicative examples from the Third Reich (along with pictures, for excess) really does start to look disingenuous, as if the writer seeks to avail himself of the full moral opprobrium of the Nazi analogy while at the same time maintaining plausible deniability.

Wald is a “cultural historian of modern Europe” who focuses on “the use and abuse of history in public life and popular culture.” It is pretty much inherent in the “use” of history that such use will be often analogical, and there is no readier, more potent analogy available to argument than a Nazi analogy. (This is the reason for the development of Godwin’s Law, which Greenwald claimed is distorted as a total prohibition against Nazi analogies, and further claimed at length – bogusly, since no one had – that his foes had invoked against him.) Wald, then, not infrequently focuses on the abuse of historical analogies and, even more specifically, Nazi analogies. About historical analogies he further says,

As David Hackett Fischer observed in his now-classic Historians’ Fallacies, “The word ‘analogy,’ in modern usage, signifies an inference that if two or more things agree in one respect, then they might also agree in another.…

If one employs a historical analogy, it really has to fit, and one has to be aware of both its strengths and its limits. This is a tempting but dangerous enterprise, as Hackett Fisher demonstrates. “The fallacy of proof by analogy,” he says, “is a functional form or error, which violates a cardinal rule of analogical inference—analogy is a useful tool of historical understanding only as an auxiliary to proof. It is never a substitute for it, however great the temptation may be or however difficult the empirical task at hand may seem. [Emphasis added]

As I stated in “Pino/Cheney,”

The reason for arguing by analogy is that understanding complex subjects and arguments is hard: the analogy, like the example or illustration, is intended to ease the way by helping readers or listeners approach the new via the old, with which they already have some familiarity.

But this is just the reason that “example” has “illustration,” in this regard, as a synonym. The maker of the argument is illustrating, as an aid to understanding – to cognitive sight – what is otherwise being argued on the basis of adequate evidence and reason. We all know, or should, that examples by themselves are merely anecdotal offerings that carry no persuasive weight.

Something to keep in mind, too, about the hail of opportunistic political analogies that regularly beats down on us.



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The Political Animal

You Say “Potato”


If you’re interested in a detailed account of the 1947-48 war between Jews and Palestinians that led to the declaration of an Israeli State, but are without the time or current inclination to read a book-length treatment, Israeli historian Benny Morris offers one at Still, give yourself half an hour.

Almost as instructive as Morris’s recounting of events is the comments section that follows. It spans the expected range, but it is interesting to note how much of the anti-Israeli sentiment is not directed at current or relatively recent events, but simply rejects Jewish claims to land and the right of Israel to exist.

In any argument, progress is always contingent on recognizing the true point of contention. Arguments against Israel now frequently mask this one.


Indian Country

Code Talker

Originally there were twenty-nine. They developed the code. Then there were about 390 more. Sam Tso was one of the 390. During the Second World War, he was a Navajo Code Talker.

Sam Tso
Sam Tso (by Julia Dean)

It had been done before, on a smaller scale, with the Cherokee and Choctaw, in the First World War. The Comanche were used in World War II in the European Theater, including on D-Day, but it was known that Hitler, aware of the Native languages, had sent anthropologists to the U.S. in a futile attempt to learn them, so the use of the Comanche was limited. Not so in the Pacific War, for which Philip Johnston, whose missionary parents had raised him on the Navajo Reservation, suggested the development of a Navajo code. Few non-Navajos knew the language, and it was unwritten, so the first level of encoding was the language itself. Then that first group of Code Talkers developed the code words from the little known language. It was never written down, had to be memorized, and was one of the few unbroken codes in military history. It was finally declassified in 1968.

How did Sam Tso become a Code Talker? He was raised on the reservation, he was Navajo, and the Navajo have a matriarchal clan system. He had an older sister who he felt disparaged and demeaned him. At nineteen, he’d had enough. He took off for Gallup New Mexico, the nearest big town off the reservation. He had no money, not for anything, even food.

“So I drank water and pulled in my belt another notch.”

Tso had heard there was work on the railroad, which runs through Gallup, but you had to be twenty-one. Then he learned there were people who could provide him with fake ID.

“In the morning, I was nineteen. In the afternoon, I was twenty-one.”

“This man is a war hero,” said the New Yorker, “and you won’t serve him?”

But it was war time, and there were people with the job of searching out draft dodgers. One day they came to the rail yards, where Tso told them his real age. Tso wasn’t dodging the draft. He was a nineteen year old trying to survive on his own. The men gave him a choice. He could be unemployed, or he could register for the draft. So he did. And a month later, he was drafted. Into the Marines.

