Violence Over the Land, Book Review

Paul Fischer
Natives of the Americas

Violence Over the Land, Book Review

The use of violence to dismember and destroy Native American communities is a familiar theme in American history. The root of the violence may go farther than simply the weapons and culture of Europeans, but may actually be dependent on financial variables. Ned Blackhawk introduces the concept that trade and violence are intrinsically tied in his book  Violence Over The Land, Indians and Empires in the American West, whose broad scope covers Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Mexico, Nevada, and California from the first Spanish arrivals to Indian marginalization and removal from modern society. This allows Blackhawk to show the devastating effect European trade, and therefore violence, had on Indian communities again and again. He then follows the region’s relations with the Spanish, French, Mexicans and Americans. In every case, it seems, from the collection of Indian ears on the Palacio Ristra to the dispossession of Utah’s Utes by American Mormons through child-slavery (240), the methodology of Indian devolution changes in perceptible ways that allow insight as to the nature of financial or cultural invasion as opposed to military invasion. “The ears provide a grim yet useful introduction to the history of New Mexico” (18).
This book focuses on Native Americans, who have been portrayed in a particular manner in popular culture for hundreds of years, and objectively, historically examine the narrative timeline and the causes and motives for various recorded events. From the beginning, Blackhawk acknowledges that to claim some sort of complete knowledge is impossible, especially from the period before European influence. Unfortunately, by the time events begin to be recorded, their communities have already been heavily impacted. “When Spanish traders, missionaries, outlaws, and armies ventured north, they entered worlds in the midst of dramatic change” (19). The people they encountered had already begun to adapt to fierce competition for trade goods, especially horses and weapons, and slave raiding and trading had become integral parts of Indian society.
This book also tries to put the southwest at the center of a historical narrative, one that involves far greater outside powers. The implications of wars around the world, in places that hardly knew the Southwest exists, were felt acutely by Indians. The rise of France in the New World, the Civil War, manifest destiny, all of these sorts of events or movements resulted in the dispossession and ultimate oppression of Indians. By the time settlers and diplomats came and incorporated Great Basin Indians into their political systems, violence associated with European goods was endemic. This caused for many, slavery, death and even generations later, poverty. “Upon incorporation into distant empires and nations, Great Basin Indians witnessed continued and in many cases growing destitution, prompting the increase use of violence” (265). This vicious cycle continues to ravage the region even today, where Natives live in literally a third world nation within America.
Even for Indians who have been integrated into mainstream society, the assumptions and stereotypes they are associated with are based on a post-european contact Great Basin, rather than the qualities that defined them before. An example of this is in equestrian Indians: in 1592 there were absolutely no horses in North America, “by the eighteenth century, the horse had become such an integral part of their [Indians] lives that a non-equestrian existence must have seemed distant or inconceivable” (20). Yet Indians are irreversibly associated with an equestrian existence by public imagination and historians alike. The sale of European goods to Indians not only sped up, but initiated a process of increasing violence. As new nations became involved, the process intensified: “these foreigners, Utes understood, brought guns, ammunition, and powder needed by Indian people” (123).
Other Indian nations were more able to avoid European influence. The Great Basin anthropologist, Julian Stewart, thought The Shoshones were exceptional, in their ability to remain less modified than other Indians. “Their subsistence lifestyle, migratory routes, and political structures, he believed, contradicted established notions of ‘tribes’” (277). By examining these modern researchers, Blackhawk can see the change that continues to occur in Native American society. By researching the information that is available, it may be possible to gain better insight on how to help the Great Basin Indians develop, or revert, to a better society.

Blackhawk, Ned. Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2006. Print.

