The arrival of Columbus in this hemisphere 500 years ago was not the beginning of exploitation in the world. Indeed exploitation and destruction of other cultures has yet to be recognized as evil. For many, the images of historic conquests, rape and pillage, connote swash-buckling adventures of courageous figures. Vikings, explorers and adventurers arriving at “new and foreign shores” are roles Hollywood has given to Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston , and Errol Flynn.

For the people who lived in this hemisphere, and Africans brought later, October 12, 1492 is a date that lives in infamy.

We hardly dare learn the truth of acts perpetrated by Europeans who justified “Manifest Destiny” as a right, even a duty to God. The heathens were subdued, converted to Christianity, swept aside, or put to work for the expansion and wealth of the dominant race.

Slowly, details are coming out as we overcome our resistance to know. In this, we define who we are. If we cannot ever fully acknowledge the sins committed, the hearts broken, the cultures wrecked, at least we can seek ways to say to the survivors, “I am sorry for what my ancestors did to yours. I am sorry for the continuing racism I have not yet expunged from my own heart. In memory of your ancestors, who suffered so much, let us work together to rid the world of the exploitation and plundering, which continue today.”

Are we ready to look under that rug, to find the dirt of racism, exploitation, pillage and conquest which continue today TO OUR OWN PRIVILEGED SPECIAL BENEFIT? Are we ready to know who sews our shirts in Guatemala, who picks our fruit in Mexico and California, our coffee in Columbia, who mines our copper in Chile, who assembles our NIKE’s in Indonesia?

William Sloane Coffin said justice is giving back to people what belongs to them. In the case of the indigenous people of this hemisphere, that is quite impossible. What we can do, in memory of those who suffered and died, and suffer and die today, is to join hands with all the survivors, indigenous, African, Asian, all, and pledge ourselves to end plunder here. At least we can use these lessons to being 500 years characterized by passion for justice, human dignity, and a deep love of diversity and peace. For the dead, we owe this much, and more.