And Tso became a Code Talker. He fought at Iwo Jima.

How did he feel about fighting for a country that had conquered his people and treated them so poorly in the aftermath?

The land was theirs first, he said. The country was theirs. He fought to protect his family.

When the war ended, Tso landed at Fort Pendleton, from where he sought his way back to Navajo land. Soldiers mustering out were lined up for a mile for the Greyhound buses that took them home. Tso waited in the line for a day. The bus he caught took him only as far as Flagstaff, Arizona. He decided to hitch the rest of the way. A white man – a New Yorker – picked him up on the side of the road. As they traveled, they passed Arizona’s Petrified Forrest, and the New Yorker said he’d like to see it. So they went. After, the white man offered to treat Tso to lunch. He ordered them both a beer.

But the proprietor wouldn’t serve Tso. He didn’t serve Indians.

“This man is a war hero,” said the New Yorker, “and you won’t serve him?”

The two men argued. The New Yorker won. Tso got his beer.

“I enjoyed it.”

The white man dropped Tso in Gallup. Tso has never seen him again. He wishes he knew where he was.

“I’d like to thank him,” he says.


Because no one in the family could write English, Sam never received mail during the war. When he arrived home from Gallup, he learned that his father, his mother, and one of his sisters had died while he was away. It was too much. At night, he couldn’t sleep. And in the morning, the unkind sister was still there.

Tso headed off.

He had gone about a mile when his brother caught up to him. Where was Sam going? What would he do?

“There’s something down the road,” he said.

Then, in the indirect way Navajos sometimes talk, Sam’s brother told him that another sister, who was living in San Francisco with her husband and children, also did not know about the deaths of their parents and sister. Sam understood this to be a suggestion, that he go to San Francisco instead. So he said he would.

His brother offered Sam a horse. He told him to ride it to a church elsewhere on the reservation, from where he could catch a bus. Leave the saddle at the church, his brother told him, and let the horse go. He’ll come home. Sam did as his brother instructed. When he glanced back at the horse, he was heading in the direction of home.

What happened in San Francisco with the sister and the husband who abused her is another story. But Sam took care of it.

He had had a dream. In it an Indian woman gave him a necklace and told him that as long as he wore it, no harm would come to him.

Today, Tso resides in Lukachukai, a small Navajo settlement of about 1500 with two water towers and a trading post at the base of the Lukachukai Mountains. The nearest town with a business center is Chinle, forty-five miles away. The median family income is just over $10,000 dollars a year, and over 60% of the population is below the poverty line. The landscape is varied and stark in its beauty, but men and women, drunk and sober, hang around the trading post to beg a dollar, and when the wind blows the red earth sweeps over you like a Dust Bowl storm.

Sam Tso lives on a plot of land with Anne, his wife of over fifty years. They share their small house with their daughter Yvonne, Yvonne’s daughter and son-in-law, and two great-grandchildren.

When Tso is asked if he minds saying how old he is, he replies, “Sometimes I do.”

They have some livestock, and Sam, who had his driver’s license taken from him, now works around the property or in the tool shed.

“When you lose your license, you lose all your freedom. You can’t do anything.”

He relies on Yvonne, who is unemployed, to drive him around. That’s her job. She drives him to the Indian Health Service for his care, though he is strikingly fit of whatever age he is. He tried to use the VA Hospital, where the care is superior, but they told him there to use the IHS.

“They thought I was just trying to collect the travel money.”

Yvonne also drives Sam to the many events around the country at which Sam is asked to speak about his experiences as a Code Talker. One experience was at Iwo Jima, the first American assault on Japanese national territory.

For perspective, after nearly six years in Iraq, there have been over 4200 U.S. combat deaths. On Iwo Jima 6825 U.S. servicemen died in just thirty-five days. Nearly 22,000 Japanese soldiers died. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded, 14 of them posthumously – thirty percent of all the Medals of Honor awarded to Marines in the entire Second World War.

Tso was part of a force attempting to make its way across a long ravine. The Japanese had machine gun nests at the other end. They had repeatedly mowed down the Marines who357px-iwo_jima_location_mapsagredo tried to move through the ravine. Tso and one other man were given the assignment to make it through on their own in order to locate the machine gun placements and report back. When the two first came over a rise, into the ravine, they saw the piles of dead Marines struck down in the earlier assaults. Among them, there were men who were alive and crying out for help. Tso and his comrade knelt to see what they could do. From behind them, there came the shouted command of their Sergeant.

“Complete your mission!”

“So we did,” Tso recalls. “We had to leave them behind.”

Tso and the other Marine made it back safely with the information on the gun placements. Even back at their own lines, though, the fire was so intense, the prospect of the next assault so gruesome, Marines were shaking with fear.

