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US Army blankets are generic today

US Army blanketWhen I was assembling my dorm room kit for college, I wanted an army blanket as a bed cover. For reasons I must have understood better then, the heavy duty olive drab wool, emblazoned with a U.S. monogram, was inarguably cool. Its generic quality was iconic, thus it had a caché more authentic than a stack of Izods. I considered my Army blanket to be the No. 2 Pencil of bed linens.

I forgot about that blanket until the Ward Churchill trial in Denver, when the contention arose whether the US army spread small pox to North Dakota Indians by means of infected blankets. Native American oral tradition has been retelling this tale, but the White Man’s narrative is pushing back.

The ignoble suggestion remains a penciled notation in American History texts, except by scholars such as Churchill, because anti-revisionists want to see more proof. Deniers seem to willfully overlook that perpetrators might have cloaked their trail, sooner than document their scurrilous coup. Where are the blankets, or invoices for the blankets? With only songs about the blankets, how is anyone to confirm their provenance? It’s hearsay, the defenders say, bitter, vindictive slander to implicate the US Army for the 1837 small pox epidemic, just because the Red Man’s comprehension could not attribute another cause.

Although the Indian accounts aren’t so pointed. They tell of an Indian chief who stole the blankets from the white soldiers, unwittingly bringing the outbreak back to his camp.

Now I’ll not assert that US Army blankets have always had a “U.S.” stenciled on them, nor even that they were army-colored, as khaki wasn’t on the uniform palette until the turn of the century. But governments have always needed to distinguish government property, to discourage their agents from divesting of their standard issue for personal gain.

I will contend that it is only from the perspective of our contemporary culture of abundance, that we presume a blanket is nondescript without a trademark. In our overloaded consumer economy, it is not unreasonable to believe that an item without its receipt cannot be assumed to have come from a particular store. Indeed we need designer logos to differentiate products when we cannot assess the quality for ourselves. Today, even thread-counters are at pains to tell an Eddie Bauer from a CJ Crew by touch. But not so in the Wild West. The carpet-bagger mercantile purveyors of the West may have ushered in mass-produced dry goods, but I hardly think varieties were indistinguishable. Wanna bet there was quite a difference between blankets woven by Indians, blankets bartered from trading posts, and standard army issue?

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