The Colonization of America: Genocide Essay
History proves to us time and time again that there can be many sides to a story based upon one thing—perspective. Throughout the 15th and 16th century as European nations began to colonize the New World, millions of Native Americans died in the efforts of the invading countries. According to some scholars, the story of the colonization in America is a glorified, anglocentric depiction of a much more horrific event; some claim it to be the worst case of genocide that has ever occurred.
This essay will state and analyze the changing perspectives over the death of the millions of Native Americans. To begin with this topic, it is important to clearly define the term genocide. In 1948, the U. N. defined it as any of a number of acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial, or religious group. ” If one was just to look at logistics, the death of Native Americans would probably be the archetype of human genocide. However, there is a second factor to take into account in dealing with genocide—intent.
The destruction of the racial group is out of the question: “the population of the United States prior to European contact was greater than 12 million… the count was reduced by 95% to 237 thousand. ” The argument lies in the analysis and interpretation of the evidence to determine the degree to which it was an intentional killing of Native Americans. It is important that the argument be based first on a small scale rather than on a macro scale in order to provide reliable evidence to support the broader, more generalized study of genocide in America.
Alan S Rosembaum is an editor who through researching several scholars compiled a book on the question of unique genocides. In it, Rosembaum states “I object to any statement that in any way minimizes the significance or sacred-ness of any people’s losses. ” His viewpoint on the matter is that he believes it is not about “what is or is not genocide. ” The fact that people argue about the definition causes Rosembaum to state that people banish and undermine the reality to a second degree; the reality of which he says is “a human tragedy and infamy.
” From a scholarly standpoint, his statements are not credible and biased because he does not discuss whether or not there was any intent in killing the Native Americans. David Stannard does however write in his book American Holocaust that the colonization and expansion of America involved intentional genocide. Stannard states that“[Europeans] had a string of genocide campaigns;” He compares the killing of Native Americans to that of “50 Hiroshima bombs” to highlight the cruelty and decimation of the population. His constant use of powerful words such as “bloodbath” emphasizes his strong opinion over the matter.
Stannard states that “disease and genocide were both interdependent forces acting dynamically” to kill the Native Americans. He strengthens his argument by providing the reader with first-hand accounts of people saying that the invaders “ripped children—of all ages—in half. ” Stannard’s book is filled with information to persuade the reader to agree with his opinion which weakens his credibility as he does not take a neutral stance on the subject. A more factually based author, Jared Diamond is a noteworthy author who attributes the loss of lives primarily due to disease.
In his book, Guns Germs and Steel, Diamond gives a focus on the spread of disease which killed the Natives as opposed to an intentional use of violence to decimate the population. In his well respected novel he states that “victims of murderous conquistadores were far outnumbered by the victims of microbes” and that “diseases introduced spread from tribe to tribe… killing an estimated 95 percent of the pre-Columbian Native American Population. ” He makes it clear that the leading cause of death was actually diseases such as smallpox.
One important thing to note, however, is that Diamond singled out a specific case where a man named Jeffery Amherst used germ warfare intentionally used to eradicate a large population of Amerindians. Jeffery Amherst was the military officer who elicited the act of inflicting smallpox upon the blankets of Native Americans. There is a letter regarding his plan to “inoculate the Indians” and another letter approving his plan in a postscript that suggests as well “to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. ”
The letters even include plants to kill the Native Americans by hunting them down with dogs in a method they call “Spaniards Method. ” This clearly exemplifies intent to murder a large population but there exists no record proving that everything happened as planned. This image was made around the same time of the Conquest by a European artist named Theodor de Bry. Lambda Theta Phi, “El Conquistador. ” Accessed December 12,2012. http://www. umich. edu/~ltpao/images. html. This image was made around the same time of the Conquest by a European artist named Theodor de Bry.
Lambda Theta Phi, “El Conquistador. ” Accessed December 12,2012. http://www. umich. edu/~ltpao/images.html. Another document in favor of those who call it genocide was written by Father Biard, a Jesuit missionary of the 16th century who delivers a racist depiction of Amerindians during the exploration age of America. His hand written account describes the Native Americans as “savage…ignorant, lawless and rude” and his intention to change the culture is clear in his writing. Although no aggressive or violent account is written, one must take into account that the document is a formal letter to a religious leader with a vested interest in converting the population, not killing them.
