The art of the Upper Paleolithic represents the oldest form of prehistoric art. Figurative art is present in Europe as well as in Sulawesi, Indonesia, beginning at least 35,000 years ago. Non-figurative cave paintings, consisting of hand stencils and simple geometric shapes, is at least 40,000 years old.
According to a 2018 study based on uranium-thorium dating, the oldest examples of Iberian cave art were made as early as 64,000 years ago, implying Neanderthal authorship, which would qualify as art of the Middle Paleolithic.
The emergence of figurative art has been interpreted as reflecting the emergence of full behavioral modernity, and is part of the defining characteristics separating the Upper Paleolithic from the Middle Paleolithic. The discovery of cave art of comparable age to the oldest European samples in Indonesia has established that similar artistic traditions existed both in eastern and in western Eurasia at 40,000 years ago. This has been taken to suggest that such an artistic tradition must in fact date to more than 50,000 years ago, and would have been spread along the southern coast of Eurasia in the original coastal migration movement. It is important to note that most of the art of this period is expected to have been lost, as it was submerged in the early Holocene sea level rise.
This painting of a bison hunt is between 17,000 and 11,000 years old, dating from at the latest 9000 BCE. It is located deep inside a cave in southern France known as Niaux, meaning that ancient humans would have needed to carry lit torches to reach this site.
A scholar has described this giant artwork, saying: “The predominating animal is the bison, represented in the upper part of the panel. The bison standing out in the left central part is usually catalogued as a female, due to the shapes presented, such as the scarcely prominent hump. By contrast and in opposition to this is the male, found on the right-hand side and showing a more prominent hump.
The lower part of the wall represents several horses which, with painted hair, represent a member of the equine family with a great amount of hair, the Przewalski. The bestiary is finished off with two goats.”
Laas Geel are cave formations on the rural outskirts of Hargeisa, Somaliland (situated in the Woqooyi Galbeed region of the self-declared but internationally unrecognised Republic of Somaliland). They contain some of the earliest known cave paintings in the Horn of Africa. Laas Geel’s rock art is estimated to date to somewhere between 9,000 and 3,000 years BCE.
Although the Laas Geel rock art had been known to the area’s inhabitants for centuries, its existence only came to international attention after the 2002 discovery.
The Laas Geel cave paintings are thought to be some of the most vivid rock art in Africa. Among other things, they depict cattle in ceremonial robes accompanied by humans, who are believed to have been inhabitants of the region. The necks of the cattle are embellished with a kind of plastron. Some of the cattle are also portrayed wearing decorative robes. Besides long-horned cattle, the rock art also shows an image of a domesticated dog, several paintings of Canidae as well as a giraffe. The site is excellently preserved due to the location of the paintings which are covered by the granite overhangs.
Cueva de las Manos is located in modern day Argentina. The art in the cave dates to between 11,000–7,000 BCE.
The images of hands are negative painted, that is, stencilled. Most of the hands are left hands, which suggests that painters held the spraying pipe with their right hand or they put the back of their right hand to the wall and held the spraying pipe with their left hand.
The age of the paintings was calculated from the remains of bone-made pipes used for spraying the paint on the wall of the cave, then discarded thousands of years ago on the cave floor.
The Venus of Willendorf is an 11.1-centimetre-tall (4.4 in) figurine estimated to have been made 30,000 BCE. It was found on August 7, 1908 at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Austria. It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area – meaning that it was probably traded for with people who lived far away – and tinted with red ochre.
Similar sculptures, first discovered in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are traditionally referred to in archaeology as “Venus figurines,” due to the widely-held belief that depictions of nude women with exaggerated sexual features represented an early fertility fetish, perhaps a mother goddess – an item with supernatural powers that could help a man and woman conceive a child. The reference to Venus is metaphorical, since the figurines predate the mythological figure of Venus by many thousands of years.
Like other similar sculptures, it probably never had feet, and would not have stood on its own, although it might have been pegged into soft ground. Parts of the body associated with fertility and childbearing have been emphasized, leading researchers to believe that the Venus of Willendorf may have been used as a fertility fetish. The figure has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair, or perhaps a type of headdress.
Other scholars hypothesize that the figurines may have been created as self-portraits by women. This theory stems from the correlation of the proportions of the statues to how the proportions of women’s bodies would seem if they were looking down at themselves, which would have been the only way to view their bodies during this period. They speculate that the complete lack of facial features could be accounted for by the fact that sculptors did not own mirrors. This reasoning has been criticized by still others, who note that water pools and puddles would have been readily-available natural mirrors for Paleolithic humans.
Bradshaw rock art or Gwion Gwion art is found in the northwest Kimberley region of Western Australia. This particular piece is referred to by modern archeologists as tassel figures: identified by their characteristic tassels hanging from their arms and waists, various other accessories can be recognised, such as arm bands, conical headdresses and sometimes, boomerangs.
The Bradshaws are not the regions’ earliest paintings. The earlier art consists of crude animal drawings that are believed to be up to 40,000 years old. The Bradshaws have nothing in common with this earlier art and is dated between 26,500 and 20,000 years ago.
The height of the art is variable; most are between 40 and 50 cm in length with some examples up to 2 metres in height.
Artistically, Bradshaws are unusually advanced both in technique and style. Image processing has revealed that the outline of the Bradshaw figures are often painted first, then filled in. Engraving in the rock often follows the outlines of figures and may have served as a preliminary sketch which implies planning. Some faces of the figures are painted with anatomically correct features with enough detail to be considered portraits. Due to the fine detail and control found in the images, such as strands of hair painted in 1-2mm thicknesses, it has been suggested that feather quills may have been used as a technique to apply the paint to the rock walls; an imprint of a feather found at one site may support this possibility. No evidence has yet been found of any corrections or changes in composition during or after painting, while evidence of restoration has been found. In a detailed study of 66 Bradshaw panels, approximately 9% of the Bradshaw images have clearly been vandalized. Some were scratched with stones, some damaged by thrown stones, and some have been broken by hammering with large rocks.
