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The Ugly Roots Of The GAP’s Manifest Destiny

Leon Donnelly
10/20/12

Mark McNairy, 'designer' of Gap's "Manifest Destiny" t-shirt, has stated that he was taught in school that Manifest Destiny was a good thing, representing the setting of goals, working hard and achieving one's dreams. His texting of "Manifest Destiny. Survival of the Fittest." indicates that he was not being truthful and that he was aware indeed of what the slogan meant. Genocide. The question is, were Gap aware? How could this product be passed for worldwide sale without the company being made fully aware of the meaning of the slogan that they were going to sell all around the world and connect with their company?

John L. O'Sullivan, promotor of the "Manifest Destiny" programme & press mouthpiece for the Jacksonian Democrats who favoured aggressive conquest & acquisition in the American West, wrote in 1839 on the subject of America's divine purpose:

"...our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity...The expansive future is our arena, and for our history? We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can...The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High -- the Sacred and the True. . . Yes, we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. .. We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission -- to the entire development of the principle of our organization -- freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality. This is our high destiny, and in nature's eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man -- the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen; and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?" One notes in O'Sullivan's vision that the Native American people do not exist. The land they are to conquer is "untrodden" by man because Native Americans are not considered human beings.

The German Friedrich Ratzel in his book "Lebensraum," 1901, wrote of an impersonal, Darwinist 'survival of the fittest' struggle for existence among human beings. In considering the near extinction of Native American Indigenous peoples by Euro-American conquerors he saw in this a model for German racial expansion, conquest and extermination in the eastern lands of Europe. Ratzel wanted Germany to emulate the American model of aggressive conquest of all indigenous peoples that stood in Germany's path of acquiring 'living space' in the East for her ever expanding 'pure white Germanic race', and so recommended aggressive war of acquisition and conquest which "quickly and completely displace the inhabitants, for which North America, Southern Brazil, Tasmania, and New Zealand provide the best examples." Then, following these models, settler colonies could quickly be founded with a German yeomanry farmer class protected by forts and military units. It was upon this basis that Adolf Hitler formed Germany's policy of aggressive acquisition & conquest in the East of Europe & Russia. In Nazi propaganda film and newspaper photographs of the Nazi colonisation of Eastern Europe German wagons rolling East were shown in conscious echo of images derived from Hollywood Western films celebrating Manifest Destiny and the conquest of the American West.

Ratzel was praising of American historian Frederick Jackson Turner who formulated his "Frontier Thesis" of American History in his essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" (1893), which celebrated the irresistible march of white Anglo-Saxon civilisation across the North American continent as an evolutionary process, and highlighted Turner's contrast of the "dynamic borders of American Westward expansion" with the static borders of densely populated Europe. I quote from wickipedia on Turner: "He believed the spirit and success of the United States was directly tied to the country's westward expansion. Turner expounded an evolutionary model; he had been influenced by work with geologists at Wisconsin. The West, not the East, was where distinctively American characteristics emerged. The forging of the unique and rugged American dentity occurred at the juncture between the civilization of settlement and the savagery of wilderness. This produced a new type of citizen - one with the power to tame the wild and one upon whom the wild had conferred strength and individuality...As each generation of pioneers moved 50 to 100 miles west, they abandoned useless European practices, institutions and ideas, and instead found new solutions to new problems created by their new environment. Over multiple generations, the frontier produced characteristics of informality, violence, crudeness, democracy and initiative that the world recognized as "American"." According to wickipedia by the time Turner died in 1932 60% of the leading History departments in the US were teaching American History courses in Frontier History along Turnerian lines.

Adolf Hitler himself saw in the American conquest of the West a model for Germany's conquest of the East to achieve her divine right of "Lebensraum" there. In "Mein Kampf" Hitler sees the American expansion into the West as an expression of white Anglo-Saxon Germanic racial superiority. Hitler commends these American settlers for keeping their Germanic blood pure by not intermarrying with Native peoples, and drew from it his own version of Manifest Destiny where German blood has the divine right to conquer land inhabited by "untermensch", who are not to be considered human beings by the Germanic conqueror but are to be mercilessly starved, slaughtered and for all intents and purposes made extinct for the purposes of "Lebensraum" for the "pure white race" of the Greater German Reich.

American National Socialists know what "Manifest Destiny" means. The Klu Klux Klan will know. And the Native Americans know what it means. Genocide. Genocide of the Native American people. In the year in which UN Special Reporteur on Indigenous Human Rights, James Anaya, has alerted the world to widespread Human Rights abuses against the Native Americans, presently & historically, the need to return to them stolen lands and to redress the traumatic historical effects of Manifest Destiny, this seems a curious & perverse slogan for Gap to offer the world. In a year in which Native American people are standing up all over North & South America in protection of their sacred lands, rivers and seas, is it responsible of Gap to market a "Manifest Destiny" t-shirt sponsoring the genocide of those same people? How aware of the meaning of the message were Gap?

