On March 21, David Barton addressed “just war” theory on his Wallbuilders Live program and in the process he said the following about the destruction of Indian tribes.
What happened was the Indian leaders said “they’re trying to change our culture” and so they declared war on all the white guys and went after the white guys and that was King Philip’s War. It was really trying to be civilized on one side and end torture and the Indians were threatened by the ending of torture and so we had to go in and we had to destroy Indian tribes all over until they said “oh, got the point, you’re doing to us what we’re doing to them, okay, we’ll sign a treaty.”
In response to a recent WallBuilders Live show, we wanted to clarify statements made by Mr. Barton that we have been receiving questions and comments about. We encourage you to listen to the program to get the full context: http://www.wallbuilderslive.com/Historic.asp?cdate=77515.
David was not justifying, but merely explaining the historical context of what happened, in the same way that he explained the British march to the sea. He made a parallel between the two as to tactics and strategy that were used during war at that time. David was explaining the historical events regarding King Philip’s War, not the atrocities that were in general committed against the Indian tribes and nations, which we in no way condone. There is a big difference between justifying and merely explaining or reporting.
I don’t buy it and many commenters on his page don’t either. For instance, one said
Oh! You weren’t trying to “justify” what happened by reporting what happened in a way that only served to whitewash history (“It was really trying to be civilized on one side and end torture and the Indians were threatened by the ending of torture and so we had to go in and we had to destroy Indian tribes all over until they said “oh, got the point, you’re doing to us what we’re doing to them, okay, we’ll sign a treaty.”) without reporting atrocities on BOTH sides, and without applying any meaning to actual historic events that do not fit with your self-serving slanted view of said events. Silly, actual historian who interprets Native history on a daily basis, me! Thanks for your half of an apology!
He is backpedaling for sure but his wording and the context of the show don’t leave much wiggle room. He certainly seemed to be arguing that the destruction of Indian tribes was a just response of the English. As the commenter above points out, even if he was explaining, his explanation was biased and inaccurate to the point of being offensive.
Just War Theory
To check the credibility of Barton’s defense, let’s review more of what he said on his broadcast. The relevant section is from about 9 minutes in to about 13:40. He begins by saying in war “you have to go beyond what you would like to do, but that’s what you have to do to save lives.” He then discusses the American response to prisoners of war and invokes just war theory, defining it as “you want to conduct a war in such a way so as you don’t make God into your enemy. So if you have to do certain things to defend yourself, you do that; but if you’re going to be the aggressor, if you’re going to gratuitously use pain and torture to harm others because of the meanness of your soul, now you’re in trouble with God.” He added that there were wars that God has shown to be justified and made a distinction between offensive and defensive wars. Pivoting to history, Barton said “Let’s take these principles back into the way they were dealt with at the time.” He described what he believed to be differences in how the Americans and British treated their prisoners of war. Then he illustrated his points via Native Americans.
You have to deal a lot of it with how the enemy responds. It’s gotta be based on what the enemy responds.
You can’t reason with certain types of terrorists, you can’t reason, and see that’s why we could not get the Indians to the table to negotiate with us on treaties until after we had thoroughly whipped so many Indian tribes, and people say you took away their land, let’s back up a minute, let’s go back to time of the French and Indian War, let’s go back to the late 1600s, what’s called King Philip’s War in 1672.* The reason the Indians attacked the American settlers in the 1600s was because Moravian missionaries, now Moravian missionaries were probably the least intrusive people in the world. They don’t go in and say, hey, to be a Christian, you gotta dress this way, act this way, believe, they just want you to read the Word of God and get in a relationship with God. And living among the Indians as they did, and by the way, they didn’t ask the Indians to dress like Americans, the Americans dressed like Indians, so the Moravian missionaries, you couldn’t tell them from the Indians. They looked alike, they dressed alike, they talked the same language, but what the Moravian missionaries did was say, guys, you know you’re warring against all these other tribes and as you’re capturing other tribes, you’re torturing them before you put them to death. You’re not just putting to death your enemy, you’re making them line up and link arms together and as they hold their arms together, you’re going by and slitting their stomachs and they’re required to hold their own guts as they die. Just kill ’em, don’t torture them.What happened was the Indian leaders said “they’re trying to change our culture” and so they declared war on all the white guys and went after the white guys and that was King Philip’s War. It was really trying to be civilized on one side and end torture and the Indians were threatened by the ending of torture and so we had to go in and we had to destroy Indian tribes all over until they said “oh, got the point, you’re doing to us what we’re doing to them, okay, we’ll sign a treaty.”
