The British Museum has staged a huge exhibit about the Aztecs. The Daily Mail has recognized that opening by publishing a very interesting article about the Aztecs and their clash with, and ultimate destruction because of, the Spaniards.
The article is a useful reminder of something Danny Lemieux has raised at this blog before, which is the fact that many Native American tribes were not the tree-hugging, spirit loving nobles our children are taught to believe we, the Americans, destroyed. It’s so much more complicated than that. Take the Aztecs, for example.
The Aztecs had a civilization of extraordinary sophistication, one that, in many ways, far surpassed the Europeans. Its cities were bigger, they had glorious architecture, and, unlike European cities, they were immaculate and well run. There was enormous wealth there. The social structure was sophisticated.
Why, then, were the Spaniards unimpressed? Two reasons. One was undoubtedly the inherent racism of the time. The other, though, was the large scale human sacrifice and cannibalism the Aztecs practiced. The Spaniards may have been warlike and had their Inquisition, but even the Spanish were disgusted by a religious structure that demanded the sacrifice of up to 80,000 people in connection with a single king’s coronation. This made it easy to conclude that the Aztecs were inferior, incapable of salvation, and worthy of conquest.
Not surprisingly, surrounding Indian tribes, whose citizens, captured in war, made up the bulk of the sacrifices, were also less than thrilled by the visual beauties of the Aztec kingdom. That’s why Cortez didn’t just act with his 167 Spaniards and a few horses. Instead, Cortez was swiftly able to gather many allies anxious to hasten the end of a violent, blood-soaked, totalitarian regime. That small pox jumped into the fray was an unexpected benefit from the Spanish point of view, and simply proved who had the “right” god.
In a way, one can views the Aztecs not as noble savages, but as the Nazis of their time. Like the Nazis, they were efficient and ran a beautiful country, but under that efficiency was a totalitarian regime that fertilized its roots with the blood of its citizens and its enemies.
UPDATE: As I’ve said a couple of times in the comments, this post wasn’t meant to put a heroic gloss on the Spanish, for whom I hold no brief. Instead, I wanted to use it as a counterpoint to this type of Leftist idiocy, which still prevails in our American schools, and which dehumanizes the complex Native American cultures by casting them as plaster saints, brutally smashed by irredeemably evil Western imperialists. It was so much more complicated — and therefore so much more interesting — than the PC garbage that passes for education in today’s schools.