The Past Should Be Neither Lied About nor Judged by the Present.
The self-hating narrative of the left in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas is omnipresent. The risible “Welcome to Country” ceremonies (a fiction invented in 1973), the tortuous, right-on insertion of Te Reo Maori (or, at least, the latest iteration thereof) in every media article and government announcement – and, of course, the endless self-flagellation over “stolen land”.
That the earth under we wicked whiteys’ feet is somehow “stolen” is unquestioningly asserted by the left (notwithstanding their curious reluctance to hand over their personal patch to some handy local “Aunty” or Iwi). “Genocide” as some kind of white Original Sin is another monomania of the left.
But both are historical bollocks. They’re obvious bollocks in Australia and New Zealand every bit as much as the Americas. It’s undeniable that many of the current inhabitants died, often in great numbers, following the arrival of Europeans. But that fact doesn’t amount to “genocide”.
Because genocide is by definition intentional. All definitions of genocide agree that it is a “deliberate and systematic” act. The UN’s Genocide Convention explicitly states that genocide must involve intent. The extermination of the Moriori was an act of genocide because the Maori invaders deliberately set out to destroy them, “in accordance with our customs”.
On the other hand, there was no policy in either Australasia or the Americas for European colonists to deliberately exterminate native populations. Usually quite the contrary: Queen Isabella explicitly forbade the enslavement of her New World subjects. When Bartholomé de las Casas wrote to his monarchs to plead for natives who were being exploited and killed by colonists, he did so because such behaviour was contrary to the express will of the Spanish Crown. In Australia, Governor Philip was explicitly ordered to ensure that Aborigines’ lives and livelihoods were to be protected and friendly relations with them encouraged.
Nonetheless, it is undeniable that large numbers of native peoples in the Americas and Australasia died following European arrival, their lands lost and their cultures disrupted. So what happened? The truth is that, contrary to the dominant, simplistic narrative, it was, as they say, “complicated”.
It was inevitable that large number of indigenes would die within the first decades of European contact. The much smaller and homogeneous populations of the New World were uniquely susceptible to diseases unwittingly introduced from Eurasia. Native Americans, in their turn, conferred the “gift” of syphilis to Europeans. Accusing European colonists is as senseless as blaming Central Asian Silk Road traders for the Black Death which wiped out one-third of Europe’s population in the 14th century.
The idea that Europeans “stole” land which had belonged in perpetuity to any indigenous group is also ludicrous. Contrary to the fiction of peace-pipe-smoking hippies wearing eagle feathers, Native American society was as warlike as any other. The warrior-culture of the Maori is legendary. The reminisces of William Buckley, which provide a unique glimpse into pre-European Australia, are a litany of inter-tribal warfare and personal violence. Anthropological evidence also shows that Aboriginal Australia was a very violent place, especially for women.
Most Native Americans were primitive farmers who would farm an area until the soil was exhausted, then move on to somewhere with better hunting and more fertile soil. This meant that tribes were in constant conflict with each other, and that land shifted from group to group. The human settlement of Australia likewise took place in waves, with newcomers largely displacing older groups. Violence is a certainty. In Tasmania, historian Barry Brimfield argues for successive waves of human arrival, separated by millennia. In this sense, the arrival of Europeans after a 5000 year interregnum can be seen as merely the latest influx of arrivals.
So, precisely to whom the land belonged in any particular century or millennium was often fluid. Indeed, the very notion of property was a relatively late Greco-Roman invention which native cultures often found incomprehensible. When John Batman “traded” the land that is now Melbourne with the Wurundjeri, the tribal leaders affixing their thumbprints to the document almost certainly had no idea what was going on.
But that doesn’t mean that Europeans were shiftily swindling gullible natives. Batman certainly thought he was making a legal exchange. What really happened in Australia, in particular, was that the two cultures possibly furthest removed from each other at the time found themselves thrown into a chaotic meeting. Violence of some degree was tragically inevitable.
Often, the new arrivals unwittingly became enmeshed in the local power struggles which had been ongoing for millennia. In the Americas, many Native American groups readily pledged allegiance to the Great ‘Chief of the English’ as a political expedient. In their turn, colonists took sides with Native American groups as it suited their passing needs. In Tasmania, Aboriginal tribal leaders frequently enjoined settlers and explorers to take their side in disputes with other tribal groups. Europeans such as the Bass Strait sealers frequently had to navigate delicate balances between the demands of competing Aboriginal groups.
As settlement expanded in the New World, Europeans more often clashed with natives over land and resources. Massacres and violence erupted on all sides. But the Europeans, with their technological and demographic edges, quickly prevailed. From their point of view, in their time, this was only right and proper. In this, they were little different from native groups who had conquered other native groups on the same land, centuries or millennia before.
Judging the people of ten thousand or two hundred years ago by the lofty moral standards of today’s progressive left is foolish and a crime against history. Let’s be honest here: there is not a square patch of ground on the inhabited earth which has not been fought over, disputed and exchanged over the course of history. There is not a single country on Earth which did not displace its first inhabitants, or which has ever been free from violence.
But what of the “destruction” of indigenous cultures? That will be discussed in the next part of this series.