After David Barton’s astounding defense of the destruction of Indian tribes and their means of supporting themselves, I started reading more about King Philip’s War. Barton said the Indians declared war to defend torture in particular and their culture more generally. This is inadequate as an explanation. In addition to any concerns about culture, there was the more important matter of English encroachment on Indian lands. Philip (Metacomet, son of Massasoit) had appreciation for elements of English culture, having taken an English name and even buying English clothing. However, the English inflamed the Indians by disarming them and disregarding their property rights. After the trial and execution of three of Philip’s tribe by the English — which he believed was unjust — Philip engaged in his first attack on an English village.
Regarding torture, it is arrogant to suggest the English only used it as a response to the Indians, at least according to George William Ellis and John Emery Morris in their book about King Philip’s War, written in 1906. Ellis and Morris wrote:
In connection with the captivity of Mrs. Rowlandson, it may be said that one party was as forward in the exercise of cruelty as the other. The torture of Englishmen by the Indians was the exception rather than the rule. The women and children were not tortured and were generally spared if the pursuit pressed not too fast upon their captor’s heels. The Indian conqueror never lowered himself to the level of the European soldiery of the time in the sack of captured towns and villages with their carnival of rape and murder. In all the chronicles of the time, the reader finds no recorded instance of outrage upon a woman captive or the useless torture of children.
“And such was the goodness of God to those poor captive women and children that several found so much favor in the sight of their enemies that they were offered no wrong to any of their persons save what they could not help, being in many wants themselves, neither did they offer any uncivil carriage to any of the females or any attempt the chastity of any of them, either being restricted of God as was Abimeleck of old or by some other external cause which withheld them from doing any wrong of that kind.” (A quote from Hubbard).
The settlers slew without discrimination as to age or sex and inflicted torture with a stern self-righteousness. The former generation had set an example in the destruction of the women and children in the Pequot fort, the present followed it closely, the next was to burn the Salem witches. The temper of the age and their belief that they were the people of the new Israel, their foes the old Canaanites and Philistines with new faces hardened them to mercy. In the books of the Old Testament, they sought and found precedents and divine commands in plenty that spoke with the same authority and inspiration for the guidance of their Israel of the new dispensation as to the fate to be meted out to hostile people as it had for the old. Hence arose more than one instance of bad faith. Hence, men women and children were slaughtered or sold into slavery in the West Indies. Rhode Island alone, to her credit, prohibiting the practice by statute.
Ellis and Morris referred to the destruction of “Pequot fort.” This took place in 1637 and involved the massacre of older men, women and children of the Pequot tribe during the Pequot War. As Ellis and Morris noted, the English believed they had the right to clear the land of the natives because they believed God had given them the land. All that to say that it is hard to tell who was civilized and who wasn’t when one really looks at the history.
I am not saying that I would have done anything differently if I was an English settler. I hope I would have but the lessons of my discipline (e.g., Stanford Prison Experiment, Milgram studies) tell me that the power of the situation can corrupt good morals. What I am saying is that even if I had engaged in atrocities as a resident of that time and place, I would have been wrong. To me, it is misguided arrogance and pride to defend such behavior and it is moral cowardice to refuse to call it evil.