American Holocaust

David E. Stannard: American Holocaust: the Conquest of the New World. Oxford University Press (New York), 1992.

In many ways this is a very interesting book, though it could easily have been half the size. Stannard has the tendency to make lists and enumerations, which e.g. results in pages filled with names of pre-columbian tribes living in the Americas.

Be that as it may, this book makes for interesting, albeit discomforting, reading. Stannard makes a case for the suggestion that the eradication of the people living in the western hemisphere following the Time of Conquest en Discovery is actually one of gravest crimes against humanity ever betrayed. He supports this claim by first (in the first part of the book) sketching the situation of the Americas prior to discovery, employing archaeological and anthropological evidence.

In the second part of the book, he describes the actual holocaust that has taken place in the four centuries between 1500 (Columbus, Cort├Ęs) and 1900 (Sand Creek, Little Bighorn), the echoes of which can be seen even today. This is, of course, the most discomforting part, thought the examples and stories are a bit cherry-picked. The text would greatly benefit from a more structural and chronological approach, as well as from graphs, images and maps.

In the third and last part of the book, Stannard analyses the cultural and sociological background of the western perpetrators of the holocaust, going as far back as the origins of Christianity. Even though this an sich makes for an interesting read, it is not part of the American Holocaust per se. This last part would merit a study on its own, perhaps in tandem with Goldhagen’s study of Hitler’s Willing Executioners, which was published a few year after this work.

The book features a good index and literature list, as well as some pictures. These pictures are, however, not of the quality which we should expect of Oxford UP, being too vague and having too little contrast.

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