by Steve Mitchell
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Scientists said Thursday that marijuana appears
to promote the development of new brain cells in rats and have anti-anxiety
and anti-depressant effects, a finding that could have an impact on the
national debate over medical uses of the drug.
Other illegal ! and legal drugs, including opiates, alcohol, nicotine and
cocaine, have been shown to suppress the formation of new brain cells when
used chronically, but marijuana's effect on that process was uncertain.
Now, a team led by Xia Zhang of the department of psychiatry at the
University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon may have found evidence the drug
spurs new brain cells to form in a region of the brain called the
hippocampus, and this in turn reduces anxiety and depression.
Marijuana appears "to be the only illicit drug whose capacity to produce
increased ... neurons is positively correlated with its (anti-anxiety) and
anti-depressant-like effects," Zhang and colleagues wrote in the November
issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The paper was posted online
In the study, rats were given injections of HU210 -- a synthesized version
of a cannabinoid chemical found in marijuana -- twice per day fo! r 10 days.
Zhang told United Press International this would be "a high dose" of smoked
marijuana, but he added he is not certain how many equivalent joints it
would take or whether patients now using the drug typically would be getting
this much HU210.
Although HU210 was injected, Zhang said there would be no difference if it
was obtained by smoking marijuana.
The rats showed evidence of new neurons in the hippocampus dentate gyrus, a
region of the brain that plays a role in developing memories.
Zhang's team suspected the new brain cells also might be associated with a
reduction in anxiety and depression, because previous studies had indicated
medications used to treat anxiety and depression achieve their effect this
To find out, they treated rats with HU210 for 10 days and then tested them
one month later. When placed in a new environment, the rats were quicker to
ea! t their food than rats that did not receive the compound, which suggested
there was a reduction in anxiety behaviors.
Another group of rats treated with HU210 showed a reduction in the duration
of immobility in a forced swimming test, which is an indication the compound
had an anti-depressant effect.
Asked how he thought the findings might impact the debate over using
marijuana to treat medical conditions, Zhang said, "Our results indicate
cannabinoids could be used for the treatment of anxiety and depression."
He added that his view is "marijuana should be used as alcohol or nicotine,"
noting "it has been used for treating various diseases for years in other
Last June the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 that the federal ban on marijuana
supersedes the laws of certain states that allow the substance to be used
for medicinal purposes, such as the treatment of pain, nausea in cancer
pa! tients and glaucoma. Eleven states have passed laws legalizing marijuana
use by patients with a doctor's approval, including California, Alaska,
Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
The Bush administration, through the Department of Justice's Drug
Enforcement Agency, began conducting raids in California in 2001 on patients
using marijuana. Two of those arrested by the DEA -- Angel Raich, who
suffers from brain cancer, and Diane Monson, who used the drug to help
alleviate chronic back pain -- sued Attorney General John Ashcroft,
requesting a court order to be allowed to grow and smoke marijuana, which
led to the Supreme Court decision.
Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst with the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws, told UPI he thought the findings "would have a
positive impact on moving forward this debate, because it is giving ... a
scientific explanation that! further supports long-observed anecdotal
evidence, and further lends itself to the notion that marijuana, unlike so
many other prescription drugs and controlled substances, appears to have
incredibly low toxicity and as a result lacks potential harm to the brain
that many of these drugs have."
The DEA Web site, however, contends that "marijuana is a dangerous,
addictive drug that poses significant health threats to users," including
cancer and impaired mental functioning.
Armentano said this is a distortion of what scientific studies actually
show. Studies in animals indicate marijuana actually may protect against
many forms of cancer, rather than cause the disease, he said. In addition,
studies in marijuana smokers have found little evidence of cognitive
deficits, and even when they do, the defects disappear if the person stops
smoking for 30 days.
Copyright 20! 05 by United Press International
“A Flaming Arrow Aimed at the Circled Wagons of American Injustice!”
Reviewer: Come Again Moon
This is an important CD
Available at http://cdbaby.com/cd/harveyarden --Listen Free!
How can we rate this CD, it is like trying to rate the experience of the heart beat of GrandMother Earth.
This album is important. Leonard invites you into his cell, with the care and grace of a loving, holy spirit and Harvey Arden's riveting, narration carries us through the journey of Leonard's Sun Dance as we are all, accompanied to new levels of understanding, by Rev. Goat and the New Orleans Light. Ordering more than one copy of this CD really is a good idea and Little Eagle, thank you for the excellent suggestion.
One of my copies will be given to my Congressperson.
Mitakye Oyasin Moon
Leonard Peltier in His Own Words
My Life is My Sun Dance: Prison Writings of Leonard Peltier
Read by Harvey Arden, music by Reverend Goat and New Orleans Light
Mi Abuelo Records
Review by Norm Dixon
Leonard Peltier is one of the United States’ longest-serving political prisoners, jailed in 1976 in a blatantly rigged trial, during which the US government and the FBI refused to put any limits on the depths they would stoop to see this militant leader of the Native American people silenced for life. Almost 30 years later, Harvey Arden has done his bit to break that silence with the release of My Life is My Sun Dance, a series of readings from Peltier’s prison writings.
Arden’s expressive voice creates an emotional connection between the listener and the author of the words, who has been bricked up in high-security prisons and kept isolated from his people and his many supporters. Through Arden, accompanied by the smooth jazz moods of New Orleans Light, Peltier talks directly to us and you can feel and share his humanity, defiance and fears. Peltier’s writing is conversational and poetic, it is hopeful and inspiring. One listen of this CD and you will really care about this humane and gentle, but fierce warrior for social justice.
Peltier tells us about the terrors and uncertainties of prison life, about the history of Washington’s long oppression of the Native American people and how his individual oppression is simply a continuation of it. He discusses his people’s spirituality and how it is bound to the struggle to end the oppression of all peoples. And Peltier outlines the specifics of the events that landed him in jail, and the details of what must be one of the most outrageous frame-ups in US history.
In the early 1970s, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota was the scene of a serious conflict between the corrupt, pro-government, assimilationist reservation authorities and militant reservation residents who were demanding that Native Americans control their own affairs. The residents were also demanding that they be permitted to continue to practice their traditional culture without hindrance.
It emerged that uranium had been found on the reservation land, and the federal government and its Indian puppets were determined to crush the militants in order to get their hands on it. Rich ranchers were also being allowed to graze the sensitive semi-arid country for minimal or no fees.
In 1973, the residents sought the assistance of the radical American Indian Movement (AIM) and together they occupied the village of Wounded Knee (the same site where, less than 100 years earlier, a horrific US Army massacre of 300 Native Americans had taken place). The response of the US government was to launch a paramilitary attack in which two residents were killed. The stand-off lasted 71 days, before the government promised to investigate the residents’ complaints. It was another promise made to Native Americans that was never kept.
In the aftermath of the Wounded Knee occupation, the reservation authorities outlawed the AIM and banned traditional ceremonies and practices. A reign of terror was instigated, in which thugs known as Guardians of the Oglala Nation (literally spelled GOON), attempted to drive out all opponents of the pro-government reservation leaders. Between 1973 and 1976, more than 60 “traditionalists” were murdered. The FBI refused to investigate these deaths and continued to arm the GOONs with weapons and information in order to prevent AIM again gaining a foothold at Pine Ridge.
In desperation, Pine Ridge residents again appealed for AIM activists to help them defend themselves. Leonard Peltier was among the dozens of militants who responded. The traditional people, many of whom were elderly, feared for their lives. AIM provided support such as cutting fire wood, collecting water and preparing meals, as well as offering protection from attacks by GOONs. AIM activists were armed for their own protection.
On June 26, 1975, two unmarked cars chased a red truck onto the Jumping Bull ranch at Pine Ridge, the home of a number of families being defended by AIM. It later emerged that the cars were driven by FBI agents, who were supposedly chasing a person accused of the heinous crime of stealing cowboy boots. The agents opened fire on the ranch and its residents, who fired back in self defence. Within minutes, more than 150 FBI SWAT team members, Bureau of Indian Affairs police and GOONs had surrounded the ranch and a fierce, largely one-sided fire-fight erupted.
When the smoke cleared, AIM member Joe Killsright Stuntz and two FBI agents were found shot dead. Miraculously, Peltier and the other people in the camp escaped. Following the largest hunt in FBI history, three AIM activists — Dino Butler, Robert Robideaux and Leonard Peltier — were charged with the murder of the agents. However Robideaux and Butler were tried in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the jury found them not guilty of murder because they had simply returned fire in self-defence when fired upon by unknown assailants.
