Human Sacrifice

The Mayan society is looked at with awe, wonder, and distaste, . . . because of the public practice of human sacrifice. That is, individuals within the society had their lives dramatically shortened in order that the gods, in particular, the rain god, Chac, would look upon the society with favor. As opposed to the myth, the victims of these acts were not solely young virgins. Animals, such as dogs, turkeys, and chickens were suitable offerings. Of the captives taken in battle, the slaves merely acquired new masters. The only captives suitable for sacrifice were high ranking prisoners. When the contents of the bottom of the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá were analyzed, many fine objects of gold and jade were found, as well as skeletons of animals and of both men and women. Many showed that they had received severe head injuries before being thrown in the well. But it should be noted that the times when human sacrifice was common were times of stress upon the society, times of drought or severe pressure from outside.

Is this so different in our society? Certainly the forms of sacrifice differ. We no longer physically tear out their hearts, but we certainly break them. We do not behead them; we create the conditions that leave them killing and crippling each other in the ghettos and barrios because we have left them no way out. They are our slaves that we use as gladiators while society looks on and denies its responsibility for the situation. For those who really "succeed" and escape their confinement, we concede their valor and pay them huge sums of money to continue as gladiators in large public forums as professional athletes.

Suzan Tweit writes1 of these people as the weeds of our society, noting that what is one person's weed is another person's wildflower. The illegal immigrant, dying of thirst beside the road in the southwest desert will be invisible to passing commuters for days, until he is dead, just a weed, disposable, a sacrifice to maintain our self-image and our standard of living. But this weed is somone's father, someone's son, someone's husband, their wildflower.

In the history of our country we have had many such sacrifices of human weeds. There are the Africans who were sacrificed on the altar of a Southern gentry and the cotton economy. There are the Native Americans, the Indians, who were sacrificed in the name of Manifest Destiny. There were the new immigrants, fleeing drought, failing crops and economies, and political persecution in Europe who were sent to the western frontier as soldiers to give their lives to secure it against the Indians and for the monied establishment. There were the Chinese immigrants who were sacrificed to build the great western railroads. There were the Japanese-American citizens who were sacrificed to bolster public support for World War II.

This country has also been the site of an unacknowledged holocaust, the genocide practiced against the native people of this continent. Bounties were offered for their scalps. Massacres, quick and prolonged, live in the memories of many tribes: the Sand Creek Massacre, Wounded Knee, the Trail of Tears, the Long Walk. The idea to distribute blankets infected with smallpox originated with Lord Jeffrey Amherst, for whom the town I lived in was named. For what we now call Latin America, I will only refer to a personal anecdote. Steve and I were having lunch in Mexico City with an astronomer from a country in the southern part of the South American continent. He had come to Mexico to work. He said baldly, assuming our total agreement, "In X_______, we simply killed all of the Indians. I did not expect that I would have to work with them if I came to Mexico." This attitude is reflected in the internal warfare continuing today throughout that continent.

When the economy is healthy, spending on social problems increases. When the economy falters, in order that the more well off citizens who run the government may not suffer, the budgets of social programs are cut. In the eighties, a small group of very wealthy people used the money of millions of small savers to gamble on making a big killing for themselves. They did not win, but, in large measure, they walked away from the problem and left the taxpayers to pick up the tab with the savers being reimbursed by the FDIC to the extent that their savings were insured. Today the poor and elderly of this country are being told that they will pay so that the deficit, to which the savings bank fraud, engineered by a relative handful of the rich, contributed so significantly, may be reduced.

Growing up in this country in the 40s and 50s, I was daily reminded about how lucky I was to be growing up here, about how many children went to bed hungry every night, and other such clichés. Well, yes, I was lucky. But not every child who lived in this country was so lucky. I was white. We were by no means rich, but my mother and aunt did have jobs, for which they were grieviously underpaid, because they were women. We had a regular income, at least until we encountered a period of stress, even if it was necessary to keep track of every dollar.

Yes, human sacrifice is practiced today, and, yes, in this country too.

1 Suzan Tweit, Barren, Wild and Worthless, Living in the Chichauaun Desert, University of New Mexico Press.

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© 1995 - Karen M. Strom