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The Human Cost of Spanish Conquest

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I don’t know if I will read this new book on Montezuma and Hernan Cortés–probably not actually–but like any good New York Review of Books piece, the essay itself gives plenty of room for thought. Much of this discussion of the Spanish conquest of Mexico is fascinating and worth thinking about, but I just wanted to mention this fact:

The spaces left by the dead were being occupied by unceasing waves of Spanish soldiers, adventurers and their families, Taino and African slaves, priests and nuns, and specialized workers needed to construct and maintain the colonial infrastructure. This made the indigenous nobility irrelevant. After the continent was successfully colonized and Europeanized, it was emptied and repopulated. A hundred and eighty-seven million people died during the first century of the occupation of America.

187,000,000 people died. And it’s not like those deaths ended in 1592 or 1621; as any student of the United States and Canada knows, those genocides were just beginning. And the deaths of Africans from slavery would grow and grow and grow.

The European colonization of the Americas is probably the single worst thing to happen in human history. And yet it is almost never discussed in this way.

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