Meanwhile, Peltier had escaped to Canada knowing that he would never get a fair trial in the US — that is if he wasn’t gunned down by the FBI first. He was captured in Canada on February 6, 1976. The US government presented the Canadian court with affidavits signed by a woman claiming to be Peltier’s companion, who claimed that she had seen Peltier shoot the FBI agents. This was a blatant lie. The woman had never met Peltier and she was not present at Pine Ridge during the shoot-out. She later revealed that the FBI forced her to sign the lies written for her by the FBI.
Peltier was tried before an all-white jury in North Dakota, before a hostile judge who refused to allow use of the self-defence argument. The FBI created a climate of fear around the proceedings in an attempt to convince the jurors that Peltier was a terrorist. The government withheld evidence that pointed to his innocence. This evidence was finally released from FBI files seven years later under the Freedom of Information Act.
Prosecutor Lynn Crook failed to produce a single witness who could identify Peltier as the shooter, and concealed ballistics reports that showed that Peltier’s rifle could not be linked to shell casings found near the scene. Yet in his summation, Crook accused Peltier of firing the fatal bullets that killed the agents. The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Seventeen years later, in November 1992, Crook admitted to the court reviewing Peltier’s case, “We don’t know who killed the agents”.
Despite Crook’s admission, and even though the appeals court found that Peltier may have been acquitted had evidence not been improperly withheld by the FBI, a new trial was denied.
In 2000, US President Bill Clinton stated that he was considering Peltier’s request for clemency. However, the FBI launched a massive disinformation campaign, which included a march by more than 500 FBI agents outside the White House in December 2000. Peltier’s name was not among those granted clemency by Clinton a month later.
Peltier may become eligible for parole in 2008, but it will be fought tooth and nail by the FBI and other powerful forces who want to keep this inspiring liberation fighter silent. The US authorities continue to make life difficult for Peltier and his supporters. On June 30, he was suddenly transferred from Leavenworth prison in Kansas to Terre Haute in Indiana. His lawyers were not informed and he has been kept in solitary confinement for more than month.
Yet no matter how hard they try, such repression cannot keep Peltier silent, as Harvey Arden’s brilliant tribute shows.
If you’d like to know more, visit
From: Green Left Weekly, September 21, 2005
Deconstructing the Columbus Myth
Was the "Great Discoverer" Italian or Spanish, Nazi or Jew?
by Ward Churchill
Copyright © 1995 by Ward Churchill. Reprinted with permission from Ward Churchill, Since Predator Came (Littleton, CO: Aigis Publications, 1995). This essay originally appeared in Indigenous Thought, Vol. 1, Nos. 2–3 (March–June 1991).
Christopher Columbus was a genuine titan, a hero of history and of the human spirit.... To denigrate Columbus is to denigrate what is worthy in human history and in us all.
-- Jeffrey Hart, National Review, October 15, 1990
It is perhaps fair to say that our story opens at Alfred University, where, during the fall of 1990, I served as distinguished scholar of American Indian Studies for a program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Insofar as I was something of a curiosity in that primarily Euroamerican staffed and attended institution, situated as it is within an area populated primarily by white folk, it followed naturally that I quickly became a magnet for local journalists seeking to inject a bit of color into their otherwise uniformly blanched columns and commentaries. Given our temporal proximity to the much–heralded quincentennial celebration of Christopher Columbus' late fifteenth–century "discovery" of a "New World" and its inhabitants, and that I am construed as being in some part a direct descendant of those inhabitants, they were wont to query me as to my sentiments concerning the accomplishments of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea.
My response, at least in its short version, was (and remains) that celebrating Columbus and the European conquest of the Western Hemisphere that he set off is greatly analogous to celebrating the glories of nazism and Heinrich Himmler. Publication of this remark in local newspapers around Rochester, New York, caused me to receive, among other things, a deluge of lengthy and vociferously framed letters of protest, two of which I found worthy of remark.
The first of these was sent by a colleague at the university, an exchange faculty member from Germany, who informed me that while the human costs begat by Columbus' navigational experiment were "tragic and quite regrettable," comparisons between him and the Reichsführer SS were nonetheless unfounded. The distinction between Himmler and Columbus, his argument went, resided not only in differences in "the magnitude of the genocidal events in which each was involved," but the ways in which they were involved. Himmler, he said, was enmeshed as "a high–ranking and responsible official in the liquidation of entire human groups" as "a matter of formal state policy" guided by an explicitly "racialist" ideology. Furthermore, he said, the enterprise Himmler created as the instrument of his genocidal ambitions incorporated, deliberately and intentionally, considerable economic benefit to the state in whose service he acted. None of this pertained to Columbus, the good professor concluded, because the "Great Discoverer" was ultimately "little more than a gifted seaman," an individual who unwittingly set in motion processes over which he had little or no control, in which he played no direct part, and which might well have been beyond his imagination. My juxtaposition of the two men, he contended, therefore tended to "diminish understanding of the unique degree of evil" which should be associated with Himmler, and ultimately precluded "proper historical understandings of the Nazi phenomenon."
The second letter came from a member of the Jewish Defense League in Rochester. His argument ran that, unlike Columbus (whom he described as "little more than a bit player, without genuine authority or even much of a role, in the actual process of European civilization in the New World which his discovery made possible"), Himmler was a "responsible official in a formal state policy of exterminating an entire human group for both racial and economic reasons," and on a scale "unparalleled in all history." My analogy between the two, he said, served to "diminish public respect for the singular nature of the Jewish experience at the hands of the Nazis," as well as popular understanding of "the unique historical significance of the Holocaust." Finally, he added, undoubtedly as a crushing capstone to his position, "It is a measure of your anti–semitism that you compare Himmler to Columbus" because "Columbus was, of course, himself a Jew."
I must confess the last assertion struck me first, and only partly because I'd never before heard claims that Christopher Columbus was of Jewish ethnicity. "What possible difference could this make?" I asked in my letter of reply. "If Himmler himself were shown to have been of Jewish extraction, would it then suddenly become anti–semitic to condemn him for the genocide he perpetrated against Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and others? Would his historical crimes then suddenly be unmentionable or even `okay'?" To put it another way, I continued, "Simply because Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz, Bugsey Siegel and Lepke were all Jewish `by blood', is it a gesture of anti–semitism to refer to them as gangsters? Is it your contention that an individual's Jewish ethnicity somehow confers exemption from negative classification or criticism of his/her conduct? What are you saying?" The question of Columbus' possible Jewishness nonetheless remained intriguing, not because I held it to be especially important in its own right, but because I was (and am still) mystified as to why any ethnic group, especially one which has suffered genocide, might be avid to lay claim either to the man or to his legacy. I promised myself to investigate the matter further.
A Mythic Symbiosis
Meanwhile, I was captivated by certain commonalities of argument inherent to the positions advanced by my correspondents. Both men exhibited a near–total ignorance of the actualities of Columbus' career. Nor did they demonstrate any particular desire to correct the situation. Indeed, in their mutual need to separate the topic of their preoccupation from rational scrutiny, they appeared to have conceptually joined hands in a function composed more of faith than fact. The whole notion of the "uniqueness of the Holocaust" serves both psychic and political purposes for Jew and German alike, or so it seems. The two groups are bound to one another in a truly symbiotic relationship grounded in the mythic exclusivity of their experience: one half of the equation simply completes the other in a perverse sort of collaboration, with the result that each enjoys a tangible benefit.
For Jews, at least those who have adopted the zionist perspective, a "unique historical suffering" under nazism translates into fulfillment of a biblical prophecy that they are "the chosen," entitled by virtue of the destiny of a special persecution to assume a rarified status among—and to consequently enjoy preferential treatment from—the remainder of humanity. In essence, this translates into a demand that the Jewish segment of the Holocaust's victims must now be allowed to participate equally in the very system which once victimized them, and to receive an equitable share of the spoils accruing therefrom. To this end, zionist scholars such as Irving Louis Horowitz and Elie Wiesel have labored long and mightily, defining genocide in terms exclusively related to the forms it assumed under nazism. In their version of "truth," one must literally see smoke pouring from the chimneys of Auschwitz in order to apprehend that a genocide, per se, is occurring.1 Conversely, they have coined terms such as "ethnocide" to encompass the fates inflicted upon other peoples throughout history.2 Such semantics have served, not as tools of understanding, but as an expedient means of arbitrarily differentiating the experience of their people—both qualitatively and quantitatively—from that of any other. To approach things in any other fashion would, it must be admitted, tend to undercut ideas like the "moral right" of the Israeli settler state to impose itself directly atop the Palestinian Arab homeland.
