The commendable “Remove the Stain Act” originated in the House of Representatives (H.R. 3467) on June 25, 2019, sponsored by, among others, Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.). The bill’s purpose: “To rescind each Medal of Honor awarded for acts at Wounded Knee Creek on December 29, 1890.”

By 1890 the Plains Indians were desperate. Their land had been confiscated and the buffalo were gone. They were starving.

In late December, a band of 350-375 Lakota Sioux, led by Spotted Elk, was making its way to the Pine Ridge Agency in South Dakota when they encountered a detachment of the 7th Cavalry. The Sioux were escorted to nearby Wounded Knee Creek, where they were surrounded by 400-500 soldiers “heavily armed with standard issue army rifles as well as four ‘Hotchkiss guns’ with five 37 mm barrels capable of firing 43 rounds per minute.”

The next morning the soldiers moved into the Indian camp to confiscate any remaining weapons. Somehow a shot was fired and a “battle” broke out. But here’s how Major General Nelson Miles reported the incident at the time: a “(w)holesale massacre occurred and I have never heard of a more brutal, cold-blooded massacre than that at Wounded Knee.”

Seventh Calvary troops were killed and wounded, as well. But General Miles reported that “the disposition of four hundred soldiers and four pieces of artillery was fatally defective and large numbers of soldiers were killed and wounded by the fire from their own ranks and a very large number of women and children were killed in addition to the Indian men.”

In fact, H.R. 3467 reports that more than two-thirds of the victims of Wounded Knee were unarmed women and children. Wounded Knee was a My Lai of the great Native American genocide. Nevertheless, 20 Medals of Honor were awarded for the massacre of Dec. 29, 1890. H.R. 3467 mandates the rescission of those awards, arguing that honoring the participants in the massacre “is a disservice to the integrity of the United States and its citizens, and impinges on the integrity of the award and those who have earned the Medal since.”

At present the Remove the Stain Act is in subcommittee. But last week, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren filed a Senate version of the same bill, along with co-sponsors and fellow candidates Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.

It is hard to imagine a more righteous and well-meaning effort than a bill that honors both the victims of Wounded Knee and the many recipients of the Medal of Honor who truly deserve the award for their valorous actions in combat.

President Donald Trump’s position on this issue, however, is entirely predictable. Even though he cleverly managed to avoid war and military service himself, he’s attracted to the idea of the force of arms and the glory of war. He tends not to be overly squeamish about the consequences of violence, and he’s never demonstrated much sympathy for cultures that are non-white.

He likes “Warfighters” and feels obliged to protect them. He shows little interest in the relationship between his recent leniency toward soldiers accused of war crimes and the principles of military justice. His unsubtle understanding of war depends on the sort of grievance and imagined injustice reflected in this tweet: “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!”

His rally speeches would be predictable, as well: How dare the Democrats dishonor the brave soldiers who fought at Wounded Knee?

It would be a mistake to underestimate the traction that this kind of thinking can achieve with many Americans. If you can believe that there is a war on Christmas — and even Thanksgiving — then you can probably be convinced that the Democrats are trying to dishonor the heroes of Wounded Knee.

The 20 Medals of Honor awarded for Wounded Knee should be rescinded. But can Democrats be certain how this sort of wokeness — as commendable as it is — will play in November 2020? This is no election for taking a chance.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at jcrispcolumns@gmail.com.

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(1) comment

simon1dog

The 20 Medals of Honor awarded for Wounded Knee should be rescinded. But can Democrats be certain how this sort of wokeness — as commendable as it is — will play in November 2020? This is no election for taking a chance. "Wokeness???"

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