'Cultures' are not always defined by skin color

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted November 8, 1999

As advertised, multiculturalism is a fine thing.

Yes, the average inhabitant of this continent today has a longer life expectancy and a vastly improved standard of living than if she was still suffering 50 percent infant mortality and fending off Athabascan raiders with flint-tipped spears.

But that's not to say the European conquest was an unalloyed triumph of tolerance and Christian charity. By all means, let's teach our history warts and all.

Mighty have been the contributions to modern America of the indigenous Indians, and of the descendants of African peoples brought here against their will. Let's give them their proper place in the history books, and teach their descendants to be proud -- not ashamed -- of their heritage.

Next we can start to excavate and restore the cultural pride and proper historical recognition, as well, of our forefathers who were Irish, Italian, Polish, Chinese, Serbian, Jewish, Arab ...

Whoa, there. Today's brand of "multiculturalism" takes no such route, does it? Instead, our children's textbooks are increasingly filled with the historically bankrupt fantasy that Betsy Ross and Molly Pitcher had as much to do with winning the American Revolution as Washington and Jefferson; that the American Indian was some kind of mystically enlightened ecological steward; and that today's black American is directly descended from an ancient Negroid race that built the pyramids of Egypt and had already developed electrical storage batteries and successful hang gliders long before the birth of Jesus.

What gives?

The answer, of course, is that today's "multiculturalism" is in fact a sharply limited political agenda sold under false colors. The goal here is for a small segment of the academe with giant chips on their shoulders to monomaniacally strip the pictures of dead white males out of our history books and replace them with pictures of blacks, Indians, and women. (A new American dollar coin is about the be issued, made of base metal and tarted up with brass plating. What are the chances it will depict a dead white male?)

Recognizing how much of the genius attributed to Thomas Edison was actually bought at minimum wage from folks like Nikola Tesla -- that the real cartoonist behind the entrepreneur Walt Disney was a guy named Ub Iwerks -- is not well designed to upset white males and advance this agenda, since it only shifts credit to other white males. So, it's a non-starter.

And if you really want to upset a modern "multiculturalist," point out that he or she seems curiously intolerant of some "cultures" within modern America -- cultures with documentable thousand-year pedigrees -- where the cultural divisions are not discernible by skin color, at all.

I was struck, as I recently read the introduction to the 1994 Barnes & Noble edition of the esteemed archaeologist Ewart Oakeshott's "The Archaeology of Weapons," by the passage where he describes the attitude of the ancient Greeks and Romans toward their arms as being totally different from "that extraordinary romantic veneration for their arms so characteristic of Teuton, Celt, and Indian -- and on the other side of the earth, the Japanese."

The Roman attitude toward arms was "actually very modern; the civilian fears and shuns them, the soldier has them issued to him ... keeps them clean and in working order because he will get in trouble if he does not, and has no love for them at all."

How different from the classical Japanese, and from the German tribesmen who repulsed the Romans in the year 9 A.D. -- from those of our ancestors who built their warrior societies around the mastery of arms, who gave their weapons names, endowed them with personalities, and would pass a single, named blade down through a family for hundreds of years. How different from the Germans described by Tacitus, among whom "No business, public or private, is transacted except in arms," where citizenship was bestowed when "one of the chiefs, or the father or a kinsman equips the young warrior with a spear and shield in the public council" and where, if the audience approved of a speech at a public meeting, "they clash their spears. No form of approval can carry more honor than praise expressed by arms."

This proud culture is not dead. In peaceful, law-abiding 20th century Switzerland, where every head of household is still considered a militiaman and expected to keep a loaded machine gun at home, voters in some villages still carry their swords as symbol of citizenship to annual town meetings. Here in America, where many an American male still inducts his son into manhood by teaching him to safely handle weapons and helping him score his first kill in the hunt, there is probably no more achingly compelling description of the long sufferings of America's culture of arms than John Ross' magnificent 1996 novel "Unintended Consequences" (available from Loompanics at $28.95; call 360-385-2230 or 800-380-2230.)

Ross' protagonist, Henry Bowman, protests at one point that "They have treated me and others like me with utter contempt. They have confiscated our property and put people in maximum-security prisons over ownership of fender washers, claiming they were unassembled silencer parts. ... They have shot a man's wife in the head because his gun's buttstock was too short. ... They burned 90 people alive over a disputed two hundred dollar tax.

"If you believe you have the right to buy, own and shoot small arms in a safe manner, as much and as often as you want, and you exercise that right regularly, our government has branded you as the enemy."

Here, surely, are two cultures. It's unlikely either side of this cultural divide will ever convince the other it's "right" (in fact, true multiculturalists would preach only understanding and tolerance) -- though it must be observed the only thing that sets man apart is his ability to develop tools and weapons, and the notion that men will be left in peace if only they will lay down their arms didn't work out so well for the Armenian minority in Turkey in 1915, the Ukrainians under Stalin in the 1930s, the Jews under Hitler in the 1940s, or the Cambodian intellectuals under Pol Pot in the 1970s.

But what is clear is which of the two cultures practices tolerance -- I don't believe I've ever met a gun owner who wants to make it mandatory for everyone else to own and shoot firearms.

Of course, our modern descendants of the Romans -- whose republic fell to tyranny after they delegated the business of war and armed policing to hired mercenaries -- those who today "fear and shuns arms, and have no love for them at all," call those who esteem weapons by the same name the Romans used: "barbarians."

But before they push their pogrom against these "barbarians" in their midst to the point where America's gun culture must choose between fighting back or suffering genocide, these modern Romans might remember what happened to the governor P. Quintilius Varus, when he led his three fully-armed Roman legions into the Teutoburger Wald in the year 9 A.D.

The Romans, virtually undefeated since the days of Hannibal, marched into those woods, and did not emerge. So stunned was the emperor Augustus that he commanded his successors that the frontiers of the empire would forever be the Rhine and the Danube, and so they were.

The forest creatures fed for years on the unburied Roman dead ... and the Romans went to Germany no more.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $24.95 postpaid from Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html.

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