“Men’s teeth were chattering.”

But they all could see that Tso showed no fear.

He had had a dream. In it an Indian woman gave him a necklace and told him that as long as he wore it, no harm would come to him. The next day, though he normally received no mail, an envelope arrived from his family. It contained a juniper bead necklace.

The other Marines said, “Chief, you know that’s horse shit.”

Tso’s answer was “It may be horse shit, but it’s what I believe.”

Tso pauses. Behind his eyes, there is a film strip playing. In those frames, it is not 2009. It is not Arizona. It is another time, another place.

“They’re all dead,” he says.  “I’m alive.”

Sam Tso is very much alive, and always in demand. He is Vice-President of the Navajo Code Talkers Association, whose ranks of the living are fast diminishing even as they plan a permanent memorial on the New Mexico side of the reservation. Tso has been back to Iwo Jima a few times, once for a National Geographic documentary. He has been filmed for other documentaries. He is interviewed for books. And there are always the invitations to speak. His expenses are always paid. Only sometimes are there financial promises, so far unkept.

Everyone thinks Sam Tso is a hero.

Does he feel like a hero?

“A poor hero,” he says.


Indian Country

Commemorating the Apache Experience


They came from the Jicarilla Apache Tribe. They came from the Tonto Apache. The White Mountain Apache were there, and the Yavapai-Apache, and the Camp Verde Apache. They came from the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Under a grey, marbled dome of sky and the cross-hatched rays of light that sometimes broke through them, amid a chill wind and drizzle on a promontory overlooking San Carlos Lake, the Apache Nations assembled within a mountain-ringed horizon to honor the victims of atrocious conquest and to seek a new beginning.

By the time Coolidge Dam was completed in 1928, it had covered over not only the land beneath the lake it created from the waters of the Gila River, but an abject and awful past as well. It buried beneath the lake’s luminous beauty a history of subjugation and suffering. It washed that history from the memory not only of the conquerors, who barely considered what they had done, but from the full recollection, too, of the descendents of those who suffered.


It was below the site of the commemoration, beneath the waters of the lake, that the original settlement of the San Carlos Apache Reservation was made – Old San Carlos. It was there that the members of varied Apache tribes had been compelled to march from their more native grounds – their own “Trail of Tears,” with their own losses along the way – and to settle under7 the rule of the U.S. Army. It is there during droughts, when waters recede, that the foundations of the old buildings are once more revealed, as well as the graves of those who died. History provides the accounts of the conditions under which they lived, the final humiliation after the land and the freedom taken.

The legacy of cultural disconnection and loss has been long. Some of the tribal leaders who spoke to those assembled, on February 17, 2009, took note of their own rise from personal depths, their rescue from hopelessness and alcoholism.

When San Carlos Tribal Chairman Wendlser Nosie and the San Carlos Tribal Council chose the hundredth anniversary of Geronimo’s death, after twenty-three years in captivity, as the date on which to mark this history, it was not without controversy. Geronimo is controversial. San Carlos historian Dale Miles examined some of the controversy in an article in the local Apache Moccasin newspaper. Geronimo, Miles reasoned, needs to be considered in the context of the times in which he lived: a violent era of raids and counter-raids that came with two hundred years of Spanish and Mexican encroachment on Apache land, twenty-five years more of the same from the U.S., and the murder of Geronimo’s wife and children by the Mexican Army. In the end, with defeat and captivity for the Apache assured, Geronimo remained as the last actor and symbol of defiance and relentless resistance.

San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Wendsler Nosie, with the Reverend, Dr. John Mendez
San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Wendsler Nosie

When Nosie spoke, he acknowledged the controversy, and the fact that division and dispute among the Apache had been one of the sorry legacies of their conquest. He reminded the audience that the day was about much more than Geronimo. It was, he said, about honoring the past and the ancestors who had fought and suffered. It was about acknowledging, but then moving passed, this history – about healing and seeking a new path, in unity, into the future. The monument created and unveiled for the occasion revealed an Apache family, and in the middle of it, a headstone representing those who died.

The Reverend Dr. John Mendez
The Reverend Dr. John Mendez, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, NC

One of the final speakers was Dr. John Mendez, Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Mendez spoke of an advantage Native Americans have over African-Americans, who were brought to the continent involuntarily, and who, in most cases, do not know their origins – their tribes. Native Americans, he said, are not another ethnic minority; they are the original inhabitants of the land. Apaches know their land, their culture, their history and tribe. These, Mendez suggested, are gifts of circumstance to be utilized. Then he offered a fable – the story of an eagle caged so long among chickens that it had forgotten its eagle nature. Repeated efforts to lead the eagle from its cage and to remind the bird of its true character had failed. In one final attempt, it was taken to a mountain top , its natural home, and released from the cage, when at last it spread its wings and flew, like an eagle.


