When the discovery of a Denisovan girl's tooth in Laos, Southeast Asia was announced last month, we were reminded of an old theory about Neanderthals: Modern humans replaced them. We might call it a great replacement theory. Whatever we choose to call it, though, we now know it to be wrong. Modern humans actually interbred with Neanderthals.
There was once another great replacement theory: Spaniards replaced the indigenous Maya people in Central America. That theory is also wrong. Like most European colonists, Spaniards interbred with the indigenous people they encountered.
It was generally not the intent of European colonists to replace indigenous people — only to replace their languages, religions and cultures. They succeeded to a relatively small degree. In fact indigenous people around the world are undergoing de-colonization and in some cases reclaiming their heritage.
There are cases in history where replacement was the intent. Last month a five-year prison sentence was sought for 101-year-old Josef Schütz for his alleged role in Holocaust war crimes. A few years after he was born the Argentine government committed a crime against humanity when it murdered hundreds of indigenous Qom and Moqoit people for protesting their enslavement. Last month a judge found Argentina guilty of that crime and handed down reparations in a first-of-its-kind trial in Latin America. Meanwhile the Qom and Moqoit survive to this day.
In the late Twentieth Century the infamous Khmer Rouge attempted to replace Cambodian society with a regressed one whose livelihood would be based on agriculture. Although 1979 is most often cited as the year of their failure, some continued to fight for their cause over many more years. The man in this month's photo is one of them. The only replacement he actually brought about was of his right leg.
There is an important lesson to be learned from these examples. Even when it is the intention, it is just about impossible to replace a people. What is possible, even easy, is to replace ignorance with conspiracy theories instead of with education. This man told me he would educate his daughter one day about the real history of the Khmer Rouge so that she would know of the danger from their kind of thinking.
We saw in Buffalo, NY last month how dangerous a lack of such education can be. While America continues to debate solutions it might consider this: When the Starliner space capsule landed in White Sands, NM last month, it touched down close to where humans had walked more than twenty thousand years previously. Their descendants are still there. Much has changed in those millennia and the indigenous population is no longer the majority. If America is to survive, perhaps misconceptions about imaginary threats should be replaced with education about real ones. That would truly be a great replacement.If you enjoyed reading this month's opinion editorial, please consider supporting independent, advertising-free journalism by buying us a coffee to help us cover the cost of hosting our web site. Please click on the link or scan the QR code. Thanks!