They brought us parrots and bales of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... With fifty men we could subjugate them and make them do whatever we want." These are the thoughts of Columbus upon his meeting with the Arawaks. Columbus came to the new world in search of gold. Actually, he was trying to get to India in search of riches and stumbled across a continent. Once here he gathered as many of the locals as possible, packed them onto his boat with half of them dying along the way, took them back to Spain, and told of a land of riches. "Hispaniola is a miracle...Mountains and hills, plains and pastures are both fertile and beautiful..There are many spices and great mines of gold and other metals." Columbus' next exposition to the new world saw him arriving with a fleet of seventeen ships, 1,200 men and a promise of 10 percent of the profits. They went from island to island taking captives along the way. The word spread among the natives about Europeans, so when Columbus came upon their villages, they were empty. The men Columbus had left behind were killed in retaliation for their brutal activities. Columbus captured more natives, men, women and children and began to ship them back to Spain. The Europeans brought disease with them as well, infecting the population with diseases such as smallpox. Columbus, for his part, felt that he was acting in the interests of God. "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold." But too many died in captivity. So Columbus forced the natives to bring him gold instead, and those that didn't bring their quota of gold had their hands chopped off. When they fled, the Spaniards hunted them down and killed the Indians and within two short years, half of the 250,000 population was dead. The Arawaks were driven into forced labor where many more died and it became so bad that women murdered their young rather than turn them over to Columbus. Bartholomew de Las Casas chronicled the genocide. He described the Arawak society as fair to women, rural, without commerce and peaceful. Total control by the European invaders meant total tyranny. Columbus' men sliced the natives with their blades for fun. Once, de Las Casas wrote, "two of these so called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot, and beheaded the boys for fun." Men and women were sent to the mines where they worked until they died. Women became so tired that they had no milk for their infants and they died along with their infants. Between 1494 and 1508, over three million died at the hands of Columbus. "Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it myself," said de Las Casas. Thus, began the history of relations between the people of America and Columbus. Is it too much to ask why we celebrate this? Do you think we should have a Hitler day? Of course not! Columbus was a mass murderer who has had many of the great historians from Harvard singing his praises. There are many Italians who deserve our praise, what about a Da Vinci day? Surely, we can do better than Columbus. Sources: Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States
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