AJA; Photography by JD

To see more photos of the Geronimo Commemoration, see JD’s photo essay here.

For background on the event read Repressed National Memories and Old San Carlos and a Blessing.

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Culture Clash

Now You See It

In the February Harvard Magazine, Craig Lambert’s “From Daguerreotype to Photoshop” offers a primer on on the tension between the image as pictorial artifact and mirror of reality. The issues are many, but here is one brought to mind, Robert Doisneau’s iconic Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville. As Wikipedia explains

The identity of the couple [kissing] was a mystery until 1993, when Denise and Jean-Louis Lavergne took Doisneau to court for taking the picture without their knowledge. This action forced Doisneau to prove that he actually posed the shot in 1950 using actor/models Françoise Bornet and her then-boyfriend Jacques Carteaud.


Indian Country

Old San Carlos and a Blessing

On December 30, 2008 members of the San Carlos Apache community, accompanied by leaders and members of the Mescalero and Jicarilla Apache Tribes, who had traveled to San Carlos for the occasion, took part in a blessing ceremony at the site of Old San Carlos, the original Agency (Bureau of Indian Affairs) settlement on the reservation, beside the Gila and San Carlos Rivers. The purpose of the ceremony was to prepare the land for the installation of a memorial to be unveiled on February 17, 2009, the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Geronimo, who died in captivity, a prisoner of war, finally, for 23 years, at Fort Sills, Oklahoma, where he is buried.

“You felt the challenge in your very marrow—that unspoken challenge to prove yourself anything else than one more liar and thief, differing but little from the procession of liars and thieves who had proceeded you.”

After the San Carlos reservation was established in December of 1872, the U.S. government proceeded to close various Apache reservations, in violation of the treaties establishing them, and compel their tribal inhabitants to relocate to San Carlos. At times these relocations were smaller versions of the famed “trail of tears” of the 1830s that saw the forced relocation of the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Cherokee nations from their homelands in the South to what was then termed Indian Country – present day Oklahoma. On San Carlos, the original Aravaipa and Pinal Apache populations were joined by Tonto Apaches, Yavapais, Chiricahua, and others in a policy of Apache concentration.

Removed, in most cases from their traditional lands and denied their traditional nomadic freedom of movement and methods of sustenance, the San Carlos Apaches, provided with numbers and/or new European names, were dependent on the U.S. government, through the Agency, for survival. But food rations, firewood for warmth, and other essentials, were often inadequate, and Agency workers notoriously corrupt. Britton Davis, a U.S. Cavalry officer and leader of Apache scouts, and one of the handful of men who participated in the final capture of Geronimo, gave this account of conditions at Old San Carlos in his memoir The Truth About Geronimo:

A gravelly flat in the confluence of the two rivers rose some thirty feet or so above the river bottoms and was dotted here and there by the drab adobe buildings of the Agency. Scrawny, dejected lines of scattered cottonwoods, shrunken, almost leafless, marked the course of the streams. Rain was so infrequent that it took on the semblance of a phenomenon when it came at all. Almost continuously dry, hot, dust and gravel-laden winds swept the plain. Everywhere the naked, hungry, dirty, frightened little Indian children, darting behind bushes or into wikiup at sight of you. Everywhere the sullen, stolid, hopeless, suspicious faces of the older Indians challenging you. You felt the challenge in your very marrow-that unspoken challenge to prove yourself anything else than one more liar and thief, differing but little from the procession of liars and thieves who had proceeded you.

With the completion of the Coolidge Dam on the Gila River in 1928, Old San Carlos, along with its burial ground, became submerged under San Carlos Lake. The town of San Carlos was moved several miles away, to its present location north of the river. Today, many San Carlos Apache, particularly the young, have little knowledge of Old San Carlos or of exactly what transpired there.

Old San Carlos, 1880 © Time Inc.
Old San Carlos, 1880 © Time Inc.
Under military supervision, Apaches digging irrigation ditch as part of stubbornly resisted plan to turn nomadic tribe into sedentary farmers.

Though Geronimo, a Chiricahua Apache, was considered a vicious killer and an enemy even by some of the other Apache Tribes, he remains for many a symbol of courage, independence, and resistance. Current San Carlos Tribal Chairman Wendsler Nosie believes that what psychologist Eduardo Duran has called the Native American “soul wound” of postcolonial intergenerational trauma and internalized oppression requires reconnection to a spiritual and honored cultural past. For Nosie, the purpose of the ceremonies and monument is not simply to honor Geronimo, but to serve as a symbolic unification in renewal of all Apache Tribes. In preparation, Nosie traveled to all of the existing Apache reservations, including to Fort Sill, to seek the support of the other Tribal leaders.

