US President Joe Biden’s controversial recognition of 1915 events between Armenians and Turks as genocide brings to light massacres in American history in the last 500 years.
Biden called the events of 1915 an “Armenian genocide” on April 24, breaking American presidents’ long-held tradition of refraining from using the term.
But during the course of American history, the US and its European ancestors have been involved in numerous massacres and carried out genocides against indigenous peoples.
Genocide is an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, according to the Geneva Convention.
With that in mind, the conquest of the Americas in 1492, European colonization led to the systematic eradication of indigenous peoples on the continent.
Native American genocide
The 13 American colonies’ population grew from about 2,000 to 2.4 million between 1625 and 1775 while displacing Native Americans from eastern North America.
After the colonies declared independence in 1776 from Great Britain and formed the US, the settlers started to move west, clashing with and eradicating the Apache, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chinook, Navajo and Sioux tribes. Some of the names today are sadly used for American warfare helicopters and ubiquitous sport utility vehicles.
The national holiday, Thanksgiving, celebrated in November, is traced to the 1620s when European settlers invited Native Americans to a feast. The settlers later killed the population and gave thanks to God for allowing them to slaughter the “savages.”
The surviving descendants of Native American tribes live in poverty on federally recognized Indian reservations across the US.
Almost 100 million indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere have been killed or died prematurely because of the Europeans and their descendants in five centuries, according to David E. Stannard in his book, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World.
Around 12 million indigenous people died within present US geographical boundaries between 1492 and 1900, according to Russell Thornton in American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492.
Genocides against Africans and slavery
Despite having unalienable rights — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – as enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence, not all in the new colonies were considered equal.
The colonies had a system of slavery, which European settlers carried as a practice into the Americas from the Old World, despite English Protestants praising themselves as Puritans.
A conservative estimate of 35 million men, women and children were brought from Africa to the New World between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Around 12.5 million of those brought to North America were used as free labor in fields and worked under grueling conditions, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.
The systematic repression of Africans continues to the present day in the US government application of laws, health and education.
Early US wars
A century before gaining civil rights and liberties, Blacks had to fight in the white man’s wars in the US military.
More than 200,000 Blacks joined Union forces in the American Civil War, while an unaccounted number of free and slave Blacks were used for manual labor in the Confederacy. The war that began in 1861 and lasted until 1865 left 750,000 soldiers dead with an undetermined number of civilians.
Despite overthrowing its colonial ruler, Great Britain, the US pursued colonial interests in Southeast Asia during the late 19th century.
Around 20,000 Filipino combatants and as many as 200,000 civilians died from violence, famine, and disease during the Philippine–American War between 1899-1902, according to the State Department’s Office of the Historian.
On the domestic front in early 20th century, the Tulsa race massacre in 1921 saw white residents attacking Black population and burning their businesses and homes.
Almost 300 Black people were killed as a result, and more than 800 were injured in the massacre that left over 10,000 Black people homeless.
Biden said Tuesday it was no riot, but instead a hate-fueled “massacre,” adding “As soon as it happened there was a clear effort to erase it from our collective memory, from the news and everyday conversations.”
Atomic bomb and Cold War coups
The US, along with allies in the UK and France, won World War II with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. But it was the end of the war that marked the American massacre against Imperial Japan in the Pacific and the advent of the atomic bomb.
Japanese casualties were around 110,000 in the battle for Okinawa, the largest and bloodiest battle of the war.
To end it all, the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 that killed an estimated 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki, according to the global civil society coalition International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
The US emerged as one of two remaining superpowers in global politics after the war and extended its scope to South America, Middle East, Western Europe and Far Asia.
The first proxy war in the Cold War era came in Korea from 1950-53, with more than 930,000 Koreans and Chinese forces dead. On the civilian side, more than 1,550,000 North Koreans died, while 990,000 South Koreans were killed, bringing the death toll to nearly 3.5 million.
To exert control on Iranian oil resources, the US and the UK orchestrated an Iranian coup in 1953 to overthrow democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and strengthened the monarchical rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The coup killed 300, while an estimated 10,000 were executed in years to follow.
The US treated Central and South American countries as its back yard during the Cold War to steer governments away from socialism and communism.
A Guatemalan coup in 1954 deposed democratically-elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz with the support of the US and installed the military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas. Guatemala fell into a civil war for the next three decades, with 200,000 people killed.
The 1973 Chilean coup that deposed the Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende saw Gen. Augusto Pinochet seize power with the support of the US. A truth and reconciliation report in 1991 found that more than 2,000 were killed.
The US sold more than $120 million in military equipment to Argentina in 1977 and 1978 alone as part of Operation Condor, which caused an estimated death toll of at least 60,000 people.
Arguably the deadliest war in US history came in Vietnam when Washington wanted to contain the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, but the conflict lasted two decades, which also spilled into Cambodia and Laos.
The number of Vietnamese civilians dead is estimated as high as 2 million, with another 1.8 million killed during the fighting. About 18.2 million gallons of Agent Orange was sprayed from American fighter planes from 1961 to 1971. The Vietnamese government claimed 400,000 people were killed from the chemical and 500,000 children were born with congenital disabilities.
While the Cambodian Civil War killed 300,000, the Laotian Civil War caused more than 60,000 dead. That brought the massacre’s toll to almost 4.2 million.
After Asia, the US turned its attention to the Middle East from the 1990s with the Gulf War. Washington’s presence in the region intensified in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the US and changed the whole landscape in the Middle East.
The Gulf War caused around 5,000 civilian deaths, but it was the subsequent wars that saw casualties rise exponentially.
From the beginning of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, through its insurgency and civil war, more than 1 million are estimated to have been killed.
Around 240,000 have died in the US war zone in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001.
As of April 2021, more than 71,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians are estimated to have lost their lives as a direct result of the war, according to Brown University.