Bartolome de Las Casas thought to lessen the impact on Indians by urging blacks be made slaves. The Spaniards were insatiable, making Indians act as their horses. Zinn says, "Total control led to total cruelty." Why is that? Once you pass a certain boundary it becomes the norm, so a supposedly kind-hearted spiritual man will at first keep slavery as an option? Did the use of humans as horses begin as a cruel game?
The native men died in the mines. They stopped having babies, as the men and the women were too exhausted and depressed. Las Casas calculated that over 3 million people died within 15 years.
Zinn's philosophy of history
A respected Harvard historian, Samuel Eliot Morrison, did say "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide." But that was it. That was all he said. Zinn examines the implications:
To state the facts...and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it's not that important--it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.Zinn laments the easy re-occurrence of atrocities, saying it is because of this easy burial. "We have learned to give them the same proportion of attention that teacher and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks."
Further, the conventional view of history accepts that
"peace"...is... "restored" by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers...farmers...colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everywhere...it was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, exploitation--a world not restored but disintegrated.
Kissinger's view: "History is the memory of states."
Zinn's view: "we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been."
This quote was featured in the documentary on Zinn, quite worth repeating:
If history is to be creative, to anticipate a future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, orSetting the course of oppression
perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past's fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.
Cortes in Mexico, Pizarro in Peru, continued and established the pattern of genocide begun by Columbus. In the North American colonies, the pattern of oppression was also established early. In Jamestown, when they were starving in 1610, some of the English sought refuge with the Indians. When the English asked for the return of the "runaways," and chief Powhatan didn't answer as obsequiously as they liked, "Some soldiers were therefore sent 'to take Revendge.' ....Not able to enslave the Indians, and not able to live with them, the English decided to exterminate them."
The Puritans escalated war with the Pequots in the Connecticut and Rhode Island area. "The English developed a tactic of warfare used earlier by Cortes and later, in the twentieth century, even more systematically: deliberate attacks on noncombatants for the purpose of terrorizing the enemy." They proceeded to use massacre unsparingly.
Historian Francis Jennings summed it up:
[The Indians] drew three lessons from the Pequot War: 1. that the Englishmen's most solemn pledge would be broken whenever obligation conflicted with advantage; 2. that the English way of war had no limit of scruple or mercy; and 3. that weapons of Indian making were almost useless against weapons of European manufacture.
It has been calculated that the population of natives north of Mexico was 10 million, and that population was reduced to less than a million. "Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilization based on private property."
Before the whites came, development in the Americas paralleled the other side of the world in agriculture, irrigation, pyramid-building, cloth, and ceramics. I remember a vague awareness of the Moundbuilders that Zinn mentions. I knew of them by their mounds in the Great Lakes region where I grew up. I did not know they were "part of a complex trading system of ornaments and weapons from as far off as the Great Lakes, the Far West, and the Gulf of Mexico."
The Iroquois shared everything in common...their homes, work, and food. A French Jesuit priest wrote of their "their kindness, humanity, and courtesy." I remember learning we got our representative democracy from the Iroquois. I wasn't taught that our "great nation" left out the best parts. Men represented their clans at the regional meetings, but it was the women who chose them. The women attended the clan meetings, and kept the men on task. Children were "taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishments on children."
Our usual histories speak of conquering the wilderness, as though people already here were not here, or as though conquering them was only the same as conquering wild animals, not the genocide of millions. This was
Zinn says that this natural nobility is not a myth.
a world which in some places was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was so complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.
They were people without a written language, but with their own laws, their poetry, their history kept in memory.... They paid careful attention to the development of personality, intensity of will, independence and flexibility, passion and potency, to their partnership with one another and with nature."