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The Indian-Oz Connection

The Wizard of Oz Another response to The Indian-Oz Connection. The correspondent also seems to be responding to this reply:

>> Starting with a fictional Baum doesn't seem like a productive way to understand the impulses behind Baum's fiction, if that's the goal. <<

I didn't start with a fictional Baum. I've cited and quoted his own words extensively.

My intent isn't to understand the impulses behind Baum's fiction, either. It's to understand Baum's role in fomenting hatred against Indians. In other words, to understand how such a beloved American could be so rabidly racist.

>> Should readers try to get inside the minds of Baum and his Aberdeen neighbors? Some of Rob's comments seem to say yes ("I doubt they took the Ghost Dance 'threat' seriously") and some no (as in dismissing "the white settlers' fears" as unjustified because we know better now). <<

I judged the racist fears then the same way I judge them now. Namely, is there a rational basis for them? Are they objective fact or subjective prejudice?

>> Should people judge Baum's words on the basis of their intention, one common moral yardstick? That seems to be the thrust of Rob's webpage sections saying Baum's genocidal comments were similar to Hitler's. <<

Yes, they're similar. The only significant difference is that Baum claims he admired the Indians' spirit before they were defeated. After their defeat, though, they became "a pack of whining curs," "miserable wretches," and "despicable beings."

This isn't the language of someone who admires and respects his enemy—e.g., the way Americans presumably felt about their British brethren during the Revolutionary War. This is the language of an out-and-out racist.

>> But why then dismiss the Ghost Dancers' equally genocidal intention as a "barely-perceivable threat"? <<

Why? The Americans were using guns against the Indians. They were taking something that wasn't theirs. The Indians were using a religious belief that none of the Americans shared. They were defending something that was theirs. Yet you think the two cases were equivalent?!

Here's a hint of what people thought about the Ghost Dance at the time:

The Native American Ghost Dance

"Under the false impression that the ghost dance was the signal for a general Indian uprising, the white agent at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota called in the regular army to suppress the ghost dancers" (Erodes 481).

Ghost Dance Religion

Wovoka preached that, to survive, the Indians needed to turn to farming and to send their children to school to be educated. Ironically, while these efforts would appear to coincide with the goals of the Bureau, the Ghost Dance was outlawed by the agency. The Bureau feared the swelling numbers of Ghost Dancers and believed that the ritual was a precursor to renewed Indian militancy and violent rebellion.

So people apparently feared a general uprising, not the Ghost Dance itself. A general uprising may have threatened the settlers near the Indians, but it didn't threaten Americans as a whole with genocide. The so-called threat was exaggerated if not nonexistent.

Moreover, the intent wasn't "equally genocidal." The Ghost Dancers were vague about what would happen to whites in their imagined paradise. "Swept away" is a commonly heard phrase. Does that mean killed? Sent back to Europe? Or what, exactly?

And Baum called for the extermination of all Indians, not just the few who were ghost-dancing. Read his words again if you don't recall them:

The Wounded Knee editorial

The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Indians weren't calling for anything except their own survival. Really, you're reaching to equate two things that aren't close to being equal. The comparison is flatly ridiculous.

>> But as two brief editorials in a dwindling newspaper for a dwindling town, forgotten for decades, they're not influential examples of such writing. <<

Two editorials in a newspaper well-positioned to incite violence against the nearby Sitting Bull and his followers, you mean. And Baum's other writings on Indians confirmed his racist beliefs that Indians were base, worthless creatures.

>> Finally, is the website's goal to educate viewers about the U.S. government's treatment of indigenous peoples? <<

Yes, in part. That's why I've devoted many pages to genocide, evil European intentions, Native vs. non-Native values, Columbus Day, etc.

More pages on Baum than Wounded Knee?
>> Rob's website has multiple pages devoted to Baum's remarks. <<

Actually, one original page plus a few responses to people who criticized that page. This on a website with almost 2,000 pages devoted not to genocide but to how our culture stereotypes Indians. Given Baum's role as a key purveyor of childhood fantasies, the number of pages devoted to him is appropriate.

>> The name of the commander who oversaw the action at Wounded Knee, Col James Forsyth, doesn't seem to appear at all. <<

Right, because BlueCornComics.com isn't devoted to history, again. You can find all sorts of accurate descriptions of Wounded Knee elsewhere if that's what you're after.

No, this site is devoted to the intersection of popular culture and Indian Country. It discusses and analyzes what these contending forces have produced.

>> On the issue of what Baum's Aberdeen contemporaries knew of the Ghost Dance, I think it's best to avoid stereotypes ("Unless these white settlers were a lot better informed than today's white folks are about Indians, I doubt they took the Ghost Dance 'threat' seriously"). <<

That wasn't a stereotype, it was my estimate of the facts of the situation. Now I've partly verified the facts. Some people were (falsely) concerned that the Ghost Dance would cause an uprising of the Plains Indians. An uprising that would've been justified by the Indians' inherent right to self-rule.

But as far as I can tell, the whites weren't concerned that the Ghost Dance itself would come true and sweep them from the earth. Until you provide evidence that the whites believed in the efficacy of Indian religion, your position remains unfounded.

>> Yet I don't think we even have a private comment to relatives about those topics. <<

Luckily, we have several corroborating comments in Baum's fiction.

>> The Oz books actually focus on "intermingling" through journeys; none is confined to one community or region. <<

A small amount of intermingling, perhaps. That doesn't change the social structure established in all the Oz books. The books were firmly behind segregation, not integration, despite the wanderings of a few atypical individuals.

>> Of the Ozian children we meet by name in the books—Tip/Ozma, Jellia Jamb, Miss Cuttenclip, Ojo, Woot, and Kiki Aru—not one ends up living in the same community where he or she has grown up, and most move great distances. <<

Children? Grown-up characters were the protagonists of most Oz books, not children.

In the first book, Dorothy and Toto, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, the Wizard, and Glinda are among those who remained or returned to where they began. The Scarecrow is the only significant character who took up a new residence.

>> Furthermore, I can't help but think that the separateness in Rob's description above applies on some scale to how all ethnic groups have distinguished themselves at all known periods of human history, including in the world today, Eurasia for as far back as we know, the Americas before and after Columbus, and so on. <<

We're talking about the various cultural groups within the single kingdom of Oz. They shared a common race and language, which are two common barriers to intermingling. Therefore, Oz is more comparable to a country such as the United States than to a continent such as Asia. Yet Oz's cultural groups remained separate.

>> Today's America is more inclusive in how it defines Americans than it has been, but we still distinguish ourselves regionally, and we still distinguish ourselves from foreigners. <<

Americans distinguish themselves regionally, but they move freely between regions. Do I really need to cite the statistics on the well-known mobility of Americans? I'd love to see how that contrasts with the minute number of Ozians who moved from one land to another.


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Genocide by any other name...

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