For Germans to embrace a corresponding "unique historical guilt" because of what was done to the Jews during the 1940s is to permanently absolve themselves of guilt concerning what they may be doing now. No matter how ugly things may become in contemporary German society, or so the reasoning goes, it can always be (and is) argued that there has been a marked improvement over the "singular evil which was nazism." Anything other than outright nazification is, by definition, "different," "better," and therefore "acceptable" ("Bad as they are, things could always be worse."). Business as usual—which is to say assertions of racial supremacy, domination, and exploitation of "inferior" groups, and most of the rest of the nazi agenda—is thereby free to continue in a manner essentially unhampered by serious stirrings of guilt among the German public so long as it does not adopt the literal trappings of nazism. Participating for profit and with gusto in the deliberate starvation of much of the Third World is no particular problem if one is careful not to goose step while doing it.
By extension, insofar as Germany is often seen (and usually sees itself) as exemplifying the crowning achievements of "Western Civilization," the same principle covers all European and Euro–derived societies. No matter what they do, it is never "really" what it seems unless it was done in precisely the fashion the nazis did it. Consequently, the nazi master plan of displacing or reducing by extermination the population of the western USSR and replacing it with settlers of "biologically superior German breeding stock" is roundly (and rightly) condemned as ghastly and inhuman. Meanwhile, people holding this view of nazi ambitions tend overwhelmingly to see consolidation and maintenance of Euro–dominated settler states in places like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, the United States, and Canada as "basically okay," or even as "progress." The "distinction" allowing this psychological phenomenon is that each of these states went about the intentional displacement and extermination of native populations, and their replacement, in a manner slightly different in its particulars from that employed by nazis attempting to accomplish exactly the same thing. Such technical differentiation is then magnified and used as a sort of all–purpose veil, behind which almost anything can be hidden, so long as it is not openly adorned with a swastika.
Given the psychological, socio–cultural, and political imperatives involved, neither correspondent, whether German or Jew, felt constrained to examine the factual basis of my analogy between Himmler and Columbus before denying the plausibility or appropriateness of the comparison. To the contrary, since the paradigm of their mutual understanding embodies the a priori presumption that there must be no such analogy, factual investigation is precluded from their posturing. It follows that any dissent on the "methods" involved in their arriving at their conclusions, never mind introduction of countervailing evidence, must be denied out of hand with accusations of "overstatement," "shoddy scholarship," "stridency" and/or "anti–semitism." To this litany have lately been added such new variations as "white bashing," "ethnic McCarthyism," "purveyor of political correctitude," and any other epithet deemed helpful in keeping a "canon of knowledge" fraught with distortion, deception, and outright fraud from being "diluted."3
Columbus as Proto–Nazi
It is time to delve into the substance of my remark that Columbus and Himmler, nazi lebensraumpolitik, along with the "settlement of the New World" bear more than casual resemblance to one another. It is not, as my two correspondents wished to believe, because of his "discovery." This does not mean that if this were "all" he had done he would be somehow innocent of what resulted from his find, no more than is the scientist who makes a career of accepting military funding to develop weapons in any way "blameless" when they are subsequently used against human targets. Columbus did not sally forth upon the Atlantic for reasons of "neutral science" or altruism. He went, as his own diaries, reports, and letters make clear, fully expecting to encounter wealth belonging to others. It was his stated purpose to seize this wealth, by whatever means necessary and available, in order to enrich both his sponsors and himself.4 Plainly, he prefigured, both in design and by intent, what came next. To this extent, he not only symbolizes the process of conquest and genocide which eventually consumed the indigenous peoples of America, but bears the personal responsibility of having participated in it. Still, if this were all there was to it, I might be inclined to dismiss him as a mere thug rather than branding him a counterpart to Himmler.
The 1492 "voyage of discovery" is, however, hardly all that is at issue. In 1493 Columbus returned with an invasion force of 17 ships, appointed at his own request by the Spanish Crown to install himself as "viceroy and governor of [the Caribbean islands] and the mainland" of America, a position he held until 1500.5 Setting up shop on the large island he called Española (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he promptly instituted policies of slavery (encomiendo) and systematic extermination of the native Taino population.6 Columbus' programs reduced Taino numbers from as many as 8 million at the outset of his regime to about 3 million in 1496.7 Perhaps 100,000 were left by the time the governor departed. His policies, however, remained, with the result that by 1514 the Spanish census of the island showed barely 22,000 Indians remaining alive. In 1542, only 200 were recorded.8 Thereafter, they were considered extinct, as were Indians throughout the Caribbean Basin, an aggregate population which totaled more than 15 million at the point of first contact with the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, as Columbus was known.9
This, to be sure, constitutes an attrition of population in real numbers every bit as great as the toll of 12 to 15 million—about half of them Jewish—most commonly attributed to Himmler's slaughter mills. Moreover, the proportion of indigenous Caribbean population destroyed by the Spanish in a single generation is, no matter how the figures are twisted, far greater than the 75 percent of European Jews usually said to have been exterminated by the nazis.10 Worst of all, these data apply only to the Caribbean Basin; the process of genocide in the Americas was only just beginning at the point such statistics become operant, not ending, as they did upon the fall of the Third Reich. All told, it is probable that more than 100 million native people were "eliminated" in the course of Europe's ongoing "civilization" of the Western Hemisphere.11
It has long been asserted by "responsible scholars" that this decimation of American Indians which accompanied the European invasion resulted primarily from disease rather than direct killing or conscious policy.12 There is a certain truth to this, although starvation may have proven just as lethal in the end. It must be borne in mind when considering such facts that a considerable portion of those who perished in the nazi death camps died, not as the victims of bullets and gas, but from starvation, as well as epidemics of typhus, dysentery and the like. Their keepers, who could not be said to have killed these people directly, were nonetheless found to have been culpable in their deaths by way of deliberately imposing the conditions which led to the proliferation of starvation and disease among them.13 Certainly, the same can be said of Columbus' regime, under which the original residents were, as a first order of business, permanently dispossessed of their abundant cultivated fields while being converted into chattel, ultimately to be worked to death for the wealth and "glory" of Spain.14
Nor should more direct means of extermination be relegated to incidental status. As the matter is framed by Kirkpatrick Sale in his book, The Conquest of Paradise:
The tribute system, instituted by the Governor sometime in 1495, was a simple and brutal way of fulfilling the Spanish lust for gold while acknowledging the Spanish distaste for labor. Every Taino over the age of fourteen had to supply the rulers with a hawk's bell of gold every three months (or, in gold–deficient areas, twenty–five pounds of spun cotton); those who did were given a token to wear around their necks as proof that they had made their payment; those who did not were, as [Columbus' brother, Fernando] says discreetly, "punished"—by having their hands cut off, as [the priest, Bartolomé de] Las Casas says less discreetly, and left to bleed to death.15
It is entirely likely that more than 10,000 Indians were killed in this fashion, on Española alone, as a matter of policy, during Columbus' tenure as governor. Las Casas' Brevísima relación, among other contemporaneous sources, is also replete with accounts of Spanish colonists (hidalgos) hanging Tainos en mass, roasting them on spits or burning them at the stake (often a dozen or more at a time), hacking their children into pieces to be used as dog feed and so forth, all of it to instill in the natives a "proper attitude of respect" toward their Spanish "superiors."
