Sunday, April 12, 2009

Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald W. Walker

This nearly exhaustive account of the slaughter of 120 members of the Francher-Baker immigrant train in the Utah territory on September 11, 1857 was co-authored by the assistant historian and director of the museum of the Church of the Latter-day Saints.

After several days of siege members of the Francher-Baker party- who had been moving through Mormon territory to California- were lured out of their encirclement with promises of free passage and then systematically slaughtered, only 17 children deemed too young to testify coherently against the perpetrators were spared.

Only one man- John D. Lee- was eventually prosecuted, convicted and punished for this crime. He was taken to Mountain Meadows for execution. In his final words Lee said nothing about the fears, the rumors, the mistaken beliefs, the bad timing, the poor communication, the leadership failures, the violent times, the unintended consequences of the Utah War- and the simple bad luck- that led to the massacre. He said nothing about such things as guilt, crime, and redemption- how he and others in the massacre represented human struggle in a large and horrible way... John D. Lee sat erect on his coffin, hands on his head, his chest thrust out. "Don't let them mangle my body," he said to the marshal.

At exactly 11:00 am, five balls tore through Lee and left a skipping patter on the grass behind.

For the most part, the men who committed the atrocity at Mountain Meadows were neither fanatics nor sociopaths, but normal and in many respects decent people.

' For such crimes against humanity to occur certain social factors must be in place, and often there are three. Most ordinary people readily allow the dictates of the authorities to trump their own moral instincts, one scholar wrote, summarizing a half century of experimental and historical experience. The second [factor] is conformity. Few people have the courage to go against the crowd. The third is the dehumanization of the victims. Ordinarily, there is no conspiracy. "Orders, peer expectations and dehumanization need not be explicit to have a powerful effect. In adversarial settings...subtle clues and omissions- the simple failure of authorities to send frequent, clear and consistent messages about appropriate behavior, for instance- can be as powerful as direct orders.'(Stanley Milgram).

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