The book by Stannard gives a detailed account of how the natives of America were mistreated and even lost their lives in the hands of a group of adventurers who were led by one Christopher Columbus in the period between 1490 and 1914. From the time Columbus set foot in the land of the Americas, it is widely believed that there was a significant drop in the population numbers due to murders orchestrated by the inhumane Christopher Columbus in which millions of natives were killed in a period of five centuries: “To put this in a contemporary context, the ratio of native survivorship in the Americas following European contact was less than half of what the human survivorship would be in the United States if every single white person and every single black person died” (p. x). It is thought that there was intentional deployment of diseases like small pox and measles among others as biological weapons against the American natives.
In his book, Stannard says that the European destruction of the native inhabitants of America was one of the most cunning and biggest ever reported genocide in the history of the world. The arrival of Christopher and his fellow sailors marked the beginning of, “far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world” (p. x). Stannard takes this rather challenging endeavor to tell the world what was actually lost when the Native Americans were under attack. It was not only their magnificent culture that was done away with but also the many achievements they had attained in an entire millennium. Long before the arrival of Christopher and his group of sailors, the American natives were living in towns as well as in rural areas where they practiced farming among other activities.
The Native Americans’ society was a democratic one with respect for mankind. Such was the democracy in their societies that women were allowed to vote long before the European nations considered it as a necessary fundamental right for their womenfolk. The European nations intimidated their women and were seen as just mere servants to the chauvinistic men. It is quite out of context that instead of the white Americans and Europeans copying what the Native Americans were doing, they colonized them and enslaved them.
The cities of the natives were well above standards unlike the Europeans’ at the time as Stannard reveals. The capital city of this exemplary society was supplied by, “drinking water … from springs … piped into the city by a huge aqueduct system” that was a major puzzle to the invading Spaniards (p. 5). The water supply system was not the only source of amusement, the orderliness and cleanliness of the town left them scratching their heads, “at least 1000 public workers were employed to maintain the city’s streets and keep them clean” (p. 5). One is left wondering how somebody would justify his acts of phasing out a society of such democracy and organization.
Genocide caused by the Spaniards
From the onset of the book it is evident that the Spaniards had one mission to accomplish, that is, to clear out the culture of the American natives through a well organized and coordinated genocide. The Spaniards took hostage of the natives and introduced forced labor which according to me was made to trim the ever blossoming population. Stannard reveals that throughout their adventure in he various cities ranging from Indies to California, wherever they went they unleashed atrocities to the native communities resulting into a rather sad demise of about 95 percent of their populations. In their missions in California, the Spaniards prevailed on the natives to do forced labor which culminated in the deaths of thousands of the inhabitants.
The author says that the missions of the Spaniards were like, “furnaces of death that sustained their Indian population for as long as they did only by driving more and more natives into their confines” (p. 137).However, Stannard’s main aim of writing this literature is to try and unravel the reason why the natives were subjected to such atrocities yet they were a living example of a democratic society where all are equal. Which European cultural and religious practices and traditions fuelled this genocide? And how indifferent were they from those of the Native Americans? These are some of the questions the author seeks to find an answer to.
His unraveling of racist ideas in some of the theological predecessors brings into light some of the possible reasons behind the attacks. For example, the Sepulveda’s discussion on the possibility that the Native Americans were not humans after all or the widely common idea that the new world, as they called the country inhabited by the native Americans, was a gift from God to the Christian community just as Jesus the son of God had given the land of Canaan to the Jews provoke variant ideas in the readers’ mind and are seen as possible triggers to the beastly actions evident throughout the book.
Upon closer examination of the past European and Christian attitudes towards certain aspects of life; war, sex and race, the author finds a well laid down foundation by the middle ages for the centuries that the American natives were tortured. He unearthed cultural backgrounds on which the Spaniards and other Europeans found justification for their actions. It is also on the same grounds that recent attacks have been launched. However, the author is not without controversy. His stand that those behind the American holocaust borrowed a leaf from the perpetrators of the Nazi holocaust is for sure going to erupt mixed reactions from different parts of the world. He further claims that such ideologies used in both incidents are still alive and that it’s only a matter of time and they become pronounced in the American society.