[The Spaniards] made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow; or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mother's breast by their feet and dashed their heads against the rocks.... They spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords.16
No SS trooper could be expected to comport himself with a more unrelenting viciousness. And there is more. All of this was coupled to wholesale and persistent massacres:
A Spaniard ... suddenly drew his sword. Then the whole hundred drew theirs and began to rip open the bellies, to cut and kill [a group of Tainos assembled for this purpose]—men, women, children and old folk, all of whom were seated, off guard and frightened.... And within two credos, not a man of them there remain[ed] alive. The Spaniards enter[ed] the large house nearby, for this was happening at its door, and in the same way, with cuts and stabs, began to kill as many as were found there, so that a stream of blood was running, as if a great number of cows had perished.17
Elsewhere, Las Casas went on to recount:
In this time, the greatest outrages and slaughterings of people were perpetrated, whole villages being depopulated.... The Indians saw that without any offense on their part they were despoiled of their kingdoms, their lands and liberties and of their lives, their wives, and homes. As they saw themselves each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards, crushed to earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten and torn by dogs, many buried alive and suffering all kinds of exquisite tortures ... [many surrendered to their fate, while the survivors] fled to the mountains [to starve].18
The butchery continued until there were no Tainos left to butcher. One might well ask how a group of human beings, even those like the Spaniards of Columbus' day, maddened in a collective lust for wealth and prestige, might come to treat another with such unrestrained ferocity over a sustained period. The answer, or some substantial portion of it, must lie in the fact that the Indians were considered by the Spanish to be untermenschen, subhumans. That this was the conventional view is borne out beyond all question in the recorded debates between Las Casas and the nobleman, Francisco de Sepulveda, who argued for the majority of Spaniards that American Indians, like African blacks and other "lower animals," lacked "souls." The Spaniards, consequently, bore in Sepulveda's estimation a holy obligation to enslave and destroy them wherever they might be encountered.19 The eugenics theories of nazi "philosopher" Alfred Rosenberg, to which Heinrich Himmler more or less subscribed, elaborated the mission of the SS in very much the same terms.20 It was upon such profoundly racist ideas that Christopher Columbus grounded his policies as initial governor of the new Spanish empire in America.21
In the end, all practical distinctions between Columbus and Himmler—at least those not accounted for by differences in available technology and extent of socio–military organization—evaporate upon close inspection. They are cut of the same cloth, fulfilling precisely the same function and for exactly the same reasons, each in his own time and place. If there is one differentiation which may be valid, it is that while the specific enterprise Himmler represented ultimately failed and is now universally condemned, that represented by Columbus did not and is not. Instead, as Sale has observed, the model for colonialism and concomitant genocide Columbus pioneered during his reign as governor of Española was to prove his "most enduring legacy," carried as it was "by the conquistadors on their invasions of Mexico, Peru, and La Florida."22 The Columbian process is ongoing, as is witnessed by the fact that, today, his legacy is celebrated far and wide.
The Emblematic European
This leaves open the question as to whom, exactly, the horror which was Columbus rightly "belongs." There are, as it turns out, no shortage of contenders for the mantle of the man and his "accomplishments." It would be well to examine the nature of at least the major claims in order to appreciate the extent of the mad scramble which has been undertaken by various peoples to associate themselves with what was delineated in the preceding section. One cannot avoid the suspicion that the spectacle bespeaks much of the Eurocentric character.
Was Columbus Italian?
The popular wisdom has always maintained that Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, a city–state which is incorporated into what is now called Italy. Were this simply an historical truth, it might be accepted as just one more uncomfortable fact of life for the Italian people, who are—or should be—still trying to live down what their country did to the Libyans and Ethiopians during the prelude to World War II. However, there is much evidence that draws Columbus' supposed Genoese origin into question. For instance, although such records were kept at the time, there is no record of his birth in that locale. Nor is there reference to his having been born or raised there in any of his own written work, including his personal correspondence. For that matter, there is no indication that he either wrote or spoke any dialect which might be associated with Genoa, nor even the Tuscan language which forms the basis of modern Italian. His own writings—not excluding letters penned to Genoese friends and the Banco di San Grigorio, one of his financiers in that city—were uniformly articulated in Castilian, with a bit of Portuguese and Latin mixed in.23 Moreover, while several variations of his name were popularly applied to him during his lifetime, none of them was drawn from a dialect which might be considered Italian. He himself, in the only known instance in which he rendered his own full name, utilized the Greek Xpõual de Colón.24 Still, Genoa, Italy, and those of Italian descent elsewhere in the world (Italo–Americans, most loudly of all) have mounted an unceasing clamor during the twentieth century, insisting he must be theirs. Genoa itself invested considerable resources into "resolving" the question during the 1920s, ultimately printing a 288–page book assembling an array of depositions and other documents—all of them authenticated—attesting that Columbus was indeed Genoese. Published in 1931, the volume, entitled Christopher Columbus: Documents and Proofs of His Genoese Origin, presents what is still the best circumstantial case as to Columbus' ethnic identity.25
Counterclaims concerning Columbus' supposed Iberian origin are also long–standing and have at times been pressed rather vociferously. These center primarily on the established facts that he spent the bulk of his adult life in service to Spain, was fluent in both written and spoken Castilian, and that his mistress, Beatriz Enríquez de Arana, was Spanish.26 During the 1920s, these elements of the case were bolstered by an assortment of "archival documents" allegedly proving conclusively that Columbus was a Spaniard from cradle to grave. In 1928, however, the Spanish Academy determined that these documents had been forged by parties overly eager to establish Spain's exclusive claim to the Columbian legacy. Since then, Spanish chauvinists have had to content themselves with arguments that The Discoverer is theirs by virtue of employment and nationality, if not by birth. An excellent summary of the various Spanish contentions may be found in Enrique de Gandia's Historia de Cristóbal Colón: analisis crítico, first published in 1942.27
Portuguese participation in the fray has been less pronounced, but follows basically the same course—sans forged documents—as that of the Spanish. Columbus, the argument goes, was plainly conversant in the language and his wife, Felipa Moniz Perestrello, is known to have been Portuguese. Further, the first point at which his whereabouts can be accurately determined was in service to Portugal, plying that country's slave trade along Africa's west coast for a period of four years. Reputedly, he was also co–proprietor of a book and map shop in Lisbon and/or Madiera for a time, and once sailed to Iceland on a voyage commissioned by the Portuguese Crown. Portugal's desire to extend a serious claim to Spain's Admiral of the Ocean Sea seems to be gathering at least some momentum, as is witnessed in Manuel Luciano de Silva's 1989 book, Columbus Was 100% Portuguese.28
The idea that Columbus might have been a Spanish Jew is perhaps best known for having appeared in Simon Weisenthal's Sails of Hope in 1973.29 Therein, Weisenthal contends that the future governor of Española hid his ethnicity because of the mass expulsion of Jews from Spain ordered by King Ferdinand of Aragon on March 30, 1492 (the decree was executed on August 2 of the same year). The logic goes that because of this rampant anti–semitism, the Great Navigator's true identity has remained shrouded in mystery, lost to the historical record. Interestingly, given the tenacity with which at least some sectors of the Jewish community have latched on to it, this notion is not at all Jewish in origin. Rather, it was initially developed as a speculation in a 1913 article, "Columbus a Spaniard and a Jew?", published by Henry Vignaud in the American History Review.30 It was then advanced by Salvador de Madariaga in his unsympathetic 1939 biography, Christopher Columbus. Madariaga's most persuasive argument, at least to himself, seems to have been that Columbus' "great love of gold" proved his "Jewishness."31 This theme was resuscitated in Brother Nectario Maria's Juan Colón Was a Spanish Jew in 1971.32 Next, we will probably be told that The Merchant of Venice was an accurate depiction of medieval Jewish life, after all. And, from there, that the International Jewish Bolshevik Banking Conspiracy really exists, and has since the days of the Illuminati takeover of the Masonic Orders. One hopes the Jewish Defense League doesn't rally to defend these "interpretations" of history as readily as it jumped aboard the "Columbus as Jew" bandwagon.33
By conservative count, there are presently 253 books and articles devoted specifically to the question of Columbus' origin and national/ethnic identity. Another 300–odd essays or full volumes address the same questions to some extent while pursuing other matters.34 Claims to his character, and some imagined luster therefrom, have been extended not only by the four peoples already discussed, but by Corsica, Greece, Chios, Majorca, Aragon, Galicia, France, and Poland.35 One can only wait with baited breath to see whether or not the English might not weigh in with a quincentennial assertion that he was actually a Britain born and bred, sent to spy on behalf of Their Royal British Majesties. Perhaps the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians will advance the case that Columbus was actually the descendant of a refugee Viking king, or the Irish that he was a pure Gaelic adherent to the teachings of Saint Brendan. And then there are, of course, the Germans...
In the final analysis, it is patently clear that we really have no idea who Columbus was, where he came from, or where he spent his formative years. It may be that he was indeed born in Genoa, perhaps of some "degree of Jewish blood," brought up in Portugal, and ultimately nationalized as a citizen of Spain, Province of Aragon. Perhaps he also spent portions of his childhood being educated in Greek and Latin while residing in Corsica, Majorca, Chios, or all three. Maybe he had grandparents who had immigrated from what is now Poland and France. It is possible that each of the parties now vying for a "piece of the action" in his regard are to some extent correct in their claims. And, to the same extent, it is true that he was actually of none of them in the sense that they mean it. He stands, by this definition, not as an Italian, Spaniard, Portuguese, or Jew, but as the quintessential European of his age, the emblematic personality of all that Europe was, had been, and would become in the course of its subsequent expansion across the face of the earth.