What art will you leave behind as a testament to your presence on Earth? Create your own piece of “rock art” – though please don’t paint it on the classroom wall – depicting the important things in your life.
A Basic History of Morocco (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): A brief overview of the geography, culture, and history of Morocco.
The Berbers: A Free and Noble People (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who are the Berber, and what makes them a distinct and special people?
The Sahara, Camel, and the Caravan Trade (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Highlighting the role of the caravan trade in Morocco’s ancient economy. That trade was made possible in large part by the camel, which allowed Berber, Arab, and sub-Saharan peoples to traverse the harsh Sahara desert, moving trade goods, and establishing religious and cultural connections where none could otherwise exist.
Fes: Center of Moroccan Empire and Culture (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): The first capital of a united Morocco has been a dynamic player in culture, education, and the economy of North Africa for more than a thousand years.
The Medina: Sustainable Cities of the Ancient World (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Examining the characteristics of a traditional medina, and evaluating those traits as a possible template for a more walkable, communal, sustainable future.
Chefchaouen and the Moroccan Quest for Independence (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Exploring Morocco’s experiences as an imperial power – and as the subject of imperial power from abroad. This history has shaped a distinctive culture at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, European, and African worlds.
Background on Islam, the dominant religion in Morocco:
Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who was Muhammad, and how did the Arab world of the seventh century shape his teachings?
Five Pillars to Hold Me Up: What Do Muslims Believe? (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities):What are the basic teachings of Islam, and what does it mean to be a Muslim?
Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was born into a wealthy Filipino family on November 27, 1932. His grandfather, Aquino, was a general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo, the officially recognized first President of the Philippines.
Ninoy’s prestigious family and the prosperity that facilitated his education and early political success did not make him elitist, however. He would become an inspiration symbol of courage and nonviolence in the face of overwhelming repression, and his example would help set the Philippines free from decades of dictatorial rule under the thumb of Ferdinand Marcos.
Aquino gained an early success in Philippine politics, as he was born into one of the Philippines’ political and landholding clans. In addition to his grandfather’s revolutionary service under President Aguinaldo, his father held office under Presidents Quezon and Jose P. Laurel. As a consequence, Aquino was elected mayor of his hometown of Concepcion, Tarlac at the remarkably young age of 23 years old. Five years later, he was elected the nation’s youngest vice-governor at 27 (a record surpassed in 2013). Two years after that, in 1961, he became governor of Tarlac province and then secretary-general of the Liberal Party in 1966.
In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos, a prominent right-wing politician won the Philippine presidency. Early in his term, Marcos initiated ambitious public works projects and intensified tax collection which brought the country economic prosperity throughout the 1970s. His administration built more roads (including a substantial portion of the Pan-Philippine Highway) than all his predecessors combined, and more schools than any previous administration. Marcos was re-elected president in 1969, becoming the first president of the Philippines to achieve a second term. Opponents of Marcos, however, blocked legislation necessary to further implement his expansive agenda. As a result, optimism faded early in his second term, economic growth slowed, and Marcos became increasingly heavy handed with his political opponents. Crime and civil disobedience increased. The Communist Party of the Philippines formed the New People’s Army in response to his shaky hold over the nation and the Moro National Liberation Front continued to fight for an independent Muslim nation in Mindanao.
In 1968, during his first year as senator, Aquino alleged that Marcos was on the road to establishing “a garrison state” by “ballooning the armed forces budget,” saddling the defense establishment with “overstaying generals” and “militarizing our civilian government offices.”
Aquino became known as a constant critic of the Marcos regime. His flamboyant rhetoric had made him a darling of the media. His most polemical speech, “A Pantheon for Imelda” was delivered on February 10, 1969. He assailed the Cultural Center, a signature project of First Lady Imelda Marcos, as extravagant, and dubbed it “a monument to shame” and labelled its designer “a megalomaniac, with a penchant to captivate.” President Marcos was outraged and publically labelled Aquino “a congenital liar.”
At 9:15 PM on August 21, 1971, at a rally to kick-off the opposition Liberal Party’s campaign in the upcoming Philippine elections, candidates formed a line on a makeshift platform and were raising their hands as the crowd applauded. The band played and a fireworks display drew all eyes, when suddenly there were two loud explosions – obviously were not part of the show. In an instant the stage became a scene of wild carnage. The police later discovered two fragmentation grenades that had been thrown at the stage by “unknown persons.” Nine people died, and 120 others were wounded, many critically.
As Aquino was the only Liberal Party senatorial candidate not present at the incident, Marcos and newspapers friendly to his rule insinuated that he had had something to do with the attack. Aquino denied these allegations, and most historians continue to suspect Marcos as he is known to have used false flag attacks – that is, a covert operations designed to deceive the public; the deception creates the appearance of a particular party, group, or nation being responsible for some activity, disguising the actual source of responsibility.
Amidst the rising wave of lawlessness and the conveniently timed threat of a Communist insurgency, Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972. This meant that ordinary law, including basic civil rights like the right to a fair trial or the need to pass new laws through a legislature were no longer guaranteed, and the president, through the military, could rule without any checks and balances from other branches of government. The declaration of martial law was initially well-received, given the social turmoil the Philippines was experiencing. Crime rates plunged dramatically after a curfew was implemented. Marcos, ruling by decree, curtailed press freedom and other civil liberties, abolished Congress, closed down major media establishments, ordered the arrest of opposition leaders and militant activists, including his staunchest critics: among them, Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr.