On December 29, a local medicine man began a recitation of 32 songs, which were sung through the night until morning, when the blessing ceremony was completed before an assemblage of about 50 people on a rise above the lake. After, visiting medicine men from the other tribes performed blessings on individuals who sought them, and those present were led by Chairman Nosie’s assistant, Robert Howard, to view the outlines and configuration of the monuments currently being sculpted in Washington State. This was followed by a meal that had been prepared and transported to the site.

Photographs of the ceremony were not permitted, though Julia was allowed to photograph the activities afterward. We hope to obtain permission soon to post them. It is Chairman Nosie’s hope that on February 17, when the more public commemoration takes place, leaders of every Apache Tribe will have assembled for the first time since the 1870s.


Indian Country Photography

The American Indian Church

Among the goals and legacies of conquest has been that of converting Native Americans to Christianity. Christian churches have been evangelizing on the San Carlos Apache Reservation since soon after Geronimo was captured for the last time and active resistance to the concentration policies on the reservation ceased in 1886. The first Lutheran missionaries arrived in 1893. There are Catholic and Baptitst churches as well. Fundamentalist missions are common. In conjunction with early U.S. government assimilationist educational policies at Off-Reservation Boarding Schools – intended to “kill the Indian and save the man” – and the Tribal Termination and Urban Relocation Program of the 1950s, Christian proselytizing has, in the opinion of many, helped to sever large numbers of Native Americans, including Apaches, from their cultural, spiritual, and linguistic origins.

The American Indian Church is a Pentecostal church on the San Carlos Reservation, its pastor, David Miles, a San Carlos Apache.


Indian Country Photography

Christmas Elders’ Lunch – Apache Gold Casino

The second annual Christmas “Elders Lunch” of the San Carlos Apache Tribe was held on Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at the Apache Gold Casino on the San Carlos Reservation. The luncheon is a gesture of appreciation for tribal elders initiated last year by then new Tribal Chairman Wendsler Nosie, Sr. Nosie, who is a spiritual “traditionalist,” not a Christian, is also part Chiricahua – the tribe of Cochise and Geronimo and the smallest of the several Apache clans concentrated as one on the reservation by the U.S. government. “It’s a significant development that I was elected, in part by these elders,” said Nosie. “As a Chiricahua, I’m a minority of a minority, I’m not Christian, and some of the people here are descendants of the scouts who helped the U.S. Cavalry track down Geronimo.”


The Political Animal

The Personal and the Historical

One of my continuing interests is the intersection of the “ordinary” individual life and the historical moment. My own father, Meyer, or Mac, had many. Born in a small shtetl in Ukraine before the Russian Revolution, he emigrated to the United States, arriving, still a teen, in 1927. In the early Thirties, at the height of the Great Depression, he returned to Russia, to Moscow, to seek work. Mac was always very sparing with his memories, but one he often repeated was of living in a barracks-like apartment with a score of men without any heat. He recalled vividly the icicles on the wall beside his cot during the winter. I had always presumed that my father was lucky to have returned when he did – after about a year, the worker’s paradise having turned out to reside still farther east in the imagination than the Soviet Union. Now a book on the subject. The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, by Tim Tsouliadis, writes new history as it offers an account of the Americans (though my father did not gain his own citizenship until after his Second World War army service) who went to Russia during the Depression years and the thousands of them who died in the gulag. This review from Adam Hochschild at the Times Literary Supplement Online is the most current of many admiring accounts.


Indian Country

Repressed National Memories

Naches, younger son of Cochise, with wife
Naches, younger son of Cochise, with wife

The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation was established, as a concentration camp, on November 9, 1871. The intent was to remove from land coveted by the U.S. government and local settlers various Apache bands – originally, among the “Western Apaches,” the Pinal, Aravaipa, Apache Peaks, Tonto, and San Carlos bands – and concentrate them on a single reservation in order to control their presence. Later relocations of other Apaches (Nde in their own language) from their native and ancestral lands to the San Carlos reservation added to the original number. These relocations achieved varying degrees of success and resistance. The band that resisted most consistently and aggressively was the Chiricahua Apache, the most famous from Western lore. The large scale Apache wars with the U.S. were fought in order to resist these relocations. The great Chiricahua chief Cochise (son-in-law of another great Apache leader, Mangas Colorados, who was lured to a supposed peace parley and then executed, after which his head was removed, boiled, and the skull shipped to New York for phrenological analysis) fought a decade-long war that ended with the 1872 Broken Arrow Peace Treaty. Not for the first time, the treaty promised the Chiricahua a reservation on their ancestral land, in mostly south western New Mexico. Not for the first time, the treaty was broken by the U.S. government, which soon closed the Chiricahua reservation and sought to remove the Chiricahua to the San Carlos Reservation, in central eastern Arizona. Multiple times the Chiricahua acquiesced. Multiple times they found the conditions, in general and far from home, intolerable. These conditions, and mistrust of U.S. agents, led to the several escapes and rebellions by Geronimo.

