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* Section 7 *

The Psychology? / Theology?"
that inspired the American Holocaust
  Sections of the "American Holocaust" :
Intro ~ 1 ~ 2 ~ 3 ~
4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ [ 7 ] ~ 8

The Psychology? / Theology? that inspired the American Holocaust

"For years to come Columbus repeatedly would insist that his expeditions and adventures in the New World had nothing to do with 'mere reason, mathematics, and maps,' as two scholars of the subject put it, but that his 'execution of the affair of the Indies' was a fulfillment of prophecies in Isaiah.'  In addition to helping explain, if taken seriously, why Columbus in many respects was a less successful navigator and helms-man than is commonly supposed (once into the Caribbean he rarely seemed to know where he was and routinely lost ships that were under his command), this rhetorical claim of biblical guidance is a clue to understanding the European reaction to his reported find." 
        Columbus finished his letter, describing what he had seen on his voyage, on March 4th of 1493.  A printed version of it was published in Barcelona. . .  At least seventeen different translated editions appeared throughout Europe within five years following Columbus's return from that first voyage.
        If not the biblical Eden, or the fabled Fortunate Isles of classical myth, Columbus, it seemed, at least had found some sort of paradise on earth.  Such places had long filled the legends and dreams of all the peoples of Europe, as they would on into the future: it is no coincidence that during the next two centuries the invented utopias of Bacon and More and Harrington and others invariably would be located in distant oceanic lands to the west. 
        But myths of paradise and utopia were complex – and often confused – affairs.  On the one hand, in some versions, they represented a re-discovered time of innocent perfection dating from before the biblical Fall from Grace; on the other hand, some dreams of such perfection envisioned and were built upon the expectation of a future time of anticipated peace and harmony.  And bound up with every myth, past, present, or future, was still another and contradictory vision of the primordial world, a Satanic vision of savagery and wildness and the dark. 
        Before long, reports were circulating that Satan himself resided on one of those islands in the Caribbean Sea.  Perhaps it was only natural then, as Lewis Hanke has said, that 'the popular image, in the first feverish months, of a terrestrial paradise was soon succeeded by that of a hostile continent peopled with armed warriors rushing out of the tropical forests or strange cities to resist the advance of the Spanish soldiers and the missionary efforts of their companion friars.' 
        It was only a matter of time before that stereotype of barbarically hostile natives had metamorphosed once again.  As best described by its most famous proponent, the eminent Spanish scholar Juan Gines de Sepulveda, the next representation of the New World's Indians was as creatures of a subhuman, Caliban-like nature who were intended by God 'to be placed under the authority of civilized and virtuous princes or nations, so that they may learn, from the might, wisdom, and law of their conquerors, to practice better morals, worthier customs and a more civilized way of life.' "  { American Holocaust, by David E. Stannard, p. 65 }

