Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress
For this week’s discussion, you are tasked with the following:
1. Read and annotate “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress” then compose a reply to the reading of no less than 300 words that: introduces the title and author, summarizes the reading briefly, defines one of the arguments or persuasive points within the reading that the author is making, responds to that argument in relation to one of our class themes using specific evidence from the text (i.e. Do you agree or disagree; why? Is there something you would add; why? Is there something you object to; why? Is the argument derivative of a logical fallacy in the author’s work; how so?), and uses proper MLA in-text citations* for your quoted evidence.
If you are unsure about your response to the reading, or if you are unsure where to start you response, you may consider any of the following questions to help you get started:
1. Zinn says that “When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure–there is no bloodshed–and Columbus Day is a celebration” and that beyond “the elementary and high schools there are only occasional hints of something else,” such as that which appears in the definitive Columbus narrative (at the time), 1954’s Christopher Columbus, Mariner by Samuel Eliot Morison, which amounts to one sentence on one page that does, in fact, rightly refer to the actions of Columbus and his successors as “genocide” but which quickly buries this fact in a “mass of other information, [thus saying to the reader]: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important… it should affect very little what we do in the world (Zinn 7 – 8). Does the reluctant coverage of Columbus’ actions throughout Western history inform the debate about existing or past power structures in Western/American culture; how so? Do past injustices and cruelties matter in the now; why or why not? Whose interest does it serve (or did it serve) for historians to have “swept under the rug” the overwhelming number of human atrocities committed by Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro, the English Settlers, and their successors; how so?
2. Zinn poses the question: “Was all this bloodshed and deceit — from Columbus to Cortes, Pizarro, the Puritans — a necessity for the human race to progress from savagery to civilization?” and answers this question thusly: “…how can that judgement be made if the benefits and losses cannot be balanced because the losses are either unmentioned or mentioned quickly? That quick disposal [of the history of those on the losing side of “discovery”] might be acceptable to the middle and upper classes of conquering and “advanced” countries. But is it acceptable…to the victims of that progress which benefits a privileged minority in the world?” (Zinn 17). What do you think, based on the reading: was the European conquest of the Western World, including the enslavement and genocide of whole peoples a necessity for the human race to progress or could events have unfolded differently, given the nature of the native people’s encountered, as well as Las Casas’ account that Columbus’ actions were “foreign to human nature”? Does your answer inform a broader debate about the power structures inherent in Western Culture, about justice and equality, or about privilege; how so?
3. Zinn says that all of the brutality and bloodshed, all of the genocide and enslavement, for hundreds of years following Columbus’ chance encounter with the Bahamas, boils down to the human “need” (born from civilizations based in private property) for space and land being transformed, in a “barbarous epoch of history ruled by competition,” into the murder of whole peoples (Zinn 16). What is being done today in the name of this same kind of “competition” between dominant nations, global corporations, and individuals that history may, eventually, similarly condemn, as it does Columbus’ actions? Are these present day atrocities the result of exaggerated wealth disparity and should not the privileged and ruling classes reconsider the value of their privileges in the face of anger from those sacrificed in the name of progress; how so?
4. Zinn says that “the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress… that is still with us” (Zinn 9). What is being done today that might be viewed as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress? What is the deplorable action and what is the proposed progress? Will it work? Why or why not? Is the racism, sexism, nationalism, and xenophobia inherent in the Trump campaign, presidency and overall rhetoric being justified by the idea that a Trump presidency will serve the public interest? Is that good for Western/U.S. society or bad; why? Does that inform a broader debate about the power structures inherent in Western Culture, about justice and equality, or about privilege; how so?
*(Remember, in-text citations are the “parenthetical” references in the text of a work that include either the author of a source and the page number you are citing, just the author for a non-paginated work, the title of a source and the page number you are citing for works with no authors, or just the title of a source for non-paginated works with no authors. In-text citations should appear at the end of the sentence, before the period, in which the quoted material is used).