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Avatar: A Chilling Metaphor For European Butchery Of The Americas

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    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2010
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      By George Monbiot
      The Guardian
      January 11, 2010


      Avatar, James Cameron's blockbusting 3D film, is both profoundly silly and
      profound. It's profound because, like most films about aliens, it is a
      metaphor for contact between different human cultures. But in this case the
      metaphor is conscious and precise: this is the story of European engagement
      with the native peoples of the Americas. It's profoundly silly because
      engineering a happy ending demands a plot so stupid and predictable that it
      rips the heart out of the film. The fate of the native Americans is much
      closer to the story told in another new film, The Road, in which a remnant
      population flees in terror as it is hunted to extinction.

      But this is a story no one wants to hear, because of the challenge it
      presents to the way we choose to see ourselves. Europe was massively
      enriched by the genocides in the Americas; the American nations were founded
      on them. This is a history we cannot accept.

      In his book American Holocaust, the US scholar David Stannard documents the
      greatest acts of genocide the world has ever experienced. In 1492, some 100
      million native people lived in the Americas. By the end of the 19th century
      almost all of them had been exterminated. Many died as a result of disease,
      but the mass extinction was also engineered.

      When the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they described a world which could
      scarcely have been more different to their own. Europe was ravaged by war,
      oppression, slavery, fanaticism, disease and starvation. The populations
      they encountered were healthy, well-nourished and mostly (with exceptions
      like the Aztecs and Incas) peaceable, democratic and egalitarian. Throughout
      the Americas the earliest explorers, including Columbus, remarked on the
      natives' extraordinary hospitality. The conquistadores marvelled at the
      amazing roads, canals, buildings and art they found, which in some cases
      outstripped anything they had seen at home. None of this stopped them
      destroying everything and everyone they encountered.

      The butchery began with Columbus. He slaughtered the native people of
      Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) by unimaginably brutal
      means. His soldiers tore babies from their mothers and dashed their heads
      against rocks. They fed their dogs on living children. On one occasion they
      hung 13 Indians in honour of Christ and the 12 disciples, on a gibbet just
      low enough for their toes to touch the ground, then disembowelled them and
      burnt them alive. Columbus ordered all the native people to deliver a
      certain amount of gold every three months; anyone who failed had his hands
      cut off. By 1535 the native population of Hispaniola had fallen from eight
      million to zero: partly as a result of disease, partly due to murder,
      overwork and starvation.

      The conquistadores spread this civilising mission across central and south
      America. When they failed to reveal where their mythical treasures were
      hidden, the indigenous people were flogged, hanged, drowned, dismembered,
      ripped apart by dogs, buried alive or burnt. The soldiers cut off women's
      breasts, sent people back to their villages with their severed hands and
      noses hung round their necks and hunted them with dogs for sport. But most
      were killed by enslavement and disease. The Spanish discovered that it was
      cheaper to work the native Americans to death and replace them than to keep
      them alive: the life expectancy in their mines and plantations was three to
      four months. Within a century of their arrival, about 95% of the population
      of South and Central America were dead.

      In California during the 18th century the Spanish systematised this
      extermination. A Franciscan missionary called Junpero Serra set up a series
      of "missions": in reality concentration camps using slave labour. The native
      people were herded in under force of arms and made to work in the fields on
      one fifth of the calories fed to African American slaves in the 19th
      century. They died from overwork, starvation and disease at astonishing
      rates, and were continually replaced, wiping out the indigenous populations.
      Junpero Serra, the Eichmann of California, was beatified by the Vatican in
      1988. He now requires one more miracle to be pronounced a saint.

      While the Spanish were mostly driven by the lust for gold, the British who
      colonised North America wanted land. In New England they surrounded the
      villages of the native Americans and murdered them as they slept. As
      genocide spread westwards, it was endorsed at the highest levels. George
      Washington ordered the total destruction of the homes and land of the
      Iroquois. Thomas Jefferson declared that his nation's wars with the Indians
      should be pursued until each tribe "is exterminated or is driven beyond the
      Mississippi". During the Sand Creek massacre of 1864, troops in Colorado
      slaughtered unarmed people gathered under a flag of peace, killing children
      and babies, mutilating all the corpses and keeping their victims' genitals
      to use as tobacco pouches or to wear on their hats. Theodore Roosevelt
      called this event "as rightful and beneficial a deed as ever took place on
      the frontier".