Yakov Bok Bound

Yakov Bok Bound

Paul Fischer

Religion and Philosophy
Richard Sugarman

In Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer the handyman for whom the book is named has broken everything in his life. He is the kind of man that, as the Talmud goes, is alive but dead. His wife, after five years of fruitless marriage, has left him and when he seeks opportunities outside of his Jewish Shtetl, enemies of the Jewish Nation imprison and try him in a misguided political prosecution. Nothing can go right for Yakov.
He finds himself “the kind of man who finds it perilous to be alive.” It appears that Yakov’s only ally is the lethargic Bibikov, a member of the prosecuting team who does not share his colleagues’ misgivings for the Jewish race. He realizes that the charge is trumped up political nonsense, and he will ultimately be murdered for his continued investigation. Yakov can be compared to many historical and mythical figures. One of these is Prometheus, of Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, a hapless hero of ancient Greek mythology.
Prometheus is the Greek champion of mankind, a fearless titan who defies Zeus to bring fire, and more importantly, hope to pathetic humans apparently without personal ambition or desire for reward, indeed at great consequence to himself. Or perhaps, with the power of foresight, he knows Zeus will be toppled by man one day and is shrewdly choosing sides, albeit painfully. In either case, Zeus retaliates  by putting Prometheus on a rock where his insides will be eaten daily by an eagle. While it appears Zeus’ underlings, Strength, Force and Hephaestus, are somewhat sympathetic to Prometheus, explaining, “No heart have I, to chain a god… Yet surely I must find the heart the heart to do it; My Sire’s behest not lightly is contemned” (15) they still recognize that they cannot betray the divine power of their master, without suffering a fate far worse than that of Prometheus.
Prometheus’ unique power of foresight gives the tale a twist. It is hard to imagine why he would choose such a fate. He declares that “all that shall be, I surely know” yet “how to speak my griefs, I know not.” (100, 110) This means that he knows not only of the existence of Zeus’ punishment, but also its extreme severity. He cannot have had any delusions about the potential for humans to rise up in rebellion to Zeus for his sake. While the humans certainly support Prometheus, declaring they would like to see him wield power equal to Zeus (520), they are little more than glorified cheerleaders for the destitute protagonist.
Looking specifically at their characters, it would not be wrong to say Prometheus and Yakov are completely inverse. Prometheus starts as an immortal, one of the most powerful titans in the world, gifted with foresight, and so strong that even Force and Strength are loath to bind him for fear of his eventual revenge. His transgression is a deliberate attempt to undermine Zeus and punished without mercy through divine power. Yakov begins with the naive belief that “with a bit of luck, I‘ll make my fortune in the outside world” (12). He quickly loses sight of this as he becomes essentially a political pawn, an individual imprisoned in order to accomplish certain political goals. Even fellow Jews use his eventual trial to undermine the prejudices that they have fought for so long. Yakov’s complete cluelessness is in direct contrast to Prometheus’ cognizant, planned delivery of fire and hope to the mortals of Greece.
Yakov begins The Fixer with nothing, gains a little through sickening means (the aid of a high ranking anti-Semitic alcoholic, Nikolai Maximovitch) only to have it sucked away by the power of massive political forces at work The opportunity Yakov had created by posing as a Christian freethinker pales in comparison to the massive effort mobilized to imprison and punish him. Yakov himself is dumbfounded, asking the prosecution, “Do you really believe those stories about magicians stealing the blood out of  a murdered Christian child to mix in with matzos?“ (142) Unlike Prometheus, who was a major player in the political battle that doomed him and who certainly knew the consequences of his action, Yakov had absolutely no foresight of his actions. He believed he was only pursuing “opportunity” in a bigger city. The difference is that while the two suffer from intangibly great forces, Prometheus was an active character while Yakov was merely a victim.
This is most apparent in the dialogues of each work. Prometheus Bound is dominated by the protagonist’s explanations of his unfortunate situation. Yakov’s thoughts are relegated to himself His contact with others such as the prosecution or his lawyer consists of the protagonist posing the questions. While his questions are fascinating, they also indicate his lack of control. But Prometheus also has no apparent power, he merely preaches to the choir (or in this case, the chorus.)
Both Prometheus and Yakov do have power, however. All Yakov has to do is admit guilt and confess to a crime he is innocent of. The thought of betraying a whole people to the corrupt authorities, is simply unstomachable for Yakov, even though he’s a self-proclaimed “free thinker.” Prometheus merely is asked to aid a tyrant in his ruthless attempts to retain power over the heavens. The refusal to submit to this opportunity commits Prometheus to eternal suffering.

All quotes from The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, Macmillan 2004 (page) or Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus translated by John Churtan Coidna (line)


OUTSIDERS                                                                                      Paul Fischer
              The book The Outsiders by S.E Hinton is about a kid named Ponyboy with two things on his mind; Paul Newman and a ride home. As he walks back from the theater it turns out he would have been much better off in a car. A group a socs or socials jump him nearly critically hurting him before his friends come and beat them off. This brings the memory of Johnny, one of Ponyboys friends, being nearly killed. Johnny then accidentally kills a soc the next time the get jumped. They are forced to run for the hills and Ponyboys tough friend, Dallas, gives them a place to hide until the police leave town. When Dallas comes to pick them up they are surprised by the flames coming from the hideout. After asking a nearby adult they learn that eight little children are trapped there! As they save all the children, the two are glorified as heroes in the paper. Unfortunately, Johnny dies from third degree burns. I learned that Ponyboy, and all greasers, have a lot more on their mind than just Paul Newman and a ride home. They are faced with death, social class difference, and the bad break of being born as greaser.

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