People will often say that “this land”–wherever this land happens to be–is theirs because their ancestors “have always lived there.” But you can be pretty sure that’s not true. It’s probably the case that somebody else’s ancestors once lived on “this land,” and somebody else’s before that. From the very earliest moments of human history, people have been taking each other’s territory. This seemingly endless cycle is the subject of David Day’s excellent new book Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others (Oxford UP, 2008). Day points out that the process of “supplanting” has a kind of deep structure, no matter when or where it occurs. Claims are made, territories are mapped, colonists settled, soil is tilled, natives are moved about or exterminated, and comforting stories are told, often about how “our ancestors have always lived here.” It’s a rather sad spectacle, though we should thank David for holding this mirror up to us.
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