Aquino was one of the first to be arrested. Before he was even put on trial – not in an ordinary, impartial civilian court, but in a military court friendly to Marcos – he was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion. This imprisonment would last for years before Aquino’s day in court.
On April 4, 1975, Aquino announced that he was going on a hunger strike, a fast to the death to protest the injustices of his military trial. Ten days through his hunger strike, he instructed his lawyers to withdraw all motions he had submitted to the Supreme Court. As weeks went by, he subsisted solely on salt tablets, sodium bicarbonate, amino acids, and two glasses of water a day. Even as he grew weaker, suffering from chills and cramps, soldiers forcibly dragged him to the military tribunal’s session. His family and hundreds of friends and supporters heard Mass nightly at the Santuario de San Jose in Greenhills, San Juan, praying for his survival. Near the end, Aquino’s weight had dropped from 54 to 36 kilos (120 pounds to 80). Aquino nonetheless was able to walk throughout his ordeal. On May 13, 1975, on the 40th day, his family and several priests and friends, begged him to end his fast, pointing out that even Christ fasted only for 40 days. He acquiesced, confident that he had made a symbolic gesture.
But he remained in prison, and the trial continued, drawn out for several years. On November 25, 1977, the Military Commission charged Aquino guilty of all charges and sentenced them to death by firing squad.
During this period, Marcos continued his political repression of the Philippines. His regime was characterized as kleptocracy – a government with corrupt leaders (kleptocrats) that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political powers. Typically, this system involves embezzlement of funds at the expense of the wider population. Official estimates say that the dictator ultimately stole between $5 to 10 billion from the people of the Philippines during his twenty year rule.
In mid-March 1980, after years in a solitary cell in Fort Bonifacio, Aquino suffered a heart attack. He was transported to the Philippine Heart Center, where he suffered a second heart attack. EKG and other tests showed that he had a blocked artery. Aquino refused to submit himself to Philippine doctors, fearing possible Marcos “duplicity;” he preferred to one of two options – go to the United States for the procedure or return to his cell and die.
After a secret hospital visit by Imelda Marcos, his request was granted. Aquino was allowed to go to the United States for surgery – accompanied by his family – on the condition that if he leaves, he will return; and while in America, he would not speak out against the Marcos regime. Aquino received treatment in Dallas, Texas. Following the surgery, he made a quick recovery, after which, he decided to renounce the agreement saying, “a pact with the devil is no pact at all.”
Aquino, his wife Corazón “Cory” Aquino, and their children started a new life in Massachusetts. He produced two books detailing his experience and the Filipino plight under the tyranny of Marcos, and gave a series of lectures while on fellowship grants from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His travels across the U.S. became opportunities for him to deliver speeches critical of the Marcos government. Throughout these years abroad, Aquino was aware that his life in the U.S. was temporary. He never stopped affirming his eventual planned return to the Philippines – even as he enjoyed American hospitality and a peaceful life with his family on American soil.
In the first quarter of 1983, Aquino received news about the deteriorating political situation in his country and the rumored declining health of President Marcos (due to lupus). Aquino believed that it was expedient for him to speak to Marcos and present to him his rationale for the country’s return to democracy – before extremist generals took over in the wake of Marcos’s impending death and made such a change impossible. Moreover, Aquino worried that the Filipinos might have resigned themselves to Marcos’s strongman rule and that without his leadership the centrist opposition would die a natural death.
Aquino decided to go back to the Philippines, fully aware of the dangers that awaited him. Warned that he would either be imprisoned or killed, Aquino answered, “if it’s my fate to die by an assassin’s bullet, so be it. But I cannot be petrified by inaction, or fear of assassination, and therefore stay on the side…”
His family, however, learned from a Philippine Consular official that there were orders from Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to issue any passports for them. They therefore formulated a plan for Aquino to fly alone (to attract less attention), with the rest of the family to follow him after two weeks. Despite the government’s ban on issuing him a passport, Aquino acquired one with the help of Rashid Lucman, a former Mindanao legislator. It carried the alias Marcial Bonifacio (Marcial for martial law and Bonifacio for Fort Bonifacio, his erstwhile prison).
The Marcos government warned all international airlines that they would be denied landing rights and forced to return if they tried to fly Aquino to the Philippines. Aquino insisted that it was his natural right as a citizen to come back to his homeland, and that no government could prevent him from doing so.
Marcos wanted Aquino to stay out of politics, however Aquino asserted his willingness to suffer the consequences declaring, “the Filipino is worth dying for.” He wished to express an earnest plea for Marcos to step down, for a peaceful regime change and a return to democratic institutions. Anticipating the worst, he revealed that he would be wearing a bullet-proof vest, but he also said that “it’s only good for the body, but in the head there’s nothing else we can do.” Sensing his own doom, he told the journalists accompanying him on the flight, “You have to be very ready with your hand camera because this action can become very fast. In a matter of a three or four minutes it could be all over, you know, and [laughing] I may not be able to talk to you again after this.”
In his last prepared statement – one he was never able to deliver – he said, “I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through non-violence. I seek no confrontation.”
Upon the airplane’s arrival in Manila, soldiers boarded the airplane to arrest Aquino. The soldiers escorted him off the airplane and onto the jet bridge; however, instead of following the jet bridge to the terminal, they exited the jet bridge down the service staircase onto the apron, where a military vehicle was waiting to bring him to prison. Sometime between his egress from the aircraft and his boarding of the ground vehicle, several gunshots were heard. When the firing stopped, Aquino was dead.
