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Columbus’s Actions in the New World

On receiving the notice on the Extended Essay, I had already decided on a genocide-related topic. Broad as it is, Mr. Smith assisted me in narrowing and settling on the controversial ‘genocide’ that Christopher Columbus committed. We specified it even further into the dealings of Columbus’s innocence under his actions towards the Indians. Subsequently, we concluded to the question of: Would Columbus be tried and convicted of committing genocide due to his systematic killings of the natives in the New World? After progressing further with my research, my thesis resulted in: If Columbus were alive today, he would be tried and convicted for his systematic killings against the native Americans, committing a definite crime against humanity, even genocide. Before Columbus arrived in the New World, the natives were in harmony, despite the occasional conflict with minimal casualties.

They had no concept of the feudal system or any property of possession, leaving everyone equal. However, when Columbus and his people came, they changed (or ended) the natives’ life forever. Columbus saw this journey as an opportunity for slaves and gold. His crew overwhelmingly enslaved the natives, forcing the natives to fan and carry the Spaniards around, obligated to give up any remaining pride they sanctioned. As Columbus’s main goal was to attain gold, he overworked and killed the Natives, imposing laws that resulted in half the Indians on Haiti dead within two years. He cut off the hands of those who did not meet his ridiculous requirements, split families apart and murdered people, not sparing the children or infants. From this, many resorted to suicide and killing their own children, protecting them from the Spaniards.

As the population of Arawaks fell to zero within a few decades and millions murdered in Hispaniola, an innocent race perished. The reason I feel so strongly about this particular subject, also being the reason this topic is worthy to evaluate, is because this thesis shocks the majority of the population. Columbus, commonly portrayed and still taught to be a hero for discovering America, has a history that most teachers fail to discuss. I find it imperative that we-as people in general-examine both sides of history, regardless of whichever side ‘won’ before we come to a conclusion. How can we truly be so sure of history if we are blinded to the side that the majority detests? Supporting this, my thesis reveals the lesser-known version of Columbus, which in this case, is the one I side strongly with.

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BODY. Clearly, in order to prove Columbus’s actions and decisions in the Americas were indeed genocide, we have to define the meaning of genocide first. Today, in the present Convention, genocide is defined as killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (Prevent Genocide, page 1) As unbelievable as it is, Columbus has not only touched but fulfilled each one of those areas vastly. The first sub definition, ‘killing members of the group’ can be exemplified thoroughly. Under Columbus’s orders and policy, in his ridiculous conquest for gold, he ordered his Spaniards to cut the hands off the natives if they did not gather enough gold. (Zinn, page 4)

As his requirement was high beyond reason, the majority of the natives were not able to collect enough gold, resulting in hands being sliced off, kidnapped families, and lives held hostage. Along with the cold-blooded slaughter, the Spaniards under Columbus’s authority ‘grew more conceited every day”, according to Las Casas, a witness and participant. They pointlessly murdered the natives ‘for fun’. Las Casas also stated how “they thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades…two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots for fun and beheaded the boys”. (Zinn, page 6: para. 2) Many of the natives were too weak to try to escape, and the ones who attempted were hunted down with dogs and then killed. (Robinson, para. 3) Those who tried to resist Columbus’s rule had to face the Spaniards, armed with armour, muskets, swords and horses- equivalent to facing their death. Any ‘disobedient’ natives found were hung to death or burned. There was no easy way out for the Indians.

Imagine the Spaniards in the New World, each of them killing dozens of natives every day for year’s lengths. Hundreds of Arawaks and other native tribes died by the day, resulting in a large portion dying of direct murder in total. (Zinn, page 6) Under Columbus’s supposed ‘rule’, he caused severe bodily harm to the natives, as well as imposed conditions upon the natives so harsh, that it left them with no hope of life. (Churchill, para.3) He over-exhausted and overworked the natives in order to accomplish his conquest for gold, forcing the natives to work beyond reasonable hours under the hot sun. Las Casas reports that “mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who have gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly that it breaks them…the most arduous task is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside.” (Zinn, page 6: para. 4) As you can see, natives were physically injured or killed every day due to the harsh working conditions they were forced to meet, unless they wanted to be slaughtered.

