Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Fate of the Tainos

I am reading Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus by Samuel Eliot Morison.  I first met Morison by way of our American History textbook at Duke, Morison and Commager's The Growth of the American Republic (probably the 1962 edition).  Morison was very large in the pantheon of American historians when I was in college.  Morison first published the Columbus biography in 1942, and I had not read it until now.  I am enjoying it, and would recommend it.

Morison admires Columbus, especially as a seaman, but he gives us both the good and the bad.  As to the bad, Morsion writes that "the policies and acts of Columbus for which he alone was responsible began the  the depopulation of the terrestrial paradise that was Hispaniola in 1492. "  Where there may have been as many as 300,000 of the aborigines in 1492, the Tainos, there may not have been as many as 500 remaining by 1548.

Morison wrote his biography as the storm clouds of WWII had gathered and were about to burst.  And so, after he discusses the fate of the Tainos, he immediately adds this little paragraph:

The fate of this gentle and almost defenseless people [the Tainos] offers a terrible example to Americans who fancy they will be allowed to live in peace by people overseas who covet what they have. 

Not so gentle and defenseless, even at this point.

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