Taza, oldest son of Cochise
Taza, oldest son of Cochise

When Geronimo surrendered for the last time, in 1886, he and other Chiricahua, including the Chiricahua scouts who had helped the U.S. army find and trap him, were sent to join others of their band awaiting them in confinement in Florida. Later, these hundreds of Chiricahuas were transferred to Alabama. Finally, in 1894 these prisoners were removed to the Fort Sill Military Reservation in Oklahoma. Geronimo died there in 1909. At no time were the Chiricahua guaranteed a reservation of their own, even at Fort Sill. In 1914, the government at last relented and permitted those who so chose to return west and settle on the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico. Others remained on individual allotments in Oklahoma. According to Jeff Houser, Tribal Chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, “[T]heir tribal identity obliterated, [the Chiricahua] were the victims of cultural disintegration….not even the most belligerent of tribes received such treatment as had the Chiricahua. None received such an unconscionable period of confinement. All either retained their lands or were given new reservations. In all the history of federal government-American Indian relations, the situation which confronted the Chiricahua represents a most unprecedented case of injustice.”


The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, Arizona; December 2008

Creative On The Road Photography

Bordello Rooms

The way I do it is I stand in the middle. I’m in the desert this time, gazing at the landscape as the dogs chase rabbits and roadrunners around me. My back is turned to Highway 80, to RVs and the other signs of post-nineteenth-century life, though they aren’t that plentiful. Before me, almost all round me, is an empty, sweeping, sometimes rolling desert expanse ringed by a moonscape of mountains. It startles me with its beauty. I hadn’t expected it. I’m only a mile from Tombstone.

I conjure. It is easy enough to see Doc Holiday or the Clantons, ghost-like, riding their horses through the brush, over the shallow gullies. Like a slow superimposition in a film, I can draw out of the atmosphere Wyatt

Wyatt Earp at 21
Wyatt Earp at 21

Earp and Josie Marcus – the Jewish prostitute who was his third and final wife, of over forty years – talking by a bush as he woos her away from Sheriff Johnny Behan. What I imagine probably more miraculously than anything else is the notion that these people and the moments of their lives – because they have become so legendary – continue to occupy some alternate dimension of the coordinates that surround me. As if every period of time – every instant – continues to occur in some fractional off-frame, a parallel universe just a little invisibly, dimensionally beyond sensory apprehension. Until I conjure. And then I envisage that Earp and Marcus, in clandestine conversation in the desert in 1881, are an event somehow more concrete than my own occupation of that space, standing there in all my mundaneness in 2008, an experience the ephemeralness of which I exhale with every breath.

The famous line from John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” But though there are disputes about many of the “facts” of Earp’s life, there is little, really, about the genuinely legendary nature of the life. Testimonies to his fearlessness and strength of character, by men nearly his equal in legend, like Bat Masterson, are many. That of the seven men who stood their ground during the gunfight at the OK Corral (really two lots down the street, but legends are created of words, and “two lots down from” doesn’t work) three died, three were wounded, and only Earp emerged unscathed is firmly established. And we must acknowledge the force and will of the man who led what is known as the three week “Earp Vendetta Ride” in pursuit of the men who murdered his brother Morgan five months later, leaving anywhere from five to fifteen men dead.

The town lives up to its legend too. It was named by the silver miner Ed Schieffelin, who was told by soldiers at the nearby fort that the only stone he’d find in Apache country was his tombstone. It had – still has – the most compellingly named newspaper in journalism: The Tombstone Epitaph. (Every tombstone needs one, said its founder, John Clum.) Of those buried on Boot Hill, by far the largest number were shot, or murdered in some other way. Many are of unknown identity. More than a few were killed by Apaches, as Tombstone is in Apache country, in what is now known as Cochise County. Some were hanged or lynched. Of one, it says on his grave marker, “Here Lies/ George Johnson/ Hanged By/ Mistake/ 1882/ He Was Right/ We Was Wrong/ But We Strung/ Him Up/ And Now He’s/ Gone.” By my rough count in just the years 1881-1882 (the gunfight at the OK Corral took place on October 26, 1881; Morgan Earp was murdered March 18, 1882) about 40 people were killed in a town of roughly 5000, nearly one every two weeks. It was a helluva town to try to live and not unlikely die. (And by the way, down a slope from Boot Hill, erected in 1984 is the Jewish Pioneers Memorial, dedicated by both groups to “the Jewish Pioneers and their Indian Friends.”)

