The Custer Day Anniversary
We are coming up on Independence Day, on which we celebrate, with increasing detachment, the great epochal change in human affairs that made American democracy the worldwide measure of individual liberty. I wish that the day we celebrated was the U.S. Constitution's anniversary, because that document is so much more relevant to the concepts of personal freedom and of the allocation of governmental power. The great achievement of the Constitution was its recognition of the inherent untrustworthiness of the powerful, and its breakage of power's concentration. It's brilliant. It deserves a day, but what we have instead is a day in which to commemorate disobedience, fighting, parricide, and, incidentally, summertime. Independence Day is a whole lot easier than Constitution Day.
We just had Midsummer's Day, and soon we'll have Bastille Day, which in
I want to help make of August 18th, or perhaps better, August 31st, a new holiday or anniversary -- Liberation Day, I think we should call it. It was on August 18, 1851, that the escaped slave Daniel Davis was bonked on the head and clapped in irons by a
But today is Custer Day, and that's a day that Americans have decided is worth noting. There aren't any celebrations I know of, other than the commemoration out at the Little Big Horn monument out in Crow country. It was on June 26th, 1876, in what is now southern
The 1776 declaration of
The events of 1876 happened in the middle of other processes, so it's rather strange to take it out of that context. The program of forced assimilation was well underway by 1876. Many a Sun Dance had been disrupted, many a Medicine Bundle had been confiscated by then. The Great Sioux Uprising that had resulted in dozens of hangings in
It was today in 1876, though, that Americans remind themselves to remember. The New York Times cites the day. The Writer's Almanac, which is Garrison Keillor's poetry-promoting website, refers to it.
Custer Day is one of those marbled observances: We mark the course of our flow as a nation by this day when the drama of the aboriginals' defeat included a day of victory. Our Fourth of July mentality -- rebellion, gunfire, righteousness -- gets a little boost when we think of the insanity of Custer's command -- illegitimate parental authority? kingly arrogance? -- getting its deadly comeuppance by the last of the men who rode to the hunt bareback on their ponies, who shot arrows in war, who painted their faces, who received their names in visions. We admit that the crazy sonofabitch Custer was ours, and owning up to him causes us to reflect on how we manage our terrible power. But on Custer Day, we hope that Tashunka Witko and Tatanka Iyotake are ours, too.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Conquest, constitution, liberation
The Custer Day Anniversary