Expansion and exploration is a recurring theme for Europeans and now increasingly Americans represented by recent forays by the United States in different parts of the World. These have been to an extent justified by US President George Bush as a divine mission, thus subtly using religion to support his political agenda. As Jim Wallis has stated, “To this aggressive extension of American power in the world, President George W. Bush adds God” (Atheism, Nd. (No Date)).
The American interpretation of today’s religious scriptures denoting expansionism have been rationalized by Jonathan Riley – Smith as being based on two premises, “that violence — — was not intrinsically evil—- and Christ’s wishes for mankind were associated with a Christian political system or course of political events in this world. ”(Riley-Smith, 2005). These thoughts in some ways may be able to explain the role of religion in fostering the age of exploration over the years.
The history of European expansion in America on the other hand has been a story of a mix of religion, wars and disease. The Spanish conquistadores followed a two pronged strategy, of brutalization, deep violence and justified this with religion, “God had a divine plan to remove the natives so that a Christian civilization could be supplanted therein”. European migrants also brought with them disease which took a heavy toll of the natives. In some parts it is believed that over 90 percent of the population was decimated by the spread of disease.
Thus when emigrants came from Europe, they found that the population of the natives had largely depleted. There are also many allusions of the disease being deliberate tactics used by the expansionists. British soldiers are said to have spread small pox to save the garrison from the siege by Delaware Indians in the Great Lake Region. While religion and disease has been the cause of depopulation of Americas, it is also said that wars had a major role to play.
This is so as with the coming of the Spanish and the Portuguese, the advent of relatively modern arms of destruction saw the rate of casualties going up considerably. The process of colonization also led to wars between the displaced natives, increasing the number of casualties. Mass scale exploitation by the Spanish conquistadores who being first settlers in the New World, treated their subjects as serfs and slaves in mines and working the land caused innumerable deaths.
Despite some enlightened laws, serfdom continued in the Americas till the 20th Century. There are many Spanish scholars as Las Casas who have brought out very vividly the image of Spanish conquistadores imposing their cruel ways thereby creating moral outrage. Other historians tend to dismiss his writings as polemical being intended to provoke moral outrage, but there is hardly any denial of the wide spread death and destruction caused by Spanish settlers in the Americas.
Geographical displacement of the native population by forcing them to move outside their usual habitat has also been cited as one of the primary cause of depopulation as a result of the expansionist policies. Ethnic cleansing of native Americans in particular leading to led historians as David Stannard, to argue that the natives of America were victims of a, “Euro-American genocidal war” in an “American Holocaust”. Other historians tend to overlook genocide since it was they believe not caused with the specific purpose of deaths. Some wars of expansion can be rightly called as genocidal particularly the Pequot War.
Thus the age of exploration be it of Spanish to the Americas or the Portuguese to the South East, in search of spices can be viewed through varied perspectives, religion being one of its most effective forms. The annexation of Hawaiian Islands can also be seen to be based on the justification of these truisms. Thus in the end of the 19th Century, US Marines landed in the Islands with heavy weapons forcing the Queen to accede to the United States at the behest of a coup by a group of sugar farmers who wanted Hawaii to be a part of the United States to avoid taxation.(Sforza, 1996). While the US President then Grover Cleveland refused to accept this injustice, his successor William McKinley reversed the decision.
1. Atheism. Nd. Bush’s Religious Imperialism. http://atheism. about. com/b/a/019828. htm. (25 September 2006). 2. Riley, Smith, Jonathan. 2005. The Crusades: A History; Second Edition, Yale. Yale University Press. 3. Sforza, Teri. 1996. Hawaii’s Annexation a Story of Betrayal. Orange County Register. http://www. globalpolicy. org/empire/history/1996/1109hawaii. htm (25 September 2006).