Chapter 2: The Fatal Flaw



1. “Columbus and his successors were not coming into an empty wilderness, but into a world which in some places was as densely populated as Europe itself, where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.” - Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, p. 25

Does this account differ from the image you have of the world that Columbus “discovered”?  If so how?

2. “The people of this island… refuse nothing that they possess, if it be asked of them: on the contrary, they invite any one to share it and display as much love as if they would give their hear… As soon as I arrived in the Indies, in the first island which I found, I took some of the natives by force…Their Highnesses can see that I will give them as much gold as they may need…and slaves, as many as they shall order…” - The Journal of Christopher Columbus          

What does this passage tell you about the values of the native inhabitants of the “ New World ”? About the motivations of Columbus and the Spanish King and Queen?

3. “After the death of Columbus , other governors were sent to Hispaniola , both clerical and secular, till the natives, finding themselves intolerably oppressed and overworked, with no chance of regaining their liberty, with sighs and tears longed for death.  Many went into the woods and having killed their children, hanged themselves, saying it was far better to die than to live so miserably serving such ferocious tyrants and villainous thieves….Some threw themselves from high cliffs down precipices; others jumped into the sea and rivers; others starved themselves to death. - From Girolamo Benzoni, La Historia del Mondo Nuavo (1565)

This description of Spanish rule in Hispaniola is from one of the earliest published histories of the “ New World ”. How does it differ from the history of the period which you learned in school?

4.  `"The White Man’s Burden"

Take up the White Man’s burden –
Send forth the best ye breed –
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught, sullen people,
Half-devil and half-child…
-  Rudyard Kipling (1899)         

What racial stereotypes appear in this poem, written at the height of British imperial expansion?

For the entire poem:

Copyright 2006, ACLU of Massachusetts