And that’s what we had to do with Jefferson and the Barbary pirates. Jefferson went in, we had 32 years of them fighting Americans and Jefferson went in, thumped ’em real good, and they said, aye, got it, we got the message, we’ll leave you guys alone, we’ll sign a treaty with you.
A lot of it is based on what you have to do to secure justice and to secure the protection of life and liberties for your citizens and you do what you have to do at times, but you play on the rules sometimes that the other guys have set up. And if they’re not going to negotiate with things like the Geneva treaty or other rules of civilization, you still have to secure the life and the property and the protection of your citizens.
Much of this is wrong, but I want to point out two problems. First, it certainly seems to me that Barton is speaking prescriptively. I provided this context because it certainly seems to me that Barton is defending the actions of the English settlers when he said what got the Indians to the treaty table was whipping and destroying them. He says you can’t reason with certain types of terrorists and then speaks about Indians as an illustration (Indians were terrorists for defending their land claims?). Barton then presents the conflict with the Barbary pirates which he also approves. The entire context of his speech was to explain and defend just war theory and his conclusion is that sometimes you have to protect your citizens by doing whatever it takes. If he is now sorry that he said that and doesn’t now believe it, then he should express that instead of insulting the intelligence of his listeners.
Getting History Wrong
Another problem is that Barton’s description of the causes of King Philip’s War is incorrect. First, Barton fails to mention that the Indians had entered into agreements with the British long before King Philip’s War (we didn’t have to destroy them to get them to the table). Second, the cause of the conflict related to British intrusions on Indian land and Philip’s perception that three of his warriors had been falsely convicted and executed for murder. Third, the Moravian missionaries were not in New England at the time. Barton says the Indians attacked whites because the Moravians tried to get them to stop torturing their enemies. However, the Moravians did not begin their work in the Americas until the 1730s, over 50 years after King Philip’s War.** The following description of Moravian work comes from Loskiel’s history of Moravian missions in America, a source used elsewhere by Barton.
The first missionaries from the Church of the Brethren were sent in the year 1732 to St. Thomas, an island in the West Indies under Danish government. Others went in the year following to Greenland, and their labours were crowned by God with success. Not long after, the Brethren had an opportunity of introducing the Gospel to the Indians in North America. For the trustees of Georgia offered to Count Zinzendorf, then warden of the congregations of the Brethren, a tract of land to be cultivated by them which was accepted the Brethren hoping thereby to become acquainted with the Creeks, Chikasaw, and Cherokee Indians. The first company set out from Herrnhut in November 1734, conducted by the Brethren John Toeltschig and Anthony Seyffart attended with the best wishes and prayers of the whole congregation.
In fact, a review of the book indicates that the Moravians were not in New York or Connecticut until the 1740s. I can’t find any evidence of his story in relationship to King Philip’s War and it clearly can’t be about the Moravians. Thus, Barton’s narrative about the Moravians and the reaction of the Indians is faulty, as is his use of the event as a support for just war theory.
*Actually, it was 1675 when King Philip attacked the settlers. Click the link to read an account which provides a contemporary account of the causes for the war.
** A commenter on the Wallbuilders Facebook page pointed out that the Moravian missionaries were not in New England at the time of King Philip’s War. Sadly typical that Barton’s supporters ignored her.