Holocaust Denial

In this entry I wish to take up the issue of holocaust denial.  

In 1763, forces led by Pontiac, a chief of the Ottawa who had been allied with the French, laid siege to the English at Fort Pitt. General Lord Jeffrey Amherst, commander of British forces in North America during the French and Indian War (1756-1763), wondered in a letter to Colonel Henry Bouquet, “Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them.” Bouquet wrote to General Amherst, in a letter dated 13 July 1763:

I will try to inocculate the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands, taking care however not to get the disease myself. As it is pity to oppose good men against them, I wish we could make use of the Spaniard’s Method, and hunt them with English Dogs. Supported by Rangers, and some Light Horse, who would I think effectively extirpate or remove that Vermine.

Amherst responded to Bouquet, in a letter dated 16 July 1763: 

You will do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blanketts, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect effect, but England is at too great a Distance to think of that at present.

A third letter on 26 July 1763 from Colonel Bouquet acknowledges receipt of the approval:

Sir, I received yesterday your Excellency’s letters of 16th with their Inclosures. The signal for Indian Messengers, and all your directions will be observed. (Emphasis mine.)

In subsequent letters Amherst and Bouquet state that extermination of American Indians was necessary.

In response to this damning proof of conspiracy to commit genocide, holocaust deniers claim that there is no proof that the conspiracy was actually carried out. Of course, when proof of genocide having actually been carried out is presented, holocaust deniers claim that there does not exist evidence of intent found in the letters of Amherst and Bouquet.  

The denial argument is corrupt on many levels. There is a deliberate effort to disconnect the intent from the act, so that either one can show one or the other but not both, therefore no genocide. The argument is identical to that of those who deny the holocaust of European Jews. They claim that, because there are no orders from Hitler commanding the extermination of Jews, there was no intent to bring about the destruction of world Jewry. Moreover, there is a deliberate attempt to emphasize the alleged debunking of the germ warfare cases for the purpose of distracting from the other means of genocide – guns and sword, starvation, and cultural reprogramming.  

Furthermore, deniers are highly selective in their recognition of evidence. With respect to the Fort Pitt incident, we know that, by the following spring, smallpox had spread rapidly through Indian populations in the vicinity. We know that Captain Simeon Ecuyer had sent smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs to the Indians surrounding the fort, and that Amherst told Bouquet that Ecuyer told him that there were smallpox cases at the fort. We know this because of a journal entry by William Trent, dated May 24, 1763 in which it was reported that Ecuyer “gave them [Indians] two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.” These facts connect intent, action, and result. It also shows that people in positions of power were either independently or collaboratively thinking and acting along parallel lines.

Harold B. Gill, Jr., in an article titled “Colonial Germ Warfare,” published in the Army Chemical Review, Oct. 2004, makes several points that holocaust deniers should keep in mind. He writes that the “Fort Pitt incident is the best-documented case of deliberately spreading smallpox among unsuspecting populations, but it was likely not the first time such a stratagem was employed by military forces….” He provides the following cases:

In 1623, Dr. John Pott, a physician at Jamestown, Virginia, was said to have poisoned Indians in retaliation for a Powhatan uprising in which 350 English died. On 22 May 1623, Captain William Tucker and 12 other men went to the Potomac River to secure the release of English prisoners held by Indians. To conclude the peace treaty, the English invited the chief and his men to drink a sack prepared for the occasion. But the Indians demanded that the English interpreter take the first drink, which he did from a different container. Afterward, a group of Indians, including two chiefs, were walking with the interpreter when the interpreter suddenly dropped to the ground while the English soldiers discharged a volley of shots into his Indian companions. The English estimated that about 200 Indians died of poison and 50 from gunshot wounds….”

Indians were not the only targets of germ warfare:

Almost from the beginning [of the colonial war for indpendence], Americans suspected that the British were trying to infect their army with smallpox. Just before Virginia’s last royal governor, Lord John Dunmore, departed from his base at Norfolk in 1776, the Virginia Gazette reported that his lordship infected two slaves with smallpox and sent them ashore to spread the virus….

Most British troops were inoculated or were immune to the virus due to previous illness. In Europe, smallpox was endemic. Nearly everyone was exposed to the virus at an early age, so most of the adult population had protective antibodies. On the other hand, most American soldiers were susceptible to the virus. Due to the sparse population. Americans often reached adulthood without coming in contact with the smallpox virus.

When the American siege of Boston began in April 1775. smallpox was epidemic among civilians living there. Most British soldiers were immune to the virus, but General Washington suspected that some of the civilians leaving the city had been infected in hopes of spreading the virus in the Continental Army. In December, deserters coming to the American lines confirmed those suspicions. One week later. General Washington informed John Hancock of the enemy’s malice intentions. A Boston physician later admitted to administering the virus to people leaving the city. Rumors and suspicions of British efforts to spread the virus were persistent throughout the war.

This tactic of sending infected people into populations of healthy people is the most effective way of transmitting the disease. This raises awareness about a very important reality concerning responsibility for genocide by disease. Clearly white people were aware of the problems of smallpox and acted to prevent the spread of the disease among their own populations. Sending infected Indians to their villages or otherwise failing to prevent the spread of the disease among Native American populations is no less deliberate germ warfare than giving Indians infected blankets. 

Gill writes, that smallpox played a role in the failure of American forces to capture Quebec. He writes that

General Guy Carleton, the British commander in Quebec, deliberately sent infected people to the American camp. Thomas Jefferson was convinced that the British were responsible and later wrote that he was informed by officers that the virus was sent into the Continental Army by the British commander. After the defeat at Quebec, American troops gathered at Crown Point where John Adams found deplorable conditions with disease and few, if any, provisions.

Gill documents another case:

When the British sent an expedition to Virginia in 1781, General Alexander Leslie revealed to General Charles Cornwallis his plan to spread disease among the Americans by sending 700 Negroes down the river with smallpox to infect the plantations.

He also notes a book, published in 1777, Military Collections and Remarks, in which a British officer, Robert Dunkin, suggested “dipping arrows in the smallpox virus and shooting them at the Americans in an effort to disband the rebels.”

Given the evidence in this brief essay, it becomes difficult to sustain the claim that germ warfare against the Indians was not a widespread practice.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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