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January 14, 2010

Haitian Agony: a Reproach and a Warning

It’s difficult to understand how anyone could remain unaffected by the grisly details of the human tragedy now being recorded on the world’s television screens. Haiti is the western half of the island where Columbus landed in 1492 and promptly claimed for Spain as Hispaniola. It was also the first place in the Americas where African slaves were brought to replace the original inhabitants after a near-depopulation suffered under Spanish rule.

Over the next three centuries, Spanish, French, and British colonial interests vied with Caribbean pirates for control of the western half of the island (Saint-Dominique) then ruled by France. Shortly after the revolutionary government of France granted a disputed degree of freedom to “mulattos” (some of whom had fought against the British during the American Revolution), the first, and only successful, slave rebellion in the new world began in 1791 and ended with creation of the Republic of Haiti in 1804

That successful rebellion had far-reaching consequences; one of which was French loss of interest in the New World and the Louisiana Purchase which, in turn, led to Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Together, they lent great impetus to westward expansion of the United States towards its “Manifest Destiny,” the capstone of which was our war with Mexico over Texas.

At the same time, the Haitian revolution served as both a grim warning to those dedicated to preserving American chattel slavery and a major reason for their refusal to consider any moderation in its practice. Although Lincoln insisted in his first Inaugural that the Civil War was only to preserve the Union, it became more apparent in his second that he saw slavery was the real issue. Ironically, a disgruntled Southern loyalist, upon hearing that speech, was moved to take action soon afterward.

That history is the main reason I regard our long-continued neglect of Haiti a disgrace and its current misery a dire warning of what might happen if we continue to ignore the emotional basis of human behavior and fail to realize that denial and repression aren’t sustainable as answers to the grave problems humanity now faces.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 14, 2010 06:47 PM