People Power Revolution
Following her husband’s assassination in 1983, Aquino’s widow Cory became active and visible in various demonstrations and protests held against the Marcos regime. She began to assume the mantle of leadership left by her husband Ninoy and became the symbolic figurehead of the anti-Marcos political opposition. In the last week of November 1985, Marcos surprised the nation by announcing on American television that he would hold a snap presidential election in February 1986, in order to dispel and remove doubts against his regime’s legitimacy and authority.
Initially reluctant, Aquino was eventually prevailed upon to heed the people’s clamor, after one million signatures urging her to run for president were presented to her. Running on the offensive, the ailing Marcos derided Aquino’s womanhood, saying that she was “just a woman” whose place was in the bedroom. In response to her opponent’s sexist remark, and in reference to the fact that the ailing and feeble Marcos was increasingly seen as being largely a front man for his wife, Imelda, Aquino simply remarked that “may the better woman win in this election.” Marcos also attacked Aquino’s inexperience and warned the country that it would be a disaster if a woman like her with no previous political experience was to be elected president, to which Aquino cleverly and sarcastically responded, admitting that she had “no experience in cheating, lying to the public, stealing government money, and killing political opponents.”
The snap election called by Marcos which was held on 7 February 1986 and was marred by massive electoral fraud, violence, intimidation, coercion and disenfranchisement of voters. Election Day proved to be bloody as one of Aquino’s staunchest allies, former Antique province Governor Evelio Javier, was brutally murdered, allegedly by some of Marcos’ supporters in his province. Furthermore, during the counting and tallying of votes conducted by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), 30 poll computer technicians walked out to dispute and contest the alleged election-rigging being done in favor of Marcos.
Incumbent President Marcos as declared the winner on February 15, 1986. In protest, Aquino called for a rally dubbed “Tagumpay ng Bayan” (People’s Victory Rally) the following day, during which she claimed that she was the real winner in the snap election and urged Filipinos to boycott the products and services by companies controlled or owned by Marcos’s cronies. The rally held at the historic Rizal Park in Manila drew a mammoth-sized crowd, sending a strong signal that Filipinos were quite tired of Marcos’ two decades of rule and the lengths to which he would go to perpetuate it.
Further, the dubious election results drew sharp reactions from both local quarters and foreign countries. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement strongly criticizing the conduct of the election which was characterized by violence and fraud. International observers, including a U.S. delegation, denounced the official results. The United States Senate likewise condemned the election.
Aquino rejected a power-sharing agreement proposed by the American diplomat Philip Habib, who had been sent as an emissary by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to help defuse the tension.
In what came to be known as the People Power Revolution, peaceful demonstrations took place on a long stretch of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, more commonly known by its acronym EDSA, in Metro Manila from February 22–25, 1986. They involved over two million Filipino civilians, as well as several political and military groups and religious groups. The protests, fueled by the resistance and opposition from years of governance by President Marcos and his cronies, culminated with the absolute ruler and his family fleeing Malacañang Palace to exile in Hawaii. Ninoy Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, was immediately inaugurated as the eleventh president as a result of the revolution on February 25, 1986.
Marcos never ceased to maintain that he was the duly elected and proclaimed president of the Philippines for a fourth term, but unfairly and illegally deprived of his right to serve it.
In his dying days, Marcos offered to return 90% of his ill-gotten wealth to the Filipino people in exchange for being buried back in the Philippines beside his mother. However, Marcos’s offer was rebuffed by the Aquino government. He died and was buried as he lived his final days, in exile in Hawaii.
However, in 2016, after a contentious legal fight, his remains were reinterred in at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the Philippine National Cemetery, despite opposition from various groups.
Who discovered America? As of this writing, Google gets the answer to that question wrong – while citing an article that gets it right. How can Columbus discover America if he was greeted on the beach? That would be like your friend arriving late to class, bursting through the door, and loudly proclaiming that he had discovered you, your teacher, and your peers. Columbus is certainly consequential. You can accurately say that he discovered the Americas for modern Europeans – but he was late to an already lively party. That party was in full swing, and, it can also be said that Columbus kicked off an unprecedented new era in American history characterized by conquest, colonialism, and exchange.
Why did Columbus think sailing west would lead him to Asia?
What was Columbus’s reaction to the indigenous peoples he encountered?
What is the Columbian Exchange?
In your opinion, was the large-scale death of Native Americans in the wake Spanish arrival an example of genocide?
How successful were early English efforts to profit from the Americas?
Listen to the children’s book as read in the video below. Compare and contrast the story told within to the one related in the text on this page. How do you account for the differences?Is it possible to understand Columbus from the storybook alone?
The Age of Discovery
During the fifteenth and the sixteenth century the states of Europe began their modern exploration of the world with a series of sea voyages. The Atlantic states of Spain and Portugal were foremost in this enterprise though other countries, notably England and the Netherlands, also took part. This period is known by historians as the Age of Discovery, or the Age of Exploration.
The explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had a variety of motivations, but were generally inspired by the prospects of trade and wealth – in particular, Portugal and Spain were motivated to circumvent Italian and Muslim merchants who controlled overland and maritime routes linking Europe, Africa, and Asia. The earliest explorations around the coast of West Africa were designed to bypass these trade routes. The improved naval techniques that developed from these experiments allowed Europeans to travel further afield, to India and, ultimately, to the Americas.
In 1492, a Spanish-based transatlantic maritime expedition led by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo in his native language) encountered the Americas, continents which were completely unknown in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Contrary to popular belief, most educated Europeans of this period knew well enough that the world was round, a fact established through mathematical conjecture in ancient times by the Greeks and many others. Columbus was the first to sail west in search of the east because he believed that previous estimates about the size of the Earth were too large – he gambled that he could reach Asia before he and his crew ran out of fresh water in the open Atlantic. He was wrong, but it is accurate to say that his error ushered in the modern world.
