Keith Seat, my son who is a full-time mediator and arbitrator in the D.C. area, raised some important issues in his comments posted under my October 12 posting. He wrote, "I wonder about the extent to which moral judgment is meaningful for other eras when the circumstances were so different and our understanding of the facts limited." That is an important matter to consider.
One looks in vain for any examples of toleration of other religions or cultures in the fifteenth century. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I, under whose patronage Columbus undertook his voyage, began the Spanish Inquisition in 1478. A historian who died in 1492 estimated that the Inquisition had burned at the stake 2,000 people by 1490. Columbus, as we all are, was a person of his time, and the fifteenth century was not a time of celebrating diversity.
Keith also wrote, "No one is pure--certainly native Americans and African tribes were routinely warring against each other as well." I think that is important to realize also; violence was not used just by the Europeans. Those who in the present day tend to idealize native Americans sometimes seem to overlook how they were often involved in intertribal wars for survival--or the enhancement of their own tribe at the expense of other tribes.
What we know as the Caribbean today got its name from the Caribs, a far more warlike people than the Tainos that Columbus found on the island of Hispaniola. According to one source, "During their numerous battles against the dwindling Arawak [Taino] population, they [the Caribs] massacred the men and kept as many of their women as possible." The Caribs were also cannibals, and another source says if the Taino had not been destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, they likely would have been eaten by the Caribs.
Finally, Keith wrote, "I find it an interesting mind experiment to wonder how we would have wanted to see things play out in a perfect world--is it imaginable that North America should have remained lightly populated by native Americans while much of the rest of the world was overwhelmed?" That is a question well worth pondering, and I want to respond to it in a subsequent posting.
I welcome your comments in response to Keith's last question, as well as positive comments, should there be any, about Columbus as we re-think the ramifications of his coming to the "new world."