The Biases of Wikipedia – A Case History

By Wade Frazier

February 24, 2008 (slightly revised, with latest revision in December 2010)

Introduction

Our Massacre List Additions

Conclusion

Footnote

Introduction

Several Wikipedia articles have linked to my website over the years, and I have contributed myself a few times.  I found Wikipedia to often be a good source of information, but I also noticed a disturbing bias that mirrored the Euro-Anglo-American-centric bias that has dogged the West for centuries.  In late 2007, I read a Wikipedia article that referred to a list of massacres.  I studied that subject matter for many years, and was immediately stuck by the list’s overwhelming bias.  History’s greatest genocide was what the Spanish invasions inflicted on the Western Hemisphere’s natives during the 16th century.  That genocide was punctuated early and often by massive slaughters, usually as a way of establishing political control.  In that list, there was not one mention of any of those slaughters.  In addition, the English version of Wikipedia is obviously dominated by Americans (with the British also well represented), and when the Indian genocide began happening on what became American soil, the massacre list’s bias was even more evident.  The Spanish initiated the mass slaughters of Indians in North America, beginning with Hernando de Soto in 1539, but they continued unabated (with the English, Dutch, French and Americans also inflicting large-scale massacres) until the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890.  About two massacres of Indians by Americans made that massacre list, while more than a dozen Indian-inflicted massacres were on that list, with “massacres” of as few as three white people making that list.  The list also had very little documentary support. 

A few weeks after I came upon that massacre list, I mentioned my dismay to a friend and he suggested a little experiment: I would produce a list of omitted massacres, and he would use his technical skills to add them to that list. 

It was easy to quickly assemble a list of massacres that were far larger and more historically significant than three “pioneers” being murdered by some angry Indians in the Wild West.  I had already documented most of those slaughters that we added on my website.  I also provided sources for our massacre list additions.  The documentary support was very sparse on that list before we made our additions, and any “editing” of our entries on the grounds that they were not documented would be invalid, not when they were the only consistently-documented additions to that list.

In addition, many massacres on that list were wartime slaughters, particularly World War II slaughters such as the Katyn massacre, perpetrated by the Soviets.  American slaughters of civilians during World War II were conspicuously absent.  While my friend and others were adding the allied firebombing of Dresden and the American firebombing of Tokyo, I decided to contribute the “Grand Finale” bombing of Japan, made while the Japanese were surrendering.  I have also reproduced the text from the official Air Force history, describing that Grand Finale, below.  As Japanese peace activist Makoto Oda later related, accompanying the bombs dropped during the Grand Finale were leaflets that announced Japan’s surrender. 

finale.jpg (457314 bytes)Click on image to enlarge

As we suspected would happen, people immediately began editing our contributions.  While some edits were understandable, they were obviously made by white people who began framing the European/American massacres of Indians as somehow justified, or that the person in charge of the slaughters disobeyed orders to do so (which was a strained interpretation of the events), to provide “context.”  Then the jingoists charged into the fray, deleting entire entries, stridently claiming “bias,” that the massacres somehow lacked proper documentation, and so forth (not all of those kinds of attacks were directed at our entries specifically, but that was the trend of comments and general atmosphere under which the edits were made).  Somewhat surprisingly, among the worst offenders were Wikipedia's administrators.  It was not long before all of our additions were deleted, and the article is now almost back where it started, but at least the killing of three invading “pioneers” by the Indians is no longer on the list as a “massacre” (although as few as five whites killed by Indians still qualifies as a massacre on that list). 

Here is our list of omitted massacres, posted to the Wikipedia massacre article.  All of them have been removed, and there has been a recent effort to remove the massacre list altogether.  Some were moved to an Indian Massacre list, but the list itself originally began with Euro-American apologetics (calling Indian slaughters of the invaders “atrocities” and the white slaughter of Indians “retaliations" - in fact, the opposite was true the vast majority of the time - as of March 2009, that biased introduction was revised, for more evidence that there may be some hope for Wikipedia - however, it was changed back to the jingoist version by September 2009, and Indian killings of as few as two people have become a "massacre" on that list).  However, the really big ones, all perpetrated by the Spanish during the first century of conquest, have been completely removed from the massacre lists, except for the last two, which occurred on North American soil.  Somehow, Indian massacres south of the United States do not count. 

