My Thoughts About the History of Terror in America

The variety of topics and historical readings that I’ve encountered in the class have helped me learn more about the role of terror in America. Terror has shaped America. Throughout American history, groups of individuals have faced terror. One of the first examples of terror was carried out by the U.S. government against the Native Americans. This was enacted through the Indian Removal Act, which forcibly removed Native Americans from their land. Many Native Americans died, because of the Indian Removal Act, and even more Native Americans were forced to relocate.

“The Cherokee, on the other hand, were tricked with an illegitimate treaty. In 1833, a small faction agreed to sign a removal agreement: the Treaty of New Echota. The leaders of this group were not the recognized leaders of the Cherokee nation, and over 15,000 Cherokees — led by Chief John Ross — signed a petition in protest. The Supreme Court ignored their demands and ratified the treaty in 1836. The Cherokee were given two years to migrate voluntarily, at the end of which time they would be forcibly removed. By 1838 only 2,000 had migrated; 16,000 remained on their land. The U.S. government sent in 7,000 troops, who forced the Cherokees into stockades at bayonet point. They were not allowed time to gather their belongings, and as they left, whites looted their homes. Then began the march known as the Trail of Tears, in which 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the western lands.

By 1837, the Jackson administration had removed 46,000 Native American people from their land east of the Mississippi, and had secured treaties which led to the removal of a slightly larger number. Most members of the five southeastern nations had been relocated west, opening 25 million acres of land to white settlement and to slavery” (Africans in America, 1998).

The U.S. government’s actions against the Native Americans was deplorable and an act of terror. However, the U.S. government would carry out more acts of terror later in history. America’s Reconstruction era, which began during the Civil War before ending in 1877, was another example of terror. In this circumstance, the victims of terror were blacks. After the North had won the Civil War, questions arose about reuniting the North and the South and the future of former slaves. President Andrew Johnson created a Reconstruction Plan, which was rejected by the Republican Congress. His Reconstruction Plan included pardons to those who took loyalty oaths and states needing to abolish slavery before being allowed to rejoin America.

“After rejecting the Reconstruction plan of President Andrew Johnson, the Republican Congress enacted laws and Constitutional amendments that empowered the federal government to enforce the principle of equal rights, and gave black Southerners the right to vote and hold office. The new Southern governments confronted violent opposition from the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups. In time, the North abandoned its commitment to protect the rights of the former slaves, Reconstruction came to an end, and white supremacy was restored throughout the South.

For much of this century, Reconstruction was widely viewed as an era of corruption and misgovernment, supposedly caused by allowing blacks to take part in politics. This interpretation helped to justify the South’s system of racial segregation and denying the vote to blacks, which survived into the 1960s. Today, as a result of extensive new research and profound changes in American race relations, historians view Reconstruction far more favorably, as a time of genuine progress for former slaves and the South as a whole” (America’s Reconstruction, 2003).

Some Southern states used Jim Crow laws to deny blacks their rights. These laws included segregation in public schools, transportation systems, restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains. Jim Crow laws had a lasting impact on American history. For instance, segregation in public schools wasn’t declared unconstitutional until the 1954 Supreme Court decision for the Brown v. Board of Education court case.

The U.S. government carried out another act of terror to the Chinese. In 1882, the government, under former President Chester Arthur, created the Chinese Exclusion Act. Native-born Americans blamed their unemployment and lower wages on the Chinese, because of racism.  The Chinese Exclusion Act stopped the Chinese from immigrating into the U.S. and becoming U.S. citizens for 10 years. “Through the Geary Act of 1892, the law was extended for another ten years before becoming permanent in 1902… The Chinese Exclusion Act foreshadowed the immigration-restriction acts of the 1920s, culminating in the National Origins Act of 1929, which capped overall immigration to the United States at 150,000 per year and barred Asian immigration. The law was repealed by the Magnuson Act in 1943 during World War II, when China was an ally in the war against imperial Japan… It was not until the Immigration Act of 1965, which eliminated previous national-origins policy, that large-scale Chinese immigration to the United States was allowed to begin again after a hiatus of over 80 years (Aspiration, Acculturation, and Impact, 2017).

The U.S. government carried out an act of terror on the Japanese. “Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the secretary of war to designate military zones within the U.S. from which ‘any or all persons may be excluded.’ The order was not targeted at any specific group, but it became the basis for the mass relocation and internment of some 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, including both citizens and non-citizens of the United States” (Taylor, 2011). In this instance, Japanese individuals were forced from their homes, jobs, and routines and placed into internment camps. The Japanese weren’t released from these internment camps until 1944, when the Supreme Court put an end to the detention of people without reason. The Japanese had their lives turned upside down for years before being told to go back to their old lives like nothing had happened.

The U.S. government carried out acts of terror on Native Americans, blacks, the Chinese, and the Japanese. The government has also done this to other groups they’ve deemed inferior, too. President Donald Trump signing the Executive Order 13769 was an act of terror against Muslims. The Executive Order, which is officially called “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” puts a restriction on Muslim immigration. Carol Morello, a journalist, wrote, “President Trump signed an order Friday to suspend admission of all refugees for 120 days while a new system is put in place to tighten vetting for those from predominantly Muslim countries and give preference to religious minorities” (Morello, 2017). The Executive Order is similar to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Both laws have limited immigration into the U.S. from groups of people who are considered to be inferior.

Through my learning about terror in American history, I’ve realized that history has been repeated over and over again. The U.S. government has enacted acts of terror against various groups of people ever since America became an independent nation. President Trump’s Executive Order is just like the Chinese Exclusion Act and Executive Order 9066. Once again, the U.S. government is enacting terror against a group deemed to be inferior, because of fear, ignorance, and racism. I think that if more people understood America’s history, then people would realize that laws like the Executive Order are terrorism. Terror isn’t a new concept that was invented after the September 11 attacks. What terror is has been distorted, because of the September 11 attacks.

Former President George W. Bush said, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” (Bush, 2001). Bush’s speech following the September 11 attacks changed the way that Americans viewed terror. Americans began to see Muslims are terrorists, which was reiterated through journalists’ portrayal of the September 11 attacks. Jay Rosen wrote, “Work as a journalist became a specific way of being a patriot” (Rosen, 2011). When journalists reported the September 11 attacks, they told the story of heroic acts and how America was the victim. Journalists didn’t start analyzing the reasoning behind the September 11 attacks, until months and/or years after the events had occurred. As a result, many Americans viewed Muslims as the enemies, which allowed President Trump to become elected and sign his Executive Order.

 

Works Cited

Africans in America. (1998.) Indian Removal: 1814-1858. Retrieved from PBS Online http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2959.html.

America’s Reconstruction. (2003). People and Politics After the Civil War. Retrieved from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/exhibits/reconstruction/introduction.html.

Aspiration, Acculturation, and Impact: Immigration to the United States. (2017). Chinese Exclusion Act. Retrieved from http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/exclusion.html.

Bush, G. W. (2001.) Address to a joint session of Congress and the American people. Retrieved from https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html.

Morello, C. (2017, January 27). Trump signs order temporarily halting admission of refugees, promises priority for Christians. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-approves-extreme-vetting-of-refugees-promises-priority-for-christians/2017/01/27/007021a2-e4c7-11e6-a547-5fb9411d332c_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_trumprefugees-810pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.0db9feaabe28.

Rosen, J. (2011.) The Trauma of September 11. In Allan, S. & Zelizer, B. (Eds.), Journalism after September 11 (pp. 42). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group.

Taylor, Alan. (2011, August 21). World War II: Internment of Japanese Americans. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2011/08/world-war-ii-internment-of-japanese-americans/100132/.

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