        That the visions of the ferocious Indian assailant or the inferior natural slave were fictions, as much as the image of a prelapsarian American Eden had been, mattered not one bit to anyone.  The myths were simply formed and reformed, shaped and reshaped, and made to do whatever work their propagators at any given moment wanted done. 
        Numerous modern scholars have dissected and analyzed the effects of both biblical and classical myth on the minds of Europeans during this so–called Age of Discovery.  But at least as strong as all the mixed-up imaginings of terrestrial heavens and Elysian fields, of lusty maidens and cannibalistic human beasts, was a fervent, and in many cases a truly maniacal, European craving for raw power and the wealth of gold and silver.  Among the clergy, meanwhile, there was the promise of God's favor should they successfully introduce the New World's 'pagan innocents' to the glory of his grace.  It is not surprising, then, that in the very first sentence of his celebrated letter to the Spanish Crown Columbus says of the lands that he has found, 'and of them all have I taken possession for Their Highnesses, by proclamation and with the royal standard displayed, and nobody objected.'  Consider the picture: standing alone with a few of his fellow officers in the white coral sand of a tiny island whose identification remain disputed to this day, an island 'discovered' by Columbus despite the fact that it was well populated and had in fact been discovered by others thousands of years earlier, the admiral 'took possession' of it – and of all the people it contained.  And 'nobody objected .'  Clearly, God was on the Spaniards' side. 
        Columbus was, in most respects, merely an especially active and dramatic embodiment of the European – and especially the Mediterranean – mind and soul of his time: a religious fanatic obsessed with the conversion, conquest, or liquidation of all non-Christians; a latter-day Crusader in search of personal wealth and fame, who expected the enormous and mysterious world he had found to be filled with monstrous races inhabiting wild forests, and with golden people living in Eden.  He was also a man with sufficient intolerance and contempt for all who did not look or behave or believe as he did, that he thought nothing of enslaving or killing such people simply because they were not like him.  He was, to repeat, a secular personification of what more than a thousand years of Christian culture had wrought.  As such, the fact that he launched a campaign of horrific violence against the natives of Hispaniola is not something that should surprise anyone.  Indeed, it would be surprising if he had not inaugurated such carnage.
        But why did the firestorm of violence turn openly genocidal, and why did it continue for so long?  Why did it take the grotesque forms that it did?  Why was it morally justified in the terms that it was?  And why, and in what ways, were the later British and American genocide campaigns different from those of the Spanish – if at least equally destructive in the long run?  The answers to all these questions must be sought in the constant interplay of Western ideologies and material realities, beginning with the initial Spanish quest for gold and for glory, proceeding from there to evolving concepts of race along with traditional notions of divine providence and sin, and then back again to the hunger and thirst for wealth and for power, sought down different paths by different European peoples on the different American continents of the north and of the south. { American Holocaust, by David E. Stannard, p.  199–200 }

        The real reason for the atrocities perpetrated was not Religion, merely an excuse, but greed on the part of all of those who stood to gain from the exploitation and robbery of America's prior owners, the distant rulers of Christendom, the Church, and their agents on the ground :

        There was little doubt in Columbus's mind that with sufficient man–power, both military and ecclesiastical, he would reap with ease a vast fortune in gold and souls.  Both of these godly gifts to the Admiral and to his Spanish supporters were simply there for the taking.  In a letter to the king and queen dated April 9, 1493, Columbus outlined his plans for the second voyage.  Instead of the fewer than 100 men he had brought on the initial expedition, he recommended that he be allowed to transport twenty times that number 'so that the country may be made more secure and so that it may be more expeditiously won and managed.' " 
{ American Holocaust, by David E. Stannard, p.  201–202 }

The Papacy was the guiding hand of the domination of "the New World":

  • In 1452, the papal bull Dum Diversas instructed the Portuguese crown “to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take away all their possessions and property.”
  • In 1454, another bull titled Romanus Pontifex furthered that thinking, sanctifying the seizure of non-Christian lands in parts of Africa and restating the legitimacy of enslaving non-Christian people.
  • In 1493, after Christopher Columbus’ fateful voyage, Inter Caetera granted Ferdinand and Isabella “full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind,” over almost all of the Americas, save for a portion of modern-day Brazil and a few island outposts.
  • More bulls followed, said Newcomb, author of the book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. Each bull incorporated language from preceding bulls, he said, forming a mosaic of papal license that was “taken to distant, non-Christian lands and used as a template, an authorization for what I call a dehumanization and domination of non-Christian peoples throughout the planet. ”

"These developments represented “the beginnings of international law,” said Joshua Jeffers, a member of the history department at Middle Tennessee State University who has studied the Doctrine of Discovery. Racism coursed through the doctrine and the bulls that informed it, Jeffers said, but its origins were ultimately political, stemming from the “Vatican trying to come to terms with the discovery of the New World … and trying to head off massive wars between Spain and Portugal” over gold."

