- Hitler’s Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars: Comparing Genocide and Conquest by Edward B. Westermann
By Edward B. Westermann. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. ix + 261 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95 cloth.
The last few decades have seen a number of historians of the American West make comparisons between the policies of the American government toward Native American tribes and Nazi Germany’s policy of genocide toward the Jews during the Holocaust. Some scholars, like Ward Churchill, David Stannard, and Russell Thornton, have argued that American warfare against the tribes of the Great Plains and Southwest constituted an American Holocaust every bit as devastating as that carried out against the Jews in the 1940s. Whether hyperbole or not, such claims have created a vibrant historiographical debate. Edward Westermann’s book adds to this growing literature, providing readers a highly nuanced approach that should become one of the standard texts on the subject.
Westermann organizes his analysis in five areas: philosophical ideas, government policies, military strategies, the function of atrocities, and antipartisan warfare. He carefully acknowledges the many similarities between the two events, including the role of manifest destiny as an inspiration for Hitler’s idea of “living space” and the dehumanizing, and sometimes genocidal, rhetoric employed by settlers, newspaper journalists, and government officials in regard to Native peoples, to take two examples. Westermann argues that the United States never undertook a policy of “intentional” genocide like Nazi Germany. The main reason, according to the author, is the lack of a consensus amongst policy makers in the “center” of Washington, DC, for a policy of annihilation against Native tribes in spite of the frequent call for such a policy on the “periphery” of the frontier. In addition, once American forces had achieved the subjugation of the tribes, they allowed them to live in “relative” peace on reservations. Nazi policy in eastern Europe never allowed this for Jews.
Westermann’s book is well researched and written. It avoids jargon and the overuse of theoretical constructs. Its bibliography includes works by the leading scholars of both the American West and the Holocaust. This book provides the reader an excellent example of comparative history at its finest, and it should become a staple of undergraduate and graduate courses for years to come.
University of Nebraska at Kearney