Columbus, the West, and the Myth of the Noble Savage

Jack Kerwick
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Posted: Oct 09, 2017 12:01 AM
Columbus, the West, and the Myth of the Noble Savage

Well, it’s Christopher Columbus Day again.

And this, of course, means that it is but another occasion for leftists everywhere to repudiate their own civilization.

For a few decades now, the 15th century European explorer’s face has been held up as that of Western civilization, i.e. the face of all that is evil in the world.  Columbus is the proverbial poster child for the White, Christian, Heterosexual Male, i.e. the contemporary left’s version of Public Enemy Number One.

Columbus Day assumes a new significance this year, however, for monuments to Columbus are no longer alone in being targeted for destruction by leftist agitators.  They are now in the company of monuments to Robert E. Lee, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and, yes, even legendary Philadelphia mayor and Police Commissioner, Frank Rizzo.

It is now clear that the campaign against monuments to Columbus has always has been and remains a campaign designed to subvert the Western world’s historic identity as a predominantly European (white) and Christian civilization.

The leftist historian Eric Foner recently remarked that there is a conflict over monuments because the latter signify “power.” There is some truth in this—but only some truth. If the monuments signify power, this is only because there is power, self-empowerment, in knowing oneself:

Essentially, monuments are expressions of identity.

In attacking monuments to historically famous white men, the vandals strike blows against, not this or that aspect of the Western world, and certainly not this or that person.  They attack, and mean to attack, the very being of the West.

The enemies of Columbus convict the West with having introduced violence to the New World, a “Native American” idyll in which indigenous peoples lived in total harmony with one another and nature.

This, though, is a Big Lie. 

For starters, those who were long recognized as American Indians constituted anything but a monolith but, rather, many tribes or nations. 

Secondly, American Indians comprised numerous tribes or nations that were continuously at war with one another. 

Thirdly, these wars were distinctively bloody and savage.  

The Myth of the Noble Savage, a uniquely European fiction that Columbus himself initially endorsed, has long exposed as just that by anthropological and archaeological research. 

Consider the Yellowknives, a tribe that once inhabited Canada. It has no present descendants, and for a very good reason: The Dogrib Indians launched a series of massacres against its members, effectively purging them from the planet.

There’s also evidence of plenty of intra-tribal warfare.Between the borderlands of what is now Brazil and Venezuela, the various Yanomami tribes would continually slaughter each other for purposes of status or in order to abduct female members.When Yanomami warred with others, like the Macu, they would enslave the latter’s members.  

Studies have found that over a third of Yanomami males died from warfare.

In his War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, the professor of archaeology Laurence H. Keeley determines that only about 13% or so of the indigenous population(s) of the New World did not partake of warfare annually.   

Some Indian groups observed the practice of collecting human scalps as trophies. The Iroquois would slowly torture to death their victims—men, women, and teenage boys—over a period of many days.  Torture was a ritual. It was also a communal event, a public spectacle, in which everyone, including the children, participated.  If the prisoner of war was a “warrior,” he was expected to remain stoic during his tribulations and even sing “death songs.”

Captives were burned, not over a pyre, but by way of hot coals that were applied individually to exposed body parts over an extended tract of time.  Additionally, the tortured were stabbed with knives and beaten with sticks and switches.Their fingernails were ripped out and their fingers broken.  Children would then yank and twist the broken fingers.  Captives were made to consume pieces of their own flesh. 

To insure that the ritual lasted for as long as possible, those who lost consciousness while being brutalized were revived with food and water so that their torture could resume. Eventually, they were scalped…alive.

Those tribes that inhabited the American Northwest would enslave war captives to such an extent that an enduring slave class formed.Slaves were regularly traded and given as gifts.     

In South Dakota, over 100 years before Columbus was born, about 60% of the members of a tribe at Crow Creek were murdered.Archaeologists found a mass grave containing the remains of over 500 men, women, and children who had not just been killed, but dismembered and scalped.  About 800 dwellings were destroyed, burned to the ground.

Those who survived appear to have been young women who, it is believed, were taken as captives.

Not only is it a great lie that the West introduced violence to a world that had never known it.  It is a lie as well that the West made a relatively violent world of indigenous peoples more violent.  The European technology characteristic of modern warfare accounts for why far fewer people died in war throughout the 20th century than died in “pre-historic” tribal wars.

About 60% of combatants in the close-quarter conflicts of non-Western, premodern tribal peoples were killed.  In glaring contrast, about 1% of combatants involved in the wars of the 20th century lost their lives.Whether considered in terms of a percentage of total deaths due to war or in terms of average deaths per year from war as a percentage of the overall population, tribal warfare is about 20 times deadlier than the wars of the 20th century.  To put this in perspective, Nicholas Wade, science writer for the New York Times and author of Before the Dawn wrote: “Had the same casualty rate [as tribal peoples in warfare] been suffered by the population of the twentieth century, its war deaths would have totaled two billion people” (emphasis added).

None of these facts are intended to deny, much less justify, those injustices that some American Indians undoubtedly suffered at the hands of some European explorers. 

They are, though, meant to undermine guilt-inducing lies regarding Columbus, yes, but, ultimately, Western or European civilization.

Happy Columbus Day!