Our Massacre List Additions

Date

Name

Deaths

Location

Summary

Claimants

March 1495

Hispaniola Pacification Campaign

Thousands

Hispaniola

Christopher Columbus led first organized slaughter of native Americans to “pacify” them in order to enact his hand-amputating, gold-acquiring “tribute system.”

Stannard, D., American Holocaust, p. 70.

1503

Xaraguá Massacre

At least several hundred

Xaraguá, Hispaniola

The governor of Hispaniola, Nicolas de Ovando, led expedition to “improve relations” with remaining unconquered natives of island and, in a surprise attack on their hosts, they slaughtered hundreds of leaders of southwestern Hispaniola.

Las Casas, B. A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, p. 22.  Sauer, C. The Early Spanish Main, p. 149.

1511

Cuba Expedition under Diego Velázquez

At least 20,000

Cuba

As gold and slaves ran low on Hispaniola, an expedition to Cuba pursued the survivors of the 1503 Xaraguá Massacre and slaughtered native Cubans along the way.

Las Casas, B., A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, pp. 27-30.  Stannard, D., American Holocaust, p. 71.

1513

Pacra Massacre

c. 600

Pacra, Panama

During expedition to discover Pacific Ocean, night attack on sleeping village.  Forty men fed to the Spaniards’ dogs for the crime of “dressing like women.”

Varner and Varner, The Dogs of Conquest, pp. 36-39.  Todorov, T., The Conquest of America, p. 141.

1519

Tlaxcalan Massacre

Thousands

 

On way to Tenochtitlán, Cortes’ invasion encounters Tlaxcala, who fiercely resist the Spaniards.  After burning ten towns and slaughtering thousands of non-combatants (a tactic unknown to Mesoamerica) the Tlaxcalans surrender and become Cortes’ most significant ally against the Aztecs.

Thomas, H., Conquest, pp. 236-250.

1519

Cholula Massacre

c. 3,000

Cholula, Mexico

On way to Aztec capital, Hernan Cortes visited religious center of Cholula and slaughtered city residents who he accused of “plotting” against him.

Cortes, H., Second Letter to King Charles of Spain, Letters from Mexico, translated and edited by A. Pagden, p. 73. 

1520

Huitzilopochtli Festival Massacre

c. 3,000

Tenochtitlan, Mexico

While Cortes was away battling other Spaniards, Pedro Alvarado led massacre during a festival, justifying it by accusing the natives of “plotting” against the Spaniards. 

Thomas, H., Conquest, pp. 383-393.

1521

Post-siege Massacre of Tenochtitlan

c. 40,000

Tenochtitlan, Mexico

After the successful siege and destruction of the Aztec capital city, most of the city’s survivors were put to death. 

Thomas, H., Conquest, pp. 261.

1532

Cajas Massacre

Hundreds

Cajas, Ecuador

After raping several hundred nuns of the Temple of the Sun, Hernando de Soto’s men slaughtered the angry residents of Cajas. 

Duncan, E., Hernando de Soto, p. 136. 

1532

Cajamarca, Massacre

c. 3,000

Cajamarca, Ecuador

In surprise attack, killing 3,000 unarmed retainers, Pizarro’s expedition captured the Incan sovereign, Atahualpa. 

Hemming, J., The Conquest of the Incas, pp. 23-45.

1539

Napituca Massacre

c. 200

Napituca, Florida

After defeating resisting Timucuan warriors, Hernando de Soto had two hundred of them executed, in the first large-scale massacre by Europeans on what became American soil.

Duncan, E., Hernando de Soto, pp. 286-291. 

1540-1541

Tiguex Massacres

c. 250

Tiguex, New Mexico

After the invading Spaniards seized the houses, food and clothing of the Tiguex, and raped their women, the Tiguex resisted, which led to a Spanish attack that burned fifty people at the stake who had surrendered.  Francisco Vázquez de Coronado’s men then laid siege to the Moho Pueblo, and after a months-long siege, they slaughtered two hundred fleeing warriors.

Sauer, C. Sixteenth Century North America, p. 141.  Flint, R., No Settlement, No Conquest, pp. 144-153.

1540

Mabila Massacre

c. 2,500

Mabila, Alabama

Hernando de Soto’s expedition burned palisaded town of Mabila.

Duncan, E., Hernando de Soto, pp. 376-384.  Steele, I., Warpaths, p. 15.

