You learn something new every day. I’ve read two fat biographies of Teddy Roosevelt, where I did learn that his daughter, Alice Longworth Roosevelt, was a noted wit and a master at pithy one liners, but I did not learn that he wrote approvingly of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado.
That same year Roosevelt published a book in which he wrote that “the so-called Chivington or Sandy [sic] Creek Massacre, in spite of certain most objectionable details, was on the whole as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier.”
In his essay at The Intercept, Jon Schwarz makes a good point. Nazism wasn’t a historical aberration. It was the logical culmination of European imperialism, the inevitable result of the earlier genocides against Africans and American Indians.
In a 1928 speech, Adolf Hitler was already speaking approvingly of how Americans had “gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousands, and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage.” In 1941, Hitler told confidants of his plans to “Europeanize” Russia. It wasn’t just Germans who would do this, he said, but Scandinavians and Americans, “all those who have a feeling for Europe.” The most important thing was to “look upon the natives as Redskins.”
As a Polish American Hitler would have sent me to the gas chambers (or just had me shot if I caused any trouble). Teddy Roosevelt would have insisted that I drop the hyphen from my name and just be a plain vanilla “American” (like some inbred redneck in Kentucky).
But the real point is that Marx was right when he said “socialism or barbarism.” Capitalism created a monster. The British started the industrial Revolution in the early 19th Century. Almost immediately the system that it created became subject to periodic recessions and panics. Western Europe solved the contradiction in the late 19th Century by exploiting and undeveloping what today is known as the “global south” but it still wasn’t enough. In 1914, the capitalist powers of Western Europe began what was up until that time the most destructive war in history. 15 years later, in 1929, capitalism collapsed altogether. Sadly it didn’t lead to socialism, but to Hitler taking power in Germany and attempting to do to Russia what Anglo American colonizers did to North America.
The Progressive Era in American politics, of which Teddy Roosevelt is a representative example, did a lot of good. It gave us food safety regulations and the National Parks. But it also had a dark, eugenicist undercurrent. Madison Grant, a key figure in the establishment of Denali National Park, for example, was a hardcore nordic supremacist who believed that Europe itself had superior and inferior races, and that immigration to the United States should be strictly regulated to keep with names like “Rogouski” out.
Grant was a close friend of several U.S. presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, and also was an avid conservationist. He is credited with saving many natural species from extinction, and co-founded the Save the Redwoods League with Frederick Russell Burnham, John C. Merriam, and Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1918. He is also credited with helping develop the first deer hunting laws in New York state, legislation which spread to other states as well over time.
He was also the creator of wildlife management, helped to found the Bronx Zoo, build the Bronx River Parkway, save the American bison as an organizer of the American Bison Society, and helped to create Glacier National Park and Denali National Park. In 1906, as Secretary of the New York Zoological Society, he lobbied to put Ota Benga, a Congolese man from the Mbuti people (a tribe of “pygmies” killed by Belgian colonists), on display alongside apes at the Bronx Zoo.
Well at least he wouldn’t have put me in a zoo (as far as I know).