• Young people rally on the West Front of the US Capitol to participate in the national school walkout over gun violence, in Washington DC. (EPA)Source: EPA
Opinion: Mass shootings have been happening for a long time in the US, but recent events have highlighted an old issue.
Michael Carey

23 Mar 2018 - 1:50 PM  UPDATED 23 Mar 2018 - 3:17 PM

The survivors of the Florida shooting have been protesting again. You have to feel for them. What with the stupidity of arming school teachers and the burden of history, it’s hard to imagine how their campaign can work.

As the weeks pass, their bravery in standing up to the gun lobby and the imperative to do something meaningful has already disappeared from view. I wish that weren’t the case.

But there is another, almost genetic impediment to change. Violence has shaped and re-shaped American history according to William Bauer, Jr a professor of American Indian history at the University of Nevada.

It’s such a fundamental part of the American story that the killing of 17 children and adults at a school in Florida is barely worth a mention.

Even last year’s, “act of pure evil” in Las Vegas, described as the worst mass shooting in modern US history, was only a middle ranking massacre compared to the Californian genocide against First Peoples in the mid-19th  century. And Genocide it was. Karl Jacoby, Professor of History at Columbia University says a new book puts paid to any doubt. “No longer will it be necessary to ponder whether or not genocide took place in California. Instead, we can posit genocide as a given and instead set for ourselves the task of glimpsing anew the terrifying landscape of North America’s past.”

I’ve been reading reviews of: “AN AMERICAN GENOCIDE: THE UNITED STATES AND THE CALIFORNIA INDIAN CATASTROPHE, 1847-1873” by Benjamin Madley an historian of Native America at UCLA.

Madley says that between 1850 and 1851, the California legislature created a ‘killing machine’. It authorised the formation of militias to hunt down and kill California Indians. The militia both civilian and military were paid by the state except when funds ran dry and the federal government stepped in to pick up the tab. In the 1860s and 1870s Washington shelled out $1,000,000   to compensate California for its “war of extermination.” In 1849, rancher John Sutter, at whose timber mill gold was first discovered, said that migrants and Oregonians ‘had commenced a war of extermination upon them, shooting them down like wolves, men, women, and children’. Prospectors recounted multiple massacres, beheadings and the mass killing of Californian Indians who had surrendered.

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Madley estimates that Americans killed between 9,492 and 16,094 Californian Indians in just 26 years. With disease and relocation the population dropped from around 150,000 to just 30,000.

According to William Bauer Jr of the University of Nevada, from first European contact to 1900, the total US Native American population declined from between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 to 225,000.

If we examine American history we shouldn’t be surprised by the death toll. The relentless push west was steeped in blood. While Hollywood glorified the brave settler and the cowboy in their wagon trains battling savages, the Nineteenth Century death lists are long and horrific , not an exception, more “Massacres R Us”.

We can’t know a modern mass murderer’s motivation but they all seem to think you can solve their problems with brute force alone. In doing so they hold up an enormous blood splattered mirror to American society reflecting carnage that is so red, white and blue. 

That “might is right” mentality poisons every aspect of American society. The National Rifle Association is the hometown subsidiary of the military, industrial and security complex. The police are dressed as storm troopers.

In his first State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea.

The US (with Britain and Australia) flattened Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003 beginning with the devastating campaign opener, the firestorm that was, “Shock and Awe”.

After September 11, the administration of George W. Bush threatened to bomb Pakistan, “back to the stone age “.

Last year, the Las Vegas gunman sprayed fire from his hotel window on the 32nd floor onto the anonymous crowd below rather like an Obama administration drone pilot blowing up women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen.

If killing 17children in Florida and 59 innocents in Las Vegas are acts of pure evil, what do you call the illegal invasion of Iraq which has resulted in the deaths of almost a million and a half Iraqis? Let’s not even consider the slaughter of innocents at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And just in case you’re feeling a little smug, what with our gun laws and no mass shooting since Port Arthur, we have our own Frontier Wars complete with multiple massacres of First Nations men, women  and children to acknowledge.

Like the USA it has taken years of scholarship to chronicle the slaughter in detail. This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Coniston Massacre in the Territory when 60 Aboriginal men, women and children were shot. It was just one killing field of many being expertly examined by a team from the University of Newcastle. How long before genocide becomes accepted terminology in this country?