Imagine you are an attorney accusing sixteenth-century Spain of human rights violations in criminal court. How would you prepare a closing argument? What do you imagine Spain’s defense attorney would argue?

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The prosecution could make the argument that Spanish conquistadors subjugated two major empires, the Aztecs and Incas, and sold them into slavery. The prosecutor could also state that Spain destroyed historical artifacts and tried to erase a culture from history. Spain used torture, rape, and assassination against the public well...

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The prosecution could make the argument that Spanish conquistadors subjugated two major empires, the Aztecs and Incas, and sold them into slavery. The prosecutor could also state that Spain destroyed historical artifacts and tried to erase a culture from history. Spain used torture, rape, and assassination against the public well after the empires were defeated. The prosecution could also use the argument that Spain looted the new lands that it gained and did nothing to improve them or to give the people any avenue for Spanish citizenship and rights.

In the case of the Spanish against the Aztecs, the defense attorney could argue that the Aztecs subjugated neighboring tribes, and the Spanish conquistadors could be seen as liberators—at least the Spanish did not offer other tribes up for human sacrifice. The defense attorney could also point out that the Spanish conquistadors had to act brutally in order to put fear into the population. Spanish brutality was actually a preemptive move to ensure the survival of the mission. One can also point out that brutality in war and religious repression were actually cultural norms during this time. Spain had just ousted its Jews and Moors, and no one in Europe protested, because many other nations also wanted to expel their Jewish citizens. Living off the peasants was a common army practice in Europe since it would be impractical to bring enough supplies for long campaigns. The defense attorney could state that the tribes suffered at the hands of the Spanish; however, what the Spanish did was not much different than what any other European state was doing at the time.

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