Recently in AP United States History we watched the film, “True Grit” for a multitude of educational purposes. One of these purposes was to identify sections of the film which could represent a possible theme for the western time period the movie was based upon. The theme I am going to be discussing within this essay is the plight of the Native Americans. Now, we can see the direct plight of the Native Americans in a myriad of ways ranging from the massacre of the buffalo to the recently invented steam engine train. In this particular essay however I will discuss two main reasons why the Native Americans began to parish at numbers not seen before in human history, and how this has significance on the world we live in today. The two reasons include the United States’ overwhelming hegemony, and the spread of tragic diseases.
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Within the film “True Grit”, Mattie Ross is desperate to avenge her father death, and the first place she turns is the United States military. At the end of the day she enlists the help of a United States Marshall, and a Texas ranger to hunt down her father’s killer. Nevertheless the movie portrays the US military to be in a position of power and authority which directly contrasts to the authority of the Native Americans. The Native Americans had no authority, power, nor influence on anything that occurred. This leads directly to the point that part of the plight of the Native Americans was the United States’ complete and overwhelming hegemony. Not only did the United States have a military, but they also had the political will and power to push through treaties that favored the white man as opposed to Native Americans. The most calamitous exercise of US hegemony was the trail of tears, and it’s estimated that up to 25,000 native americans just died from this relocation alone. This trail of tears was sponsored by the soft power of the “Indian Removal Act” of 1831, and by the hard power of the enforcement by the United States militia. Simply put, even though Native Americans put up a fight, they were completely and utterly outmatched to the awesome power of the United States army. Even before the Americans began their westward expansion, it was a forgone conclusion the Native Americans would be wiped from their lands. We can also apply this idea
The second reason why Native Americans descended into a spiral of death and conflict were the infectious diseases the white man brought with him to America. It’s now believed that infection from diseases such as smallpox, influenza, bubonic plague and pneumonic plagues caused the majority of the Native American’s rapid population decline. As Europeans were becoming/were immune to the diseases they were not affected, but the Native Americans were affected to an extreme degree given that their immune systems had never encountered these types of illness before. It’s estimated that possibly 25-50% of each individual tribe’s members died from a disease the white man brought over from Europe.
When we look back at the less than 300 year history of the United States, what can we find? Well what we can find is the in just a few short centuries the United States has not only become a world power, but a major influencer on the world stage in general. It’s quite possible that the United States would not be the same today if there was no west to be won. If there was not a manifest destiny. If there was not westward expansion. Even then, was it justified to remove hundreds of thousands of Native Americans from their homeland? Was it justified that Native Americans were inflicted with deadly diseases, just so the whites could take their land? These are questions we’ll not only be asking ourselves in the short term, but we should never forget what westward expansion really entailed. Both bad, and good.
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