Thursday, January 17, 2008

Columbus 'gave Europe syphilis'

I think it's fascinating that if Native Americans get smallpox, they got it from Europeans, but if if Europeans get syphilis...well they got it from that evil exploiter of the New World Christopher Columbus.

By the way, it should be remembered that before the discovery of penicillin, syphilis was a very nasty disease-the AIDS of it's day.


Anonymous said...

Of course the mode of transmission is different. Although the Native American woman (or young boy) may have been thinking to herself as they rested on the small-pox encrusted blanket: Ha! At least it will burn when it pees until he goes crazy and dies!

Also, from a logistical point of view, it is more likely that syphilis was brought back and spread by Europeans, than by the handful of Native Americans brought to Europe and then back. Same logic would apply to small pox.

So while "the white man is evil at all costs" aspect of this may behind the story, the idea that the Spanish were the geographic transmitters may be historically valid.

Now, why the Native Americans have gotten such a free ride on tobacco is a question yet to be answered.


Mike Stajduhar said...

It’s interesting that you bring up the whole “smallpox in a blanket” theme, popularized by Howard Zinn and a few others. I ran across an article the other day (I’ll have to dig it out and post it here) that said it’s (mostly) a myth. It seems the only incident that could plausibly be described as deliberate germ warfare via blanket against Native Americans occurred in the mid 18th century and the perpetrators were British officers. This was during the French and Indian War (the Seven Years War to you foreigners) and the hope was that it would decimate a pro-French tribe. It also seems it didn’t work. Somewhat different than the common image of Bureau of Indian Affairs men trying to kill innocents on reservations.

Anonymous said...

A fun and inflammatory anecdote that proved to be a myth historically? Thats crazy talk.


Admiral Burns said...

Wasn't George Washington a British officer during the French and Indian War? I have always heard that he was involved in that somehow.