Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • HAPPY BARTOLOME DE LA CASAS DAY--the Oskar Schindler of Columbus's Time

    • Posted on Oct 13, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    Today, October 13,  is Columbus Day, the day we celebrate the enslavement and subjugation of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas--or rather, the start thereof, by 
    one Christopher Columbus.  

    Columbus is a hero to the subjugators, namely we Europeans who took over, but
    there's another side that we shouldn't forget. 

    That's why we should also celebrate Bartolome de La Casas, a Spanish priest who arrived not long after Columbus, and was horrified by how the natives were wanton slaughtered and treated essentially as animals, and enslaved at will.  Here's a bit 
    of information on him from Wikipedia, and I've boldfaced key ideas:  


    Bartolomé de las CasasO.P. (c. 1484-1566), was a 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar. He became the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed "Protector of the Indians". His extensive writings, the most famous being A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias, chronicle the first decades of colonization of the West Indies and focus particularly on the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples.

    Arriving as one of the first European settlers in the Americas, he participated in, and was eventually compelled to oppose, the atrocities committed against the Native Americans by the Spanish colonists.
    In 1515, he reformed his views, gave up his Indian slaves and encomienda, and advocated, before King Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, on behalf of rights for the natives.

    In his early writings, he advocated the use of African slaves instead of Natives in the West-Indian colonies; consequently, criticisms have been leveled at him as being partly responsible for the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade. Later in life, he retracted those early views as he came to see all forms of slavery as equally wrong.  In 1522, he attempted to launch a new kind of peaceful colonialism on the coast of Venezuela, but this venture failed causing Las Casas to enter the Dominican Order and become a friar, leaving the public scene for a decade.

    He then traveled to Central America undertaking peaceful evangelization among the Maya of Guatemala and participated in debates among the Mexican churchmen about how best to bring the natives to the Christian faith. Traveling back to Spain to recruit more missionaries, he continued lobbying for the abolition of the encomienda, gaining an important victory by the passing of the New Laws in 1542.

    He was appointed Bishop of Chiapas, but served only for a short time before he was forced to return to Spain because of resistance to the New Laws by the encomenderos, and conflicts with Spanish settlers because of his pro-Indian policies and activist religious stances. The remainder of his life was spent at the Spanish court where he held great influence over Indies-related issues. In 1550, he participated in the Valladolid debate in which Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda argued that the Indians were less than human and required Spanish masters in order to become civilized. Las Casas maintained that they were fully human and that forcefully subjugating them was unjustifiable. 

    Bartolomé de las Casas spent 50 years of his life actively fighting slavery and the violent colonial abuse of indigenous peoples, especially by trying to convince the Spanish court to adopt a more humane policy of colonization. And although he failed to save the indigenous peoples of the Western Indies, his efforts resulted in several improvements in the legal status of the natives, and in an increased colonial focus on the ethics of colonialism.

    Las Casas is often seen as one of the first advocates for universal human rights.

    Las Casas, to me, is the Oscar Schindler of Columbus's time, and deserves recognition as a hero.  The least we can do is mention him in connection with Columbus Day, since he did the right thing centuries before anyone knew it was the right thing.   



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  • Thanksgiving, the Perfect Holiday

    • Posted on Nov 20, 2005 by Scott Cawelti


    It’s nearly Thanksgiving, the perfect holiday. Christmas reeks of commercialism with religious myths overlaid on pagan rituals, Valentine’s Day amounts to a bonanza for Hallmark, and July Fourth seems more like public disturbances of the peace, booming and banging for the kids.  

    Memorial Day hardly gets noticed, nor do Presidents’ birthdays, which amount to little more than postal holidays.

    Thanksgiving, though, remains a pure, unsullied holiday.  We gather with friends and family, feast and toast our good fortune, and bask in the warmth of family and friendship togetherness, however briefly.

    In general we don’t do this enough. In our ever-more narcissistic, everyone-owes-me culture, gratefulness needs serious attention.  So let us offer heartfelt thanks this Thursday for:

    •         A president who didn’t in fact deliberately deceive us into going to war.  He’s probably not a pathological liar or a manipulative villain. He believes that what he did in taking us to war was right. Here’s the truth:  He was only lying to himself.  For that we should feel grateful, though a mite uncomfortable that he wields so much power.
    •         A country where gasoline is still cheaper than almost anywhere in the developed world. This highly refined substance remains cheaper than almost any other liquid, including bottled water in airports. Because it’s so cheap, we also can still pretend that we don’t have to worry where it’s coming from.
    •         Supermarkets with more variety at lower prices than the world has ever known.  Kings and their armies have killed for a tenth of what our corner markets sell for pennies.  Shamelessly, we take it all for granted.    
    •         People still willing to run for office, no matter how low the pay, how rotten the hours, how nasty the complaints.  Thankfully, candidates think public service is still worth it. To all those losers and winners out there, including Hari Shankar, John Runchey, Stan Smith, John Rooff, Tim Hurley, Curtis Hundley, THANKS.  May you continue to run and/or serve, even if a majority of us don’t notice or vote. 
    •         Gadgets that would have boggled even geek minds just a decade ago, from video Ipods to cheap video editing software to digital video and still cameras to Google Earth, a free computer program which gives closeup satellite images of practically anywhere on earth down to a few square feet, to global positioning systems, to channel-rich satellite television. We’re in the midst of a digital revolution that only a paranoid or a fool can hate. The rest of us should celebrate.  I still think they’re all magic, especially when they actually work.
      • A few brave authors out there who question the dominant culture’s deepest beliefs about itself. I speak of  Howard Zinn, who wrote American history from the outsiders’ perspective in “A People’s History of the United States.”  And David Stannard, whose “American Holocaust” should make us question our own culture’s roots in genocide.  And James Loewen, whose “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” should be required reading for all U.S. citizens.  Without such authors and books, we’d become insufferably smug about our place in the world.
      • Jared Diamond, whose recent book “Collapse” offers a clear warning about where we might be headed based on other cultures, from the Mayans to the Easter Islanders, all of whose cultures literally collapsed.  Yet it’s not all doom and gloom.  Diamond believes there’s hope if we learn from other cultures’ downfalls, the causes of which are strikingly similar.  
    •         Conservatives.  Though they’d prefer to live about a hundred and fifty years ago, before Darwin, women’s rights, civil rights, worker’s rights, and their all-purpose bugaboo, Big Government, they’ve managed pretty well. Indeed, they ARE big government, running both legislative houses and the presidency. Yet still they get no satisfaction.  I feel their pain.  I also recognize that there’s a little of them in every liberal, just as there’s a little liberal in every conservative. So we can all be friends, sort of. 

     I plan to mightily enjoy this year’s feast of thanks, since there’s so much out there that deserves thanks.  At least once a year. 


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