After gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the U.S. government continued its long-standing practice of ignoring treaties with Native Americans. That practice started in 1778.
Once gold was found in the Black Hills, miners were soon moving into the Sioux hunting grounds and demanding protection from the United States Army. Soon, the Army was ordered to move against wandering bands of Sioux hunting on the range in accordance with their treaty rights.
On 25 June 1876, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeated Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn—also called Custer’s Last Stand—marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Native Americans as “wild.” Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.
You have what we want, so we’re going to ignore those bits of paper we signed.
But! In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled “the U.S. had illegally appropriated the Black Hills.” The Plains Indians are still seeking legal recourse because they don’t want reparations. They want their land.
Fast forward to 1915
On 25 June 1915, Germany issued a statement on its use of 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against the French in Belgium.
Sir John French, commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force, described the 22 April 1915 attack: Germany had produced “a gas of so virulent and poisonous a nature that any human being brought into contact with it is first paralyzed and then meets with a lingering and agonizing death.”
As justification, Germany equated its use of chlorine gas, which kills, with the French use of tear-gas, which irritates.
The possible threat of gas attacks had resulted in a treaty signed in 1899 prohibiting their use. The treaty did not stop the French from launching … a primitive tear gas on German lines in 1914 but their aim had been disruption. The development of chlorine gas attacks were designed to kill.
Moreover, another treaty has bit the dust. In 1994, Ukraine give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for a pledge of safety from either a Russian or United States invasion.
Fast forward to 1973
On 25 June 1973, former White House Counsel John W. Dean began testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee. In his testimony, Dean implicated himself as well as administration officials and President Richard Nixon in obstruction of justice.
“[Dean] was first and one of the only, actually, in the higher echelons to give honest testimony,” [James D.] Robenalt says. “Other people who testified, including the chief of staff and the attorney general, they all went to jail for lying about what was going on.”
Dean described criminal activity other than the Watergate break-in as well as “other abuses of presidential power.”
Fifty years after the Watergate break-in, we are again watching a special committee investigate a president, examine possible obstruction of justice and determine if oaths of office were honored or breached.
The German and Russian examples show that American leaders have no monopoly on breaking their word, even when that word has been recorded with the most basic of technologies: legal documents, signatures and oral oaths.