As we approach Columbus Day, the far left has been pushing a nationwide campaign to smear, tear down and ultimately erase the memory of the man who introduced the Americas to the rest of the world.
An Antifa group is calling for a “Deface Columbus Day,” hoping to inflict yet more damage on memorials to the Italian explorer who made landfall in the Americas in 1492. Statues of Christopher Columbus have been vandalized in various parts of New York City and elsewhere in the state, and from Baltimore to San Jose. Los Angeles and Portland, Maine, have declared Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
Columbus’s memory has been under fire for a long time and in 2017, the left-wing mania for erasing history has only made it worse. Fueled by agenda-driven scholarship that demonizes Western culture and Christianity, progressives denounce Columbus as bringing “slavery, disease and death” to a previously peaceful continent. This is really just the modern flipside of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant hatred that recoiled from celebrations of Columbus in the late 19th and early 20th century. Back then opposition was led by the KKK. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows – as liberals find themselves embracing the Klan Plan.
What The Great Navigator accomplished on behalf of his Spanish patrons was extraordinary, if not exactly what he had intended. He sailed west looking for a route to Asia, hoping to open the spice trade to Spain and to bring Christianity to the Asians. But after a brutal three-month voyage in tiny ships, he reached the Bahamas, and began exploring and mapping the Caribbean in search of treasure. He was not the first European to reach the Americas, but his voyage opened the New World to the Old.
So why are the left vandalizing memorials to a man who’s dogged determination, skill and courage literally changed the world? Why do they hate Columbus? The over-arching reason is that his discovery eventually led to the founding of the United States, and the far left hates this nation. In the particulars, they hold Columbus responsible for genocide and the enslavement of the natives.
Writing for Fox News, Elizabeth Ames noted, “Many monument protestors are acting on what they learned from texts like ‘A People’s History of the United States,’ the ‘progressive’ history by ‘60s radical Howard Zinn that retells America’s story as a saga of unrelenting oppression.” Exactly.
Howard Zinn, the late patron saint of anti-American historical revisionism, is the most widely cited source for this take on Columbus. Zinn’s 1980 People’s History of the United States is revered by Hollywood actors, far left activists and radical academics alike for it’s damning perspective on just about every aspect of U.S. history.
Zinn’s agenda was essentially to dismember American history and culture. “The pretense is that there really is such a thing as ‘the United States,’ subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests,” he wrote. The United States as a community has never existed, but was an intellectual “pretense.” His Marxist account of our history reduced everything to power struggles among groups – races, religions, economic classes – and denied the possibility of shared cultural beliefs.
We can see that perspective playing out on college campuses across America. Pretend Indian and erstwhile academic Ward Churchill in 1990 said that “celebration of Columbus and the European conquest of the Western Hemisphere he set off is generally analogous to celebration of the glories of Nazism and Heinrich Himmler.” (Churchill also called the 9-11 victims in the Twin Towers “little Eichmanns.”)
“As a symbol, then,” Churchill wrote, “Christopher Columbus vastly transcends himself. He stands before the bar of history and humanity, culpable not only for his literal deeds on Espanola, but, in spirit at least, for the carnage and cultural obliteration which attended the conquests of Mexico and Peru during the 1500s.” And not only that. Churchill blamed his symbolic Columbus for every calamity to befall natives at the hands of colonialist powers everywhere.
Churchill is a crank but, fueled by the multicultural mania and cult of victimization, the idea of Columbus as criminal has even reached school children. A recent article related that middle school students in suburban Chicago “took part in a mock trial of the explorer. Students played the roles of prosecutor and defense attorney and decided what the charges, such as bringing contagious diseases or destroying the habitat, were brought against Columbus. A jury of students decided his fate.”
Maligned in the Media
The work of Zinn and other revisionists informs the media as well. A Nexis search shows that in the last five years the left-wing Huffington Post has mentioned Zinn or his book 183 times. The supposedly neutral Washington Post and New York Times gave him 52 and 31 mentions, respectively.
Asked on Twitter for books on “the real US History,” New York Times contributor Michael Eric Dyson lists People’s History first.
In the Chicago Tribune article quoted above, Columbus’s “discovery” appears in quotes, denoting the revisionist view that, as people were already living in the Americas, Columbus “discovered” nothing.
Huffington Post reported, based on Zinn’s work, that Columbus had a “legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.” Elsewhere in the HuffPo contributor Terra Trevor lamented that a Google “search for ‘Columbus activities for children’ revealed 4,750,000 results (in 0.64 seconds) with lesson plans, songs, and teaching ideas.”
Left-wing Salon thinks parents should use Zinn to make their kids good little leftists: “Instead of watching TV with your kids during dinner tonight, talk with them about the non-revisionist history detailed in texts like Howard Zinn’s classic overview of colonization.” Sounds like fun!
Columbus is an easy target for Zinn and his disciples – a vessel into which to pour every perceived European sin. Professor Carol Delaney wrote of Columbus:
… he is blamed for all the calamities that befell [the New] World. The ‘presentist’ perspective that dominates the contemporary view, even among some academics, holds him responsible for consequences he did not intend, expect, or endorse.
Conversely in the left’s narrative, the Arawaks, with whom Columbus first made contact, lived in idyllic innocence. They were, in other words, the perfect victims of European avarice and violence. According to Zinn, their hospitality and generosity, were traits that “did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.”
Thus Zinn dismissed European civilization, then in the full blush of the Renaissance. Forget the flourishing of art, science and scholarship that thrived under Europe’s religious and governmental structures. Ignore that the “religion of popes” was also the religion of men like St. Francis and St. Philip Neri, whose lives were dedicated to sustaining, nursing and educating the poor.
Ironically, Zinn worked on anti-Columbus ground originally plowed by American Know-Nothings and later, the KKK. They didn’t much like religion of popes either – or the immigrants who practiced it – and resisted calls to make Columbus Day a federal holiday. Today, it’s the American left – from the highest reaches of the Democratic Party to the entertainment and news media – that hate Christianity and orthodox Catholicism in particular.
But the generous, hospitable natives Columbus met lived in pastoral simplicity. Among the Arawaks, Zinn related, “Women were treated so well as to startle the Spaniards.” He quoted a Spaniard: “They multiply in great abundance; pregnant women work to the last minute and give birth almost painlessly ... If they tire of their men, they give themselves abortions with herbs that force stillbirths.”
Sounds like feminist heaven – casual abortion and all.
It’s easy to idealize people who didn’t have a written history or any recognizable scholarship, as Zinn et al do with American Indians. The “woke” birthing practices of the Arawaks notwithstanding, women were treated about the same as they were in much of the world. But various indigenous cultures differed widely.
At the time of Columbus’s arrival, the Carib tribe was aggressively encroaching on Arawak territories. When they won a battle, they ate their victims. The great Indian empires of South and Central America were constructed and maintained the way all great empires were -- aggression and bloody constraint. In Mexico, the Aztecs sacrificed up to 50,000 people a year to their gods, cutting victims hearts from their chests. It was only mass conversion to Catholicism that put an end to that massive evil.
History and Heroism
Writing on the 500th anniversary of the discovery, Professor Warren Carroll said of the explorer:
Columbus was a flawed hero – as all men are flawed, including heroes – and his flaws are of a kind particularly offensive to today's culture. But he was nevertheless a hero, achieving in a manner unequalled in the history of exploration and the sea, changing history forever. For some strange reason heroism is almost anathema to our age, at least to many of its most vocal spokesmen.
As the British journalist and historian Paul Johnson noted in his History of the American People (a bracing rejoinder to Zinn’s screed) “The United States, from its earliest colonial times, won its title-deeds in the full blaze of recorded history, and the stains on them are there for all to see and censure …” The question, for Johnson, was: “Can a nation rise above the injustices of its origins and, by its moral purpose and performance, atone for them?”
The United States has been the freest nation in history, a force for good in the world and an engine of economic growth and scientific progress. Has it risen above its bloody conception, so it can therefore spare a statue for the navigator whose skill, determination and faith planted the seed of the nation?
Zinn and Churchill and the rest of the left say no, but they’re wrong. America keeps proving it.