By David Swanson
Columbus was not a particularly evil person. He was a murderer, a robber, an enslaver, and a torturer, whose crimes led to possibly the most massive conglomeration of crimes and horrific accidents on record. But Columbus was a product of his time, a time that has not exactly ended. If Columbus spoke today’s English he’d say he was “just following orders.” Those orders, stemming from the Catholic “doctrine of discovery,” find parallels through Western history right down to today’s “responsibility to protect,” decreed by the high priests of the United Nations.
A sense of where Columbus was coming from can be found in a series of, aptly named, papal bull(s). These decrees make clear that the church owns the earth, bestows privileges on Christians, hopes to plunder riches, hopes to convert non-Christians, and considers non-Christians devoid of any rights worthy of any respect — including any non-Christians yet to be encountered in lands completely unknown to the church. Native Americans were literally pre-judged before the church (and its kings and captains) knew they existed.
The Dum Diversas Bull of 1452 gives the King of Portugal permission to attack Muslims in North Africa and begins by declaring them to be full of “the rage of the enemies of the name of Christ, always aggressive in contempt of the orthodox faith,” and hopes that they can “be restrained by the faithful of Christ and be subjugated to the Christian religion.” Attacking North Africa was “defensive” even then, as the king would “eagerly defend the faith itself and with powerful arm fight its enemies. We also look attentively to labor at the defense and growing of the said Religion.”
The Pope adds other unnamed people can be attacked too: “[W]e grant to you full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, . . . and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude.”
In 2011, the U.S Department of Justice submitted to Congress a written defense of attacking North Africa claiming the war on Libya served the U.S. national interest in regional stability and in maintaining the credibility of the United Nations. But are Libya and the United States in the same region? What region is that, earth? And isn’t a revolution the opposite of stability? And does the United Nations gain credibility when wars are waged in its name?
The Romanus Pontifex Bull of 1455 was, if anything, even more full of bull, as it pontificated on places as yet unknown but fully worthy of judgment and condemnation. The church’s goal was “to cause the most glorious name of the said Creator to be published, extolled, and revered throughout the whole world, even in the most remote and undiscovered places, and also to bring into the bosom of his faith the perfidious enemies of him and of the life-giving Cross by which we have been redeemed, namely the Saracens and all other infidels whatsoever.” How could someone unknown be an enemy? Easy! People unknown by the church were, by definition, people who did not know the church. They were, therefore, perfidious enemies of the life-giving Cross.
When Columbus sailed, he knew beforehand that he could not possibly enounter any people worthy of any respect. The Inter Caetera Bull of 1493 tells us that Columbus “discovered certain very remote islands and even mainlands that hitherto had not been discovered by others; wherein dwell very many peoples living in peace, and, as reported, going unclothed, and not eating flesh.” Those very many peoples had not discovered the place they were living, because they did not count as being anyone able to discover anything for Christianity. “You purpose also,” wrote the pope, “as is your duty, to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the Christian religion.”
Or else what? The Requerimiento of 1514 that conquistadores read to the people they “discovered” told them to “accept the Church and Superior Organization of the whole world and recognize the Supreme Pontiff, called the Pope, and that in his name, you acknowledge the King and Queen, as the lords and superior authorities of these islands and Mainlands by virtue of the said donation. If you do not do this, however, or resort maliciously to delay, we warn you that, with the aid of God, we will enter your land against you with force and will make war in every place and by every means we can and are able, and we will then subject you to the yoke and authority of the Church and Their Highnesses. We will take you and your wives and children and make them slaves, and as such we will sell them, and will dispose of you and them as Their Highnesses order. And we will take your property and will do to you all the harm and evil we can, as is done to vassals who will not obey their lord or who do not wish to accept him, or who resist and defy him. We avow that the deaths and harm which you will receive thereby will be your own blame, and not that of Their Highnesses, nor ours, nor of the gentlemen who come with us.”
But otherwise it’s great to see you, beautiful land you have here, and we hope not to be too much inconvenience!
All people have to do to save themselves is bow down, obey, and allow the destruction of the natural world around them. If they won’t do that, why, then a war on them is their own fault. Not ours. We’re pre-absolved, we’ve got an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, we’re packing U.N. resolutions.
In 1823 Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall cited the “doctrine of discovery” to justify stealing land from Native Americans in the case Johnson v. M’Intosh that has ever since been seen as the foundation of land ownership and property law in the United States. Marshall ruled for a unanimous court, uncontroversially, that Native Americans could not own or sell land, except when selling it to the federal government which had taken over the role of conqueror from the British. Natives could not possess sovereignty.
“The Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP) is a proposed norm that sovereignty is not an absolute right,” according to Wikipedia, which is as authoritative a source as any, since R2P is not a law at all, more of a bull. It continues: “. . . and that states forfeit aspects of their sovereignty when they fail to protect their populations from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations (namely genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing). . . . [T]he international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.”
If we understand “sovereignty” to mean the right not to be attacked by foreigners, the high church on the East River does not recognize it among the pagans. Saudi Arabia may murder many innocents, but the church chooses to bestow grace and weapons shipments. The same for Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, etc. The church, under the influence of Cardinal Obama, does not recognize sovereignty but bestows mercy. In Iraq, Libya, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Ukraine, Honduras, and other troubled lands of Saracens and infidels, they bring righteous rape and pillage on themselves. It’s not the fault of the armies performing their duty to attack and enlighten.
Back in the 1980s I lived in Italy and there was a funny movie called Non resta che piangere (Nothing left to do but cry) about a couple of buffoons who were magically transported back to 1492. They immediately decided to try to stop Columbus in order to save the Native Americans (and avoid U.S. culture). As I recall, they were too slow and failed to stop Columbus’ departure. There was nothing left to do but cry. They might, however, have worked on altering the people who would welcome Columbus back with collectively sociopathic ideas. For that matter, they might have returned to the 1980s and worked on the same educational mission.
It’s not too late for us to stop celebrating Columbus Day and every other war holiday, and focus instead on including among the human rights we care about, the right not to be bombed or conquered.