The document gives no clear evidence of an intention; however the racism necessary for genocide is evident even in the religious institutions which claim to be “of higher morals. ” When the interest is in obtaining gold and slaves however, more evidence of genocide arises. Howard Zinn was a respected American Historian who wrote several books throughout his lifetime. His opinion over genocide is very well defined in the first chapter of his book, A Peoples History of the United States.
On the matter of genocide, Zinn believes that “To emphasize the heroism of Columbus…to deemphasize their genocide… is an ideological choice. ” Zinn also states that one must not “accuse, judge, or condemn Columbus in telling history. ” However so, the novel provides a plethora of information to signify that the colonization of America involved many forms of genocide. For example, Zinn provides accurate demographics stating that “In two years, 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead,” and uses descriptive language to emphasize the cruelty such as: “they hanged them or burned them to death despite the impossible task.
” Zinn strengthens his argument by providing future facts stating that in 1515 there were 500 Arawaks left and that in 1650 none of the original Arawaks or their descendants were left on the island. The novel consists of even more accounts of genocides filled with vivid details, such as Cortes’ “march of death” and the English “throwing the children overboard” and mercilessly killing such as when “the Queen was stabbed to death. ” All of these horrific acts were done in order to obtain gold, slaves, and land.
In contrast to the aforementioned evidences, in the 17th century, a man by the name of William Woods wrote a book on his opinion of the Native Americans. In it, he describes the interaction between Native Americans and Europeans as “affable, courteous, and well-disposed natures, ready to communicate the best of their wealth to the mutual good of one another. ” This description highly contrasts any form of genocide as it expresses the relationship between Native Americans and Europeans as one that is very positive.
He continues his book with encounters filled with Natives “expressing their love. ” It is an arguable source though because this is just one account of several that encompasses a much wider range of examples. Different cultures can interact differently and especially different groups of people may feel differently mutually. This primary document provides one with proof that not all was death and murder during these times, but rather that examples of those are more prominent in history.
Interestingly, during these times it was morally accepted for the explorers to mercilessly murder Native Americans despite their religious affiliation. In fact, it was their religion that allowed for these very same acts as it was all a part of Gods plan. Since then, one can see how the perspective has drastically changed on the justification of the murder and invading of the New World. For better or for worse, the death of millions of Native Americans that followed the discovery of America have been decentralized from the history one reads in school books.
Although one may attribute most of the killing to disease and warfare, there are many accounts of genocide occurring in the New World after the Europeans came in contact. Overgeneralizing the term genocide for the entire time period is subject to scholarly debate, but the one notion everyone can agree on is that millions of Native Americans died before the America we know today emerged. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. What is Genocide?. History Channel, http://www. history. com/topics/what-is-genocide (accessed December 17, 2012).
[ 2 ]. Sharon Johnston, The Genocide of Native Americans: A Sociological View, 1996. [ 3 ]. Rosembaum S. , Alan. Is the Holocaust Unique? Westview Press, 1995 [ 4 ]. David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, Oxford University Press, 1993 [ 5 ]. Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel. Los Angeles: W. W Norton, 1997. [ 6 ]. Ibid pg. 78 [ 7 ]. Adrienne Mayor, “The Nessus Shirt in the New World: Smallpox Blankets in History and Legend,” Journal of American Folklore 108 [ 8 ]. D’Errico, Peter. Jeffrey1 Amherst and Smallpox Blankets.
2001. http://www. umass. edu/legal/derrico/amherst/lord_jeff. html). [ 9 ]. Ibid [ 10 ]. Yazawa, Melvi, ,Documents for America’s History. University of New Mexico, Boston: 2007 [ 11 ]. Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. Harper and Row, 1980. [ 12 ]. Wood, William. William Wood’s Impressions of New England Indians. 1639. http://www. constitution. org/primarysources/wood. html (accessed December 9, 2012). [ 13 ]. Yazawa, Melvi, ,Documents for America’s History. University of New Mexico, Boston: 2007ю
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