When Donald Trump calls Haiti a "shithole country," he's dismissing one of the hardest-done-by countries in the history of the world — and moreover, a land whose sacrifices made the US itself possible.
Haiti (then called Saint-Domingue) was France's most brutal, most profitable colony, a tiny island that supplied 75% of the world's sugar, sending more wealth to France than the all 13 of the original US colonies combined.
A third of the enslaved people sent to Saint-Domingue died in the first three years. It's not hard to understand how that mortality was attained, when you listen to the account of a survivor: "Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat shit? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?"
But Haitians were not easily cowed. The near constant slave uprisings exacted a dear price from France, and eventually the slaves prevailed and threw off French rule, costing the French millions and a substantial fraction of their army. The weakened Napoleon was desperate enough to sell the French territories to America (the Louisiana Purchase), doubling the country's size at the bargain price of $15M.
As Jon Schwarz puts it, "no Haitian rebellion, no Louisiana Purchase; no Louisiana Purchase, and the U.S. would have been cooped up east of the Mississippi River, perhaps forever."
But don't take my word for it. Here's what Alexander Hamilton wrote just after the deal was concluded:
To the deadly climate of St. Domingo, and to the courage and obstinate resistance made by its black inhabitants are we indebted …
Bonaparte found himself absolutely compelled by situation, to relinquish his darling plan of colonising the banks of the Mississippi: and thus have the Government of the United States, by the unforseen operation of events, gained … Let us then, with all due humility, acknowledge this as another of those signal instances of the kind interpositions of an over-ruling Providence …
Trump obviously isn't going to, with all due humility, acknowledge that we are indebted to the courage and obstinate resistance of Haitians. But the rest of us can and should.
Donald Trump's Vile Words Should Remind Us That America Owes Everything to Haitians [Jon Schwarz/The Intercept]