Columbus’s crew sighted land on October 12, 1492. Columbus called the island San Salvador, in the present-day Bahamas or Turks and Caicos; the indigenous residents had named it Guanahani. Exactly which island in the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos this corresponds to is an unresolved topic.
The indigenous people he encountered, the Lucayan, Taíno, and Arawak, were peaceful and friendly. He called the inhabitants indios (Spanish for “Indians”). Noting their gold ear ornaments, Columbus took some of the Arawaks prisoner and insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. From the entry in his journal of 12 October 1492, in which he wrote of them: “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.” Columbus noted that their primitive weapons and military tactics made them susceptible to easy conquest, writing, “these people are very simple in war-like matters … I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.”
Since the late 20th century, historians have criticized Columbus for initiating colonization and for abuse of natives. Among reasons for this criticism is the poor treatment of the native Taíno people of Hispaniola, whose population declined rapidly after contact with the Spanish. As governor of the island, Columbus required the natives to pay tribute in gold and cotton. Modern estimates for the pre-Columbian population of Hispaniola are around 250,000–300,000. According to the historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes, by 1548, 56 years after Columbus landed, and 42 years after he died, fewer than 500 Taíno were living on the island. The indigenous population declined rapidly, due primarily to the first pandemic of European endemic diseases, which struck Hispaniola after 1519. There is also ample documentation that they were overworked – subjected to deadly forced labor in gold and silver mines, as well as on large plantations called encomienda on a massive scale.
According to Spanish colonist and Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas’s contemporary A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, when slaves held in captivity began to die at high rates, Columbus ordered all natives over the age of thirteen to pay a hawk’s bell full of gold powder every three months. Natives who brought this amount to the Spanish were given a copper token to hang around their necks. The Spanish cut off the hands of those without tokens, and left them to bleed to death. Thousands of natives committed suicide by poison to escape their persecution.
The four voyages of Columbus began the Spanish colonization of the Americas. From the perspective of many non-Europeans, the Age of Discovery marked the arrival of invaders from previously unknown continents.
Beginning with the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean and continuing control of vast territory for over three centuries, the Spanish Empire would expand across the Caribbean Islands, half of South America, most of Central America and much of North America (including present day Mexico, Florida and the Southwestern and Pacific Coastal regions of the United States).
European overseas exploration led to the rise of global trade and the European colonial empires, with the contact between the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa) and the New World (the Americas and Australia) producing the Columbian Exchange, a wide transfer of plants, animals, food, human populations (including slaves), communicable diseases and culture between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. This represented one of the most significant global events concerning ecology, agriculture and culture in history. The Age of Discovery and later European exploration allowed the global mapping of the world, resulting in a new worldview and distant civilizations coming into contact, but also led to the propagation of diseases that decimated populations not previously in contact with Eurasia and Africa and to the enslavement, exploitation, military conquest and economic dominance by Europe and its colonies over native populations.
The indigenous population of the Americas plummeted by an estimated 80% in the first century and a half following Columbus’s voyages, primarily through the spread of Afro-Eurasian diseases. This has been argued to be the first large-scale act of genocide in the modern era – the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation – although this claim is largely disputed due to the unintended nature of the disease introduction, which is considered a byproduct of Columbian exchange. Racial mixing was a central process in the Spanish colonization of the Americas, and ultimately led to the Latin American identity, which combines Hispanic, Native American, Arabic, Berber, and numerous African ethnicities.
English Competition in the Americas
At the time of Spain’s ascendancy, England was a relatively weak, small country on the periphery of Europe. In 1496, King Henry VII of England, following the successes of Spain and Portugal in overseas exploration, commissioned John Cabot to lead a voyage to discover a route to Asia via the North Atlantic. Cabot sailed in 1497, five years after the European discovery of America, but he made landfall on the coast of Newfoundland, and, mistakenly believing (like Christopher Columbus) that he had reached Asia, there was no attempt to found a colony. Cabot led another voyage to the Americas the following year but nothing was ever heard of his ships again.
No further attempts to establish English colonies in the Americas were made until well into the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, during the last decades of the 16th century. During this time, conflict between England and Spain grew, fueled mainly by English piracy and religious differences.
In 1562, the English Crown encouraged the privateers – pirates operating on behalf of a country – John Hawkins and Francis Drake to engage in slave-raiding attacks against Spanish and Portuguese ships off the coast of West Africa with the aim of breaking into the Atlantic slave trade. This effort was rebuffed and later, as the Anglo-Spanish Wars intensified, Elizabeth I gave her blessing to further privateering raids against Spanish ports in the Americas and shipping that was returning across the Atlantic, laden with treasure from the New World.
The Roanoke Colony was the first attempt at founding a permanent English settlement in North America. It was established in 1585 on Roanoke Island in what is now Dare County, North Carolina, United States.
The initial settlement was established in the summer of 1585, but a lack of supplies and bad relations with the local Native Americans caused many of its members to return to England with Sir Francis Drake a year later, leaving behind a small detachment. These men had all disappeared by the time a second expedition led by John White, who also served as the colony’s governor, arrived in July 1587. White, whose granddaughter Virginia Dare was born there shortly thereafter (making her the first English child born in the New World), left for England in late 1587 to request assistance from the government, but was prevented from returning to Roanoke until August 1590 due to the Anglo-Spanish War. Upon his arrival, the entire colony was missing with only a single clue to indicate what happened to them: the word “CROATOAN” carved into a tree.