[ from ]
Distribution of spoils of Conquest:
        . . .  So great was the supply of gold that awaited them, and so effortless would be its collection, he believed, that he urged the sovereigns to establish on the islands magistrates and notaries to oversee what he repeatedly referred to as the 'gathering' of this fabulous wealth, all of which was to be 'immediately melted and marked . . .  and weighed and placed in carefully guarded chests.
        He also proposed that 'of all the gold which may be found, one percent be reserved for the erection of churches and their furniture and for the support of the priests or friars attached to them.'  One percent may not appear to be much, but if the Admiral's estimate of how much gold awaited them had been even close to the truth, one percent could have paid for cathedrals.  "
{ American Holocaust, by David E. Stannard, p.  202 }

        This initial phase of the Spanish bloodbath in the region finally over, Cortés now returned to camp where he spent three or four days 'attending to many items of business. . .  concerning myself with the good order, government and pacification of these parts.'  What this meant, first of all, as he says in his very next sentence, was the collecting and dividing up of the gold ('and other things, such as slaves') that were the spoils of the carnage.  Although much had been destroyed or lost in the fury of the battle, these valuables included 'many gold bucklers,' which he promptly melted down, 'plumes, feather headdresses and things so remarkable that they cannot be described in writing nor would they be understood unless they were seen.'
        Through prior arrangement with his king, Cortés's share of the loot was one-fifth.  In gold and jewelry and artwork, that was a fortune, probably more than $10,000,000 in 1990 American currency.  In terms of slaves, it meant at least 3000 human beings for his personal and private use, not counting about 23,000 Indian 'vassals,' even after the Crown reduced his holdings in 1529.  Immediately setting his slaves to labor in the placer mines, he drove them until they dropped.  Before long, almost all of them had died from neglect and overwork.  No matter how quickly he moved to replenish his human capital (an individual slave cost only six or seven pesos because they were so plentiful), Cortés killed faster than he could purchase or commandeer.  By the time of his own death in 1547 his personal holdings in Indian slaves, despite constant infusions of new bodies, was barely one–tenth of what he started with. 
{ American Holocaust, by David E. Stannard, p. 81–82 }

To understand the horrors that were inflicted by Europeans and white Americans on the Indians of the Americas it is necessary to begin with a look at the core of European thought and culture-Christianity-and in particular its ideas on sex and race and violence.
        At its heart, Christianity expressed a horror at the tainting of godliness with sexuality.  Some early Christian Fathers, such as Origen, had taken literally the prophet Matthew's charge (19:11-12) that 'there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven,' and castrated themselves.  Such self-mutilating behavior finally was condemned by the Church in the fourth century as being excessive and unnecessary. Thenceforward celibacy would be sufficient.  But then this too was carried to extremes.  Saint Paul had written (Cor.  7:1,9) that 'it is good for a man not to touch a woman. . .   But if they cannot contain, let them marry for it is better to marry than to burn.'  Even marital sex invariably was infected with lust, however, so there developed in Christian culture the anachronistic institution of sexless so-called chaste marriage, and it endured with some popularity for nearly a thousand years.
        As Peter Brown has pointed out, however, perhaps the most remarkable thing about what he calls this gran rifiuto, or 'great renunciation', was the way it quickly became the basis for male leadership in the Church.  One key to understanding this phenomenon is located in the contrast between Judaism at the time and its radical offshoot of Christianity.  For as Brown notes:  'In the very centuries when the rabbinate rose to prominence in Judaism by accepting marriage as a near-compulsory criterion of the wise, the leaders of the Christian communities moved in the diametrically opposite direction: access to leadership became identified with near compulsory celibacy.'  The Christian leader, then, stood apart from all others by making a public statement that in fact focused enormous attention on sexuality.  Indeed, sexuality became a highly charged symbolic marker exactly because its dramatic removal as a central activity of life allowed the self-proclaimed saintly individual to present himself as 'the ideal of the single–hearted person' – the person whose heart belonged only to God
{ American Holocaust, by David E. Stannard, p. 155 }

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  Sections of the "American Holocaust" :
Intro ~ 1 ~ 2 ~ 3 ~
4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ [ 7 ] ~ 8 ~
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