As a symbol, then, Christopher Columbus vastly transcends himself. He stands before the bar of history and humanity, culpable not only for his literal deeds on Española, but, in spirit at least, for the carnage and cultural obliteration which attended the conquests of Mexico and Peru during the 1500s. He stands as exemplar of the massacre of Pequots at Mystic in 1637, and of Lord Jeffrey Amherst's calculated distribution of smallpox–laden blankets to the members of Pontiac's confederacy a century and a half later. His spirit informed the policies of John Evans and John Chivington as they set out to exterminate the Cheyennes in Colorado during 1864, and it road with the 7th U.S. Cavalry to Wounded Knee in December of 1890. It guided Alfredo Stroessner's machete–wielding butchers as they strove to eradicate the Aché people of Paraguay during the 1970s, and applauds the policies of Brazil toward the Jivaro, Yanomami, and other Amazon Basin peoples at the present moment.
Too, the ghost of Columbus stood with the British in their wars against the Zulus and various Arab nations, with the United States against the "Moros" of the Philippines, the French against the peoples of Algeria and Indochina, the Belgians in the Congo, the Dutch in Indonesia. He was there for the Opium Wars and the "secret" bombing of Cambodia, for the systematic slaughter of the indigenous peoples of California during the nineteenth century and of the Mayans in Guatemala during the 1980s. And, yes, he was very much present in the corridors of nazi power, present among the guards and commandants at Sobibor and Treblinka, and within the ranks of the einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front. The Third Reich was, after all, never so much a deviation from as it was a crystallization of the dominant themes—racial supremacism, conquest, and genocide—of the European culture Columbus so ably exemplifies. Nazism was never unique: it was instead only one of an endless succession of "New World Orders" set in motion by "The Discovery." It was neither more nor less detestable than the order imposed by Christopher Columbus upon Española; 1493 or 1943, they are part of the same irreducible whole.
The Specter of Hannibal Lecter
At this juncture, the entire planet is locked, figuratively, in a room with the socio–cultural equivalent of Hannibal Lecter. An individual of consummate taste and refinement, imbued with indelible grace and charm, he distracts his victims with the brilliance of his intellect, even while honing his blade. He is thus able to dine alone upon their livers, his feast invariably candlelit, accompanied by lofty music and a fine wine. Over and over the ritual is repeated, always hidden, always denied in order that it may be continued. So perfect is Lecter's pathology that, from the depths of his scorn for the inferiors upon whom he feeds, he advances himself as their sage and therapist, he who is incomparably endowed with the ability to explain their innermost meanings, he professes to be their savior. His success depends upon being embraced and exalted by those upon whom he preys. Ultimately, so long as Lecter is able to retain his mask of omnipotent gentility, he can never be stopped. The socio–cultural equivalent of Hannibal Lecter is the core of an expansionist European "civilization" which has reached out to engulf the planet.
In coming to grips with Lecter, it is of no useful purpose to engage in sympathetic biography, to chronicle the nuances of his childhood, and catalogue his many and varied achievements, whether real or imagined. The recounting of such information is at best diversionary, allowing him to remain at large just that much longer. More often, it inadvertently serves to perfect his mask, enabling him not only to maintain his enterprise, but to pursue it with ever more arrogance and efficiency. At worst, the biographer is aware of the intrinsic evil lurking beneath the subject's veneer of civility, but—because of morbid fascination and a desire to participate vicariously—deliberately obfuscates the truth in order that his homicidal activities may continue unchecked. The biographer thus reveals not only a willing complicity in the subject's crimes, but a virulent pathology of his or her own. Such is and has always been the relationship of "responsible scholarship" to expansionist Europe and its derivative societies.
The sole legitimate function of information compiled about Lecter is that which will serve to unmask him and thereby lead to his apprehension. The purpose of apprehension is not to visit retribution upon the psychopath—he is, after all, by definition mentally ill and consequently not in control of his more lethal impulses—but to put an end to his activities. It is even theoretically possible that, once he is disempowered, he can be cured. The point, however, is to understand what he is and what he does well enough to stop him from doing it. This is the role which must be assumed by scholarship vis–à–vis Eurosupremacy, if scholarship itself is to have any positive and constructive meaning. Scholarship is never "neutral" or "objective"; it always works either for the psychopath or against him, to mystify socio–cultural reality or to decode it, to make corrective action possible or to prevent it.
It may well be that there are better points of departure for intellectual endeavors to capture the real form and meaning of Eurocentrism than the life, times, and legacy of Christopher Columbus. Still, since Eurocentrists the world over have so evidently clasped hands in utilizing him as a (perhaps the) preeminent signifier of their collective heritage, and are doing so with such an apparent sense of collective jubilation, the point has been rendered effectively moot. Those who seek to devote their scholarship to apprehending the psychopath who sits in our room thus have no alternative but to use him as a primary vehicle of articulation. In order to do so, we must approach him through deployment of the analytical tools which allow him to be utilized as a medium of explanation, a lens by which to shed light upon phenomena such as the mass psychologies of fascism and racism, a means by which to shear Eurocentrism of its camouflage, exposing its true contours, revealing the enduring coherence of the dynamics which forged its evolution.
Perhaps through such efforts we can begin to genuinely comprehend the seemingly incomprehensible fact that so many groups are presently queuing up to associate themselves with a man from whose very memory wafts the cloying stench of tyranny and genocide. From there, it may be possible to at last crack the real codes of meaning underlying the sentiments of the Nuremberg rallies, those spectacles on the plazas of Rome during which fealty was pledged to Mussolini, and that amazing red–white–and–blue, tie–a–yellow–ribbon frenzy gripping the U.S. public much more lately. If we force ourselves to see things clearly, we can understand. If we can understand, we can apprehend. If we can apprehend, perhaps we can stop the psychopath before he kills again. We are obligated to try, from a sense of sheer self–preservation, if nothing else. Who knows, we may even succeed. But first we must stop lying to ourselves, or allowing others to do the lying for us, about who it is with whom we now share our room.
1. See, for example, Irving Louis Horowitz, Genocide: State Power and Mass Murder (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1976); and Elie Weisel, Legends of Our Time (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston Publishers, 1968). The theme is crystallized in Roger Manvell and Fraenkel Heinrich, Incomparable Crime; Mass Extermination in the 20th Century: The Legacy of Guilt (London: Hinemann Publishers, 1967).
2. See, for example, Richard Falk, "Ethnocide, Genocide, and the Nuremberg Tradition of Moral Responsibility," in Philosophy, Morality, and International Affairs, Virginia Held, Sidney Morganbesser and Thomas Nagel, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 123–37; Monroe C. Beardsley, "Reflections on Genocide and Ethnocide," in Genocide in Paraguay, Richard Arens, ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976), pp. 85–101; and Robert Jaulin, L'Ethnocide à travers Les Amériques (Paris: Gallimard Publishers, 1972), and La décivilisation, politique et pratique de l'ethnocide (Brussels: Presses Universitaires de France, 1974).
3. Assaults upon thinking deviating from Eurocentric mythology have been published with increasing frequency in U.S. mass circulation publications such as Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, Forbes, Commentary, Scientific American, and the Wall Street Journal throughout 1990–91. A perfect illustration for our purposes here is Jeffrey Hart, "Discovering Columbus," National Review (15 Oct. 1990), pp. 56–57.
4. See Samuel Eliot Morison, ed. and trans., Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York: Heritage Publishers, 1963).
5. The letter of appointment to these positions, signed by Ferdinand and Isabella, and dated May 28, 1493, is quoted in full in Benjamin Keen, trans., The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1959), pp. 105–06.
6. The best sources on Columbus' policies are Troy Floyd, The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492–1526 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973); and Stuart B. Schwartz, The Iberian Mediterranean and Atlantic Traditions in the Formation of Columbus as a Colonizer (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
7. Regarding the 8–million figure, see Sherburn F. Cook and Borah Woodrow, Essays in Population History, Vol. I (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), esp. Chap. VI. The 3–million figure pertaining to the year 1496 derives from a survey conducted by Bartolomé de Las Casas in that year, covered in J. B. Thatcher, Christopher Columbus, Vol. 2 (New York: Putnam's Sons Publishers, 1903–1904), p. 348ff.
8. For summaries of the Spanish census records, see Lewis Hanke, The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1947), p. 200ff. See also Salvador de Madariaga, The Rise of the Spanish American Empire (London: Hollis and Carter Publishers, 1947).
9. For aggregate estimates of the pre–contact indigenous population of the Caribbean Basin, see William Denevan, ed., The Native Population of the Americas in 1492 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976); Henry Dobyns, Their Numbers Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983); and Russell Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987). For additional information, see Henry Dobyns' bibliographic Native American Historical Demography (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1976).
10. These figures are utilized in numerous studies. One of the more immediately accessible is Leo Kuper, Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1981).
11. See Henry F. Dobyns, "Estimating American Aboriginal Population: An Appraisal of Techniques with a New Hemispheric Estimate," Current Anthropology, No. 7, pp. 395–416.