For many years, it was widely accepted that the colonists were massacred by local tribes, but no bodies were ever discovered, nor any other archaeological evidence. The most prevalent hypothesis now is that environmental circumstances forced the colonists to take shelter with local tribes, but that is mostly based on oral histories and also lacks conclusive evidence. Some artifacts were discovered in 1998 on Hatteras Island where the Croatan tribe was based, but researchers could not definitively say these were from the Roanoke colonists.
On the night of March 9, 1945 the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) conducted a devastating firebombing raid on Tokyo, the Japanese capital city. This attack was code-named Operation Meetinghouse by the USAAF and is known as the Great Tokyo Air Raid in Japan. During the raid, bombs dropped from 279 Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers burned out much of eastern Tokyo. More than 88,000 and possibly over 100,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, were killed and one million left homeless, making it the single most destructive air attack of World War II. The Japanese air and civil defenses proved inadequate, and only 14 American aircraft and 96 airmen were lost.
In many parts of the world, World War II is remembered as a patriotic event – a tie that binds nations together, bringing out a peoples’ best qualities such as heroism, sacrifice, and determination. Such is the case in Russia, where it is remembered literally as the Great Patriotic War. In the United States, the conflict is sometimes termed “the good war,” fought by “the greatest generation.”
But World War II is also notable its sheer ferocity. Brutality became a science on all sides, systematized and streamlined for maximum effect, cranked out on an industrial scale. Perhaps no nation committed so fully to this pursuit than the war’s eventual victor, the United States. With its clockwork air war, refined via the experimental process and statistical analysis, the United States exhibited a chilling commitment to total war against the civilian populations of its enemies.
There is case to be made that this was war – that if the United States had not been so aggressive against Japan and Germany, those nations might have unleashed similar barbarity on the American people. The ends may justify the means…
But it is also worth considering a question posed by Robert McNamara, one of the architects of the bombing campaign against Japan. “What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” he asked.
The U.S. government rightfully condemns the atrocities committed by the Japanese against the civilian populations of China or the Philippines, but it is loathe to grapple with the morality its own actions during the war. This is largely because in the 21st century, the U.S. military continues to rely on many of the same techniques that helped to defeat Japan and Germany so many years ago – that is, the domination of the enemy and any attached civilization populations from the air, be it with incendiary bombs, Agent Orange, napalm, so-called smart missiles, or remotely controlled drones.
To recant on the morality of area bombing of Japan would be to call all of these subsequent strategies into question.
But a free society should never fear honest questions about its conduct – unless it fears the answers.
How would you describe the planning and preparation that went into the deployment of incendiary bombs against Japan?
What is the difference between precision bombing and area bombing? How well did precision bombing seem to work in practice? In your opinion, knowing that this will greatly increase the civilian death tool, is this justification to switch to a policy of area bombing?
In June 1944 the USAAF’s XX Bomber Command began a campaign against Japan using B-29 Superfortress bombers flying from airfields in China. Tokyo was beyond the range of Superfortresses operating from China, and was not attacked. This changed in October 1944, when the B-29s of the XXI Bomber Command began moving into airfields in the Mariana Islands. These islands were close enough to Japan for the B-29s to conduct a sustained bombing campaign against Tokyo and most other Japanese cities. The first Superfortress flight over Tokyo took place on November 1, when a reconnaissance aircraft photographed industrial facilities in city.
The attack on Tokyo was an intensification of the air raids on Japan which had commenced in June 1944. Prior to this operation, the USAAF had focused on a precision bombing campaign against Japanese industrial facilities. Precision bombing refers to the attempted aerial bombing of a target with some degree of accuracy, with the aim of maximizing target damage while limiting collateral damage – destroying a single building in a built up area while causing minimal damage to the surrounding neighborhood.
Because of factors like altitude, wind, and limitations in military technology, these attacks were generally unsuccessful, which contributed to the decision to shift to area bombing – the indiscriminate bombing of city blocks or even whole cities – in this case, using firebombs. The operation during the early hours of March 10 was the first major firebombing raid against a Japanese city, and the USAAF units employed significantly different tactics than those used in precision raids including bombing by night. The extensive destruction caused by the raid led these tactics to become standard for the USAAF’s B-29s until the end of the war.
USAAF planners began assessing the feasibility of a firebombing campaign against Japanese cities in 1943. Japan’s main industrial facilities were vulnerable to such attacks as they were concentrated in several large cities, and a high proportion of production took place in homes and small factories in urban areas. The planners estimated that incendiary bomb attacks on Japan’s six largest cities could cause physical damage to almost 40 percent of industrial facilities and result in the loss of 7.6 million man-months of labor. It was also estimated that these attacks would kill over 500,000 people, render about 7.75 million homeless and force almost 3.5 million to be evacuated.
The plans for the strategic bombing offensive against Japan developed in 1943 specified that it would transition from a focus on the precision bombing of industrial targets to area bombing from around halfway in the campaign, which was forecast to be in March 1945. The British and American bombing campaign against Germany also included frequent area bombing of cities, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and massive firestorms in cities such as Hamburg and Dresden.
In preparation for firebombing raids, the USAAF tested the effectiveness of incendiary bombs on the adjoining German and Japanese-style domestic set-piece building complexes at the Dugway Proving Ground during 1943. These trials demonstrated that M69 incendiaries were particularly effective at starting uncontrollable fires. These weapons were dropped from B-29s in clusters, and used napalm as their incendiary filler. After the bomb struck the ground, a fuse ignited a charge which first sprayed napalm from the weapon, and then ignited it.
