“In war, truth is the first casualty”—Aeschylus, Greek dramatist
…by Jonas E. Alexis
The issue of slavery, without a doubt, has continued to play an important role in historical discussion. It is also one of those issues that has carried a lot of emotional baggage.
Yet in any historical and rational discussion, it is important to make truth our guide rather than ideology or personal bias.
Last month, Henry Louis Gates of Harvard finally came out and declared that some blacks did own slaves in the seventeenth century in America.
Gates writes that they “did so at least since 1654, continuing to do so right through the Civil War.”
Building on the work of Carter G. Woodson, Gates continues to say that in 1830, “about 13.7 percent (319,599) of the black population was free.
Of these, 3,776 free Negroes owned 12,907 slaves, out of a total of 2,009,043 slaves owned in the entire United States, so the numbers of slaves owned by black people over all was quite small by comparison with the number owned by white people.” As we shall see in subsequent articles, this is not a recent discovery, but it took Gates years to come out and say it.
In other words, it is meaningless for popular historians such as John Hope Franklin to talk about slavery on a wide scale while denying that slavery was also “institutionalized” in some instances by blacks.
With all our modern emphasis on the historical slavery of Africans by Europeans, it never occurs to some that Africans might be just as involved in the slave trade. Moreover, historical studies show that African slavery of Europeans was much bigger in scope than previously taught.
For example, between 1500 and 1800, pirates from North Africa’s Barbary Coast captured and sold more European slaves than there were African slaves being transported to the American colonies. Even after the United States abolished slavery, some Muslim countries were still in the business of buying European slaves.
More importantly, the abolition of slavery was exclusively a European enterprise, spurred on by a radically Christian spirit.
In fact, anti-slavery sentiment has been in existence in Christian circles since the infancy of Christianity, particularly after the decline of the Roman Empire. And it was European Christians who established schools for former slaves after the abolition of slavery in America, reasoning that in the Christian scheme of things, blacks had as much redemptive purpose as they themselves did.
By contrast, many African countries did not want to end the slave trade because it brought immense monetary gain. Historian John Thornton notes that
“slavery was widespread in Atlantic Africa because slaves were the only form of private, revenue-producing property recognized in African law. By contrast, in European legal systems, land was the primary form of revenue-producing property, and slavery was relatively minor.”
Abolishing slavery in Africawas in a sense a declaration of war, for it would force Africa to come up with a wholly different revenue-producing property.
Since I will be addressing the European slave trade in more depth in a future article, let me just summarize the main points here, as the issue of slavery intersects with the issue of truth.
Once Europe adopted the essentially theological idea that all men are created in God’s image and saw that slavery was incompatible with that central teachings of Christianity, then slavery had to go, no matter the cost.
Although some Christians of the era did try to find proof texts to maintain the position that slavery was compatible with Scripture, their presupposed proof-texts simply could not stand up to in-depth scrutiny.
As we shall see in the summer, sola sciptura had some political and messianic ring to it, particularly during the rise of Zionism at the end of the 18th century.
In their quest to end slavery, the British went so far as to use military force in order to stop slave ships from continuing to traffic souls, even entering Brazilian waters to destroy Brazilian slave ships and threatening the Ottoman Empire with war if they did not boycott the African slave trade.
Yet, although the abolition of slavery was an exclusively Western development, spearheaded primarily by Christians—and although African nations had been deeply involved in the slave trade centuries before it reached Europe and America—somehow slavery in modern times has become an evil peculiar to Western civilization! This shows yet another kind of willful blindness.
In order to justify a bias against Western civilization, some historians transfer the lion’s share of the guilt for worldwide historical slavery to the very people who fought to put an end to it!
Yet their argument falls apart the moment we look with any depth at the international record of slavery. The fact is that slavery not only existed for centuries in lands such as Southeast Asia and Africa and the Middle East, but was far more prevalent in other countries than is commonly believed. Slavery was even widespread among the Northwestern Coastal Indians.
In general, “institutionalized” slavery was practiced in virtually every continent and in every era; it is a human failing, not a Western one. Throughout history:
• Africans enslaved other Africans
• Europeans enslaved other Europeans
• Africans enslaved Europeans
• Europeans enslaved Africans
• Vikings enslaved Europeans
• Mongolians enslaved Europeans
• Egyptians and Turks enslaved Greeks and Romans
• Greeks and Romans enslaved Germanic peoples
• Asians enslaved other Asians
• American Indians enslaved other Indians
• Europeans enslaved Christians
• Muslims enslaved Christians
• and on and on it goes.
Yet Western civilization has taken an unfortunate hit by intellectuals and popular historians of various stripes who not only focus solely on the slavery perpetuated by Western civilization, but who argue that the abolition of slavery, which makes the West unique and essential in proclaiming freedom, was motivated purely by economic interests.
