Drawing comparisons between raiding Apaches and the IRS

August 7, 2011
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It is amazing where new insights may come from. My wife gave me the book “Shadows at Dawn” by Karl Jacoby. The book is about the massacre of nearly 150 Apache women and children at what is called the Camp Grant Massacre in Arizona in 1871.

The attackers, “none of whom were injured,” were made up of Pima Indians, Mexicans and American ranchers. The author describes the historical and cultural events relative to each group that brought these people to this horrific event. His description of the history and culture of the Apache Indians is both entertaining and very insightful when looking at our own culture today. Culture is destiny and what people believe shapes their futures.

The Apache Indians were made famous in books and movies as great and cruel warriors. Geronimo, Magnus Colorado and Cochise have been portrayed in a multitude of Hollywood productions such as “Hondo,” “Stagecoach” and “Fort Apache.”

The movies and books portray the Apaches in the mid- to late 19th century. The period depicted was the extermination period. We were attempting to eradicate these people from Arizona and New Mexico. They fought back ferociously. For that, we should admire them.

What the movies and novels did not cover was the 300 years of inter-relationship between the Apaches and Europeans. What I found interesting, entertaining and insightful was the author’s description of Apache cultural beliefs before we decided that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.

When the Spanish settled in the Apache-occupied areas of the Southwest, they brought with them cattle, horses and mules. The Apaches were awed by the livestock raised by the ranchers. Consider the amount of meat each of these animals could provide them compared to the game animals available in the area. The Apaches wondered why God would provide such magnificent animals to such inferior people.

The Apaches referred to themselves as “the people.” They referred to everyone else as the enemy. Their culture was a culture of raiders. We would call it stealing. They saw nothing wrong with taking the ranchers’ livestock by stealth. They had no concept of ownership. God provided everything for them, and ownership had no practical application in their lives.

Here is the part of this book that I found so interesting: Contrary to our depiction of these people as primitive people incapable of surviving in the modern world, they had rules relative to ranchers that were very similar to the government’s treatment of small business today.

They did not kill the ranchers. Why would you kill the people taking care of your livestock until you came to steal them?

Raiding had been a way of life for the Apaches for thousands of years. It is what they excelled at. In our culture, stealing is wrong. They, on the other hand, would see our government confiscation of a portion of our income as dishonorable.

Courage, daring and risk-taking were characteristics they admired. What kind of risk does a government auditor have when taking your money — doing the same thing the Apaches did except that they took livestock instead of money?

Another Apache rule was never to take so much livestock that the rancher would fail and give up. The last thing they wanted to have happen was that their livestock caretaker would give up due to their depredations. If the ranchers gave up, they lost the free labor on which they had come to depend.

Does this sound familiar to you? Our IRS code was designed to do exactly the same thing. If the IRS takes too much of your money, you will switch sides and become a recipient of the government funds instead of a provider of funds. It is a fine line.

The Apaches were masters of depredation through theft and, for several centuries, maintained a system very similar to the current relationship between small business and government treasury officials. Isn’t it amazing how things repeat themselves over history? If the timing had been right, we could have hired the Apaches as collection agents. Timing is everything.

There are two interesting asides. The Apaches were a matriarchal society. History emphasized the warriors, but women negotiated treaties and made most of the important decisions relative to the tribe. That would be a point that would be minimized in a John Wayne movie.

For a long time, the Apaches stole from the Mexicans and sold the stolen property to American traders in Arizona and New Mexico. That fact also was never covered by movies or books.

It is troubling to be the target of any government audit. How would you like to face Geronimo as the collection agent — trained from birth and culturally enforced by centuries of tribal tradition to separate you from your hard-earned assets. Not all your assets. He would take just enough to support his constituency but not enough to totally destroy your will to keep trying.

I wonder if the first commissioner of the IRS came from Arizona. That would explain a lot.

Paul Hense is president of Paul Hense CPA PC, a local accounting firm. He also is past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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