Selected Death Tolls for Wars, Massacres and Atrocities Before the 20th Century
By Matthew White
1. 55 million Second World War, 20C
2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine), 20C
3. 40 million Mongol Conquests, 13C
4. 36 million An Lushan Revolt, 8C
5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty, 17C
6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion, 19C
7. 20 million Annihilation of the American Indians, 15C-19C
Judging by how much space he gives it, here's the crux of White's essay:
Consider the Powhatans of Virginia. As I mentioned earlier, Stannard cites estimates that the population was 100,000 before contact. In the same paragraph, he states that European depredations and disease had reduced this population to a mere 14,000 by the time the English settled Jamestown in 1607. Now, come on; should we really blame the English for 86,000 deaths that occured before they even arrived? Sure, he hints at pre-Jamestown "depredations", but he doesn't actually list any. As far as I can tell, the handful of European ventures into the Chesapeake region before 1607 were too small to do much depredating, and in what conflicts there were, the Europeans often got the worst of it.
Think of it this way: if the Europeans had arrived with the most benign intentions and behaved like perfect guests, or for that matter, if Aztec sailors had been the ones to discover Europe instead of vice versa, then the Indians would still have been exposed to unfamiliar diseases and the population would still have been scythed by massive epidemics, but we'd just lump it into the same category as the Black Death, i.e. bad luck.
White wonders if we can blame the English for the deaths that occurred before they arrived. No, we can blame the Spanish for those deaths.
If an Aztec ship had sailed to Europe, only its sailors would've been exposed to disease. They would've died on the trip or developed antibodies and survived.
I've answered White's charge several times before. You can find one such answer in Genocide by Any Other Name.... To quote myself:
Or to put it another way, how many doctors did they send or hospitals did they build when they saw the Indians dying? How many Indians did they treat medically the same as they treated their own people? If there's a tale of a Florence Nightengale type ministering to America's Natives, I'm afraid I missed it.
To extend my previous analogy, if you break into someone's house with a known killer as a partner, intending "only" to rob the house, and your partner kills 90% of the house's inhabitants while you stand by and watch, how guilty are you of those deaths?
We could keep going with these analogies. If you lock someone in the basement and he dies of an infection from a scratch, are you guilty? If you forcibly remove someone from his house and he dies of pneumonia in the cold, are you guilty? Yes. I believe the crime would be involuntary manslaughter and the punishment would be 10 or more years in jail.