Several raids were conducted to test the effectiveness of firebombing against Japanese cities. On 3 January, 97 Superfortresses were dispatched on a firebombing raid against Nagoya. This attack started some fires, which were soon brought under control by Japanese firefighters. The success in countering the raid led the Japanese to become over-confident about their ability to protect cities against incendiary raids. The next firebombing raid was directed against Kobe on February 4, and bombs dropped from 69 B-29s started fires which destroyed or damaged 1,039 buildings.
On February 19 the Twentieth Air Force issued a new targeting directive for XXI Bomber Command. While the Japanese aviation industry remained the primary target, the directive placed a stronger emphasis on firebombing raids against Japanese cities. The directive also called for a large-scale trial incendiary raid as soon as possible. This attack was made against Tokyo on 25 February. A total of 231 B-29s were dispatched, of which 172 arrived over the city; this was XXI Bomber Command’s largest raid up to that time. The attack was conducted in daylight, with the bombers flying in formation at high altitudes. It caused extensive damage, with almost 28,000 buildings being destroyed. This was the most destructive raid to have been conducted against Japan, and LeMay and the Twentieth Air Force judged that it demonstrated that large-scale firebombing raids were an effective tactic.
The failure of a precision bombing attack on an aircraft factory in Tokyo on March 4 marked the end of the period in which XXI Bomber Command primarily conducted such raids. Civilian casualties during these operations had been relatively low; for instance, all the raids against Tokyo prior to March 10 caused 1,292 deaths in the city.
B) The Attack
Describe the technical aspects of the U.S. attack on Tokyo. How much of the attack was improvised, and how much of it was carefully orchestrated?
On March 8 LeMay issued orders for a major firebombing attack on Tokyo the next night. The raid was to target a rectangular area north-eastern Tokyo designated Zone I by the USAAF which measured approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) by 3 miles (4.8 km). It was mainly residential and, with a population of around 1.1 million, was one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. Zone I contained few militarily significant industrial facilities, though there were a large number of small factories which supplied Japan’s war industries. The area was highly vulnerable to firebombing, as most buildings were constructed from wood and bamboo and were closely spaced. The orders for the raid issued to the B-29 crews stated that the main purpose of the attack was to destroy the many small factories located within the target area, but also noted that it was intended to cause civilian casualties as a means of disrupting production at major industrial facilities.
The B-29s in the squadrons which were scheduled to arrive over Tokyo first were armed with M47 bombs; these weapons used napalm and were capable of starting fires which required mechanized firefighting equipment to control. The bombers in the other units were loaded with clusters of M69s. The planes were each loaded with between five and seven tons of bombs.
The attack on Tokyo commenced at 12:08 am local time on March 10. Pathfinder bombers simultaneously approached the target area at right angles to each other. Their M47 bombs rapidly started fires in an X shape, which was used to direct the attacks for the remainder of the force. Each of XXI Bomber Command’s wings and their subordinate groups had been briefed to attack different areas within the X shape to ensure that the raid caused widespread damage. As the fires expanded, the American bombers spread out to attack unaffected parts of the target area. Power’s B-29 circled Tokyo for 90 minutes, with a team of cartographers who were assigned to him mapping the spread of the fires.
The raid lasted for approximately two hours and forty minutes. Visibility over Tokyo decreased over the course of the raid due to the extensive smoke over the city. This led some American aircraft to bomb parts of Tokyo well outside the target area. The heat from the fires also resulted in the final waves of aircraft experiencing heavy turbulence. Some American airmen also needed to use oxygen masks when the odor of burning flesh entered their aircraft.
A total of 279 B-29s attacked Tokyo. As expected by LeMay, the defense of Tokyo was not effective. Many American units encountered considerable antiaircraft fire, but it was generally either aimed at altitudes above or below the bombers and reduced in intensity over time as many gun positions were overrun by fires. Nevertheless, the Japanese gunners shot down 12 B-29s.
C) On the ground
What was the effect of the attack?
Should civilians be considered as fair targets in time of war?
Widespread fires rapidly developed across north-eastern Tokyo. Within 30 minutes of the start of the raid the situation was beyond the fire department’s control. An hour into the raid the fire department abandoned its efforts to stop the conflagration. Instead, the firemen focused on guiding people to safety and rescuing those trapped in burning buildings. Over 125 firemen and 500 civil guards who had been assigned to help them were killed, and 96 fire engines destroyed.
Driven by the strong wind, the large numbers of small fires started by the American incendiaries rapidly merged into major blazes. These formed firestorms which quickly advanced in a north-westerly direction and destroyed or damaged almost all the buildings in their path. By an hour after the start of the attack most of eastern Tokyo had either been destroyed or was being affected by fires.
Civilians who stayed at their homes or attempted to fight the fire had virtually no chance of survival. Historian Richard B. Frank has written that “the key to survival was to grasp quickly that the situation was hopeless and flee.” Soon after the start of the raid news broadcasts began advising civilians to evacuate as quickly as possible, but not all did so immediately.
Thousands of the evacuating civilians were killed. Families often sought to remain with their local neighborhood associations, but it was easy to become separated in the conditions. Few families managed to stay together throughout the night. Escape frequently proved impossible, with roads being rapidly cut by the fires. In many cases entire families were killed.
Many of those who attempted to evacuate to the large parks which had been created as refuges against fires following the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake were killed when the conflagration moved across these open spaces. Others sheltered in solid buildings, such as schools or theatres, and in canals. These were not proof against the firestorm, with smoke inhalation and heat killing large numbers of people in schools. Many of the people who attempted to shelter in canals were killed by smoke or when the passing firestorm sucked oxygen out of the area. However, these bodies of water provided safety to thousands of others. The fire finally burnt itself out during mid-morning on March 10.
