Thursday, October 18, 2012

American Sponsered Terrorism

Yesterday and Today

It is en vogue for Americans to decry terrorism and to mark such dates as September 11, 2001. We are constantly warned about terrorist organizations which seek to do us harm and the government spends billions upon billions to protect America from terrorist attacks. Cargo going through ports are checked, people must walk through metal detectors in airports and government buildings, and immigration now has much more serious scrutiny. American officials are dispatched to many different parts of the world in search of terrorist activity especially aimed at the United States.

The deaths by the hands of terrorists in America number less than ten thousand with 9/11 being the most prominent and the Oklahoma bombing being second, Pearl harbor, as is usually classified, was an act of war aimed at military vessels and not citizens. But in recent days Islamic extremists are what has the attention of the world and the United States. There are, to be sure, radical groups who seek to kill civilians including women and children. It does seem that since 9/11 due to greater vigilance the scope of these groups is less organized, but they remain active nonetheless, albeit on a more local level.

But we have very conveniently forgotten that America has been in the past a world wide sponsor of terrorism and exported as well as imported such terror. During the 1700s and the early 1800s millions upon millions of Africans were forcibly taken from their homes and brought to North America and sold as slaves. This was no small enterprise; this was human trafficking on a colossal scale. Tens of millions of slaves were shipped to North America and at its height there were approximately four million slaves living in America. Many millions died en route, and many more millions died after having been captured and placed in slave holding camps along western Africa while they awaited slave vessels which would carry them to their new “home”.

I know that most white people in America would rather forget what happened here, and if that is you than you may well stop reading. But make no mistake, we have been inoculated by a somewhat sterilized historical account that is more matter of fact than it is a volatile and excruciating account. And do not think that a callous and self serving view of slavery has disappeared from American thought either overtly or subliminally. Just this year two elected representatives voiced an opinion that perhaps slavery was Biblical and after all we did the Africans a favor by bringing them over here. Oh yes, the Neanderthal mindset lives on!

But allow me to penetrate our well fortified defenses and reveal the offensive underbelly which is never taught in schools or in churches. We tell fairy tales about the deep Christian commitments of the founding fathers and our history books and Christian schools have portrayed them as pioneers of the Christian faith. Of course many of them had very questionable Christian credentials and many had some questionable moral character. But it makes for a good story as well as puffs us up, which is what we continually seek anyway.

But while these “patriarchs of the faith” met to organize a country and a war, the slave trade was flourishing. Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave owners themselves. And even while profiting personally from human chattel which were kept and maintained as a lower species, they had the audacity to write these words,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And yes, having been raised in that era and environment you and I might well have seen nothing wrong with slavery or the incongruity of these words. But that cannot excuse or diminish the treachery of the entire spectacle nor the terror that was inherent in the capturing and transit of these human beings. And while we cry out against the terrorism that threatens us, let us be mindful of our own terror filled history which was used to greatly enhance the American economy for almost one hundred years.

But leaving the overarching scene, let us walk into the finer points of the slave trade. When white men stepped foot on the west coast of Africa in search of human beings, they came with chains and whips and guns and mobile stockades. And when they made themselves known to a village, terror gripped the Africans. Many had never seen a white man before, and these Africans would soon be the victims of unspeakable savagery and violence. Millions were murdered before they ever left the village because they fought back, but eventually overwhelming force and modern weaponry seized the day. The screaming and confusion can not be fully described on paper.

After they were subdued they were marched to the coast which may have taken days. The largest men were fitted with neck braces in a ladder like implement that tethered them to each other as they were made to walk. Women and children wept and were filled with inconceivable fear and terror, and they had to witness their men being beaten and treated like animals. For miles they marched with little concern for their thirst or hunger and sometimes they had to accomplish their bodily functions while walking. The white men whipped those who would straggle and anyone who cause a major problem was killed.

When they arrived at slave camps scattered along the west coast they sat down and waited for their turn to board a ship. Many died while waiting but all were malnourished and were thirsty and hungry. The children remained close to their mothers although constantly filled with uncertain terror. While the negroes were treated like animals the white men ate and drank from their provisions. Most times the white men joked about the smell and the primitive ways of these Africans, and they looked upon them with disdain and as a subhuman species. Millions of Africans died before ever boarding a ship and their bodies were separated from the living so as to avoid the spread of disease which would cost the slave traders more slaves. They were discarded with no more care than road kill.

Most Africans had never seen a ship as large as a slave ship vessel, and when they were shouted at to stand up and board this ship they were again terrorized. The slave ships were usually fitted with an extra deck underneath the top deck. The entire ship was designed to carry as many slaves as possible and the hundreds of Africans were bunched together tightly. At the beginning there were some buckets which could be used for toilets, but usually the two month voyage saw the buckets as insufficient and the people lived in unspeakable squallier. It was often joked among the white slave traders that one could smell a slave ship before they could see it.

