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For those of you who are decades away from reading Herman Melville or find that what you remember of him is a great white whale and a possessed lunatic named Ahab, it might be a good time to return to some of his writing.  From the first novel, Typee, published in 1846, 14 years before the Civil War, he was an acute, and agonized spectator of the evils of empire and imperial conquest around the world.  Many will remember Typee and Omoo as adventure filled travelogues but they are far more.  Witness this excerpt from Typee, one of many of a similar cast:

“… a considerable detachment of sailors and marines from the frigate Essex, accompanied by at least two thousand warriors of Happar and Nukuheva, landed in boats and canoes at the head of the bay, and after penetrating a little distance into the valley, met with the stoutest resistance from its inmates. Valiantly, although with much loss, the Typees disputed every inch of ground, and after some hard fighting obliged their assailants to retreat and abandon their design of conquest.
The invaders, on their march back to the sea, consoled themselves for their repulse by setting fire to every house and temple in their route; and a long line of smoking ruins defaced the once-smiling bosom of the valley, and proclaimed to its pagan inhabitants the spirit that reigned in the breasts of Christian soldiers. Who can wonder at the deadly hatred of the Typees to all foreigners after such unprovoked atrocities?

Thus it is that they whom we denominate ‘savages’ are made to deserve the title. When the inhabitants of some sequestered island first descry the ‘big canoe’ of the European rolling through the blue waters towards their shores, they rush down to the beach in crowds, and with open arms stand ready to embrace the strangers. Fatal embrace! They fold to their bosom the vipers whose sting is destined to poison all their joys; and the instinctive feeling of love within their breast is soon converted into the bitterest hate.
The enormities perpetrated in the South Seas upon some of the inoffensive islanders will nigh pass belief. These things are seldom proclaimed at home; they happen at the very ends of the earth; they are done in a corner, and there are none to reveal them. But there is, nevertheless, many a petty trader that has navigated the Pacific whose course from island to island might be traced by a series of cold-blooded robberies, kidnappings, and murders, the iniquity of which might be considered almost sufficient to sink her guilty timbers to the bottom of the sea.
Sometimes vague accounts of such thing’s reach our firesides, and we coolly censure them as wrong, impolitic, needlessly severe, and dangerous to the crews of other vessels. How different is our tone when we read the highly-wrought description of the massacre of the crew of the Hobomak by the Feejees; how we sympathize for the unhappy victims, and with what horror do we regard the diabolical heathens, who, after all, have but avenged the unprovoked injuries which they have received. We breathe nothing but vengeance, and equip armed vessels to traverse thousands of miles of ocean in order to execute summary punishment upon the offenders. On arriving at their destination, they burn, slaughter, and destroy, according to the tenor of written instructions, and sailing away from the scene of devastation, call upon all Christendom to applaud their courage and their justice.
How often is the term ‘savages’ incorrectly applied! None really deserving of it were ever yet discovered by voyagers or by travellers. They have discovered heathens and barbarians whom by horrible cruelties they have exasperated into savages. It may be asserted without fear of contradictions that in all the cases of outrages committed by Polynesians, Europeans have at some time or other been the aggressors, and that the cruel and bloodthirsty disposition of some of the islanders is mainly to be ascribed to the influence of such examples.”
Melville, Herman. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (p. 30). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

He continued his very contrary observations with Omoo, which followed, and then in Mardi, and RedburnWhite-Jacket (1850) was sent to every member of the U.S. Congress and helped to abolish flogging in the United States Navy.  Moby Dick of course, is not only about mad Ahab and a pursued whale (to extinction Melville worried) but about the great diversity and democracy of men at sea.

And you can dig into all of them here, for ninety-nine cents!

Maybe it’s just me and a much matured memory but I don’t recall these observations being pulled out in class-rooms, the table set for discussion of ancestral behavior, in literature or history. I wonder what a world would be like, in which we all honestly knew the past and took lessons from it on how to live our present lives?