Earp was one of the few of his stature to die of old age, at 80 in Los Angeles in 1929. Doc Holiday died of

Earp the Legend
Earp the Legend

tuberculosis at 36. Big Nosed Kate, Doc Holiday’s lover, lived to 90. Hungarian by birth, she was the daughter of the physician to the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, who was deposed three years after her family’s arrival. A long, sordid journey and tale took her from that life to Tombstone. When she died in 1940, it was in the Arizona Pioneers Home, which was founded to offer a refuge to the aging pioneers of the Arizona Territory. What the legends and the movies don’t tell us is that the “pioneers” were not simply agents of their personal destinies, for good or not so. The Clantons and the Earps represented interests who were vying for control of the land and its mineral wealth: the Clantons post Reconstruction Southern Democratic forces, the Earps Eastern Republican businessmen.

It was Josie Earp who lived the longest, dying in 1944, just two years before John Ford’s My Darling Clementine was released and only 11 years before the television show – about what seemed such a remote past – that I watched as a child.

But even these words, fairly plain, tend to build a monument. A monument, too, is The Birdcage Theater, the only wholly intact original structure of Tombstone from those early days. For nine years, the theater, bar, gambling house, and bordello was open 24 hours a day. All of the famous were regulars, and Russian Bill, supposedly of royalty, who attended every night for two years until he tried to earn his unwarranted reputation as a bad guy by stealing a horse, for which he was hanged. And “Curly” Bill Brosius, who got shaves in a corner room with windows on the show, and was later killed by Wyatt Earp during the Vendetta Ride. Greats performed there: Eddie Foy of later Vaudeville fame, Lilly Langtry, Bernhardt. (How worlds collide.) A poker game ran non-stop downstairs from opening day to closing, right outside the prostitute’s “crib” where Josie would receive Wyatt.

“Those aren’t theater boxes” she told me. “They’re bordello rooms.”

Now a museum of its past and of its former patrons, I arrive by serendipity just before twilight – the final and only patron during my visit. I have the building to myself. To stand in the middle. To perform my magic. When new owners took possession in 1934 and opened the theater for the first time since its closing in 1889, they found much of it and its contents undisturbed. Photos, guns, knives, paraphernalia and old newspaper clips encircle me. The faro table where Doc Holiday played and sometimes dealt. The grand piano just feet away, and the space between in which Holiday and Johnny Ringo held opposing ends of a bandana and drunkenly shot at each other, missing. The craps table. The stage. The twenty-six people killed there.

Wyatt Earp at 80
at 80

Just before she left me to myself, the guide who escorted me in drew my attention to the “birdcages” that ring the main room along the ceiling.

“Those aren’t theater boxes” she told me. “They’re bordello rooms. Even the wall paper, what’s left of it, is the original.”

For twenty dollars for the night, a man got a bottle and a woman. Maybe ten feet above the action of the gambling tables and the stage, he could drink and watch the activities, then without diffidence draw the curtain. An act that intimate in a place that public, separated by only a curtain. So near in space, so far in nature. Like two events, two people, in the same space one hundred and twenty six years apart.

So I have all the elements. It isn’t hard. To see the crowded room. The cards. The dice. The theatrics on stage; the drama on the floor. Shots being poured. The shot ringing out. A shout. The general honky-tonk and the orgasmic grunts of hungry men from the cribs above. I can think it’s all there in the space around me, an atomic-vibration off from the world I inhabit, events made material and permanent by the words that continually inscribe them. And then I think, no, it is all long gone, the players forever emptied from that space. One man strikes it rich, another is murdered, a woman does what she must to survive. Some of it is remembered and talked about, some of it is not. But human time is not a compiling of moments, layer upon layer, like old newspapers there to be drawn from down in the pile. It is a fuse, burning up our moments as we live them, leaving behind its historical ash, but moving only forward, from opening to closing night, to another actor and another dusty wind, to me standing one day in the shadows, and beyond.


