American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World

Reply Sun 7 Feb, 2010 03:41 pm
American Holocaust
The Conquest of the New World
David E. Stannard
ISBN: 978-0-19-508557-0
Publisher: Oxford University Press

OVERVIEW: I must confess to some measure of preoccupation with what happened to the previous inhabitants of the Americas (having never truly bought-in to the typical gloss-over-it coverage to which I've been exposed). If you too would like to know the naked truth, backed up by thousands of accounts and verifiable facts, this book can either answer that question or at least get you started. I cannot; however, promise you'll like the answer. Starting with recent discoveries that place the population in north, meso, central and south Americas far above what was previously believed, the author, armed with deep research and nauseatingly-thorough documentation, takes us through what we know happened, what we believe happened and what others tell us happened starting in the late 15th century - differentiating each in a refreshingly mature manner. This is a sobering book that pulls no punches to avoid injuring ancestral sensitivities; it simply tells us like it is - and while enlightening, it is a deeply-important read for those with conscience. At 258 small-type/large-page paperback pages, it'll take some time (and is not cheap, for the arcane among us who still read physical 'books'). It's also richly annotated with more source-citations than even I expected. One word for this book: Important


  • Thorough beyond expectation; Events, attitudes traced, cultural trends leading up to the decimation of the pre-Columbian populations and much, much more
  • A heroic attempt at Objectiveness: Where numbers are disputed, the author responsibly states so (adding his support/belief along with others)
  • Real/Personal: The work is littered with written accounts from all the players, bringing a slice of humanity to the events recounted
  • Much insight provided on not just what happened and when, but varying views and potential motivations on the "why"; neither culture, nor reigning power structures nor religion is spared their role in any event
  • The macabre is stated very matter-of-fact, as if reporting rather than editorializing. Where there is horror, such is not from inflammatory language, but more likely the sensitivities of the reader
  • Extremely well documented (I cross checked quite a few aspects when my skepticism arose - not a one was misstated)


  • Although the few drawings, paintings and photos enclosed enhanced the information presented, I'd have liked to have seen more
  • The impact for me, personally, upon reading the raw, first-hand accounts of many of the events by Spanish, British and (subsequently-labeled) "Americans" was rather traumatic - in other words: Its a bit depressing
  • While the author's presentation was as even-handed as I think it could have been, I did sense an over-repetition of some of the more horrific instances. Although I can't know, I believe this an expected consequence of the author's intended myth-busting. Be that as it may, I did occasionally find some constant repetition distasteful

HIGHLIGHTS:[INDENT]- Depopulation over time (pp X, 85, 128)
- Population of the Americas, Pre-Columbian (pp 10-16)
- Myth of "Just Nomads" dispelled (pp 19)
- Living Conditions in 15/16C Europe (pp 57-61)
- Spain, on the day Columbus Left (pp 62)
- Initial Spanish Atrocities (pp 69-72)
- Spanish Gold/Silver mining in Central/South America and the problem of Slaves Dying (pp 72, 74, 85, 118)
- Cortex at Tenochtitlan (pp 77-79)
- Occurrences of Rape (pp 84)
- Pacification into North America (pp 98-100)
- Columbus' Captured Tokens for the Queen die (pp 101)
- Europeans Seek Sanctuary amongst the Natives (pp 103)
- It gets ugly in Jamestown (pp 105-110)
- Cultural Differences in how War is to be Conducted, examined (pp 110)
- Block Island Massacre (pp 112)
- Racist Attitudes among the Founding Fathers (Washington, pp 119; Jeffferson, 120, 240; A. Jackson, 121, 240; T. Roosevelt, 245)
- Conquering Colorado (pp 134)
- CA Governor calls for "total eradication" (pp 144)
- Examination into the Psychology of Modern Denials of the Death Count (pp 152)
- A. Hitler's admiration of the U.S.'s Genocidal efficiency (pp 153)
- 12/13C Views of the condition of Human Life (cultural) (pp 158)
- 15C Views on Witchcraft, Sensuality and "Beasts" (pp 161)
- Persecuted Medieval Christians turned Persecutors (pp 174)
- Constantine and Slavery (pp 180)
- 16C European views of Indigenous Peoples (pp 216, 227)
- Christianity's Rationale (pp 219)
- Great Britain's entrance into the Americas (Conditions) (pp 223)
- Spanish and British Motives compared/contrasted (pp 236)
- Massachusetts Bay Gun Law (pp 241)
- Psychology of Indian Hatred (pp 243)
- Oppression and Dehuminization Continues today (pp 257)
- "Nothing of Importance" - Columbus (pp 258)
[/INDENT]NOTABLE QUOTES:[INDENT]"Denial of massive death counts is common - and even readily understandable, if contemptible - among those whose forefathers were the perpetrators of the genocide. Such denials have at least two motives: first, protection of the moral reputations of those people and that country responsible..."

"While the Caribbean's millions of native people thereby effectively liquidated in barely a quarter of a century, forced through... Spanish savagery and greed, the slavers turned next to the smaller islands off the mainland coast. The first raid took place in 1515 when natives from Guanaja in the Bay Islands off Honduras were captures and taken to forced labor camps in [the now] depopulated Cuba. Other slave expeditions followed, and by 1525, when Cortes arrived in the region, all the Bay Islands themselves had been entirely shorn of their inhabitants."

