Part Five of Six*. Part Four can be found here. Source: History of San Diego by William E Smythe. All quotes are from this book.
By John Lawrence / From the original San Diego Free Press, circa 1969.
After the first Indian uprising in 1775, the Spanish priests and soldiers rebuilt the mission and settled down to long decades of virtually unchallenged power. For approximately the next 75 years, San Diego was under Mission rule. The Spanish imperialists seemed to have found the solution to the “Indian problem” as we would say today.
The missionaries were so intent on “saving” the Indians that they would stop at nothing to further this goal. We quote Smythe: “Neither is there any doubt of the earnestness of the missionaries in bringing souls to Christ. They were so deeply in earnest that they did not hesitate to employ the military arm as a means of forcible conversion. There is reason to believe that whole villages were sometimes surrounded and their inhabitants driven to missions.”
To paraphrase an American officer in Vietnam, the missionaries were out to save the Indians even if they had to destroy them to do it. In fact the parallels to the Vietnam situation are striking. The driving of whole villages of Indians to missions is exactly what the U.S. military has done to the Vietnamese peasants. Only they don’t call them missions any more; they call “strategic hamlets.”
“Strategic hamlets” or missions – – no matter what you call it, it represents the same thing: forcible removal of the indigenous population from their land and their way of life, and depositing and concentrating them within a compound where they can be watched, controlled and indoctrinated – – in short, “saved.”
The real purpose of Spanish intentions with respect to the Indians now becomes clear. It is the classic purpose of all imperialist efforts: colonization of the Indians and exploitation of their labor. We quote Smythe: “Apparently, neither the military or ecclesiastical authorities were under any illusion concerning the inherent unfitness of the Indians for real citizenship. Both clearly understood that they could only be utilized in connection with a patriarchical establishment. Somebody else must think and plan and direct; it was their part to labor, and to labor in the fear of God” Sound famliar? The colored people are first converted into second class citizens, and then Whitey becomes the brains while they become the body. Shades of Eldridge Cleaver.
NOTICC how the militarist subjugation of the Indians and their utilization as a source of cheap labor fits hand in glove with the religious conversion of the Indians. The secular “patriarchical establishment” is reinforced by the religious patriarchical establishment with God as the patriarch and the priest as his interpreter. The fear of God was exploited to break down the Indians’ resistance to their own enslavement as laborers.
Smythe admits, “But there were many impartial observers who regarded their condition as no better than slavery.” To make this point absolutely clear, we quote also from Life in California by Alfred Robinson: “… it is not unusual to see numbers of them driven along by the alcades, and under the whip’s lash forced to the very doors of the sanctuary. … The condition of these Indians is miserable indeed; and it is not to be wondered at that many attempt to escape from the severity of the religious discipline of the Mission.”
The mission was no heaven for the Indians. They were taught that their heaven would be attained after they had died of hard labor. Of course, before the advent of the Spaniards, the Indians had lived in a paradise.
*Editor’s note: Originally, there were thought to be seven articles in this series; please note, there are only six.