Good Intentions & Hard Work & Nothing Else: Is Amasa Delano’s Moral Blindness a USA Trait?

I’ve been listening to Greg Grandin‘s The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World. The book is full of historical tidbits (and here), and I hope to write a review of it after I’ve finished.

As I was listening to the latter part of the book, after Amasa Delano has returned to Boston to face his creditors, I thought about how much he resembled today’s liberal class in the United States.

He did not favor slavery, but, when presented with an opportunity to make money by capturing the slave ship The Trial from the Senegambians who had taken it over, he didn’t hesitate to use great violence to subdue them and return them to Spanish captivity. When his debts mounted, he began taking shipments of salted cod to the slave-based economies of the Caribbean. In other words, he had a moral position against slavery but did not hold it strongly enough to desist from attempting to profit from it.

So far, based on Grandin’s book, the only regret Amasa Delano ever expresses regarding his takeover of The Trial was the failure of Spain and its colonists in the Americas to compensate him as much as he thought his right. He never considers the impact his actions had on the enslaved Africans.

In fact, it seems that Amasa Delano’s inner life centers around understanding a universe which permitted his failure to achieve the success he thought he deserved by virtue of his good (in his mind, for himself) intentions and his hard (self-reported) work (later undertaken by slaves, undocumented workers & laborers in unsafe conditions around the world).

Likewise, when I tell people today that the entire political class should be tried for the war crime of invading and occupying Iraq, they typically respond with some version of “We meant well” and “The US army is competent and did its best in a difficult situation.” Good intentions and hard work. Iraqis. Oh, them. I hadn’t thought about them.

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