1598

Acoma Massacre

c. 800

Acoma, New Mexico

In retaliation for the killing of 11 Spanish soldiers, Juan de Oñate led punitive expedition to slaughter the natives at the Acoma mesa.

Weber, D., The Spanish Frontier in North America, pp. 85-86.

1623

Pamunkey Peace Talks

c. 200

Virginia

The English poisoned the wine at a peace conference. 

Steele, I., Warpaths, p. 47.

1637

Fort Mystic  Massacre

c. 600-700

Fort Mystic, Connecticut

John Underhill led night attack on sleeping village of Fort Mystic, burning the Pequot inhabitants alive and slaughtering the survivors.

Cave, A., The Pequot War, pp. 144-154.

1643

Wappinger Massacre

c. 80

Pavonia, New Jersey

Wappinger tribe fled to near Manhattan Island, seeking protection of Dutch governor, who had hired John Underhill. The sleeping village was slaughtered and the tribe was exterminated.

Churchill, W., A Little Matter of Genocide, p. 198.

1644

English Massacre of Sleeping Native American Village

c. 500

New Amsterdam (present day Pound Ridge, New York)

Hired by the Dutch, John Underhill reproduced successful Fort Mystic strategy of burning sleeping village and slaughtering the survivors.

Steele, I., Warpaths, p. 116.  Trelease, A., Indian Affairs in Colonial New York; The Seventeenth Century, pp. 79-80.

1848-1870

American invasion of California [1]

>4,000

Central and Northern California

In less than fifty years, the 150,000 Californian natives that survived the Spanish/Mexican experience were about 90% eradicated by the American “settlers,” with several thousand killed during a twenty-year period of “military operations,” while the natives killed less than 300 invaders. 

Cook, S., The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization, p.352.

Starn, Orin, Ishi’s Brain, pp. 110-113.

1868

Washita Massacre

103

Washita River, Oklahoma

George Custer led dawn attack on sleeping Cheyenne tribe led by Black Kettle, who survived the Sand Creek Massacre.

Andrist, R., The Long Death, pp. 157-162.

1871

Camp Grant Massacre

c. 150

Camp Grant, Arizona

Led by ex-Tucson mayor, William Oury, vigilante band from Tucson slaughtered Apache women and children while men were doing their spring planting. 

Terrell, J., Land Grab, pp. 4-10.

 

Conclusion

This situation of Wikipedia’s bias in favor of the exterminators, while the exterminated receive passing mention, if at all, is typical in the West.  Today’s genocide in Iraq, to seize control over the world’s hydrocarbon deposits, is another typical instance of the West’s murderous, collective egocentrism.  Lies of omission are most commonly used in the service of propaganda, not lies of commission, and this instance of Wikipedia’s heavily biased massacre list is standard operating procedure.  Many criticisms have been published regarding Wikipedia recently.  One of its founders even began another web-based effort, where he has chosen “truth over democracy.”  My friend who helped me add to that massacre list had a series of dismaying episodes with Wikipedia, the massacre censorship being one of many incidents that pointed to Wikipedia’s shortcomings, and that goes for all the languages that it is presented in.  My friend has far more to say than I do about Wikipedia’s flaws, but my experience with that massacre list showed me how far Wikipedia has to go before it becomes a truly relevant and useful informational resource on the Internet.  It can be appallingly poor when dealing with fringe science and other controversial topics (free energy suppression and Gaston Naessens’s discoveries, for instance).  Whether it can overcome its obvious failings (which are largely due to the human condition these days) is an open question for me.

Footnote

[1] I never stop reading, and since I first published this essay in February 2008, I added more references and provided clarification, such as for the Tiguex and Pound Ridge massacres.  I also replaced the Yahi massacres with the California genocide in general. The single-minded, genocidal intensity inflicted on California’s natives by Americans was one of the greatest recorded during Europe’s conquest and settling of the Western Hemisphere. Other death tolls were far greater, but the California genocide was nearly the European invasion’s last one, perhaps its most modern, and it was openly exterminatory on a grand scale.  The mission system (which predated Hitler’s death camps, like the reservations did – the mission system was long ago compared to Hitler’s death camps) and its aftermath killed off at least half of California’s natives, but 90% of the remainder were killed off in fifty years by the American invasion, with thousands being killed in exterminatory “military operations,” as Sherburne Cook aptly described it.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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