Book report: The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire by Francis Jennings 1984

This is the best opening paragraphs on the invasion of America I've ever read from The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire by Francis Jennings, 1984.

The first massive fact about the European invasion of America is that physical contact between the societies of the two continents took place almost wholly on American soil. Only a handful of visitors traveled from the Americas to Europe, and most of those went involuntarily. Europe had the initiative, and Europeans never had to worry about retaliatory invasion from America.
The North and South American frontiers differed significantly therefore from the engagement of peoples in the Old World, where Christian Europeans faced Muslim Asiatics and Africans who could and did send massive invasions into Europe. The Spaniards who sailed with Columbus had inherited the seven hundred-year tradition of the Reconquest of Spain from the Moors. The implications of the difference between Old World frontiers and those of the New World have never been systematically explored. Certainly they must have included a respect by Europeans for Muslim power and culture that was withheld from the cultures of the natives of America. St. Thomas Aquinas tried to assimilated into his theology all that seemed valuable in Muslim science. Bartolomé de Las Casa confined himself to demanding Christian justice for people who, though barbarous were teachable.
The crusaders who fought so long to create Spain might hate Moors but were not apt to underestimate them. These crusaders appreciated much of Moorish culture, as the survival of the Alhambra beautifully evidences. Their descendant conquistadores, however, vaunted a crucial military advantage, marched where they pleased, took what they wanted, and destroyed Tenochtitlan utterly, a city greater than any in Spain. The evidence of the Moors in Spain is in Spain. The evidence of the Aztecs before Spanish rule is largely under ground. Such differences inspired among Europeans generally a sense of absolute superiority over native Americans that expressed itself more usually as contempt than outright hatred. Its effect was a morally and intellectually corrupting on Europeans as it was destructive physically to native Americans.
In the Americas, Europeans had the initiative in conceptualizing and explicating the processes of invasion, and they used the advantage to create rationalizations favorable to themselves. The terminology so developed took its place in the arsenal of conquest. Sovereignty, for example which had been invented to justify kings’ conquests of their own peoples, lent itself readily to export. The legal implications of the one-way traffic to America did not escape Francisco de Vitoria, who once remarked that an Indian “discovery” of Spain would not have justified Indian sovereignty over Spain. But he lost the argument. (3-4)


I'll have more quotes through the week but much shorter. Unfortunately, I need to return this before the library starts fining me and I haven't finished it yet. In the past, I wouldn't report on books I hadn't finished, but now I want to remember what I attempted and take out of it what I could. I really enjoyed it, but it was very dense. I hope to read his first book, The Invasion of America. He was an innovative historian. This obituary is enlightening, with paragraphs like this.
Jennings's career took another unexpected turn in 1975 when, at the age of 57, he published his first book, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest. A collection of essays on specific topics in colonial history--Indian population, the Pequot war, popular images--the book was a frontal attack on the generations of scholars who, he argued, had internalized the racist language of the seventeenth century and overlooked the violence and brutality of European settlement. By insisting that America began not with "discovery" but invasion, Jennings set himself apart from those who viewed the fate of the continent's indigenous people as somehow inevitable or natural. Jennings's angry, forceful prose still touches readers a quarter century after its publication.
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