So What Was Bosque Redondo?

Steve Russell
Jun 21 · 6 min read

Concentration Camps and Historical Amnesia

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has begun her political career as the bullseye on the target, apparently for being young, attractive, and successful. Better to take her out before she gains legislative experience and seniority, the thinking goes, and she has taken a number of salvos for referring to the holding pens for would-be immigrants and asylum seekers on the southern border as “concentration camps.”

Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, piled on with this tweet:

Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.

To be fair to Ms. Cheney, she opened fire before the Trump Administration argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that children being detained did not need toothbrushes, soap, or beds for the holding facilities to be characterized as “safe and sanitary.” To their credit, the judges hearing the appeal expressed some amazement that the government lawyers could make that claim with a straight face.

The Trump Administration was trying to fight a U.S. District Court finding that a court order requiring migrants be kept in “safe and sanitary” conditions was violated. It is generally fruitless to differ with a trial court’s findings of fact because appellate courts are not equipped to find facts. As was reported in Fake News, still known in some circles as The Washington Post:

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee had found that migrants in Rio Grande Valley facilities were hungry, with some eating only “sandwiches of two pieces of dry bread and one slice of ham.” They were thirsty, with up to 20 migrants sharing the same cup to drink from the water cooler. They were embarrassed to use a toilet in front of 50 other people and they couldn’t take a shower or brush their teeth or even wash their hands with soap and dry them with a towel, the judge found. At night, they couldn’t sleep. The lights were left on, as they shivered beneath an aluminum blanket on the concrete floor, the judge found.

In addition to the general futility of contesting a judge’s fact-finding on appeal, the government lawyers are further handicapped by the fact that the judge’s findings are correct. Mr. Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has made its best efforts to keep cameras away — -even keeping some members of Congress out — -but that’s hard when there’s a camera in most cell phones and evidence has leaked out.

Seriously, though, it probably takes more than a lack of toothbrushes and soap and beds to make a concentration camp, doesn’t it? At last count, only two dozen migrants had died in the custody of ICE and only half a dozen of the deceased were children. At that rate, it will take a long time to reach levels of death comparable to the Shoah.

But why the Shoah? AOC never claimed ICE is running death camps or extermination facilities.

You may ask what fantasy AOC is living in where Hitler had anything to say about maintaining tight borders to control the relationship between North and South America?

There are numberless examples in history, showing with terrible clarity how each time Aryan blood has become mixed with that of inferior peoples the result has been an end to the culture sustaining race. North America, the population of which consists for the most part of Germanic elements, which mixed very little with inferior coloured nations, displays humanity and culture very different from that of Central and South America, in which the settlers, mainly Latin in origin, mingled their blood very freely with that of the aborigines. Taking the above as an example, we clearly recognize the effects of racial intermixture. The man of Germanic race on the continent of America having kept himself pure and unmixed, has risen to be its master; and he will remain master as long as he does not fall into the shame of mixing the blood.

That’s the Dugdale translation of Mein Kampf, page 121. Oops. Well, at least before the shooting broke out, I heard there were very fine people on both sides.

Hitler is rightly infamous for attaching gas chambers and crematoria to concentration camps, but the camps themselves were merely places to concentrate populations that would need to be dealt with as populations.

Still, the United States of America would never herd people into concentration camps, right?

At the risk of conflict of interest, I could point out that my people were rounded up and kept under armed guard for a period of time after being turned out of their homes. “Concentrated” in this manner, they were unable to prepare adequately for the removal to Indian Territory and so many of the casualties involved inclement weather. Principal Chief John Ross’s wife, Quatie, was one of thousands dead when she gave up her coat to a crying child and contracted pneumonia.

Among the Five “Civilized” Tribes, only the Choctaw removal was as deadly, and that because of a cholera epidemic.

Those Indians not deemed “civilized” had it even worse. A fellow named Kit Carson defeated the Navajos by scorched earth tactics, destroying supplies, crops, orchards and livestock. Facing starvation in the coming winter, the Navajos surrendered and departed at gunpoint on The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo.

Around Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, on the banks of the Pecos River, the U.S. Army had anticipated quarters for 5,000 Indians. However, only three or four hundred Navajo out of some 8,000 captives died on the walk to join a small population that had previously surrendered to make a total of about 8,500 Navajo, who were soon joined by about 500 Mescalero Apaches. The two tribes were old enemies but fighting each other quickly became the least of their problems.

They were supposed to farm the land, but the Pecos was too alkaline for irrigation or for drinking water. Congress appropriated money for beef, but a crooked Indian agent paid top dollar for sick and skinny cattle and took part of the inflated price in a kickback scheme. When the winter came the next year, all the firewood in the vicinity was gone.

Enough pesky details. Let’s cut to the chase. All the Navajos were rounded up — men, women, and children — -and “concentrated,” kept in an area inadequate to support them under armed guard. The incarceration lasted four years and the dead are estimated by the U.S. government at 2,380.

Please, Congresswoman Cheney, do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. You’ll find that the necessity of keeping Central and South Americans in their place was recognized and applauded by Hitler. You’ll find that indigenous Americans were rounded up and kept in small areas under armed guard and many of them died before their captors relented.

There were no gas chambers and no crematoria, but there was plenty of death caused by U.S. policy and justified by alleged racial differences.

Yes, Congresswoman, I recognize that the body count at this time is only two dozen and only half a dozen of those were children. So far.

It would appear that the only distinguishing feature of the ICE facilities that might separate them from historical concentration camps is the body count. If we are to maintain a body count until enough Latin American refugees have died to satisfy your definition, you need to favor us with a number so we can keep quiet about the conditions in these…er, involuntary resorts?….until you grant your permission to call them concentration camps.

If I am misunderstanding you, explain to me once more how referring to brown people kept under armed guard with inadequate food and shelter as in “concentration camps” is demeaning to the memory of the Shoah?

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing. Contact the editor via a private comment to submit your work.

Steve Russell

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Steve Russell is enrolled Cherokee, a 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus of criminal justice, and (so far) a cancer survivor.

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing. Contact the editor via a private comment to submit your work.