Millions upon millions of poor slaves died en route to their final place of captivity. Their bodies were summarily thrown overboard. In the early 1800s slave trading was made illegal however slave ownership continued to be protected. Most slave owners acquired new slaves from slave births. But when a slave ship loaded with slaves saw that they were being followed by one of the few ships sent to enforce the slave trade embargo, the slaves were thrown overboard alive. The inhumanity of it all is overwhelming, and remember, American congressmen just this year suggested it was a blessing. Jon Hubbard, a representative in Arkansas, stated that slavery was a “blessing in disguise” and he and his family are members in good standing at Walnut Street Baptist Church in Arkansas. He is far from being alone in his views even though most others are more discreet.

On the voyage to the Americas the slaves were fed just enough to live on and given just enough water as well. If a slave refused to eat, usually a male, he was forced to eat through a funnel kept on board for just such an occasion. And sometimes when a slave would clenched his teeth and still refuse to eat, his teeth were broken right out of his mouth. These slaves were worth money and the slave traders desired to keep as many barely alive as possible. Dare I even broach the subject of children and infants during these kinds of voyages?

After arriving at port the slaves were herded off the ship and some were made to help clean the decks. They were summarily placed upon auction blocks usually right near the docks. White men would purchase them according to size and strength, and the younger women had birthing advantages. There was little consideration about keeping families together if by this time the families were still intact. Can you even begin to image the terror in these spectacles? These Africans had never seen so many white people and all the ships and horses and carriages were like being on another planet. But they had little time for wonder because they were completely confused and bewildered by what would be their fate. And after two months at sea they were exhausted, sick, and extremely weak. Standing upon a platform in front of hundreds of white strangers, they stood in mortal fear.

The men had been emasculated, the women were traumatized, and the children were put at risk. Yes, this was the “blessing in disguise” which lurks within some white hearts today. I could never fully reveal the horror of slavery through words. But I wanted us all to see just how self righteous we have become as it pertains to terror. We seem to suggest that terrorism is only for uneducated savages and that only Muslims would engage in such a thing. But in reality, we have quite an extensive portfolio of terror ourselves.

“OH, but that is history” some would suggest as if that erased the horror. But let me suggest some modern techniques of terror in which America still engages. When an unmanned drone drops a bomb on a village in Pakistan in hopes that some suspected terrorists will be killed, there is often collateral damage including women and children. Yes, this is the way of the world and of earthly governments. But perhaps the drones that carry out this indiscriminate bombings were made by Americans which include members of evangelical churches? Perhaps they are guided by professing believers? And perhaps preachers pray that these drones inflict as much damage as possible to keep us safe from terrorists? Can you not imagine the terror that must run through that village as they struggle to remove debris off of their loved ones while simultaneously being afraid of another bomb coming from the sky? Perhaps you can hear children screaming? Perhaps you can see husbands weeping over their dead wives? Perhaps you can hear elderly women raise their hands toward heaven and wail? Perhaps you can feel the terror that runs through that village?

Perhaps all that is a blessing in disguise as well.

But perhaps there is a better way called the way of Jesus,
which should never be confused with the way of America.


Anonymous said...

There's just no justification for anyone to feel superior, or feel that God prefers the U.S. over any other nation. As a Canadian, our history has some similar stories where British soldiers rounded up french Canadian immigrants (Acadians) from Canadian shores, where they had arrived years before; they separated husbands, wives, children, shipping them in different directions, some to the Caribbean, and Central America, and today's Louisiana. The cruelty of separating wives and husbands who would never see their loved ones again and the horrid living conditions that awaited them is something that we need not be proud of. Stories of Bristish pillaging and burning farms, homes, lands, and certainly lots of human atrocity.

Our histories are violent. But one thing I don't hear is our elected leaders, who call themselves born-again christians, idolizing our founding forefathers and lifting them up as examples for us to be inspired by. Was watching Pat Robertson pray, on his 700 Club program last week, (with a female hostess) for the U.S. during this election year and he was asking the Lord, that Americans would have the faith that the Founding Fathers had.

The difference between other westernized nations and the U.S., as far the Church is concerned, is that the U.S. church is being charmed by this notion that everything in their history is righteous and they have nothing to apologize for. When a church is following men who believe that, then the church has left their first love, and they make themselves into little gods.

The history of the slave trade is horrendous and cruel and inhumane and evil. Thankfully good men made change. But, even though the Lord throws out our past sin in His sea of forgetfulness, we learn to remember our old sin so we remain humble, and as a testimony of how God changed us. And those testimonies don't seem to exist anymore. Religious/political christians give the impression they are in some competition as to who is the most righteous in the world. They refuse to acknowledge they ever had sin. Instead of living the gospel on an individual basis, they seem to want to live the gospel as one community of believers, but not in Jesus' Church way, in a secular national way. It's a secular/religious/national cultish fervor that has taken over the American church.

Rick Frueh said...

"It's a secular/religious/national cultish fervor that has taken over the American church."

Great point!