In reading Hampton Sides’s excellent In the Kingdom of Ice I came upon the story, only a side story in the book, of the Yupiks, a native population in Alaska. They were destroyed when the white man came along and killed their food source and supplied them with alcohol. In their case it was the walrus and not the buffalo.
It was the Arctic version of a story well known to Americans, the story of the buffalo and the Indians of the Great Plains. Here, as there, the wholesale slaughter of a people’s staple prey had led, in a few short years, to ruinous dislocations, terrible dependencies – and a cultural apocalypse.
I have read a good deal of history books. I was a History Major and eventually an American Studies Major. Yet, this slaughter is something I have never heard of. It took place as late as the 1880’s, hardly ancient history. That is less than 150 years, the span of two human lives.
When we, as a people, go into a region, such as we have in Iraq, do we really know the history of what went on there? There is so much we don’t know about our own history. There is so much that we don’t know period. How do we make informed political decisions, especially when human life hangs in the balance?