These days I hear that Christopher Columbus was a genocidal maniac who slaughtered the Indians of the Caribbean, was responsible for bringing smallpox and other diseases to the Western Hemisphere thus wiping out 90% of the indigenous peoples, and he was an enslaver of innocents who raped and mutilated the native population.
Given the state of teaching history in America’s high schools and colleges these days, these charges are not surprising. And they are all either completely false or at the very least misleading straw men charges. Let’s take these one at a time.
Supposedly Columbus brought smallpox to the Americas and this biological weapon wiped out the native Americans. Supposedly 90% of them were killed. I have often wondered how some historians have come up with the numbers that there were 100 million Indians in the Western Hemisphere and 90% were killed off. How would anyone know? Did anyone do a census in North and South American in the 15th century? No. How would anyone know that 90% were killed off by disease? Why not 75%? Or 25%? These numbers are thrown out there without any empirical evidence and we are just supposed to believe them?
It is true that smallpox killed off many Indians; how many, though, is anyone’s guess. But did the Europeans do this intentionally in the 15th or 16th or even the 17th centuries? There is zero evidence that the Europeans with malice and forethought brought contagious diseases to the Indians in order to kill them off. (There is plenty of documentation that Europeans and white Americans gave smallpox-infected blankets to the Indians in the 1700s in order to kill them, but that is some 250 years after Columbus.)
What is true is that the Indians had no domesticated beasts of burden (other than llamas in Peru), so they did not have any immunities against animal diseases (cow pox, chicken pox, various swine and avian flus) the way the Europeans did. It was inevitable that people from another part of the world were eventually going to land in the Western Hemisphere and bring their disease…one cannot stop human beings from travel, exploration, and migration.
Through trade and wars the bubonic plague swept from central Asia to all of Europe and wiped out a third of its population in the 14th century. (How do we know? The Europeans took censuses and kept written records.)
So the Europeans suffered the loss of millions through disease, yet no one thought that this disease was intentionally brought by the Mongols or by the armies of Tamerlane. Yet, somehow Columbus and all the Europeans are branded as intentional murderers because smallpox killed off Indians. Based on this evidence and logic, it would be mighty hard to prove that Columbus and the Europeans who followed him were out to kill Indians with disease? The charge itself is spurious, impossible to prove, and only inflames gullible people who do not stop and think.
But didn’t Columbus enslave and mutilate the Indians? Doesn’t he admit that in his own writings? Stayed tuned for the truth about this in the next blog.