The Peaceful Errand to the Wilderness

I’m reading a book called The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars by John Tirman. You can guess at its subject matter fairly easily. I’ve only started it, so I can’t provide much commentary yet, but maybe a little. So far, I have been introduced to the term “the errand to the wilderness,” i.e. the Puritans’ euphemism for killing American Indians and taking their land in God’s name. Having studied the languages/dialects and culture of the Lenape pretty fervently in college, and having always been drawn to Native matters enough to pursue that research in the first place, I’m finding this portion of the book totally fascinating.

Basically, Tirman is describing the cognitive dissonance that allowed these atrocities to take place as a repeated rationalization in an American Mind. That rationalization or circular logic, the whole “They’re attacking us because we’re invading them, so we have to invade them because they’re attacking us” fallacy, says Tirman, started in fighting the Native tribes and has basically characterized the justifications for most conflicts the United States has had since. In particular he sees its presence in the North Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq wars.

The reading is some kind of engrossing major bummer, so I took a couple of nice pictures of the river by my house on my way home.

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I’m by no means numb to the horrible sensation that accompanies pairing a discussion of the genocide against American Indians with my quaint appreciation for the Maryland foliage. I would probably never know how to reconcile this remorse for human suffering if not for our Lenape teacher. Through the language she taught us to love nature deeply and to associate freely with our fellows, not to dwell on the horrors our ancestors brought to each other. Her message endures in me and I feel it every time I watch a woodpecker, startle a bunny, or behold the unrelenting flow of a river. That’s what I’ve got for now.

Are Americans inherently bloodthirsty and rapacious? Am I allowed to feel peace at the sight of land that was once stolen? I want to know what you think. Let me know in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter.

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