      The butchery hasn't yet ended: last month the Guardian reported that
      Brazilian ranchers in the western Amazon, having slaughtered all the rest,
      tried to kill the last surviving member of a forest tribe. Yet the greatest
      acts of genocide in history scarcely ruffle our collective conscience.
      Perhaps this is what would have happened had the Nazis won the second world
      war: the Holocaust would have been denied, excused or minimised in the same
      way, even as it continued. The people of the nations responsible -- Spain,
      Britain, the US and others -- will tolerate no comparisons, but the final
      solutions pursued in the Americas were far more successful. Those who
      commissioned or endorsed them remain national or religious heroes. Those who
      seek to prompt our memories are ignored or condemned.

      This is why the right hates Avatar. In the neocon Weekly Standard, John
      Podhoretz complains that the film resembles a "revisionist western" in which
      "the Indians became the good guys and the Americans the bad guys". He says
      it asks the audience "to root for the defeat of American soldiers at the
      hands of an insurgency". Insurgency is an interesting word for an attempt to
      resist invasion: insurgent, like savage, is what you call someone who has
      something you want. L'Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the
      Vatican, condemned the film as "just an anti-imperialistic,
      anti-militaristic parable".

      But at least the right knows what it is attacking. In the New York Times the
      liberal critic Adam Cohen praises Avatar for championing the need to see
      clearly. It reveals, he says, "a well-known principle of totalitarianism and
      genocide -- that it is easiest to oppress those we cannot see". But in a
      marvellous unconscious irony, he bypasses the crashingly obvious metaphor
      and talks instead about the light it casts on Nazi and Soviet atrocities. We
      have all become skilled in the art of not seeing.

      I agree with its rightwing critics that Avatar is crass, mawkish and
      cliched. But it speaks of a truth more important -- and more dangerous --
      than those contained in a thousand arthouse movies.



      Reconsider Columbus Day:


      And here's an article from 2007 about this tragic situation...

      By Thom Hartmann
      Common Dreams
      Columbus Day, Monday, October 8, 2007


      "Gold is most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does
      all he wants in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise." --
      Christopher Columbus, 1503 letter to the king and queen of Spain.

      "Christopher Columbus not only opened the door to a New World, but also set
      an example for us all by showing what monumental feats can be accomplished
      through perseverance and faith." -- George H.W. Bush, 1989 speech


      If you fly over the country of Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, the island
      on which Columbus landed, it looks like somebody took a blowtorch and burned
      away anything green. Even the ocean around the port capital of Port au
      Prince is choked for miles with the brown of human sewage and eroded
      topsoil. From the air, it looks like a lava flow spilling out into the sea.

      The history of this small island is, in many ways, a microcosm for what's
      happening in the whole world.

      When Columbus first landed on Hispaniola in 1492, virtually the entire
      island was covered by lush forest. The Taino "Indians" who loved there had
      an apparently idyllic life prior to Columbus, from the reports left to us by
      literate members of Columbus's crew such as Miguel Cuneo.

      When Columbus and his crew arrived on their second visit to Hispaniola,
      however, they took captive about two thousand local villagers who had come
      out to greet them. Cuneo wrote: "When our caravelsŠ where to leave for
      Spain, we gatheredŠone thousand six hundred male and female persons of those
      Indians, and these we embarked in our caravels on February 17, 1495ŠFor
      those who remained, we let it be known (to the Spaniards who manned the
      island's fort) in the vicinity that anyone who wanted to take some of them
      could do so, to the amount desired, which was done."

      Cuneo further notes that he himself took a beautiful teenage Carib girl as
      his personal slave, a gift from Columbus himself, but that when he attempted
      to have sex with her, she "resisted with all her strength." So, in his own
      words, he "thrashed her mercilessly and raped her."

      While Columbus once referred to the Taino Indians as cannibals, a story made
      up by Columbus -- which is to this day still taught in some US schools -- to
      help justify his slaughter and enslavement of these people. He wrote to the
      Spanish monarchs in 1493: "It is possible, with the name of the Holy
      Trinity, to sell all the slaves which it is possible to sellŠHere there are
      so many of these slaves, and also brazilwood, that although they are living
      things they are as good as goldŠ"

      Columbus and his men also used the Taino as sex slaves: it was a common
      reward for Columbus' men for him to present them with local women to rape.
      As he began exporting Taino as slaves to other parts of the world, the
      sex-slave trade became an important part of the business, as Columbus wrote
      to a friend in 1500: "A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily
      obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are
      plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten
      (years old) are now in demand."

      However, the Taino turned out not to be particularly good workers in the
      plantations that the Spaniards and later the French established on
      Hispaniola: they resented their lands and children being taken, and
      attempted to fight back against the invaders. Since the Taino where
      obviously standing in the way of Spain's progress, Columbus sought to impose
      discipline on them. For even a minor offense, an Indian's nose or ear was
      cut off, se he could go back to his village to impress the people with the
      brutality the Spanish were capable of. Columbus attacked them with dogs,
      skewered them with pikes, and shot them.