12. An overall pursuit of this theme will be found in P. M. Ashburn, The Ranks of Death (New York: Coward Publishers, 1947). See also John Duffy, Epidemics in Colonial America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1953). Broader and more sophisticated articulations of the same idea are embodied in Alfred W. Crosby, Jr., The Columbia Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1972), and Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
13. One of the more thoughtful elaborations on this theme may be found in Bradley F. Smith, Reaching Judgement at Nuremberg (New York: Basic Books, 1977).
14. See Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1984).
15. Kirkpatrick Sale, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, 1990), p. 155.
16. Bartolomé de las Casas, The Spanish Colonie (Brevísima revacíon) University Microfilms reprint, 1966).
17. Bartolomé de Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, Vol. 3, Augustin Millares Carlo and Lewis Hanke, eds. (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1951), esp. Chap. 29.
18. Bartolomé de Las Casas, quoted in J. B. Thatcher, op. cit., p. 348ff.
19. See Lewis Hanke, Aristotle and the American Indians: A Study in Race Prejudice in the Modern World (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1959). See also Rob Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought (London: Oxford University Press, 1989).
20. The most succinctly competent overview of this subject matter is probably Robert Cecil, The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and Nazi Ideology (New York: Dodd and Mead Company, 1972).
21. The polemics of Columbus' strongest supporters among his contemporaries amplify this point. See, for example, Oviedo, Historia general y natural de las Indias (Seville, 1535; Salamanca, 1547, 1549) (Valladoid, 1557) (Madrid: Academia Historica, 1851–55), esp. Chaps. 29, 30, 37.
22. Kirkpatrick Sale, op. cit., p. 156.
23. On Columbus' written expression, see V. I. Milani, "The Written Language of Christopher Columbus," Forum italicum (1973). See also Cecil Jane, "The question of Literacy of Christopher Columbus," Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 10 (1930).
24. On Columbus' signature, see J. B. Thatcher, op. cit., p. 454.
25. City of Genoa, Christopher Columbus: Documents and Proofs of His Genoese Origin (Genoa: Instituto d'Arti Grafiche, 1931) (English language edition, 1932).
26. José de la Torre, Beatriz Enríquez de Harana (Madrid: Iberoamericana Publishers, 1933).
27. Enrique de Gandia, Historia de Cristóbal Colón: analisis crítico (Buenos Aires, 1942).
28. Manuel Luciano de Silva, Columbus Was 100% Portuguese (Bristol, Rhode Island: self–published, 1989).
29. Simon Weisenthal, Sails of Hope (New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1973).
30. Henry Vignaud, "Columbus a Spaniard and a Jew?" American History Review, Vol. 18 (1913). This initial excursion into the idea was followed in more depth by Francisco Martínez in his El descubrimiento de América y las joyas de doña Isabel (Seville, 1916); and Jacob Wasserman in Christoph Columbus (Berlin: S. Fisher Publishers, 1929).
31. Salvador de Madariaga, Christopher Columbus (London: Oxford University Press, 1939). His lead was followed by Armando Alvarez Pedroso in an essay, "Cristóbal Colón no fue hebero" (Revista de Historica de América, 1942) and Antonio Ballesteros y Beretta in Cristóbal Colón y el descubrimiento de América (Barcelona/Buenos Aires: Savat Publishers, 1945).
32. Brother Nectario Maria, Juan Colón Was A Spanish Jew (New York: Cedney Publishers, 1971).
33. A much sounder handling of the probabilities of early Jewish migration to the Americas may be found in Meyer Keyserling, Christopher Columbus and the Participation of the Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries (Longmans, Green Publishers, 1893) (reprinted 1963).
34. For a complete count, see Simonetta Conti, Un secolo di bibliografia colombiana 1880–1985 (Genoa: Cassa di Risparmio di Genova e Imperia, 1986).
35. These claims are delineated and debunked in Jacques Heers, Christophe Columb (Paris: Hachette Publishers, 1981).
Copyright © 1995 by Ward Churchill.
from where i stand
i can cleary see your tormented faces
how you must hate me
i wonder how many think of killin me
of assasinating their countries leader
but again lookin at you all
i see fear
fear of death
no martyrs are among you
so i am safe within the confines of the law
to overtax you
police force you
victims of society
victims of western democracy
no martyrs are among you
even though our country achieved independence
european rule still prevails
neo-colonialism has its roots deep in our soil
i care not
as long as i am well paid
no martyrs are among you
so i am safe within the confines of your passitivity
to stand on this rostrum
and address you
and fill your oppressed ears
with mockin promises
as i speak, i speak for all who are here with me
brown and nearly white
for color, class and creed
has no meanin where the almighty dollar is concerned
and on behalf of the government
here and abroad
i would like to thank you voters
for dippin your finger in the blood
thus markin an X
givin us the wrong to do wrong
you dont have to hear my thoughts
you know them
no martyrs are among you
Compliments of Free Voice of America (FVOA): Accurate News and Interesting Commentary for Amerika's Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free.
How Mankind Is Sleepwalking to the End of the Earth
by Maria Gilardin
September 21, 2005
This headline appeared in the London Independent in early February of 2005, following a conference at the Hadley Centre in Exeter, England, where 200 of the world’s leading scientists issued the most urgent warning to date: that dangerous climate change is taking place today, and not the day after tomorrow.
Floods, storms, and droughts. Melting polar ice, shrinking glaciers, oceans turning to acid. Scientists from the fields of glaciology, biology, meteorology, oceanography, and ecology reported seeing a dramatic rise over the last 50 years of all the indicators of climate change: increase in average world temperatures, extreme weather events, in the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and in the level of the oceans.
The award winning environmental writer Geoffrey Lean wrote: “Future historians, looking back from a much hotter and less hospitable world . . . will puzzle over how a whole generation could have sleepwalked into disaster -- destroying the climate that has allowed human civilization to flourish over the past 11,000 years.”
The overwhelming majority of scientists and international climate monitoring bodies now agree that climate change is taking place, that humans are responsible, and that time is running out. In fact, we could reach “the point of no return” in a decade, reported Lean.
Melting glaciers all across the world include: the Broggi in the Peruvian Andes, Glacier Ururashraju in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, the Pasterze in Austria, Portage Glacier near Anchorage, Alaska, Mount Hood in Oregon, Mount Kilimanjaro in northeastern Tanzania, the Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, and the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland.
The earth is getting warmer. While average warming is just under 1 degree Celsius worldwide, the Polar Regions show warming of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius, due to feedback effects. With the melt of white snow, that previously reflected some of the heat back into the atmosphere (albedo effect), newly exposed darker surfaces absorb heat, and accelerate melting of more ice and snow.
A world average warming of under 1 degree Celsius may seem small. However, historically, the difference between warm periods and an ice age has been only 5 to 6 degrees Celsius. The transformation from the last ice age to the present climate resulted from a slow rise in temperature, which took 5,000 years to fully complete, allowing life on Earth to adapt to the changes. We could bring about a 5- to 6- degree change in only 150 years if we don’t start constraining the use of fossil fuels.
It is not only the fundamental change in the composition of air, water, and soil that we need to consider. The speed at which these changes are forced upon the planet already leads to high extinction rates.
Scientists at the Exeter meeting agreed that warming over 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures would be dangerous -- and we are almost half way there. To burn up the world’s remaining coal reserves, they estimated, would raise the average temperature by 3 to 8 degrees C in less than 150 years.
Quite a few climate “skeptics”, fossil fuel executives, and members of the Bush administration are still denying that there is such a thing as human-caused global warming. Many of them claim that the sun has just grown hotter. However, a warmer sun would have heated the stratosphere as well. In contrast, the stratosphere is cooling -- suggesting a blanket of greenhouse gases that prevents the earth’s heat from radiating back into space.
We know how the greenhouse effect works. Venus, with a thick greenhouse cover is hot; Mars, with a thin greenhouse is cold. Earth’s blanket of greenhouse gases is made up of the byproducts of the industrial age and an outdated Victorian technology. Even though methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas, it is CO2 that makes up over 80% of the greenhouse gas mix. Ice core studies show that CO2 concentrations on this planet had been stable for the last millennium, never rising or falling more than 10 ppm, and fluctuating between 275 and 285 ppm. Now CO2 concentrations are beginning to exceed 370 ppm, and are rising from year to year. Other greenhouse gases show the same dramatic increase -- mainly in the past 40 to 50 years. We are already living under a dome of air that no one has breathed in a million years.
