by Jeff Sovern
In their book, More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure, Omri Ben-Shahar & Carl E. Schneider mention the "Spanish Requirement," a rule that obliged sixteenth century Spaniards to deliver a speech in Spanish demanding surrender from New World audiences that did not understand Spanish. My research assistant, Eric Levine, dug up a book that discusses the Spanish Requirement, LEWIS HANKE, SPANISH STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE IN THE CONQUEST OF AMERICA 35 (2nd ed. 1949). According to Hanke:
[T]he Requirement was read to trees and empty huts when no Indians were to be found. Captains muttered its theological phrases into their beards on the-edge of sleeping Indian settlements, or even a league away before starting the formal attack, and at times some leather-lunged Spanish notary hurled its sonorous phrases after the Indians as they fled into the mountains. Once it was read in camp before the soldiers to the beat of the drum. Ship captains would sometimes have the document read from the deck as they approached an island . . . .
And Hanke observes:
Spaniards themselves, when describing this document, have often shared the dilemma of Las Casas, who confessed on reading it he could not decide whether to laugh or to weep. He roundly denounced it on practical as well as theoretical grounds, pointing out the manifest injustice of the whole business. Others found it infinitely ridiculous and even its author, Palacios Rubios, "laughed often" when Oviedo recounted his own experiences and instances of how some captains had put the Requirement into practice, though the learned doctor still believed that it satisfied the demands of the Christian conscience when executed in the manner originally intended.
What's the Mark Twain quote? History doesn't repeat but it rhymes?