On top of that, the Indians faced malnutrition. They were compelled to spend each minute of their time searching for gold, meaning that they were left with no time to neither hunt nor gather provisions. Any food they did gather was meant for the Spaniards, leaving the Americas swept with starvation too. (Churchill, para. 5) Las Casas also stated that aside from the work the Natives received, many of the Spaniards ordered Indians for their personal needs. “They refused to walk any distance and rode the backs of the Indians…or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays…they also had Indians carrying large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings.” With everything, the Indians were far too weak to defend themselves against the diseases like smallpox, which the Europeans purposely brought. Rapidly, the population of the natives decreased, eventually falling to zero. (Arabic, para. 7)

“Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”. A definite aspect of genocide which Columbus covered fantastically. The cruelty the Spaniards inflicted upon these indigenous people were so ruthless that it led to mass suicide, and mothers killing their infants with cassava poison in order to protect their child. (Zinn, page 6,7) When death begins looking better than what the Spaniards force upon you, it is a clear sign that what Columbus is doing is a severe crime against humanity. Within two years, the population in Haiti halved, partially due to suicide. Another contribution to preventing births is how much the Spanish over-exhausted the Indians, to the point where “the husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months, and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides…they ceased to procreate…the newly born died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, 7000 children died in three months”, stated Las Casas. (Zinn, page 7: para. 1)

Mothers and fathers were too weak to give birth to a child, and the few mothers who did become pregnant lost their children due to fatigue and malnutrition. Those who did give birth had no milk to offer them. Due to the conditions Columbus inflicted, this generation would be the last, resulting in the natives ceasing to exist as they once did. Columbus’s displaced thousands of men, women and children, which basically concludes the whole genocide package- all in one, to be frank. After decades of cleansing the land of all valuables, thoroughly, it was clear that no possible gold remained. It did not end here. Unfinished with the natives, Columbus ordered them as slaves, breaking remaining families apart and tearing wives away from husbands. The Indians were sent to vast estate systems called ‘encomiendas ‘, quite similar to the concentration camps during the Holocaust. (Transform Columbus Day, question #2) There, the natives were said to have ‘worked at a ferocious pace and died by the thousands ‘, once again stated by Bartolome de las Casas.

In addition, to please the royalty in Spain, who was also Columbus’s commissioners, he shipped thousands of natives back to Spain to be enslaved further. (Arabic, para. 4) However, due to the weakness that already encompassed each Indian, the majority of the people died during the journey. Although Spain did not receive as many slaves as intended, thousands of people were displaced under Columbus’s orders of slavery nonetheless. Generally, genocide has to be a systematic killing of a group. Although many may argue that Columbus’s actions were not systematic, I state otherwise. He ordered that people who collected enough gold for the day be given a copper token to wear. Anyone without a copper token was subjected to death. (Isn’t this systematic? Wouldn’t the mass displacements and slavery of the natives be considered systematic too? During Columbus’s rule, 125,000 Indians in Haiti were dead, and by the year 1515, only 50,000 Indians were left. By 1550, only five hundred natives were left.

After 1660, no original descendants of the Arawaks have been found on the island. (Zinn, page 5) An entire race annihilated. It is crucial to understand that to be considered a genocide, you do not need to accomplish everything mentioned in the first paragraph, but only one. Also, you do not need to ‘wipe out’ an entire ethnic group, but only partially, as it states ‘destruction in whole or in part’. Columbus achieved far more than what genocide asks for, to the point where the only way his actions should not be called genocide is if the world invented a word of greater severity. His intentions were to kill for personal gain in return, regardless of the people died directly or indirectly. In his letters, he said “with fifty men, we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want…” (Zinn, page 1) According to today’s Convention, it states that those who conspire to commit genocide and those who actually commit it would be punishable. Meaning, if Columbus was present today, he would indeed be tried and convicted.

Logically, any written piece based on false evidence results in utter trash. I ensure you my sources are justifiable. My most-used source is A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Published multiple times in the past decades, Zinn is a credible author as he has devoted his life to studying history, being a professor and various universities even today. Seeing that Zinn had written this novel to convince the readers of his view on history (in this case, attempting to prove his thesis: Columbus is responsible for committing genocide), it is obviously limited as it is biased. However, being biased can hardly go far, as Zinn supports his theories and ideas with primary sources and evidence, including letters written by Columbus and principal witnesses like Bartolome de Las Casas. Including first-hand facts from the records of history, it is of great value to us as common people today, as it enables us to have access to pure historical facts.