      Eventually, life for the Taino became so unbearable that, as Pedro de
      Cordoba wrote to King Ferdinand in a 1517 letter, "As a result of the
      sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen
      suicide. Occasionally a hundred have committed mass suicide. The women,
      exhausted by labor, have shunned conception and childbirthŠ Many, when
      pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others after
      delivery have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave
      them in such oppressive slavery."

      Eventually, Columbus and later his brother Bartholomew Columbus who he left
      in charge of the island, simply resorted to wiping out the Taino altogether.
      Prior to Columbus' arrival, some scholars place the population of
      Haiti/Hispaniola (now at 16 million) at around 1.5 to 3 million people. By
      1496, it was down to 1.1 million, according to a census done by Bartholomew
      Columbus. By 1516, the indigenous population was 12,000, and according to
      Las Casas (who were there) by 1542 fewer than 200 natives were alive. By
      1555, every single one was dead.

      This wasn't just the story of Hispaniola; the same has been done to
      indigenous peoples worldwide. Slavery, apartheid, and the entire concept of
      conservative Darwinian Economics, have been used to justify continued
      suffering by masses of human beings.

      Dr. Jack Forbes, Professor of Native American Studies at the University of
      California at Davis and author of the brilliant book "Columbus and Other
      Cannibals," uses the Native American word wétiko (pronounced WET-ee-ko) to
      describe the collection of beliefs that would produce behavior like that of
      Columbus. Wétiko literally means "cannibal," and Forbes uses it quite
      intentionally to describe these standards of culture: we "eat" (consume)
      other humans by destroying them, destroying their lands, taking their
      natural resources, and consuming their life-force by enslaving them either
      physically or economically. The story of Columbus and the Taino is just one

      We live in a culture that includes the principle that if somebody else has
      something we need, and they won't give it to us, and we have the means to
      kill them to get it, it's not unreasonable to go get it, using whatever
      force we need to.

      In the United States, the first "Indian war" in New England was the "Pequot
      War of 1636," in which colonists surrounded the largest of the Pequot
      villages, set it afire as the sun began to rise, and then performed their
      duty: they shot everybody -- men, women, children, and the elderly -- who
      tried to escape. As Puritan colonist William Bradford described the scene:
      "It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams
      of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof;
      but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they [the colonists] gave
      praise therof to God, who had wrought so wonderfullyŠ"

      The Narragansetts, up to that point "friends" of the colonists, were so
      shocked by this example of European-style warfare that they refused further
      alliances with the whites. Captain John Underhill ridiculed the
      Narragansetts for their unwillingness to engage in genocide, saying
      Narragansett wars with other tribes were "more for pastime, than to conquer
      and subdue enemies."

      In that, Underhill was correct: the Narragansett form of war, like that of
      most indigenous Older Culture peoples, and almost all Native American
      tribes, does not have extermination of the opponent as a goal. After all,
      neighbors are necessary to trade with, to maintain a strong gene pool
      through intermarriage, and to insure cultural diversity. Most tribes
      wouldn't even want the lands of others, because they would have concerns
      about violating or entering the sacred or spirit-filled areas of the other
      tribes. Even the killing of "enemies" is not most often the goal of tribal
      "wars": It's most often to fight to some pre-determined measure of "victory"
      such as seizing a staff, crossing a particular line, or the first wounding
      or surrender of the opponent.

      This wétiko type of theft and warfare is practiced daily by farmers and
      ranchers worldwide against wolves, coyotes, insects, animals and trees of
      the rainforest; and against indigenous tribes living in the jungles and
      rainforests. It is our way of life. It comes out of our foundational
      cultural notions.

      So it should not surprise us that with the doubling of the world's
      population over the past 37 years has come an explosion of violence and
      brutality, and as the United States runs low on oil, we are now fighting
      wars in oil-rich parts of the world. It shouldn't surprise us that our
      churches are using violent "kill the infidels" video games to lure in
      children, while in parts of Africa contaminated by our culture and rich in
      oil (Congo) rape has become so widespread as to make the front page of
      yesterday's New York Times.

      These are all dimensions, after all, our history, which we celebrate on
      Columbus Day. But if we wake up, and we help the world wake up, it need not
      be our future.


      Excerpted and slightly edited from "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The
      Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late," a book by Thom
      Hartmann <http:// www.thomhartmann.com> which helped inspire Leonardo
      DiCaprio's new movie The 11th Hour. Hartmann's most recent book is Cracking
      The Code: How to Win Hearts, Change Minds, and Restore America's Original


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