The well-known reality that generations of Americans have been taught in school is that 102 deeply religious Protestant men, women and children from England landed at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts on December 21, 1620. They were later to be referred to collectively as Pilgrims.
But instead of these Pilgrims, imagine the same number of Buddhist monks had arrived. Or perhaps a boatload of Druids came ashore on that cold, miserable day in December. Envision the last remaining members of that mysterious “pagan” priesthood, first mentioned in Julius Caesar's diaries in 55 B.C, standing on the beaches of North America.
Would the original inhabitants of North America, the Indians, have been treated better? Would there have been slavery? Would we have learned that we're merely one part of the natural world around us?Yeah, what if?
As we Americans tear ourselves apart in 2019, it becomes ever more plausible that seeing eye to eye or at least “getting along” with each other could become simply impossible. Yeah, but what if?
The arrival of Europeans or for that matter our imaginary Buddhist monks, probably meant the civilizations of North and South America were doomed from the start, almost from the moment the Spanish conquistadors clanked ashore in their suits of armor in the fifteenth century, more than 100 years before our pious Protestants arrived in North America.
It was, however, not because of European technology---or Christianity, that caused the massive destruction to the civilization of the first inhabitants of North and South America. The unstoppable enemy was disease, unwittingly (at least initially) brought by Europeans, of which the the indigenous population had no immunity.
Because of individuals like Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Steel), Charles Mann (1491), Nathaniel Philbrick (Mayflower) and many others, we know, among other things, that geography matters, a lot. Unlike the early inhabitants in the Western Hemisphere, Europeans had domesticated animals such as oxen, cows and pigs that did not exist in North and South America.
Europeans contracted diseases that jumped from animals to humans and over time they built up a degree of resistance to them. Columbus, Cortez and other Europeans traveled with the ultimate weapon—not gunpowder—but hideous viruses like smallpox, typhus, influenza, diphtheria and measles. It turned out to be an unimaginable “ethnic cleansing” of entire societies. It may have been the greatest pandemic in human history.
While population numbers of North and South America, just before the arrival of the Spanish in the late 15th century have been estimated from a low of 8 million to a high of more than a 100 million people, this has been a subject of controversy and debate for some time. But there appears to be little doubt that millions could have been killed by Europeans through disease, slavery, wars and environmental destruction.
It's most likely that no society that existed in North and South America in 1490 imagined their world would come crashing down upon them. After all, they knew from their creation stories that generations of their ancestors had strolled along the same paths they now walked.
This has been the story of human history, one group of people supplanting another group or being absorbed into the new tribe.
Yet, there is something different possibly happening today. What if there are no humans from somewhere else to replace anyone. What if there are no more human sounds, here in the United States or anywhere else. Yeah, but what if?