Ocean Warming and Acidification
The average temperature of the surface waters of the oceans, extending to a depth of several hundred meters, has risen by a 1/2 degree Celsius. This has occurred in just the past 40 years. The oceans have also become more acidic, due to the uptake of anthropogenic CO2. The Plymouth Marine Laboratory in England estimates that 48% of fossil-fuel CO2, or 400 billion tons, have been absorbed by the oceans, making them the largest reservoir of carbon, a load greater than that borne by the atmosphere or the earth. CO2, while more inert in the atmosphere, becomes highly reactive in oceans, leading to physical, biological, and geological changes.
Carol Turley, head of science at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, warns that no such ph changes in oceans have occurred in the past 20 million years, and that the capacity of oceans to take up CO2 is limited.
What might the consequences of such changes in the oceans be? An August 2005 article in the Globe and Mail, on starving sea birds washing up on Pacific coast beaches from California to British Columbia, reports that scientists believe that, at least for this year, the “bottom has fallen out of the coastal food chain.” Off the Oregon coast, the waters near the shore are 5 to 7 degrees warmer than normal. A layer of warm water along the whole Pacific coastline prevents the usual upwelling of cool water rich in phytoplankton, the base of the food web for all marine life.
Zooplankton, such as krill, depend on phytoplankton. The disappearance of zooplankton in turn affects seabirds and fish from sardines to whales. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found a 20 to 30 per cent drop in juvenile salmon off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia; and monitoring in Central and Northern California shows the lowest number of juvenile rockfish in more than 20 years.
The world has not yet felt the real impact of global warming since the oceans have absorbed so much heat and CO2. The US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) put out two studies in March 2005. They suggest that due to the thermal inertia of the oceans global temperatures and sea levels will continue to rise for the next 100 years - even if greenhouse gas emissions come under control.
First Signs of a Gulf Stream Collapse
The opening presentations at the Exeter, UK conference gave the most comprehensive assessment of so-called “wild cards”, climate change events that risk feedback loops no longer responsive to human intervention. The run-away events, or ecological landslides include accelerated melting of the enormous ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, as well as the decline and possible reversal of the Gulf Stream that conveys heat from the tropics to Europe.
In the Hollywood movie “The Day After Tomorrow,” the Gulf Stream stops flowing in a matter of days, creating an instant ice age on the Atlantic coast and Western Europe. Scientists at Exeter said it would take at least ten years for such an event to unfold and a few hundred years to set up the conditions. But they warned that the Thermohaline Circulation, as they call the Gulf Stream, has stopped flowing before -- and that we have already a greater than 50% likelihood of a shutdown if we do not enact strict climate policies.
The amount of heat transported North by the Gulf Stream, which keeps Western Europe 5 to 10 degrees Celsius warmer than it would normally be at its latitude, equals one million billion watts -- sufficient to satisfy the energy needs of 100 Earths. Even a partial failure of the Gulf Stream would have huge consequences.
The Gulf Stream picks up heat from the equatorial sun. Driven by warmth, the stream flows northeast towards Europe and the Greenland ice sheets, where the water cools and sinks. The cooler and saltier the water, the stronger the sinking motion. Dense cool and salty water from the Gulf Stream then flows back to the tropics at a deeper ocean level.
As the Polar Regions and the oceans are warming, melt-water from ice sheets and glaciers is changing the salinity of the ocean. A combination of the rising ocean surface temperature, and the decreasing salinity, already visibly changes the movement of sea currents that depend on differences in warmth and coolness, and the weight that higher salinity adds to the water as the driving force.
Large-scale salinity changes in the Arctic and sub-Arctic Seas were reported in June 2005, in the journal Science. Ruth Curry from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, analyzed temperature, salinity, and density data, collected in the North Atlantic Ocean over the last 55 years. Curry warned that excessive amounts of freshwater dumped into the North Atlantic could affect the flow of the Gulf Stream.
We know, from ice-core data, when the Gulf Stream has stopped flowing before. The most recent collapse, 15,000 years ago during the Younger Dryas, was caused by the sweetening of the North Atlantic Ocean, when glaciers covering North America melted and began flowing through the St. Lawrence waterway into the Atlantic, instead of into the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi. Today’s accelerated melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets may recreate these conditions, not just for the Gulf Stream but also for other parts of the global ocean circulation.
In May of this year, the London Times reported that first signs of a slow down of the Gulf Stream had been detected by a Cambridge University researcher, who hitches rides on a Royal Navy submarine to one of the three areas where the Gulf Stream reverses its course. Peter Wadhams said that “until recently we could find giant ‘chimneys’ in the sea where columns of cold, dense water were sinking from the surface to the seabed 3,000 meters below, but now they have almost disappeared.”
Off the coast of Greenland, the Odden Ice Shelf once grew out into the Greenland Sea every winter, and receded in the summer. The Odden triggered the annual formation of sinking water columns in that area. However, since 1997, the shelf has ceased to form. Where Wadhams had once observed 12 giant columns of sinking water under the ice, he now found only two -- and they were so weak that they were unable to reach the seabed.
Wadhams also predicts complete summer melting of the Arctic ice cap by as early as 2020. On his submarine journeys, using sonar to survey the ice cap from underneath, he has observed a 46% thinning over the past 20 years.
The Greenland Ice Sheet is Melting
The biggest danger to the Gulf Stream comes from melt-water off the Greenland ice sheet, the second largest store of fresh water on this planet. If all of it were to melt, sea levels around the world would rise by 7 meters -- over 20 feet. However even a partial meltdown would affect the Gulf Stream, by diluting the salt water right at the crucial point where the Gulf Stream sinks and returns to the tropics.
Prof. Michael Schlesinger from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, whose climate model already predicts a 50% chance of Gulf Stream shutdown if we do not enact climate policies, and a 25% shutdown even if we limit greenhouse gases, based his estimate only on increased rainfall, due to global warming. He now says he will have to include additional melt-water from the Greenland ice sheet into his next set of data, because it appears that the melt has begun.
Observations on the Greenland ice sheet are done by G.P.S. (global positioning systems) and radar and laser via satellites and airplanes. G.P.S. data of the past 5 years show accelerated melting, and even the beginning of a possible feedback effect: the more the ice sheet melts the faster it starts to move. The reason for this acceleration, it is believed, is that melt-water from the surface of the ice sheet makes its way down to the bedrock below, where it acts as a lubricant, further speeding up the slippage and disintegration.
The question now is, when does this feedback process reach the point of no return? James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says that if greenhouse-gas emissions are not controlled now, the total disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet could be set in motion in a matter of decades. Although it could take hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years to fully play out, once begun the process would become self-reinforcing and cannot be halted.
The Gulf Stream is just one part of a complex global system of ocean currents that affect temperatures, winds, and rain across the whole planet. We now have charts of these powerful currents driven by heat and coolness, traversing all oceans, - Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian. And they are all interconnected via the huge circumpolar current flowing around the Antarctic. Changes at the South Pole therefore would have an even larger effect than those in the Arctic.
Ice Shelf Collapses and the Melting of Antarctica
The Antarctic is the 5th largest continent. It holds 90% of the world’s fresh water. A comparison in scale to the Greenland ice sheet shows that if all Antarctic ice were to melt, sea levels would rise by over 169 feet. The Antarctic has had a permanent ice sheet for the last 30 million years.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge now reports rapid warming on the West Antarctic Peninsula and the WAIS, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Of the 224 glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula, over 87% are in retreat. Major ice shelves have collapsed. BAS scientists believe disappearing ice shelves are now contributing to more rapid melting of glaciers formerly protected by the floating ice shelf at their base.
Antarctica’s huge Larsen B ice shelf collapsed in just 35 days after a NASA satellite detected the first ruptures at the end of January 2002; it was roughly the size of Luxembourg. Soil sediments from that ice shelf reveal that Larsen B had been intact for 20,000 years - since the peak of the last ice age. No collapse of this size has happened since the end of the last Ice Age.
Larsen B's smaller neighbor, Larsen A, broke off in 1995. According to studies by the BAS, other much bigger ice shelves nearby, such as the Ross and Ronne, each larger than France, are also considered at risk of disintegrating.
Another troubling development in the Antarctic, according to the director of the BAS, Chris Rapley, is the accelerated flow of melt streams underneath the Antarctic ice sheet. Until recently, scientists were unable to explain the 20th century’s world-wide sea-level rises of between 1 and 2 mm per year, by the amount of ice that has melted from glaciers and ice sheets. Even after taking into account thermal expansion, they wondered where the extra water was coming from.