The question is, how could Gap have passed such a slogan for sale, sell it worldwide, and say nothing in explanation of why they thought this was a fit item for sale? If the slogan had been "Lebensraum" or "Final Solution" there would, quite rightly, have been worldwide outcry and the jokes about this issue which some have thought fit to make on the comments pages, on the internet, on that of the Guardian article or the Daily Mail's and elsewhere, would clearly be seen to be the racism that it is. Those that think this is a trivial issue , seem to lack the imagination to see how the slaughter of one's recent ancestors, the theft of lands, the poisoning of rivers, and the history of suffering of one's people into the present day as consequence of the policy of "Manifest Destiny" should seen as a sensitive issue and Gap's manufacture & sale of this item be deemed so offensive by Native Americans and all people of good conscience. If they lack imagination they should look to their consciences. Sending a specifically American message of hate & conquest out into a world riven by hatred? A world in which many already doubt America & it's intentions in the world. It cannot come to good. People could die because of a stupid t-shirt. Gap have to see this. A stupid film, nothing to do with the American Government nor with the views I'm sure of the majority of the American people, led to massive outcry against America, mass protests & several deaths. If Gap do not think about what messages it puts out on its t-shirts worldwide it could be putting peoples lives at risk.

What about the customer who bought the t-shirt and doesn't know what it means? He could find himself being accused of being a racist. He himself could be attacked & beaten. Gap have put their customers in the position of having to explain to others as to wether or not they agree with the racist slogan they are carrying around on their $30 Gap t-shirt. For racists Gap has provided a t-shirt proudly to be worn. Why bother with swastikas if you can just wear a Gap t-shirt? On worldwide white supremacist website "Stormfront" (motto "white pride world wide" ) one commentator boasts that he would also be proud to wear a "Manifest Destiny, Survival of the Fittest" t-shirt if it were made available for sale, the comment Mark Mcnairy petulantly tweeted when people justifiably complained about his "Manifest Destiny" t-shirt range. Mcnairy seems adept at utilising slogans palatable only to the ignorant, racist and heartless.

The Jewish Holocaust is seen, quite rightly, as one of the great criminal acts of mankind, and Adolf Hitler a mass-murderer. The Jewish people were the victim of a great inhumanity of outstanding proportions. An abomination. A shameful event in history. The use of Nazi Anti-Semitic slogans by companies to market their products would rightly be seen as offensive and unacceptable. There would be mass outcry from all people concerned with Racism.nIs a Native American life lesser than a Jewish life? Is the Native American Genocide lesser than the Jewish Genocide? No. Murder is murder. Genocide is Genocide. A life is a life. We are all Human Beings. That is how we can all see that the Jewish Holocaust was an abhomination to all but the most depraved of souls. So why is it difficult for some to understand that the Native Americans would be offended by Gap promoting their suffering worldwide? Are Native Americans human beings? Manifest Destiny denys their humanity. Does Gap consider Native Americans to be Human Beings? The Native American Genocide is no subject to joke of , profit by or dismiss. If one does not have the imagination to understand how hurtful this T-Shirt is to the Native American people, look to your consciences. Their families were massacred, starved, poisoned, put on death marches, relocated, and suffered monstrously from Manifest Destiny. Many massacres, many acts of inhumanity. Genocide.

The insult issued to the Native American people by Gap in passing this T-Shirt fit for sale is an insult, finally, to the whole of Humanity. To the Jewish people. To the African people. To the Irish people. To the Maori people. To the Hawaiian people. To the Aboriginal Australians. To all indigenous peoples. To all people. ALL people are Human Beings. To treat the Native Americans as not being Human Beings is an insult to ALL Human Beings. In a world in which many human beings struggle to be recognised as human beings by other human beings, Gap needs to let the world know that it considers ALL human beings to be human beings. That Gap considers Native Americans to be Human Beings. Gap needs to issue a full explanation to us all, to all of humanity, fully explaining how this could have happened, as well as giving a fulsome public apology to ALL Native Americans. Can Gap assure the world that such a horrific racist blunder (if blunder it was) cannot happen again and show that there are new checks & balances in place within the company that would prevent reoccurrence?Gap has the power to do great harm in this world by promoting and selling hateful ideas & promoting negative images. Gap must not be allowed to abuse their position in the market. Gap needs to be responsible. Human suffering must not be treated lightly. Gap is a clothing retailer with over 3,000 outlets worldwide, but it is not qualified to dabble in Geopolitics or human social engineering programmes. It must not involve itself with promoting Racism & Genocide. Gap, explain yourselves please!

Leon Donnelly is a London Irishman. A sometime actor and playwright, he lived in Canada for several years, where he became aware of the treatment of First Nations People. He is the co-author of “Columbus in Jamestown,” a counter-Columbus played that toured Canada and the U.S. in 1992 with the One World Theater of Seattle. He has also a strong interest in Maori culture and stick-fighting, and is an fromer member of Ngati Ranana, London Maori club.

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andre's picture
Outstanding article, well written, factual and honest. It's a telling tale of how Manifest Destiny, just like the Doctrine of Discovery left nothing for the Natives. Save for misery. Leon Donnelly, job well done.
andre