As the Democratic Party quarrels over reparations for slavery, a new and related issue has arisen, raised by the president of Mexico.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has written Pope Francis I and King Felipe VI to demand their apologies for the Spanish conquest of Mexico that began 500 years ago with the “invasion” of Hernando Cortez.
Arriving on the Gulf Coast in 1519, Cortes marched in two years to what is today’s Mexico City to impose Spanish rule, the Spanish language and culture, and the Catholic faith upon the indigenous peoples.
“One culture, one civilization was imposed upon another,” wrote President Lopez Obrador: “There were massacres and oppression. The so-called conquest was waged with the sword and the cross. They built their churches on top of the temples.”
He demanded that the king and the pope ask for “forgiveness for the abuses inflicted on the indigenous peoples of Mexico.”
Now no one denies that great sins and crimes were committed in that conquest. But are not the Mexican people, 130 million of them, far better off because the Spanish came and overthrew the Aztec Empire?
Did not 300 years of Spanish rule and replacement of Mexico’s pagan cults with the Catholic faith lead to enormous advances for its civilization and human rights?
Or is there never a justification for one nation to invade another, conquer its people, impose its rule, and uproot and replace its culture and civilization? Is “cultural genocide” always a crime against humanity, even if the uprooted culture countenanced human sacrifice?
Did the Aztecs have a right to be left alone by the European world?
If so, whence came that right?
Which leads to another question: Are all civilizations and cultures equal, or are some more equal than others? Are some superior?
Before recent decades, most Americans were taught to believe the West stood above all other civilizations, and America was its supreme manifestation. And much of the world seemed to agree.
As for the assertion that all civilizations and cultures are equal, that is an ideological statement. But where is the historic, scientific or empirical evidence to support that proposition? How many people really believe that?
Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said it was “weird to receive now this request for an apology for events that occurred 500 years ago.”
He wondered if Spain should seek an apology from France for the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and crimes committed by the armies of Napoleon, or if France could demand an apology from Italy for the invasion of Gaul by Julius Caesar?
Unlikely to get an apology from the king, Lopez Obrador may do better with Pope Francis who is into begging for forgiveness for crimes committed in the Spanish-Portuguese conquest and rule of South America.
In Bolivia in 2015, the pope declared:
“I say this to you with regret. Many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God. … I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native people during the so-called conquest of America.”
As The New York Times related in its story on the “chilly response” in Madrid to Mexico’s demand, other Western leaders — not only Barack Obama — are very much into this apology fad.
Justin Trudeau has apologized for Canada’s mistreatment of its indigenous peoples. France’s Emmanuel Macron has apologized for the torture of rebels in Algeria’s war for independence.
The Spanish right, however, is not with the program.
Alberto Rivera, leader of the Ciudadanos, called Lopez Obrador’s demand “an intolerable offense to the Spanish people.”
Rafael Hernando of the Popular Party dismissed it with contempt: “We Spaniards went there (to Mexico) and ended the power of tribes that assassinated their neighbors with cruelty and fury.”
Behind this demand for an apology from Spain and the Church is a view of history familiar to Americans, and rooted in clashing concepts about who we are, and were.
Have the Western peoples who conquered and changed much of the world been, on balance, a blessing to mankind or a curse? Is the history of the West, though replete with the failings of all civilizations, not unique in the greatness of what it produced?
Or are the West’s crimes of imperialism, colonialism, genocide, racism, slavery and maltreatment of minorities of color so sweeping, hateful and shameful they cancel out the good done?
Is the white race, as Susan Sontag wrote, “the cancer of human history”?
As we see the monuments and memorials to the great men of our past desecrated and dragged down, the verdict among a slice of our intellectual and cultural elites is already in. Thumbs down. They agree with the moral shakedown artist of Mexico City.
Query: Can peoples who are ashamed of their nation’s past do great things in its future? Or is a deep-seated national guilt, such as that which afflicts many Germans today, a permanent incapacitating feature of a nation’s existence?