Why is it hard to estimate the total loss of life during the Tokyo attack of March 9-10?
American coverage of the bombing of Tokyo – during the war and ever since – typically features photos like the one immediately above. Why wouldn’t war time leaders want to show Americans photos like the one immediately below?
Look in any American textbook you can find – are there any photos like the one below? Should students be spared seeing the human cost of their country’s wars?
The large scale population movements out of and into Tokyo in the period before the raid, deaths of entire communities and destruction of records mean that it is not possible to know exactly how many died. Most of the bodies which were recovered were buried in mass graves during the days after the raid without being identified. Many bodies of people who had died while attempting to shelter in rivers were swept into the sea and never recovered.
Estimates of the number of people killed in the bombing of Tokyo on 10 March differ. Following the raid 79,466 bodies were recovered and recorded. Many other bodies were not recovered, however, and the city’s director of health estimated that 83,600 people were killed and another 40,918 wounded. The Tokyo fire department put the casualties at 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department believed that 124,711 people had been killed or wounded. Following the war, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people had been killed and 40,918 injured. The Survey also stated that the majority of the casualties were women, children and elderly people.
American casualties were 96 airmen killed or missing, and 6 wounded or injured.
The raid also caused widespread destruction. Police records show that 267,171 buildings were destroyed, and 1,008,005 survivors were rendered homeless. This represents a quarter of all buildings in Tokyo at the time. Most buildings in the Asakusa, Fukagawa, Honjo, Joto and Shitaya wards were destroyed, and seven other districts of the city experienced the loss of around half their buildings. Parts of another 14 wards suffered damage. Overall, 15.8 square miles (41 km2) of Tokyo was burnt out. The number of people killed and area destroyed was the largest of any single air raid of World War II, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While today, those atomic bombings are widely recognized to be uniquely devastating acts – inaccurately remembered as knock-out blows that ended the war, and worthy subject of another lesson – it is important to think of them in the context of the larger fire bombing campaign against Japanese cities. By the time Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945, the Americans had been destroying whole Japanese cities – and their civilian inhabitants – on a regular basis for nearly six months.
In your opinion, was the attack on Tokyo a success?
Imagine you are the President of the United States during World War II – how many Japanese deaths are acceptable to save one American life?
How would you respond to McNamara’s question?
LeMay considered the operation to have been a significant success on the basis of reports made by the airmen involved and the extensive damage shown in photographs taken by reconnaissance aircraft on March 10. The aircrew who conducted the attack were also pleased with its results. The raid was followed by similar attacks against Nagoya on the night of March 11/12, Osaka in the early hours of March 14, Kobe on March 17/18, and Nagoya again on March 18/19. An unsuccessful night precision raid was also conducted against an aircraft engine factory in Nagoya on March 23/24. The firebombing attacks ended only because XXI Bomber Command’s stocks of incendiaries were exhausted.
Further incendiary attacks were conducted against Tokyo, with the final taking place on the night of May 25/26. By this time, 50.8 percent of the city had been destroyed and more than 4 million people left homeless. Further heavy bomber raids against Tokyo were judged to not be worthwhile, and it was removed from XXI Bomber Command’s target list. By the end of the war, 75 percent of the sorties conducted by XXI Bomber Command had been part of firebombing operations. Few concerns were raised in the United States during the war about the morality of the 10 March attack on Tokyo or the other firebombing raids directed against Japanese cities.
Following the war the bodies which had been buried in mass graves were exhumed and cremated. The ashes were interred at a charnel house in Yokoamicho Park which had originally been established to hold the remains of 58,000 victims of the 1923 earthquake. A Buddhist service has been conducted to mark the anniversary of the raid on 10 March each year since 1951. A number of small neighbourhood memorials were established across the affected area in the years after the raid.
Few other memorials were erected to commemorate the attack in the decades after the war. Efforts began in the 1970s to construct an official Tokyo Peace Museum to mark the raid, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly cancelled the project in 1999. Instead, the Dwelling of Remembrance memorial to civilians killed in the raid was built in Yokoamicho Park. This memorial was dedicated in March 2001. The citizens who had been most active in campaigning for the Tokyo Peace Museum established the privately-funded Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, which opened in 2002.
One man who helped to plan the attack on Tokyo was Robert McNamara, an American whose job it was to maximize the destructiveness of U.S. air raids on Japan.
“We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo — men, women and children,” he recalled later in life. “LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.”
“What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” he asked.
As noted in his New York Timesobituary, McNamara, who could effectively organize the complex attack described above found this latter question impossible to answer.
In a small group, plan your own strategic bombing strike against an enemy city. Your goal is to win the war. Assign each of the following targets a priority rating of one through ten, one being an unacceptable target for attack, to be avoided, and ten being the highest priority for destruction. You may use numbers more than once, but be sure to explain your rationale for assigning each number.
A steel mill
A government office
A military base
A military hospital
A factory canning food
An elementary school
A high school
A railroad yard
Workers’ housing near a factory
The U.S. military preceded many of its bombing raids by raining cautionary leaflets over Japanese cities. Its Japanese text carried the following warning: “Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.” Imagine that you are resident of Tokyo and you find this message in your backyard. Do you believe it? What options for action do you reasonably have? What do you do? Write a short story following this scenario.
THIS LESSON WAS INDEPENDENTLY FINANCED BY OPENENDEDSOCIALSTUDIES.ORG.
If you value the free resources we offer, please consider making a modest contribution to keep this site going and growing.
You can actually visit parts of the world featured in this lesson:
Solemn Feats of the Atomic Tourist – A travel journal documenting a two week educational trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, made in an effort to better understand the legacy of the atomic bombing of Japan, originally published as a zine in 2012.