Monday, July 9, 2012

Human migration and holocausts

Someone from Britain referred recently to the "English migration" and holocaust of the American Indian, but over here in the U.S. that condemnation is directed at Americans and not the British.

Our great anti-American American is Noam Chomsky. He was raised in a Leftist-Communist anti-American atmosphere and now terms himself an Anarchist. While Chomsky does rail against what happened to the American Indian, more to the precise nature of your note is our very own Ward Churchill. Here is his blog: Ward Churchill Solidarity Network (WCSN)

Probably most Americans think Ward Churchill a crackpot (rightfully so IMO). It hasn't helped his cause that he personally claims to be an Indian when his enemies have researched his genealogy (as have some Indians) and say that he is not. He on the other hand insists that if his family always believed in their Indian ancestry there is nothing amiss if he does as well. He goes about in Indian dress and rants against what Americans did to "his" ancestors.

Anthropologically there has never been a era in history or prehistory when groups of humans weren't displacing each other. As the term is used here every such displacement would be termed a "Holocaust" involving genocide.

More recently geneticists have described the same phenomenon: Genes, Peoples, and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza describes migrations by means of genetics. "Modern humans arrived in Europe 42,000-43,000 years ago; they may have had contacts with Neandertals, but no evidence of hybrids were found [since Cavilli-Sforza wrote his book some Neandertal dna has been found in the homo-sapiens genome]. Shortly after 40,000 years ago Neandertals became more and more rare in Europe, and the last specimens found so far are about 30,000 years old."

A more recent treatment is Bryan Sykes The Seven Daughters of Eve. Through genetics he was able to describe Western Europe as comprising seven genetic groupings representing seven "migrations."

Subsequent to World War II the U.N. Charter created a sort of "time out" for all mankind: wherever you are now that is where you must stay. "Aggression" against a neighboring nation is forbidden and will be strictly punished (assuming of course the U.N. votes for such punishment). Migrating must and will stop. Well, perhaps that is a good rule to have since all of the world's land masses have a fairly high degree of population -- as much as the land can support and then some.

This could of course change and we could revert to migrating if something like a new plague depopulated huge regions. We have cured or controlled all the plagues we know about but we do sometimes discover new ones.

The U.N. charter was written with the Jewish holocaust in mind, but since that time many people have made good livings applying this term retroactively. American and Australian aborigines were indeed displaced by European migrants and the process was ugly, but these migrations were very like the sort of migrations humans have always engaged in. [the "cheap shot" here is to say, "well that doesn't make it right." About which see * below] The German holocaust of the Jews was perhaps closer to what the Turks did to the Armenians. What the Germans intended for the Slavic peoples to their East in order to obtain lebensraum is closer to what humans have done throughout their existence. Of course in the German-Slavic case the latter refused to be displaced. It seems safe to suggest that not all migrations were successful.

*As to the moral element in migrations, we in 1945 made it immoral to migrate. It was sort of immoral before. Britain (assuming Britain as the standard for what is moral and what is not which I don’t want to defend here) didn't approve of Germans taking Czechoslovakia but after all Britain wasn't powerful enough to do anything about it until Germany invaded Poland. They called their clans, the products of their previous migrations, together to stop the German one.

Applying the term genocide & holocaust to events prior to the 20th century is something historians are warned against -- at least when they study and write. You don't apply your own standards retroactively to previous periods.

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