Monday, April 07, 2008
As promised, I've begun reading A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn. I hope there are others out there who will join me. For brevity of post titles, I will hereafter refer to it as aphotus. Now that I've looked closer, I see there are 25 chapters, each about 20 to 40 pages long. If I take a week per chapter, I will finish in about half a year. I will use that as a rough guide, but depending on the week, may read more or less. My edition is the Perennial Classics, copyright 2003, in case you're wondering about the page numbers I use. Just for fun, how would one pronounce aphotus? AH-poe-tus? AH-foe-tus? A-fu-tis? AY-fi-tis? What about ah-FOE-tus? I"m just getting started. What do you think?
How time does fly. Over a year ago, I watched the documentary Howard Zinn: You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train and wrote of wanting to do this very thing, read a little at a time. What an inspiring man he is. He walks his talk.
Chapter 1: Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress
Columbus pp 1-5
The Arawak natives of what is now Haiti meet Columbus with gifts, food, and drink. Columbus? His first thought is that they could be easily subjugated and could make good servants. The natives of America "were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance." Already in the first page, Zinn has us thinking about the historical assumptions we've been taught in average schools. The Renaissance? This is always taught as a Good Thing. Europe became civilized after a dark time. Civilization is taught as a good thing.
Columbus was a bad man, quite Machiavellian. The first man to spot land was to get a reward, a pension for life. Columbus stole it from Rodrigo, claiming he'd seen a light the night before. Yeah, that's it. Sounds like a good little scene for The Kids in the Hall.
Another thing we all learned were the names of the three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. (pausing while I check myself...Zinn has no need to name them for us) I don't recall learning in grade school about Columbus's second voyage, the one with 17 ships, 1200 men, and the goal to procure gold and slaves. Columbus was quite the venture capitalist, exaggerating the riches to be found, getting showered with such an expense account, then ruthlessly forcing the raw materials to meet his goals. For his first batch of slaves, he rounded up 1500 natives, selected 500 of the finest quality, and shipped them back to Spain. 200 of those died on the way. These slaves weren't very cost-effective; they died too easily.
So maybe the value of the slaves wasn't going to work out, how about gold? Columbus forced natives to bring back a certain amount of gold, or they would have their hand cut off. There wasn't that kind of gold to be found. The Arawaks tried to fight back and failed. Many started committing mass suicide. Within two years half of the natives of Haiti were dead, leaving around 125,000. A half century later, there were 500 Arawaks left. By 1650, they were gone.
Zinn's chief source of information was Bartolome de las Casas, "who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty."