Application of the Critical Theory

"Columbus not a hero, doesn't deserve national holiday"

by Steve Covieo

Christopher Columbus is often acknowledged as America's first hero. His heroic stature is due to the fact that he "discovered" America, and that is why in 1963 Rep. Roland Libonati proposed that the U.S. Congress declare Columbus Day a national holiday.

Today is the day we officially observe Columbus Day, a national holiday that celebrates the crimes of one of the greatest mass-murderers in the history of the planet.

Decade after decade, school textbooks have taught millions of students the wonderful story of the brave, revolutionary explorer who set out from renaissance Europe to prove his contemporaries' beliefs wrong. According to these books, he was scorned for his idea that the world was round and going against the common belief that it was flat.

Accounts tell of his two-month journey across the Atlantic Ocean, facing threats of being thrown overboard by his mutinous crew, as well as mast-shattering storms. Somehow this courageous explorer assured his crew that their worries of falling off the edge of the world were inconceivable, and he continued onward to spot the New World.

Today, students are still subjected to these "facts" Defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, facts are "information presented as objectively real." This is where the problem begins. Most of these "facts" are gross exaggerations or simply untruths.

Take for example the simple notion that Columbus discovered America. Columbus wrote in his first letter to the king and queen of Spain that he "had taken some Indians by force from the first island that (he) came to," so he couldn't have discovered the land - the Indians did. Textbooks undermine the intelligence of Indians by indirect implication that they are not wise enough to have discovered the land themselves, or that their non-European ancestry makes them incapable of discovery.

It is true that Columbus did indeed believe the world to be round, but so did most intelligent Europeans of his time. Years earlier it was found that the world cast a circular shadow on the moon. It is even known now that the Greeks understood the world to be round about 2,000 years before Columbus' proclamation.

Ship logs show that although there was minor complaining aboard the ships, there was never any threat to cast Columbus overboard. From Columbus' own sailing log, it is known that the only major storm they sailed through occurred on the last day of the journey, so it is hard to believe the ships were tattered and torn.

Little is said about what happened when Columbus and his crew actually landed on this "New World" they discovered. Stories of befriending the Indians are plenty, as are the tales of Columbus' good-natured reasons for the exploration. Unfortunately, these accounts are false.

The true desire behind the journey was Columbus' greed for wealth and power. He wanted the gold and general resources he could find in the New World.

The Native Americans Columbus encountered have generally been recorded as savages, but true accounts paint a somewhat different picture. For example, there are several narratives of the Spaniards stringing Indians up on wide gallows. Hans Koning, in "Columbus: His Enterprise," writes "These executions took place in lots of thirteen," in memory of the Spaniards' Christian Redeemer and his 12 apostles. Koning goes on to state "Men, women and children ... were hacked to pieces" and sold "to the Spaniards for feeding their dogs."

In "Lies My Teacher Told Me," James W. Loewen says "history must not judge Columbus by standards from our own time," but it is unreasonable to absolve Columbus of his actions simply because he lived in a less civilized time. What makes genocide more acceptable 500 years ago?

Loewen continues by saying that to "attack Columbus for doing what everyone else did would be unreasonable." He is referring to Columbus' part in enslaving the Indians. Although Columbus was not actually the first person to enslave others, he did bring slavery across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

What happened to the original residents of Haiti is just one example of the effects of Columbus' slavery. Loewen reports "estimates of pre-Columbian population range as high as eight million people. By 1555, they were all gone." He continues saying "Haiti under the Spanish is one of the primary instances of genocide in all human history." Yet, he still insists it would be unreasonable for us to attack Columbus, our "first American hero," for his role in this slaughter. How can it be reasonable to ignore the slave trading and murders that occurred by Christopher Columbus, our national hero.

The observance of Columbus Day will probably continue for many years, at least as long as the U.S. Capitol retains its paneled bronze doors, depicting eight scenarios of Columbus' life. The doors are located on the east side of the rotunda, where citizens who are entering the United States make their symbolic entrance.

The fact that the Italian-born explorer working under the Spanish flag never actually stepped foot upon U.S. soil must have successfully escaped American minds. If the fact that he did not discover the land that is now the United States shouldn't deny this holiday, the fact that he was a murderer who slaughtered nations of people should.

Steve Covieo is a Contributing Columnist at WMU Herald. This article was published in the Herald on October 13, 1997.