Last Independence Day, the social justice-conscious ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s posted a message to Twitter celebrating the nation’s founding by calling on the U.S. government to return the “stolen Indigenous land” on which the nation was formed.
“This 4th of July, it’s high time we recognize that the US exists on stolen Indigenous land and commit to returning it,” Ben & Jerry’s tweeted. The company went on to propose that the U.S. “start with Mount Rushmore”:
What is the meaning of Independence Day for those whose land this country stole, those who were murdered and forced with brutal violence onto reservations, those who were pushed from their holy places and denied their freedom. The faces on Mount Rushmore are the faces of men who actively worked to destroy Indigenous cultures and ways of life, to deny Indigenous people their basic rights.
Ben and Jerry’s did not lead the way by committing to return the land on which their headquarters was built to the indigenous people who once owned it, so we can dismiss their statement as empty virtue-signaling. But it reflects a widespread, corrosive misconception in America and the rest of the West, that the history of European colonialism throughout the New World is nothing but one long, atrocity-punctuated narrative of genocide, exploitation, theft and oppression.
Indeed, it is fashionable now for self-loathing Western multiculturalists to begin many public events, from lectures to performing arts productions to city council meetings, with statements acknowledging that the venues sit on lands “stolen” from the natives. Western governments feel obliged to offer up solemn mea culpas for abominations of centuries past. Statues erected to honor Western explorers, leaders, soldiers, and even abolitionists like Frederick Douglass have been targeted in recent years for removal and/or destruction because their association with colonialism causes “harm” and makes young people of non-European origin feel “unsafe.” Similarly, schools, streets, and buildings named after revered figures in Western history are being renamed to erase their tarnished legacy and to assuage sensitive feelings. Thanksgiving Day dinners are routinely ruined now by media scolds and brainwashed college students denouncing the holiday for its whitewashing of the colonialist genocide of Native Americans.
For decades activist educators – with Howard Zinn’s massively influential A People’s History of the United States in hand – have indoctrinated young people to be ashamed of and outraged by their own cultural heritage. No matter that Western civilization has provided more prosperity, liberty, and opportunities for untold numbers of people worldwide than any other culture. Those benefits are now seen to have been achieved on the backs of exploited, brutalized native peoples.
Scholars have debunked Zinn’s propaganda before (most recently and thoroughly in Mary Grabar’s 2019 book appropriately titled Debunking Howard Zinn), but a more comprehensive antidote to all of this poisonous historical revisionism has arrived. Jeff Fynn-Paul’s brand new book Not Stolen: The Truth About European Colonialism in the New World, from Bombardier Books, lays out in well-documented and even-handed fashion the facts, context, and clear-eyed perspective on every one of the most malicious accusations hurled at Western colonialism.
Dr. Fynn-Paul is a professor of Economics and Global History at Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands and one of the top research institutions in Europe. The author of dozens of scholarly articles and books, Fynn-Paul conducts historical research in eight (!) languages and is a winner of the 2016 European History Quarterly Prize. In addition to being an editor for the Journal of Global Slavery, he is also the presenter of a short PragerU video titled “Are We Living on Stolen Land?” which gives you a preview of what you can expect from his latest book.
“Today nearly every historian with a public platform, every journalist, and every social media pundit seems unanimous in their conviction that America and the West have been uniquely depraved,” Fynn-Paul states in the introduction to Not Stolen. But he explains that his book “is not a rah-rah defense of all things European”:
Rather, it is a work of historical restoration. Its goal is to remind us what historians used to believe a few years ago, up to the time when historical reason was drowned by cultural hysteria sometime around the year 2016. Its aim is to clear away the tangled vines of radicalism that have been allowed to grow over the precious garden of our democracy in recent years, choking out level headedness and objectivity in the process.
“This book,” Fynn-Paul goes on, “aims at reconciliation and the optimism of a shared and prosperous future, while its detractors encourage factionalism born of nihilism, despair, and a petty desire for point scoring and personal gain… The aim is to avoid downplaying the real evil done by Europeans, while deflating the hyperbole spread in recent years by radical historians and their disciples.”
