After Life of Pi, I moved on to historical nonfiction, Our Changing Constitution by Isobel Morin and Political Corruption by Mitchell Young; however, I abandoned them both at the onset itself. Zuber required a secondary source with a thesis for my historical nonfiction book, but my first attempts did not meet the APUSH standards.Eventually, on consultation, one of our US history teachers recommend the historical nonfiction book Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. In total, I’ve read about 242 pages (very little of these from the abandoned books) in about 320 minutes. Honestly, at first it was hard to stay hooked, but when you need to write a blog about it, and it's too late to change books, you get pretty motivated to read it. After a while (emphasis on "while") the plot proved to be compelling. I'm not sure if everyone else will feel the same but a fair share would because it is was Pulitzer Prize finalist (I know right, a nonfiction book can be that good?).Anyways, it was pretty tough to read initially because I usually don’t choose nonfiction books when given the option. In some parts of Empire of the Summer Moon, I wandered off track at the mundane details; however, the shift to the dramatic battles between the Comanches and the European settlers were quite gripping. I’ve been reading a lot more outside of school, mainly to meet the required quota for my English class, but once I started reading the books I got hooked into reading on and on. As for speed, I’ve realized that I read faster the farther I’ve read into a book such as when I finished reading the book Life of Pi. My reading rate for Empire of the Summer Moon isn’t very fast right now but I’m still glad that it hasn’t slowed down that much from the mere fact that it is a nonfiction book. This genre itself is pretty challenging for me as I usually don’t go outside my comfort zone of fictional narratives. Yet I’m glad I chose this book because I believe branching out into more genres is better than being selective as it transforms you into a more knowledgeable person.
Empire of the Summer Moon revolves around a war between the Americans and the Comanches, a nomadic tribe who has risen to great power following the arrival of horses. The raiding and battling of opposing tribes and plundering of the European settlements adds an element of thrill to the plot. However, the book goes into gruesome details at times about the torture that this tribe inflicted upon the captives which is pointed out on page 4 where the author refers to Captain Robert G. Carter’s accord, “Some had been beheaded another had their brains scooped out. ‘Their fingers, toes, and private parts had been cut off and stuck in their mouths,’ wrote Carter, ‘and their bodies, now lying in several inches of water and swollen or bloated beyond all chance of recognition, were filled full of arrows, which made them resemble porcupines...Upon each exposed abdomen had been placed a mass of live coals”(Gwynne 4). This made me reflect deeply upon war and wonder how a society could do this to another society. The Comanches who performed these horrendous acts viewed them as normal whereas nowadays we would call these war crimes. So then why would these Native American people think in such a way that we now see as immoral? What made them the way they are? The simple answer is their thirst for vengeance. This wasn't prevalent among the Native Americans alone; the European settlers also harassed the Native populations in turn. These conflicts sparked further conflicts as when Gwynne describes the emotions of the Spanish settlers stating that “If the first reaction was largely blind fear, it was quickly replaced with cold fury, and a desire for bloody revenge”(Gwynne 67). The rivalries among the Early American societies had only bred more hatred towards the other group of people who was viewed as the enemy. Even today, we just hold onto grudges instead of forgiving others since hating seems easier than forgiving. The only difference between our modern society and the Comanches is that we have a set of moral standards that we are taught and even enforced through laws, but the Comanches, who were being attacked by the other Native tribes before the arrival of the Europeans, had no reason to hold back their fury towards the ones who caused them so much pain. The same applies for the Europeans too after they were raided, tortured, and at times, murdered. Each side was blinded with rage with the Comanches relating the Europeans to the other tribes who would plunder their land and goods while the Europeans were blinded by the fact that some of their men had been savagely attacked and killed. Although the killing was unsightly, the Comanches only reacted thus when the settlers moved into Comancheria, which is Comanche land. The Spanish settlers, on the other hand, only started attacking the Comanches after they killed the Spanish settlers. The thirst for revenge here dragged them further into more battles. With the Comanches, this hatred that caused merciless killing and torture had lasted, even when they had reigned victorious over their enemies. The incorporation of these vengeful unethical attacks persists even after they defeat and banish their enemies, the Apaches. The Comanches had continued their practice of violent attacks as seen in quote 1, even decades after the Europeans established their settlement. and felt nothing wrong about it. When we are enraged, we logically assess our reasoning; if we did, we’d have decided that we were the ones at fault. Similarly, the Comanches were infuriated at the repetitive raids they had to endure from other tribes, so once they grew in power, they decided to victimize others whether their reason to do so was logical or not.
The fact that the Comanches would brutally kill their enemies, and anyone they saw as a threat is present, but what’s even worse is that they also attacked the defenseless Spanish priests who unknowingly built a Church in Comancheria, which was Comanche territory. These priests and mission workers were also violently attacked and killed. There were 5 Spanish soldiers at the mission when around 2000 warriors surrounding all sides of the mission. According to the book, “For a short time, [the Comanches] pretended to be friendly, insisting that they had come to offer their allegiance to the Spaniards” which just goes to show that they didn’t even attempt to tell the Spanish that they wanted the Spanish to get off their land and just killed them instead.This sets the story so that the Europeans are the heroes and these Natives were the villains, but in other cases, these roles would be reversed. When Pontiac, a Native American chief of the Ottawa clan, was trying to gain supporters for the event which would later become famously known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, he says “When I go to the English chief to tell him that some of our comrades are dead...he makes fun of me and you. When I ask him for something for our sick, he refuses, and tells me he has no need of us.” In this scenario, we are given the other side of the story where the Natives are being persecuted by the Europeans. The book states that the Comanches would raid and kill the people who didn’t belong to their tribe without bestowing any value to human life. The early Europeans who colonized America treated the indigenous people in a similar manner. They saw the natives as people who had no rights and therefore inferior to the Europeans. Whether the Natives had to be put through cruel and unusual punishment was of no concern to these Europeans as long as they got possession of the land which the natives claimed to be theirs. Sometimes, the colonists would deploy a tactic called germ warfare where they would give a blanket of a sick white man to the Natives in hope that they would all die, which proved fruitful since they weren’t immune to European diseases. Neither the Comanches nor the early English settlers cared about the wellbeing of others and had only looked out for their own good. Both the Comanches and the English were driven by selfish motives which led them to devalue human life. The quote from Pontiac reveals the insensitivity of the English settlers; when the Natives requested medical help, the Europeans refused aid as they saw no profit for themselves and cared too little for their indigenous neighbors. The Comanches, similarly, had no use for the Spanish missionaries so they also destroyed the mission as well as the Spanish who stayed there, ignorant of the fate that the Comanches would quickly bring upon them.
Gwynne, S.C. Empire of the Summer Moon. Scribner, 2010
Gwynne, S.C. Empire of the Summer Moon. Scribner, 2010
Miller, Lee. From the Heart: Voices of the American Indian. Vintage, 1995