As for my second source, it is an excerpt taken from Indians are Us written by Professor Churchill Ward, written in 1944. The purpose of this book was to compare the Holocaust with the actions of Columbus, putting everything into perspective for the readers. Although this source should be biased, I find that it actually isn’t as he states only pure facts, untainted with his personal thoughts. In truth, he defends both sides factually, even supporting Columbus at times, preventing limitations to a certain extent. Likewise to Howard Zinn, his facts are also supported with primary sources, with constant references to Las Casas. With this, I find that this source is also of useful value as it presents a completely unbiased outlook, leaving the reader to judge for him/herself.

CONCLUSION

After evaluating and exploring the topic of Columbus and his actions in the New World, I have concluded that my thesis was correct. Based purely on the facts I have analyzed, if Columbus was alive today, he would be tried and convicted for committing genocide towards the natives in the Americas. He fulfilled every aspect of a genocide’s requirements, killing a debatable total of eight million natives, and preventing the births of millions more. As a result of his conquest for resources and land, millions were systematically murdered, over-exhausted, overworked and displaced under his direct orders. Let’s also not overlook the fact that the deaths of 6 million Jews shocked the world, yet the person responsible for the death of 8 million innocent natives is celebrated as a hero. Through mass murder, cold-blooded slaughter, starvation, malnutrition, exhaustion, displacement, slavery and suicide, a race perished beneath the world’s gaze.

Though the term genocide had not been defined during Columbus’s conquest, it is today- and we as people need to acknowledge that through our teachings; “History not taught, is history forgot”, said Ward Churchill. We like to think that we are far more civilized today, half-oblivious to the genocides which still occur. “Never again” is a broken promise. We ask ourselves how we still allow mass killings of innocent people. Disbelief turns to ignorance. Is there really a way to cease genocides for good? Or is it simply a part of the world’s cycle?

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Annotated Bibliography / List of Works Cited

  • Churchill, Ward. Indians are Us. Common Courage Press, 1994. 20 Jan. 2008 <http://web.mit.edu/thistle/www/v9/9.11/1columbus.html>. This excerpt from the book Indians are Us outlines the basic information on Columbus’s journey to the New World and his actions there. I find it not only informative but useful as it displays the information from the native American’s viewpoint. Although this will make the source biased, I feel that it is crucial to recognize their perspective, as all the other sources support Columbus’s point of view.
  • Robinson, B.A. “Past Genocides Committed Against Native Americans.” Religious Tolerance. 2003. Ontario Consultants. 4 Feb. 2008 <http://www.religioustolerance.org/genocide5.htm>. This source informs me about the various ‘crimes against humanity ‘ that had previously been committed against the native Americans other than the one by Columbus. I find these facts imperative as it allows me to compare the actions of Columbus against the other ‘genocides’, giving me a better perspective in judging the Old World’s actions.
  • Trabich, Leah. “Native American Genocide Still Haunts United States.” The Holocaust/Genocide Project: An End to Intolerance. 1997. iEARN. 4 Feb. 2008 <http://www.iearn.org/hgp/aeti/aeti-1997/native-americans.html>. This website is a major anti-genocide project which consisted of a specific portion of Columbus’s arrival in the New World. It is biased like the first source, which works to my advantage as there are not many sources that lean towards the native American’s side. Having this source balances my viewpoints out more as my personal knowledge supports Columbus entirely. This source is also more detailed as it provides specific examples, acts and events which support their ‘genocide’ point.
  • “Why We Oppose Columbus Day.” Transform Columbus Day Alliance. 2004. 4 Feb. 2008 <http://www.transformcolumbusday.org/faqtcd.html>. This source is an organization that opposes Columbus Day due to the same reasons my other sources supported. However, this organization not only provides their reasoning but also shows the argument from the opposing side. This will be useful to me as it enables me to see both cases fairly -in which my other sources did not- offering me a better proclaimed ‘information foundation on’ to base my thesis on.
  • Zinn, Howard. “Chapter 1: Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress .” A People’s History of the United States. New York: HarperPerennial: A Division of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001. 1-22. This source will assist me greatly, as its first chapter contains many controversial yet convincing points opposing the common thought: Columbus is a hero for discovering America. As some of the sources above, it is one of the very few sources which do not side with Columbus’s viewpoint.

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