In my last post I mentioned that I’ve been reading The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz, who marched with Cortes in the conquest of the Aztec Empire. It’s amazing just how different a first hand account of it is from the politically correct version that we generally hear today. According to the politically correct version, the Spanish were after gold, pure and simple. And they would let nothing stand in their way of acquiring it, not even the rights and lives of the Indians. The Spanish conquest was one of rape, pillage, plunder, and slavery--and all in the name of God and for the sake of gold.
Were there brutal, unscrupulous conquistadors, whose motives were lust and greed? No doubt there were. But to characterize the whole process of exploration, colonization, and conquest as if this is all it was, or even what it principally was, is clearly false. Worse, it's a slander of many good men.
Bernal Diaz came to the New World in 1514, settling for a time in Tierra Firme (present day Panama), where Balboa had discovered the South Sea (the Pacific Ocean), and then moving to Cuba where there was a larger, more established Spanish colony.
In February of 1517 (Martin Luther would post his Ninety Five Theses, inaugurating the Protestant Reformation, later that same year), a group of about 110 Spanish settlers organized an expedition to sail east to discover new lands. This was the first of three expeditions Diaz would make. They fitted out two ships but needed a third. The governor of Cuba, Diego Velasquez offered a ship to be purchased on credit if they would explore new lands and “fight the natives, whom we could ten sell to him for slaves and thus pay for the ship.” And then Diaz says, “Realizing the wickedness of the Governor’s demand, we answered that it would be against the laws of God and the king for us to turn free men into slaves.” The governor then proposed other terms, which the explorers accepted.
This episode shows that not all the Spanish settlers acted honorably and with good motives (i.e., Velasquez). But others were very conscientious Christians, including Diaz, who throughout the book constantly expresses his faith in Jesus Christ and his desire to serve him and bring the gospel to the Indians.