Tuesday, December 29, 2015

healing the pain of Wounded Knee

Today marks the anniversary of the massacre of Lakota Sioux that took place at Wounded Knee on December 29th 1890. It was a far from glorious episode in American military history and one that should never be forgotten.

One important fact of this sad affair that is sometimes not remembered is that in the aftermath of the slaughter 20 of the soldiers involved were awarded the Medal of Honour, the United States' highest award for valor. There were around 500 hundred armed troopers with artillery support surrounding the Lakota encampment of approximately 350 souls that day. The majority were women and children; and most of the men had already surrendered their weapons when the firing began. 

When this brief 'battle' was over at least 150 of the Lakota were dead, many killed while trying to hide or flee. And of the 25 soldiers who perished, most died by way of 'friendly fire' during what was, according to even the most charitable accounts, a gross breakdown in military discipline. It was hardly the stuff of valor.

Nothing, of course, could restore the victims to life then or now. And it is far too late to seek retribution of their killers. But the high military honors awarded those soldiers could be rescinded. This is exactly what the National Congress of American Indians called on the US government to do in 2001. This has yet to happen. Perhaps now, on this significant anniversary of the massacre, is the time to take action. 

I don't think that the men who committed this atrocity were necessarily evil. I'm an old soldier myself and I like to think that most who wear the uniform of their country are honourable and decent. But sometimes things happen on the battlefield that are neither honourable and decent; madness takes over and otherwise good men do terrible things - things that cause them shame to remember and haunt them to the grave. 

Good men know that they do not deserve medals for actions such as this. And bad men should never have been allowed to wear a uniform in the first place. And whether these soldiers were good men acting out of character, or bad indulging their evil inclinations, it is an ongoing insult to the memories of those who died that those who killed them should continue to be remembered as deserving of the Medal of Honour.

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