Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paul C. Rosier's "Serving Their Country"

Paul C. Rosier is Associate Professor of History, Villanova University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Serving Their Country: American Indian Politics and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
I revisited Page 99 of Serving Their Country, curious to see if it could support and sustain Ford Madox Ford’s insight. I believe it does; in fact, it offers a fine opportunity to visit the two main contexts of the book, which explores the ways in which American Indians acted patriotically in helping the United States assume a prominent role in world affairs during the 20th century, especially during the Cold War, both by serving in the Armed Forces and by demanding that the U.S. keep the promises it made in hundreds of treaties signed with Indian nations in the 19th century. Serving Their Country joins a growing body of scholarship on Cold War Civil Rights and contributes to studies of American patriotism and national identity.

The first context is how American Indians experienced new pressure on their land base during World War II, a portent of the federal government’s “termination” campaign to eliminate Indian reservations after the war. On Page 99 I assess the dynamic of Japanese Americans being sent to internment camps on American Indian reservations, a conflation of two ethnic American groups deemed un-American because of racial difference. I write on Page 99 that “the Japanese presence reflected Indians’ continuing struggle against colonial pressures to maintain the hard-fought boundaries they were willing to cross for the purpose of defending their right to be both American and Indian.” During World War II congressional terminationists began to assert that American Indians were kept against their will in those reservations, which they increasingly called “concentration camps,” a rhetorical strategy to justify their attempts to terminate them.

The second major context featured on Page 99 is the significance of this federal termination agenda in international terms. American Indians fought in World War II in part to gain access to the freedoms enunciated by President Roosevelt as well as to the right of self-determination for which they fought in the name of Wilsonian democracy during World War I. Both American Indian and non-Indian leaders connected the U.S. government’s increasingly coercive treatment of American Indians with its emerging leadership position among peoples seeking freedom from colonial rule. This story is situated within the rhetorical frame of the “American Dilemma,” the title of Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy. Myrdal highlighted the disjunction between America’s ideals of freedom and democracy, expressed in numerous documents of the 18th century such as the Declaration of Independence, and its practice of racial exclusion in everyday life in the 20th century. On Page 99 I use the words of John Collier, the commissioner of Indian Affairs, to emphasize this connection between the domestic and the international. Addressing the “problem of small states and small groups everywhere,” Collier argued in 1942 that “if here in the United States with our Indian groups we can show the solution to this problem we shall have made a material contribution to the maintenance of world peace.”

The rest of the book looks at how increasing termination pressures at home, which American Indians came to call a domestic “cold war,” complicated the U.S. effort to wage the Cold War abroad. The final chapter of the book looks at the intersection of American Indian treaty rights, Red Power, and the Vietnam War. And in a short Epilogue I consider how termination pressures remain an issue for American Indians in the 21st century.
Read an excerpt from Serving Their Country, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue