This expansive-imperialism has unfolded in a very convoluted way and made it impossible to outline in a simple manner the history and tactics of American imperialism. In this light, it becomes very difficult to see the United States as a global force for liberty and equality. One arrives at the same conclusion by looking at its ‘inner imperialism’, at which we’ve already hinted and which provides, in miniature, a summary picture of the American concern for lofty values.
In the case of the ‘Red Indians,’ we could summarize by repeated the formula used by the early Americans themselves, which is: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Much as with the negro race, the natives were, from the beginning, never really considered people. It seems that they were instead seen as a kind of personification of the wildness of ‘the frontier,’ and as part of the conquest of that frontier they simply need to be moved, if possible and convenient, or else simply demolished. Since the native peoples were not often cooperative in this project, demolition was usually the result.
The imperial instinct in American could not be altered and could not but expand itself. It was not a matter of premeditation but of impulse. If the Europeans had not sold their holdings for money payments, war would have been the result. Since the Indians had not interest in selling their own homelands, since that would have left them not only without homes but without identity or livelihood, the result was violence. For Americans the practical attitude has always been that Might Makes Right and if every last Indian had to be slaughtered in order to make way for the expansive impulse, then it was again justified and inevitable, hence the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.
Treaty after treaty was made with the Indians through which they would make some concession, move to some smaller claim, and agree to peace. The United States, however, simply could not control its impulse and although we can’t say for sure if every treaty was signed knowing it would be broken, we can say that every treaty was sooner or later broken, and in almost every case by it was broken by whites. Always a frontier was laid down that Americans agreed not to pass, and always the imperialist impulse prevailed. War was often the result, and since the Americans wielded a technology superiority, only extinction or complete submission on the part of the Indians could bring peace. It took a century-long series of wars before the Indian finally gave up his dignity in order to survive as an anachronism on small parcels of land without culture or political power, but eventually it was done.
We insist, then, that the American dealings with the Indians are the measure of its benevolence toward ‘the other’; the measure of its commitment to fair-dealing and justice in war; the measure of its greed. Most importantly, however, the American near genocide of the native people is, in miniature, a measure of its attitude and its actions throughout the world. It is benevolent when benevolence is beneficial; it is diplomatic when its enemy is already defeated; it is humanitarian when humanitarianism requires no real sacrifice; it is none of these when its lust for empire is resisted.