The Massacre at Wounded Knee and 18 Medals of Dishonor

Commentary

Published December 30, 2017

On Friday December 29, I came across a news article regarding Oskar Groening. Oskar was an accountant who served in the SS in Nazi Germany at Auschwitz, an extermination camp used in the genocide of Jewish people during World War II. In 2015, at the age of 93, he was found guilty of accessory to 300,000 murders for his role in providing administrative support at Auschwitz. He appealed his sentence because of both his age at the time of sentencing and, the fact that his activities came to light due to his decision to speak publicly about his service at Auschwitz in an effort to counteract and silence holocaust deniers. But, on December 29, 2017, several news agencies reported that his appeal had been denied and he would serve his 4-year jail sentence.

This story stood out to me because December 29th is also the day that approximately 300 Sioux men, women and children were slaughtered by the US Army in 1890. The event is known as the Massacre at Wounded Knee. Here is a short description of the massacre:

“From the heights above, the army’s Hotchkiss guns raked the Indian teepees with grapeshot. Clouds of gun smoke filled the air as men, women and children scrambled for their lives. Many ran for a ravine next to the camp only to be cut down in a withering cross fire. When the smoke cleared and the shooting stopped, approximately 300 Sioux were dead, Big Foot among them. Twenty-five soldiers lost their lives.” (Eyewitness to History)

A few items should be noted about this massacre. First the US Army was using Hotchkiss guns, and some accounts report that a total of four Hotchkiss rapid-fire artillery guns were utilized at Wounded Knee. “The 1-pounder revolving Hotchkiss cannon had five 37 mm barrels, and was capable of firing 68 rounds per minute with an accuracy range of 2,000 yards. Each feed magazine held ten rounds and weighed approximately 18 pounds (Wikipedia).” Comparing their weapons to this, the Sioux never stood a chance.

Second, it was recorded that “many [Sioux] ran for a ravine next to the camp only to be cut down in a withering cross fire.”

Most people are not aware of this, but the United States awarded 24 Medals of Honor to US soldiers for their actions throughout the Sioux Campaign of 1890, and 18 of those medals were given specifically to soldiers who participated in the Massacre at Wounded Knee.

The US Army website contains a section detailing the Medals of Honor that have been awarded throughout our country’s history, listed by war and conflict. Between 1839 and 1898, it records that a total of 425 Medals of Honor were awarded to US Soldiers who fought in the ‘Indian War Campaigns’ (but that unfortunate fact is the subject for another article at a later date). The site also records that 3 of the Medals of Honor from Wounded Knee were awarded for the following reasons:

“While the Indians were concealed in a ravine, assisted men on the skirmish line, directing their fire, etc., and using every effort to dislodge the enemy.”

“Voluntarily led a party into a ravine to dislodge Sioux Indians concealed therein. He was wounded during this action.”

“While engaged with Indians concealed in a ravine, he assisted the men on the skirmish line, directed their fire, encouraged them by example, and used every effort to dislodge the enemy.”

Mark Charles

So, let’s review. On December 29, 1890, the US Army surrounded an encampment of Sioux men, women and children. When peace talks broke down, the soldiers opened fire with their full artillery, which included up to 4 Hotchkiss guns. Many of the Sioux ran for cover in a nearby ravine. And 3 US soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for directing fire into, and dislodging the Sioux out of, the ravine, where they could be more easily exterminated by the soldiers above it.The United States and Germany have similar histories of white supremacy and racially motivated genocide. But while Germany is working hard to deal with their shameful history of ethnic cleansing, the US has chosen to publicly honor its.

On December 29, 2017 most of the major US news agencies, including ABC, NBC, CBS, USA Today, and Fox News, reported on Oskar Groening losing his appeal in the German Courts. A search, during the same news cycle, returned almost no references, on mainstream media, to the 127th Anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee.

The United States of America needs a national dialogue on race, gender and class. A conversation on par with the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that took place in South Africa, Rwanda and Canada. I’m calling it Truth and Conciliation, and the goal is 2021.

Because until we have such a dialogue, we will continue to be a nation that not only buries its incredibly violent and unjust history, but also ignorantly and brazenly honors our war crimes such as the Massacre at Wounded Knee.

Mark Charles serves as the Washington DC correspondent for Native News Online and is the author of the popular blog “Reflections from the Hogan.” His writings are regularly published by Native News Online in a column titled “A Native Perspective” which addresses news directly affecting Indian Country as well as offering a Native perspective on national and global news stories. Mark is active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

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