In his book American Holocaust, David Stannard tries to contextualize the colonization of America in a way that few writers have been willing to. While many have written with adoration about Columbus and his ventures, few have been willing to lay bare for all to see the misdeeds of Columbus and to categorize his actions alongside global horrors like the Holocaust. The specific chapter of this book entitled Pestilence and Genocide deals specifically with these topics in seeking to provide a full picture not only of what was happening in the Americas, but also what the European backdrop for the horror was at the time.
Stannard writes specifically about the fundamental problems taking place in Europe during the time in which Columbus was commissioned to take off. He writes about how Europe, and particularly Spain, was a place of abject war and destruction for much of the early period. During the fifteenth century, he writes, Europe was a place where prices could go up and down without warning. More than that, it was a place where children often starved, and where broad inequality reigned. In short, Europe was a mess, and any person seeking to understand why Columbus and his men did what they did should understand the context of where they came and the situation that prompted them to explore.
The author describes a reality where Europe was in moral decay at the time Columbus set sail. He discusses at length the way Romanian children were forced into the slave trade. Eastern Europeans of all stripes were particularly in danger as a result of this. In addition, the author writes about how the rich people of the continent hungered for wealth. They wanted silver and gold, and more than that, they wanted the most exotic showings of wealth they could get their hands on. In particular, they wanted spices that came from places far off. When one begins to understand these two things in concert, one can begin to better understand just how Columbus was able to do what he did. With people longing for wealth and with things like slavery being normalized across Europe, it should come as no surprise that explorers though they had the right to take whatever they wanted, and it should come as no surprise, as well, that explorers were willing to use abject depravity to get what they were after.
The author describes the wild way in which the explorers behaved. He also described the Natives in terms that would refuse their humanity. He described them as naked, always running around, and unfit to govern themselves. He promised that he would bring war to them and take what they had. He never stopped to try and respect their culture or their right to property ownership, instead instilling in his men the thought that they could do almost anything to these men without much consequence.
The author writes, too, about how the Spanish were creative in coming up with new ways to torture the Native people. Part of the issue, it seemed, was that the Spanish built up quite a fantasy over what kind of gold and riches they would find in the Americas. When it was clear that reality would not live up to this fiction, the Spanish took out their aggression on the Native people, requiring those people to pay in other ways. The author uses Columbus’s own words to describe precisely how Columbus went about the systematic de-humanization of Native people, and how this contributed to his willingness to murder, maim, rape, and steal from them. The author’s primary point was to compare these actions to the worst conquests the world had ever seen, including the Holocaust in Germany.