"The Columbian Quincentennial celebrations have encouraged scholars worldwide to pore over the Admiral's life and work, to investigate every rumor about his ancestry and to analyze every jotting in the margins of his books. Perhaps the most revealing insight into the man, as into the enduring Western civilization that he represented, however, is a bland and simple sentance that rarely is notice in his letter to the Spanish sovereigns, written on the way home from his initial voyage to the Indies. After searching the costs of all the islands he had encounted for signs of wealth and princes and great cities, Columbus says he decided to send "two men up country" to see what they could see. "They traveled for three days, " he wrote, "and found an infinite number of small villages and people without number, but nothing of importance."
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Reply Mon 8 Feb, 2010 02:42 am
I recommend The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other by Tzvetan Todorov. I'm not prepared to write a review but it was a very entertaining read and as the subtitle suggests it draws its main themes from continental philosophy. It really made an impression on me. The Otherness of the new world to the invaders and the Otherness of the invaders to the new world is something I have pondered and wondered over ever since I read the book. It's just amazing to think what that had been like for both sides and then how this relates back down to the interpersonal level and all those seemingly more mundane Others that we interact with everyday.
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Dave Allen
Reply Mon 8 Feb, 2010 07:07 am
Prior to 9/11 a sizable minority of Americans I spoke to suggested that as an englishman living in Northern Ireland my death at the hands of organisations such as the IRA would be somehow justified. It wasn't many people, and oddly enough they weren't exactly nasty about it - but it happened (especially on forums).

I would sometimes counter that whatever injustices English people had heaped upon the Irish paled into insignificance with the treatment of the aboriginal inhabitants of the US, and that therefore no American really had the right to support the Irish republican cause whilst enjoying a lifestyle won by violently usurping their own nation from native americans.

But it wasn't a debate any of them were interested in having.

It all stopped shortly after 9/11 anyhow.
Reply Mon 8 Feb, 2010 09:17 am
@Dave Allen,
Dave Allen;126097 wrote:
I would sometimes counter that whatever injustices English people had heaped upon the Irish paled into insignificance with the treatment of the aboriginal inhabitants of the US, and that therefore no American really had the right to support the Irish republican cause whilst enjoying a lifestyle won by violently usurping their own nation from native americans.

Aye, and you've a fine point to the extent that it applies. I'd dare say most folks in the U.S. don't think this whole issue is really an "issue". Between the obvious fact that folks today weren't directly responsible and the "out of sigh-out of mind" aspect, we don't do much justice. In any case, there is one thought I'd like to add to the point on which you're speaking.

When we look at the way people have treated each other (man's inhumanity to man) today and in the past, there's a tendency to quantify numerically - or qualitatively, for that matter - which is worse, better, more or less OK; almost as if a "well, this was bad but not nearly as bad as <yada>". While I think this is an understandable tendency, my experience has taught me two things along these lines.[INDENT]As injustice is done, particularly towards whole categories of peoples, it's just a bad, bad thing. The danger in placing it on a better/worse scale is that it can devalue or de-emphasize the significance of one or the other; and in doing so, to some extent almost "justify" something as "more OK". That's a slippery slope I think we'd all do well to avoid.

We all (some less, some more) have some measure of identification with our ancestors. What they did or didn't do, in a way, reflects on us individually. I think this is right, I think it is just - but only to a point. But it's distinctly different from "sharing blame". Blame is only worthwhile insomuch as it helps to correct a condition or improves our remembrance to avoid misdeeds in the future. Guilt for guilt's sake is pointless - but respect and acknowledgment for our ancestor's screw ups is both reasonable and prudent.
[/INDENT]We should be sober, we should be respectful and conciliatory towards those people who've been smacked, dehumanized and hurt by historical events. But as you (Dave) alluded, playing the numbers-game can only serve to pull us apart when what we need is consensus and the honor that comes from acknowledging and setting right the wrong, where such can be done.

Thanks - good point.
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Dave Allen
Reply Mon 8 Feb, 2010 09:28 am
Yeah, I think another point that orbited that one was that humans sometimes judge injustice on technological levels.

So where a conquered aboriginal population benefitted in the long run from their conquest in terms of technology it's seen as somewhat 'worthwhile' (in the eyes of those who did the conquering at least).

Hence Cromwell's subjugation of Ireland is sometimes seen as more shocking than the conquest of America or Australia because the combatants were technological equivalents, spoke much the same language, etc.

Whereas those fighting the aboriginal inhabitants were 'civilising savages' - so it's somehow seen as easier to forgive.

It harder to passionately bemoan your lot if you can't write, I suppose.

The deals struck with the Maori seem to have been less of a burden in historical senses - they surely included examples of exploitation and bitterness, but of a lesser degree.
Reply Mon 8 Feb, 2010 11:13 am
@Dave Allen,
I read an Oxford Reader called Slavery. It opened my horizons about the history of the Americas and how historians put together impressions of what happened.

Ireland and Native Americans are both emotional TNT in the American Culture. A significant turning point in events leading to the American Revolution was when American colonists started identifying with the Irish. 'They raped Ireland for 400 years and now they want to do it to us.' (A Leap in the Dark by John Ferling is a good book)

To convolute the story, NINA (No Irish Need Apply) is just as much a part of the American Heritage. Likewise, contrary to superficial views, the Native Americans didn't disappear, their culture did. Those who didn't die of war and disease were absorbed. Today, the majority of Mexicans are mestizos... part Native American.
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