Like many people, my first introduction to the real Christopher Columbus was via Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." The blogger responsible for this excellent summary of the atrocities that resulted from the "discoveries" of Christopher Columbus also acknowledges that book. However, the blogger mentions something I either didn't know or had forgotten - that we have the Catholic men's organization, The Knights of Columbus, to blame for our nation having a federal holiday for him. As Wikipedia notes:
The first statewide Columbus Day holiday was proclaimed by Colorado governor Jesse F. McDonald in 1905, and it was made a statutory holiday in 1907. In April 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made October 12 a federal holiday under the name Columbus Day.The Knights of Columbus freely admit to honoring Christopher Columbus, and they don't only honor him on Columbus Day, as this page from their web site demonstrates:
The Knights of Columbus today [May 20, 2006] remembers the death of Christopher Columbus. It was Columbus who opened the Americas to Christianity, and we pause to remember why it is that we bear his name.So because Columbus "opened the Americas to Christianity" he is to be regarded as a hero. Because the societies he destroyed were not Christians.
And the KoC are not unaware of the charges of atrocities - they give Carol Delaney the opportunity t deny Columbus's responsibility for them.
Columbia: The popular view today is that Columbus is responsible for countless atrocities against the native peoples. In your opinion, is this a fair assessment?
Carol Delaney: No, not at all. The late 20th century brought a lot of critique about him from the perspective of the natives, and Columbus has become a symbol for everything that went wrong. But the more I read of his own writings and that of his contemporaries, my understanding of him totally changed. His relations with the natives tended to be benign. He liked the natives and found them to be very intelligent. He also described them as “natural Christians” because they had no other “sect,” or false faith, and believed that they could easily become Christians if they had instruction.
Columbus strictly told the crew not to do things like marauder or rape, and instead to treat the native people with respect. There are many examples in his writings where he gave instructions to this effect. Most of the time when injustices occurred, Columbus wasn’t even there. There were terrible diseases that got communicated to the natives, but he can’t be blamed for that.
A lot of the crew members didn’t like all of the restrictions and rebelled. In his writings, Columbus notes that the crew assumed that they could have slaves, that they could pick gold off of the trees, and that they didn’t have to work.
Columbia: What was Columbus’ view toward slavery?
Carol Delaney: As far as I can tell, Columbus never had any slaves, nor did he intend to get slaves when he went across the ocean. There was no possibility of enslaving the Grand Khan and his people. And [Columbus] believed the natives would become subjects of the Spanish sovereigns.The last question above is about Columbus's view towards slavery, and Delany avoids that question by saying that Columbus didn't have slaves, and that in any case in those days slavery was acceptable. But Howard Zinn presents evidence of Columbus's actual views in Columbus's own words:
When they later met a different group of natives, whom they believed to be cannibals, Columbus’ brother sent some of these people back to Europe after their second voyage. It was considered morally acceptable at that time to enslave people who acted against their nature, with the hope that they would become good Christians. Slavery was common, even among people in the Caribbean. People ignore that fact and seem to think that Columbus instituted slavery.
They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.***
As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.***
So it's pretty clear exactly what Columbus's view towards slavery was. He may not have personally owned slaves, but he had no problem enslaving on behalf of others, or taking natives "by force."
This isn't the first time the atrocities of Columbus's expeditions have been whitewashed of course. Zinn points to another historian doing the same thing:
Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else. Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, was the most distinguished writer on Columbus, the author of a multi-volume biography, and was himself a sailor who retraced Columbus's route across the Atlantic. In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide."
That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book's last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:
"He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great-his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most outstanding and essential of all his qualities-his seamanship."
One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.
But he does something else-he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. Outright lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it's not that important-it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.Delany also has high praise for Columbus's seamanship:
Columbia: To what extent can Columbus’ exploration be considered a failure or a success?
Carol Delaney: I think he went to the grave thinking that he had not accomplished what he wanted to do. He was angry with King Ferdinand for not pursuing the crusade, and he recognized that terrible crimes had been committed. From this point of view, he felt the quest was a failure. In reality, it was a major accomplishment. Columbus went across the ocean four times in small wooden ships, without the use of modern instruments. In the process, he discovered the New World, even though he thought that he had found only the periphery of Asia.Similar to Zinn's description of Morison's approach, the acknowledgement of "terrible crimes" is there, but it's pushed aside for something the historian considers more significant.
But even more than seamanship, Delaney, and of course the Knights of Columbus, excuse any attempts by Columbus to conquer peoples because Columbus's motive wasn't only gold, it was religious zealotry:
Columbia: You argue that most people misunderstand the purpose of Columbus’ voyage. According to your research, what were his motivations?
Carol Delaney: Everybody knows that Columbus was trying to find gold, but they don’t know what the gold was for: to fund a crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims before the end of the world. A lot of people at the time thought that the apocalypse was coming because of all the signs: the plague, famine, earthquakes and so forth. And it was believed that before the end, Jerusalem had to be back in Christian hands so that Christ could return in judgment. Columbus actually calculated how many years were left before the end of the world. He seemed to think of his whole voyage as a mission, which was part of this apocalyptic scenario.Oh, so his motivation was not only gold - he also wanted to conquer Muslims because he was a religious fanatic wacko.
Why wouldn't we want to have a national holiday to celebrate the deranged religious crusader who just happened to initiate genocide and the trans-Atlantic slave trade?
So glad that the Knights of Columbus and Carol Delaney have cleared that up.
When the Knights of Columbus aren't celebrating the cause of religious fanaticism-inspired conquest, they are using the American political system to try to force their evil misogynist religion onto the American public:
Critics like Schneck say many of the questions regarding the funding of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign center on private Catholic groups.
"The Knights of Columbus are clearly one of the major sources of funding (against the mandate), as well as other fraternal organizations," Schneck said.
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable group based in New Haven, Conn., says it's the world's largest lay Catholic organization.
Knights of Columbus life insurance sales neared $8 billion in 2010, and last year, it contributed $158 million to charity, including nearly $4 million to the Special Olympics. Its largesse extends to other causes, too, such as Coats for Kids and Project Medishare which provides prosthetics to Haitian children who lost limbs during the 2010 earthquake. In the last decade, the Knights have donated more than $1 billion to charity.
The group's 2010 tax forms show that the Knights gave more than $3 million to the Vatican that year, nearly $2 million to the U.S. bishops conference and $25,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has guided much of the legal action against the contraception mandate.
The group must disclose more recent donations in its 2011 tax forms. But Andrew Walther, the Knights of Columbus vice president for media, said the group has asked for an extension in filing the documents, making them unavailable until the fall.
In 2010, the Knights were also generous with their contributions to individual bishops, doling out nearly $350,000 for a variety of programs in various dioceses. Of that, $248,700, or 71 percent, went to Lori's Diocese of Bridgeport.
They have the right idea about Columbus in Venezuela.
|Current state (June 6, 2006) of the Columbus Walk in Caracas. |
The statue was knocked down by activists after a "public trial"
during the celebrations of the newly instituted
"Day of the Indigenous Resistance" (October 12) in 2004