But the reason I found the real history of slavery to be disturbing was because it did not align with what I had sincerely believed for years. British journalist and historian Guy Walters, who has written about World War II, says,
“I have found the truth to be far more satisfying than what has been served up by junk historians in print and online. I have also found the truth to be utterly scandalous, and on numerous occasions I have felt genuine anger at what I have discovered.”
To a certain extent this describes my reaction to the facts I uncovered in my over ten years of research, most particularly with respect to the slavery issue, which always carries emotional feelings.
After much study and reflection on the historical record, I was faced with several choices.
I could reject what I had previously believed and embrace the truth, I could rearrange the evidence to downplay its significance.
I could even simply ignore the truth, acting as if it did not affect my perspective of history.
Since the latter two options were contrary to the spirit of honest truth-seeking I have tried to build my life around, the former choice was all that was left to me, distasteful though it may be.
Historian Christopher Behan McCullagh rightly argues that we cannot ignore historical truth because history itself “enables us to understand our social and cultural inheritance, our institutions, beliefs and artifacts, and it is vital that it be as accurate as possible.”
John Adams once proclaimed,
“Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
If our wishes cannot alter the state of facts, then we would be better off allying ourselves with truth, rather than relying on imaginary evidence dressed up in academic terminology, which in the end will evaporate, leaving us nothing on which to stand.
We all know that truth is not always a pleasant thing, and on many occasions it has the potential to create conflict, since not everyone likes the truth.
But if the truth is divisive for a good cause—to help sift fact from fiction—so be it. Honest men and people of reason will ally themselves with the truth. But no matter where the truth may take a person—and although it may be offensive or politically incorrect—nothing else will make him free.
The sad part is that many in our own day deliberately love to attack the truth. If a statement does not line up with their preconceived notions or the politically correct opinions of the day, then they loudly reject it as false, accompanied in some cases by legal suits, media castigation (name-calling, after all, being one of the best ways to silence an opponent), or career-ending repercussions.
It does not matter if the statement is historically accurate; if it does not correspond to their ideological fashion, then it must be rejected out of hand, without rational, logical consideration.
Offense has become the catchphrase of the era, and more pains are taken to avoid offending people than are taken researching the truth. Sincere people will surely admit that at first the truth does not make them comfortable, but in the long run it makes them truly free.
For me, embracing the truth about slavery turned out to be both liberating and intellectually fulfilling. It certainly was not easy at first, but embracing the truth is a path that any honest man should take.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel laureate for literature in 1970, was perhaps one of the rarest minds of the twentieth century, and I highly esteem him. He was sent to the Gulag because he reported on the actions of the Red Army after they conquered certain territories.
Solzhenitsyn was tortured, stripped of human dignity, and ultimately became a committed Christian.
Later, he wrote about his experiences in his famous book The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn’s monumental study Two Hundred Years Together, which was a best-seller in Russia, has yet to be translated into English for ideological reasons.
Solzhenitsyn said that the first step of a courageous man is to not deliberately take part in a lie. In other words, once our eyes are open to the truth (no matter who pronounces it), we should flee from falsehood whenever we find it because, once again, truth will free us from spiritual, intellectual, and political bondage.
Everyone who desires to be free will have to seek and find the truth with the data available to him or her—through science, history, logic, reason, and more importantly Logos.
Unfortunately, those who claim to seek truth and justice often violate their own principles when truth and justice conflict with their ideology.
When Albert Camus was asked to explain why he remained silent during the French invasion of Algeria, he declared, “I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother above justice.”
In the next two articles, the reader is going to ask to put on his historical and thinking cap in order to examine the issues that will be raised.
Emotion, by the way, is not part of our thinking cap. While emotion can be a good virtue, if used properly, when it comes to truth, facts, and ultimate reality, emotion should take a back seat. Emotion can lead to double standards on some occasions.
For example, we have Holocaust museums in the Western world dedicated to those who have died in Nazi Germany, but we have not a single Holocaust museum dedicated to the peasants in Soviet Russia, to the Christians who were massacred during the Armenian genocide, to the Chinese who died in World War II, to the precious people who lost their lives in the Middle East, etc.
In other words, the Soviets, the Christians, the Armenian, the Chinese, the Iraqis, are just an afterthought in the Zionist scheme of things.
We also have Civil Rights museums. How many museums do we have for the European people who got sold into slavery in Africa and other parts of the world?
By the way, the word slavery itself came from the Slav, and it found its place in our language precisely because the Slavic people were being sold into slavery by other Europeans for no less than six centuries.
In order to be fair and honest, those issues need to be discussed rationally, historically, and with a love for the truth. And this is where we will pick up in the next two articles.
Editing: Jim W. Dean