Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bad Acts at Bad Axe

This entry is graphics intensive, and Blogger (the software that runs War Historian) doesn't lend itself to that, so I've posted it on the old site. You'll find it here.


Saheli said...

A very interesting item in American History I was either unaware of or had forgotten after high school. Cursory browsing of the Lincoln archive hasn't made it clear to me: do we know to what extent the young Lincoln participated in or witnessed this massacre?

Anonymous said...

"My question is: WHY was the fighting along the banks of the Mississippi so vicious?

Why indeed? I suspect most of us could offer a sort of beer-and-pretzel explanation, but the episodes like this one are more deplored more often than they are carefully analyzed. We could use a much better set of tools by which to examine the anatomy of atrocity."

Well, here goes my beer and pretzel exlanation....A combination of; 1. cultural differences, 2. human nature and 3. historical experience. I think if we use those as our tools, it can lead us to some plausible explanations.

1. Culture: How much value did the respective parties understand or value the continuation of the "other" culture? Understanding the "other" alone doesn't preclude atrocity as some would have it. Sometimes understanding LEADS to atrocity. Witness the atrocities in Iraq done by some Sunni elements to forestall the elections. Not because they don't know or understand their fellow Shi'a Iraqis, but precisely BECAUSE they realize that when they are no longer running the show the tables may be turned on them. In other cases of course, ignorance of the other allows for the dehumanization of the "other" into easily dehumanized cardboard caricatures, from which atrocity naturally flows.
If one culture places no value on the life or continuation of the "other" culture (whether there is understanding or not) but the reverse is not true, then my sense is that the party willing to "finish the job" will end up writing the history. If neither party has any cultural use for the "other" to remain, then it turns into a contest of power (power defined holistically to include demographic, economic, diplomatic, and other resources and not just armed coersion).
2. Human nature: Thucidides said it far better than I ever can.
3. Historical Experience: What was the history of US/Native American relations? That sets us outside our modern mindset and puts us in the framework of an era when atrocity in indian warfare on both sides was common practice in ways that today seem more abhorrent.

I think a more interesting question could be asked from this regarding how cultures later on deal with the atrocities they commmit. Why do some cultures condemn their past actions and engage in self criticism (in my view for both better and worse) while other cultures would celebrate those same (mis)deeds? That one I would love to have explained to me, as I don't get it.

Jaron Bernstein

Anonymous said...


Robert said...


I am the author of the quote you used from the so-called Black Hawk War Society page, asking "WHY" was the situation at the Battle of the Mississippi so vicious.

Every modern look at the battle, including yours, does not examine the facts and chonology of events leading up to the August 2 action. Neither is there a thoughtful examination of the surviving accounts, which in many cases paint a picture more complex than those imparted by the labels "massacre" or "atrocity."

Of course, to delve into these issues might lead one to conclusions somewhat different than the modern propensity for holding up the August 2 battle as an example of everything that is wrong with America.

BTW... Lincoln mustered out in July 1832, weeks before the clash now known as "Bad Axe.