Tag Archives: forced labor

Columbus (part 2)

One of my friends, a man I have known and respected for many years, cited the fact that Columbus took slaves as though that invalidated all his achievements, made them fruit of the poison tree.  This all played out in Facebook comments, so some of you may have missed it.  Here’s the rest of the story.

When Columbus returned to the Caribbean Basin on his second voyage, he found that one of his island settlements had been attacked and destroyed.  Columbus had a royal commission from the King and Queen of Spain, placing him in charge of all settlements, trade, etc., in the New World, on their behalf.  At the end of the fifteenth century, there was no United Nations, no Organization of American States, no International Court of Criminal Justice or World Court.  That is to say, Columbus actually was the authority and he alone had the responsibility to protect his settlers.  Or to avenge them.
The destroyed settlement was on an island, and Columbus determined what native tribe had attacked.  At that point he had a choice, three choices, actually.  One, he could let the attack go unchallenged and thereby make all future Spanish settlements vulnerable to further aggression.  Two, he could destroy the tribe that had destroyed his settlement.  Three, he could put that tribe to forced labor for a period of years as punishment for destroying his settlement.  Columbus did not use this attack from the natives, against his settlement, as an excuse to enslave or attack all the natives.  He set the one guilty tribe to forced labor, there by showing that any who attacked his settlements would be punished.

Given that he was the authority and there was no international organization he could appeal to for redress or sanctions, I would say he made the humane choice.

These opinions are my own and are not endorsed by my employers, the National Guard, the DoD or the college form which I graduated.