Happy Genocide Day!
by: Thom Hartmann, Truthout | Op-Ed
Monday 10 October 2011
Truthout Published on Truthout
"Gold is most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and
he who has it does all he wants in the world, and can
even lift souls up to Paradise."
- Christopher Columbus, 1503 letter to the king and
queen of Spain.
"Christopher Columbus not only opened the door to a New
World, but also set an example for us all by showing
what monumental feats can be accomplished through
perseverance and faith."
- George H.W. Bush, 1989 speech
If you fly over the country of Haiti on the island of
Hispaniola, the island on which Columbus landed, it
looks like somebody took a blowtorch and burned away
anything green. Even the ocean around the port capital
of Port au Prince is choked for miles with the brown of
human sewage and eroded topsoil. From the air, it looks
like a lava flow spilling out into the sea.
The history of this small island is, in many ways, a
microcosm for what's happening in the whole world.
When Columbus first landed on Hispaniola in 1492,
virtually the entire island was covered by lush forest.
The Taino "Indians" who lived there had an apparently
idyllic life prior to Columbus, from the reports left
to us by literate members of Columbus's crew such as
When Columbus and his crew arrived on their second
visit to Hispaniola, however, they took captive about
two thousand local villagers who had come out to greet
them. Cuneo wrote: "When our caravels . . . where to
leave for Spain, we gathered . . . one thousand six
hundred male and female persons of those Indians, and
these we embarked in our caravels on February 17, 1495
. . . For those who remained, we let it be known (to
the Spaniards who manned the island's fort) in the
vicinity that anyone who wanted to take some of them
could do so, to the amount desired, which was done."
Cuneo further notes that he himself took a beautiful
teenage Carib girl as his personal slave, a gift from
Columbus himself, but that when he attempted to have
sex with her, she "resisted with all her strength." So,
in his own words, he "thrashed her mercilessly and
While Columbus once referred to the Taino Indians as
cannibals, a story made up by Columbus - which is to
this day still taught in some US schools - to help
justify his slaughter and enslavement of these people.
He wrote to the Spanish monarchs in 1493: "It is
possible, with the name of the Holy Trinity, to sell
all the slaves which it is possible to sell . . . Here
there are so many of these slaves, and also brazilwood,
that although they are living things they are as good
as gold . . ."
Columbus and his men also used the Taino as sex slaves:
it was a common reward for Columbus' men for him to
present them with local women to rape. As he began
exporting Taino as slaves to other parts of the world,
the sex-slave trade became an important part of the
business, as Columbus wrote to a friend in 1500: "A
hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily
obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very
general and there are plenty of dealers who go about
looking for girls; those from nine to ten (years old)
are now in demand."
However, the Taino turned out not to be particularly
good workers in the plantations that the Spaniards and
later the French established on Hispaniola: they
resented their lands and children being taken, and
attempted to fight back against the invaders. Since the
Taino where obviously standing in the way of Spain's
progress, Columbus sought to impose discipline on them.
For even a minor offense, an Indian's nose or ear was
cut off, se he could go back to his village to impress
the people with the brutality the Spanish were capable
of. Columbus attacked them with dogs, skewered them
with pikes, and shot them.
Eventually, life for the Taino became so unbearable
that, as Pedro de Cordoba wrote to King Ferdinand in a
1517 letter, "As a result of the sufferings and hard
labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen
suicide. Occasionally a hundred have committed mass
suicide. The women, exhausted by labor, have shunned
conception and childbirth . . . Many, when pregnant,
have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others
after delivery have killed their children with their
own hands, so as not to leave them in such oppressive
Eventually, Columbus and later his brother Bartholomew
Columbus who he left in charge of the island, simply
resorted to wiping out the Taino altogether. Prior to
Columbus' arrival, some scholars place the population
of Haiti/Hispaniola (now at 16 million) at around 1.5
to 3 million people. By 1496, it was down to 1.1
million, according to a census done by Bartholomew
Columbus. By 1516, the indigenous population was
12,000, and according to Las Casas (who were there) by
1542 fewer than 200 natives were alive. By 1555, every
single one was dead.
This wasn't just the story of Hispaniola; the same has
been done to indigenous peoples worldwide. Slavery,
apartheid, and the entire concept of conservative
Darwinian Economics, have been used to justify
continued suffering by masses of human beings.
Dr. Jack Forbes, Professor of Native American Studies
at the University of California at Davis and author of
the brilliant book "Columbus and Other Cannibals," uses
the Native American word "wetiko" (pronounced
WET-ee-ko) to describe the collection of beliefs that
would produce behavior like that of Columbus. "Wetiko"
literally means "cannibal," and Forbes uses it quite
intentionally to describe these standards of culture:
we "eat" (consume) other humans by destroying them,
destroying their lands, taking their natural resources,
and consuming their life-force by enslaving them either
physically or economically. The story of Columbus and
the Taino is just one example.
We live in a culture that includes the principle that
if somebody else has something we need, and they won't
give it to us, and we have the means to kill them to
get it, it's not unreasonable to go get it, using
whatever force we need to.
In the United States, the first "Indian war" in New
England was the "Pequot War of 1636," in which
colonists surrounded the largest of the Pequot
villages, set it afire as the sun began to rise, and
then performed their duty: they shot everybody-men,
women, children, and the elderly-who tried to escape.
As Puritan colonist William Bradford described the
scene: "It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying
in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the
same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but
the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they [the
colonists] gave praise therof to God, who had wrought
so wonderfully . . ."
The Narragansetts, up to that point "friends" of the
colonists, were so shocked by this example of
European-style warfare that they refused further
alliances with the whites. Captain John Underhill
ridiculed the Narragansetts for their unwillingness to
engage in genocide, saying Narragansett wars with other
tribes were "more for pastime, than to conquer and
In that, Underhill was correct: the Narragansett form
of war, like that of most indigenous Older Culture
peoples, and almost all Native American tribes, does
not have extermination of the opponent as a goal. After
all, neighbors are necessary to trade with, to maintain
a strong gene pool through intermarriage, and to insure
cultural diversity. Most tribes wouldn't even want the
lands of others, because they would have concerns about
violating or entering the sacred or spirit-filled areas
of the other tribes. Even the killing of "enemies" is
not most often the goal of tribal "wars": It's most
often to fight to some pre-determined measure of
"victory" such as seizing a staff, crossing a
particular line, or the first wounding or surrender of
This "wetiko" type of theft and warfare is practiced
daily by farmers and ranchers worldwide against wolves,
coyotes, insects, animals and trees of the rainforest;
and against indigenous tribes living in the jungles and
rainforests. It is our way of life. It comes out of our
foundational cultural notions.
So it should not surprise us that with the doubling of
the world's population over the past 37 years has come
an explosion of violence and brutality, and as the
United States runs low on oil, we are now fighting wars
in oil-rich parts of the world. These are dimensions,
after all, of our history, which we celebrate on
Columbus Day. But if we wake up, and we help the world
wake up, it need not be our future.
 Thom Hartmann 
Links:  http://www.truth-out.org/print/7327 
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