Tombstone, Arizona; December 2008

Indian Country

Katherine Siva Saubel

When we first publicly announced to colleagues and friends by email our intention to produce a book on contemporary Native American life, we asked those we contacted, as an aide to our research, for any referrals in the Native community they could offer us. The response was great and gratifying. In a culture at large in which the general conversation has so little to say about Native life and community, it turns out that many non-Natives – as, of course, should be so – do, in fact, have experience and relationships with Native Americans.

Among the many leads we were given was one from our friend, artist Karen Florek, who pointed us to a documentary film by her sister-in-law, Leigh Podgorski, entitled We Are Still Here. The film offers the story of 88 year old Cahuilla Indian Katherine Siva Saubel and her effort and work to reclaim and preserve Cahuilla culture. We watched the film and knew that Saubel was a woman we had to meet.

Katherine Siva-Sauvel
Katherine Siva Saubel

The Cahuilla live in the area of the San Jacinto Mountains in California and the surrounding desert and passes. Saubel, in fact, grew up as a “mountain” Cahuilla, though she has lived for the past forty-plus years on the Morongo Reservation in Banning, just beyond the Morongo Casino and the 10 Freeway, among the “pass” Cahuilla. She did not speak English until she was seven, when she was sent down from the mountains to be educated, and the long, typical assault on her identity began. It was not until she was in her forties that Saubel helped found the Malki Museum at Morongo, the first museum of Native American life and culture administered by Natives. It was at that time, also, that Saubel met Lowell Bean, a budding UCLA anthropologist and ethnologist who changed her life (as she changed his). Only then did she go on to the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder to begin her studies in ethnology, anthropology, and linguistics.

In the years since, Saubel has become the guardian of Cahuilla history, language, botany, and more. She has written the primary works of Cahuilla ethno-botany, collaborated with more than one generation of anthropologist in recording for posterity the Cahuilla language, and lectured throughout the U.S., as well as Germany and Japan. She is often present, even now, when there is a battle to be waged in defense of Native spiritual lands and the environment.

It is the environment that is Saubel’s final and abiding concern, and she hopes that the world at large can be brought to understand what the Cahuilla and other Native peoples perceived, that the earth is a living thing with which to be in intimate and respectful relation.

They swerved at me as they passed, loony smiles lighting their faces, just for the testicular high of it.

Otherwise, though she has helped to preserve what she could of the culture, she is not sanguine, beyond that academic legacy, about the vitality of traditional Cahuilla life. Like many old people in any culture, she barely knows those who live around her, and the young show little respect or appreciation for what was taken from them even before it was theirs. Young men anywhere, without the proper grounding and guidance, live on a reckless edge. Leave them alone amid the wreckage of a civilization, to live out what MariJo Moore has termed a “genocide of the mind,” and the way is that much harder.

Puttering around the paved roadways of the reservation on our motor scooters on the day we interviewed Saubel, Julia and I were fortunate to be just short of the intersection when a young Cahuilla male blew past the stop sign on an ATV at a speed of what had to be 80 miles per hour. He was tall and bulky, and he straddled the vehicle raised high on his legs, his long hair trailing in the wind. Later, we passed another ATV chewing up the roadway, this one with two young males on it. They swerved at me as they passed, loony smiles lighting their faces, just for the testicular high of it. Then there is the casino money.

by AJA

Banning, November 2008

On The Road Photography

The Open Road

In the summer of 2006, the year of its eightieth anniversary, Julia and I flew to Chicago to drive the length of old Route 66 from its starting point at Michigan Avenue to its end at the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles. Our article on the history of the route, and on westward travel in the U.S. in general, was published in the Winter 2007 issue of DoubleTake/Points of Entry magazine. This is its conclusion:

There will be the mesa you round, and the moment you stop and get out of the car to feel the silence, hear the stillness, listen to no wind blow through you. A deer will fright on a low crag across the road, start and stop, bound to the cliff top and lift its ears, run as the earth rumble grows. From out of the pass, the train will come, long and steady, brown cars, red cars, yellow, reminding you, as you stand and watch, that while you are always alone, you are always connected.

And then, finally – at last, you may think – curving and cornering through the mountain switchbacks on the stretch between Kingman and Oatman, Arizona, the old gold mining and western town where burros roam and Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon night – you catch sight of the wide, sweeping valley below, and still more mountains beyond, and you wonder, as they must have back in ’26, and on how many horses and wagons before: Does it never end? Does it go on forever, this country? Is there always another valley, another mountain, another plain? They say there is an ocean.

Julia Dean 2006
Busted on 66

But you will arrive. And the road will return you to yourself, whether it is the route called 66 or another. Because Route 66, as Kerouac knew, as the makers of the TV series knew, is just the emblem of the open road, which is to say its essence. We are alone and connected, and the road tells us both.