U. S. Troops Tortured and Slaughtered the Natives, According to American Journalist.
HERBERT J. SELIGMANNAugust151920
American Atrocities in Haiti?
U. S. Troops Tortured and Slaughtered the Natives, According to American Journalist.
HERBERT J. SELIGMANN
ACCORDING to Herbert J. Seligmann, an American journalist writing in The Nation (New York), the Americans have been guilty of various excesses, amounting even to atrocities, in their occupation of Haiti. Whether there is any truth in his statements is a matter that can be determined only after investigation. It is likely, however, that his charges will create a great stir. He writes, in part: To Belgium’s Congo, to Germany s Belgium, to England’s India and Egypt, the United States has added a perfect miniature in Haiti. Five years of violence in that Negro republic of the Caribbean, without sanction of international law or any law other than force, is now succeeded by
an era in which the military authorities are attempting to hush up what has been done. The history of the American invasion of Haiti is only additional evidence that the United States is among those Powers in whose international dealings democracy and freedom are mere words,v and human lives negligible in face of racial snobbery, political chicane, and money. The five years of American occupation, from 1915 to 1920, has served as a commentary upon the white civilization which still burns black men and women at the stake. For Haitian men, women, and children, to a number estimated at 3,000, innocent for the most part of any offense, have been shot down by American machine gun and rifle bullets; black men and women have been put to torture to make them give information; theft, arson, and murder have been committed almost with im-
punity upon the persons and property of Haitians ' by white men wearing the uniform of the United States. Black men have been driven to retreat to the hills from actual slavery imposed upon them by white Americans,and to resist the armed invader with fantastic arsenals of ancient horse pistols, Spanish cutlasses, Napoleonic sabres, French carbines, and even flintlocks. In this five years’ massacre of Haitians less than twenty Americans have been killed or wounded in action.
Of all this Americans at home have been kept in the profoundest ignorance. The correspondent of the Associated Press in Cape Haitien informed me in April, 1920, that he had found it impossible in the preceding three years, owing to military censorship, to send a single cable dispatch concerning military operations in Haiti, to the United States. Newspapers have been suppressed in Port au Prince and their editors placed in jail on purely political grounds. Even United States citizens in Haiti told me of their fear that if they too frankly criticized “the Occupation,’’ existence in Haiti would be made unpleasant for them. During my stay of something over a month in Haiti several engagements occurred between Haitian revolutionists and United States Marines. Early in April, Lieutenant Muth, of the Haitian gendarmery, was killed, his body mutilated, and a marine wounded. In that engagement, as in others which occurred within a few weeks of it, Haitian revolutionists or cacos suffered casualties of from five to twenty killed and wounded. No report of these clashes and casualties, so far as I know, has been publiáhed in any newspaper of the United States. The United States Government and the American military occupation which has placed Haiti under martial law do not want the people of the United States to know what has happened in Haiti.
For this desire for secrecy there are the best of reasons. Americans have conceived the application of the Monroe Doctrine to be protection extended by the United States to weaker states in the Western hemisphere, against foreign aggression. Under cover of that doctrine the United States has practised the very aggressions and tyrannies it was pretending to fight to safeguard weaker states against. In 1915, during a riot in the capital of Haiti, in which President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was killed, the mob removed a man from the sanctuary he had claimed in the French legation. It is said the French threatened to intervene, also that the German Government had, before the European war, demanded control of Haitian affairs. In justifying its invasion of Haiti in 1915, the United States makes use of the pretext with which the Imperial German Government justified its invasion of Belgium in 1914. The invasion was one of defense against any Power which, taking control of Haiti, a weaker state, might use its territory as a base for naval action against the Panama Canal or the United States.
Instead of maintaining a force of marines at Port au Prince sufficient to safeguard foreign legations and consulates against violence, the United States proceeded to assume control of the island. The American hold was fqrtified by a convention empowering the United States to administer Haitian customs and finance for twenty years, or as much longer as the
United States sees fit; and by a revised constitution of Haiti removing the prohibition against alien ownership of land, thus enabling Americans to purchase the most fertile areas in the country. Thenceforward Haiti has been regarded and has been treated as conquered territory. Military camps have been built throughout the island. The property of natives has been taken for military use. Haitians carrying a gun were for a time shot at sight. Many Haitians not carrying guns were also shot at sight. Machine guns have been turned into crowds of unarmed natives, and United States marines have, by accounts which several of them gave me in casual conversation, not troubled to investigate how many were killed or wounded. In some cases Haitians peaceably inclined have been afraid to come to American camps to give up their weapons for fear they would be shot for carrying them.
The Haitians in whose service United States marines are presumably restoring peace and order in Haiti are nicknamed “Gooks” and have been treated with every variety 0f contempt, insult, and brutality. I have heard officers wearing the United States uniform in the interior of Haiti talk of “bumping off” (i.e. killing) “Gooks” as if ¡t were a variety of sport like duck hunting. I heard one marine boast of having stolen money from ?. peaceable Haitian family in the hills whom he was presumably on patrol to protect against “bandits.” I have heard officers and men in the United States Marine Corps say they thought the island should be “cleaned out”; that all the natives should be shot; that shooting was too good for them; that they intended taking no prisoners; that many of those who had been taken prisoners had been “allowed to escape,” that is, shot on the pretext that they had attempted flight. I have seen prisoners’ faces and heads disfigured by beatings administered to them and have heard officers discussing those beatings; also a form of torture—“sept”—in which the victim’s leg is compressed between two rifles and the pressure against the shin increased until agony forced him to speak. I know that men and women have been hung by the neck until strangulation impelled them to give information. I have in my possession a copy of a “bon habitant” (good citizen) pass which all Haitians in the interior have been required to carry and present to any marine who might ask to inspect it. Failure to carry the pass formerly involved being shot or arrested. Arrest for trivial offenses has involved detention in Cape Haitien and Port au Prince for as long as six months. In justice to the officers and men of the Marine Corps it should be said that many of them detest what they have had to do in Haiti. One officer remarked to me that if he had to draw a cartoon of the occupation of Haiti he would represent a black man held down by a white soldier, while another white man went through the black man’s pockets. Other officers and men have criticized the entire Haitian adventure asa travesty upon humanity and civilization and as a lasting disgrace to the United States Marine Corps. But the prevailing attitude of mind among the men sent to assist Haiti has been such determined contempt for men of dark skins that decency has been almost out of the question. The American disease of color prejudice has raged virulently.
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