The book’s myth-busting begins with the cover illustration itself, a painting by British-American illustrator Alfred Fredericks depicting Dutch governor Peter Minuit’s purchase of Manhattan island in 1626. This incident is often cited as an example of greedy Europeans scamming innocent indigenous people out of their valuable land. As Fynn-Paul notes, the painting
contains historical anachronisms that make it an easy target for modern critics, who may reflexively condemn it as a sentimental whitewashing of the genocidal theft of Indian land. But Fredericks’ painting reveals a more nuanced story to those who look past the hype…
The focus of the painting is the purchase of Manhattan – by mutual consent. By most definitions, a sale is the opposite of theft. It would be misleading to suggest, as many critics do, that the natives were cynically taken advantage of when they parted with the island for twenty-four dollars worth of “trinkets.”
To the Indians themselves, the mosquito ridden island was of little value, whereas the “trinkets” they were offered – including textiles, metal tools and weapons – were so life changing that many tribes intentionally relocated near the coast in order to trade more easily with the newcomers. In any case, neither party had any conception of what the island would become 200 years later…
Mysteriously, that broader historical context never seems to get a mention when some critic raises this instance of settlers purportedly cheating naïve natives out of Manhattan.
For a taste of other pervasive anti-Western myths which Fynn-Paul debunks and clarifies in Not Stolen, here are some of the book’s twenty chapter titles (which are all framed as questions):
- Intrepid Explorer or Genocidal Maniac? The Complex Case of Christopher Columbus
- Did Europeans Commit Genocide in the New World?
- Were the Conquistadors Bloodthirsty Zealots?
- Did The Founders Steal Democracy From Native Americans?
- Is Thanksgiving Racist?
- Did Europeans Starve, Massacre, or Spread Disease Among the Natives?
- Did Europeans Commit Cultural Genocide?
- Are Natives Owed Reparations?
Space considerations obviously preclude examining all these topics, but let’s drill down into one of the chapters as a sample: “Were Native Americans Naturally Peaceful and Benevolent?”
Beginning in the 1970s, Fynn-Paul writes, the academic Left began to appropriate the popular image of Indians as proud, noble warriors for its own ends, portraying them instead as naturally peace-loving and harmonious; any negative characteristics were attributed to the corrupting influence of European colonialists, whose society was viewed as “hierarchical, oppressive, exploitative, greedy, misguided, superstitious, and arrogant.”
But as Fynn-Paul makes clear, “There is one small problem with this image of peaceloving Native American societies: it is completely untrue. Before the Spanish imposed peace on Amerindian tribes from California to Tierra del Fuego, the unrelenting reality of their lives was a Hobbesian war of all against all.” As is true of any tribal society, constant warfare, raiding, enslavement, and the extermination of rival tribes were endemic, as well as cannibalism, and human sacrifice on a mass scale.
As for slavery, the practice was not introduced to Native Americans by Europeans as some scholars claim; indeed, it “was widespread not only in Mesoamerica but also throughout the Indian tribes of the New World” long before Europeans arrived. In fact, “Indians enslaved far more Indians than Europeans ever did. It is likely that more Africans were enslaved by Indians in the New World, than Indians by Europeans.”
And then there was the torture of prisoners – not only white ones but Amerindians from rival tribes. Fynn-Paul quotes, from the journal of Samuel de Champlain, a hair-raising incident the French explorer witnessed of the exceptionally cruel treatment of one captured enemy; “countless chroniclers and letter writers” in addition to Champlain, Fynn-Paul notes, “attest that such behavior was indeed not exceptional but normative.”
Each chapter goes on in similar fashion to take down other misconceptions. “In the end,” Fynn-Paul writes, “we conclude that America was not ‘stolen,’ any more than Europeans are the inventors of slavery or colonialism. Like every modern society, the United States is the result of complex historical factors that resist easy categorization, and we slide into nihilistic generalizations only at great peril to the health of our democracy.”
Indeed we do, and the subversive voices determined to destroy the West have already succeeded in eroding the patriotism and pride of generations of our youth, with no sign of abating. As the author notes in a sadly necessary coda titled, “The Case for Objectivity in History,” the “trend toward Euro-bashing has now become so dominant, so shrill, and often so unmoored from historical reality that someone has to step in and present a corrective to their excessive revisionism.”
Jeff Fynn-Paul’s book Not Stolen: The Truth About European Colonialism in the New World is that corrective: an important, enlightening work that deserves to be more widely-read and influential than A People’s History of the United States. It is a must-have for anyone who wants to be prepared to defend the truth about our civilization against the ideologically-charged distortions and smears that predominate in our culture.
Follow Mark Tapson at Culture Warrior.