Recent discoveries show a major hidden source of water comes from polar ice sheets. In the Antarctic, ice streams, and a newly discovered network of tributaries underneath the ice sheets, drain 33 major basins. Flow rates are much faster than previously assumed. Ice streams, from the feed glaciers behind the collapsed Larsen A and B ice shelves, also show accelerated flows. The BAS calls this a “cork out of the bottle” effect.
These “wild cards,” the melting of the polar ice caps and the acidification of the oceans, were only the most dramatic events on the agenda of the Exeter, UK, meeting on the dangers of climate-change. The number of scientific papers, recording changes in ecosystems due to global warming, escalated in five years, from 14 to more than a thousand. In one presentation after another, scientists described a crisis they had dedicated their lives to avoid.
Geoffrey Lean, who attended the conference, wrote that there were few in the room that did not sense their children or grandchildren standing invisibly at their shoulders. The formal conclusion of the meeting, that climate change was “already occurring” and that “in many cases the risks are more serious than previously thought,” appeared in the press all over the world -- except in the United States. However even in the European press, very few writers took on the scientific details of this story, without which political action and organizing are impossible. Geoffrey Lean wrote: “Mankind is Sleepwalking to the End of the Earth.”
Bush-Wars on Climate Science
After the Exeter meeting, in an interview for TUC Radio, the director of BAS, Chris Rapley, spoke about how, in public appearances, he bridges the gap between science, and popular understanding of these dramatic changes.
He said he always refers to the picture of Earth in space taken by Apollo 17: the small blue planet, tilted back to show the Antarctic, surrounded by inky blackness. The image, he says, shows that this is all there is, no other life-support system trails behind; and, that on the planet all is interconnected.
Earth is the most complex and complicated object in the universe that we know of, says Rapley, a radio astronomer by training. Only Earth has an ocean and clouds. Only Earth has physics, biology, geology, chemistry, and anthropology.
Humans have transformed the earth in a dramatic way, especially in the last 50 years. Not only have we drastically changed the carbon cycle by the burning of fossil fuel and coal, and by increasing forest fires; we have also changed the nitrogen cycle worldwide by the amount of nitrogen being fixed by industrial agriculture and fertilizer use.
We have transformed more than half the land surface through agriculture, deforestation, mining, industry, paving, and ever-growing cities. These changes have altered the climate systems by the way moisture is exchanged between Earth and the atmosphere.
We have destroyed biodiversity by shifting plants and animals into places and conditions where they cannot survive. Our own survival, as humans, is only slightly more secure. We are seeing the most basic of our needs -- air, water, housing, and energy -- disappear before our eyes. Rapley concluded that there is no way to imagine that humans could do all these things without an effect.
The demise of our common life-support system is accelerated by even more energy-intensive activities, by which a privileged group of people attempts to secure its survival.
The meeting in Exeter was held explicitly to convince the Bush administration to join the rest of the industrialized world, and to use the July 2005 G8 meeting to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The United States and Australia, the world’s two largest polluters, are -- to this day -- refusing to be part of any global agreement to limit CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
The G8 meeting came and went. The US, with 42% of global fossil fuel CO2, and 34% of combined greenhouse gas emissions, not only remained outside the climate- stabilization effort but also fought vigorously to prevent any progress in setting limits. Given the extraordinary amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the US, this country alone can dramatically slow climate change, or bring the planet to the boiling point.
Three weeks before the G8 summit, The Observer (UK) printed a set of leaked documents revealing how the Bush White House derailed attempts to address global warming. These submissions to the G8 action plan show that Washington officials deleted even the suggestion that global warming has already started.
Among the key sentences removed were: “Our world is warming. Climate change is a serious threat that has the potential to affect every part of the globe. And we know that ... mankind's activities are contributing to this warming. This is an issue we must address urgently.”
At the Exeter conference the International Climate Change Task Force, UK, said that if we do nothing the climate system will collapse. Stephen Byers, the co-chair of that task force and an advisor to Tony Blair, said the point of no return could be reached in a decade. The Bush delegation to the July 2005 G8 summit in Scotland, probably even George Bush himself, is aware of that deadline.
However the warning disappeared under the same blanket of denial and outright lies produced by industry, their paid scientists, and the Bush administration. Among all official documents that deny climate change, only one sends a different message: the report on “Climate Change as a National Security Concern,” commissioned for Donald Rumsfeld by Pentagon defense adviser Andrew Marshall, and made public in February 2004.
The Global Business Network wrote for the Pentagon: “the focus in climate research has slowly been shifting from gradual to rapid change. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report concluding that human activities could trigger abrupt change. A year later, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, included a session at which Robert Gagosian, director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, urged policymakers to consider the implications of possible abrupt climate change within two decades.”
Whether in a decade as the UK scientists say, or two as the Pentagon study says, a consensus is developing that we are reaching a phase of dangerous, abrupt, and irreversible climate shifts. However, for the Bush administration, this is not an ecological or humanitarian, but only a military issue. They question only how to protect US borders from environmental refugees, how to overpower nations collapsing under the environmental pressures, how to keep access to food, water, and energy as other parts of the world go hungry and thirsty; how to keep nuclear pre-eminence, while those weapons in other countries fall into the hands of insurgents.
The eerie similarity of these goals and methods, with those of the so-called war on terrorism, raises the question of whether that war on terrorism is not really already a war on the Earth. And, as in the war on terrorism, the already occurring ecological disasters -- like the Osama bin Ladens -- are needed and promoted. And the religious fundamentalists are driving this forward because God has given them dominion over the planet to do as they wish.
And, as irrecoverable time passes, more bad news of ecological landslides emerges: In early August 2005, the New Scientist reported that, in Western Siberia, a permafrost area, the size of France and Germany combined, is thawing for the first time since the ice age, 11,000 years ago. What was until recently an expanse of frozen peat is turning into a broken landscape of mud and lakes, some more than a kilometer across. The area’s peat bog contains an estimated 70 billion tons of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2, which, if released, could dramatically increase the rate of global warming.
Even in a best-case scenario, were the methane to be released slowly over a period of 100 years, it would effectively double atmospheric levels of the gas, leading to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming, said scientists at the Hadley Centre in Exeter, UK. The scientists from Tomsk State University and Oxford, who discovered the melt, said that this was yet another feedback effect, an “ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming.”
There may be some, cynical enough to think that climate change is an interesting science fiction experiment, or greedy enough to want to extract the last drop of oil from the dying Earth for a profit.
But what about the rest of us: not cynical, not greedy and arrogant? It is pretty clear that there need to be BIG changes in the way we live -- and that is frightening for many, since we have become so dependent on this technological civilization. However scientists tell us that the extreme weather events to come, such as floods, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and unprecedented heat waves, are more frightening than any change in the way we choose to live now.
There is a set of figures that is both deeply depressing and hopeful. The last published World Bank data for CO2 emissions per capita indicate that, while every man, woman, and child in the US puts out 20 metric tons of CO2 per annum, those in the European Union put out 8 per person per year; China 2; and the output of Nigerians, who supply us with much of the oil that we burn into CO2, is zero -- below scale. In 2002, US-Americans used over 12,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per person; Europeans used less than half the amount, while the use in China is 987 kilowatt-hours per person. The US per-capita use of oil is twice that of the European Union, and more than 8 times that of China.
What if China aspires to our standard of living? And why not, if we are not willing to cut back? Europe gets by with so much less CO2-output and energy-input, while already planning for further cuts. Where is the measure of global justice, between those who cause no harm and those whose extravagant use of fossil fuels harms everybody else?
Regardless of who is driving this: industry, the military, religious fundamentalists, or any permutation of government, be it red or blue, responsibility for the approaching climate collapse will fall overwhelmingly on the United States. Since the US government and corporations not only refuse to cut back but are driving eco-collapse forward, it is up to ordinary people to refuse collaboration and to control the perpetrators. For us living in the US, the opportunity and time to make a difference that will affect the entire planet is now.
Maria Gilardin produces TUC Radio, a weekly half-hour radio program that is distributed for free to all radio stations via Pacifica Radio's KU Band, and as an mp3 file on TUC Radio's web site: www.tucradio.org. She may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Related Links and Resources:
* Hadley Centre
* Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
* British Antarctic Survey
* Plymouth Marine Laboratory
* "As the World Burns," by Bill McKibben, Chris Mooney, & Ross Gelbspan, Mother Jones, May/June 2005.
* The Pentagon's Weather Nightmare
* Arctic Sea Ice Changes
* Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: Abrupt Climate Change
* Ice Core drilling on the Greenland Ice Sheet
* Siberian permafrost melting
* Carol Turley on Marine Snow
* Photos of Global Warming, Glacier Melting
* Douglas Quin recorded the sounds of breaking ice in the Antarctic