Date: August 12, 2019 04:50PM
We've had a few discussions of this cluster of topics in recent months. The standard view is that the intrusion of European culture into the Americas was a disaster for the Native Americans pathologically, demographically, economically, and culturally. In reply, revisionists have contended that the Native Americans were brutal and that Europeans brought both more civil traditions and better husbandry of the land, flora and fauna.
My view is that the consensus is correct: Europeans were a disaster for Native Americans. There are two sides to this argument: European civilization during, and after Columbus's, arrival in the Caribbean; and the effects of that arrival on the Americas.
First, the notion that European civilization was superior in the 15th, 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries is inaccurate. Columbus's voyages coincided with the Inquisition in Spain, which was of course a human rights disaster for heretics, Jews, Muslims, and others considered "subhuman." The attitude of Columbus towards the Natives he encountered, as immortalized by his journal and his letters, fitted this European pattern quite closely. Native Americans were resources to be exploited or, like Jews and Muslims, eliminated.
Then came the religious conflicts in Europe, and the 30-Years War, in which marauding armies tortured and killed at will, reducing the population of Germany by about a third. The Enlightenment followed but despite the good it did, it also spawned the French Revolution and the sanguinary convulsions that tore the continent apart. That the Europeans who ventured to the Americans shared this moral code, or lack of moral code, especially towards Native Americans is evident if you read The History of the Five Nations, which describes the brutality with which the French in particular but also the British treated the locals, including the introduction of scalping (a French innovation) and the torturing of "Indians" to while away the long evenings around the campfires.
Second, how did the European colonization appear from the Native American perspective? Modern readers are often impervious to Columbus's own words and few people today have even heard of such records as the aforementioned History of the Five Nations. Put simply, it is hard to believe that people like "us," our ancestors, were so nasty to those Native Americans who, in any case, were running around in loin clothes shooting arrows. So... we weren't that bad and anyway they sort of deserved it.
I offer the following article as a more contemporary example of how Christian missionaries intruded into a new Native American realm a few decades ago.* More specifically, a fundamentalist Christian movement based in the US took it upon itself to go through the rainforests, find new tribes, and convert them to the one true God. They organized the groups they'd already controlled into armies who went and captured new tribes, kept the newcomers for years as effective slaves, and also sexually molested them. Meanwhile the pathogens the Americans and Europeans introduced to the area killed many of the native Americans and left others with permanent infections and illnesses. And all this happened in the 1980s and 1990s.
This shouldn't be surprising. When one group of people believes they are superior to another by dint of divine favor, genetics, or anything else, they almost invariably end up behaving like beasts. The fate of Spain's Jews and Muslims attests to this, as did the Germans ruined by the religious wars, the victims of France's internecine atrocities, the Nazi and Communist crimes of the last century, and the behavior of Americans and Europeans who comprise the New Times Mission and, after its name change, Ethnos 360 (donations welcome at their headquarters in Florida).
It's a bit like the Catholic Church. The problem is not the people per se, who are pretty much like everyone else. It is the structure of the organization and the ideology that creates two or more tiers of human beings. When that happens, horrors ensue. And that remains as true today as ever.