It is open season on Christopher Columbus. A posse of would-be historians, human rights advocates, heralds of the politically correct, assorted nativists and native revanchists have found the perfect target in Columbus. Thus, Columbus Day is no longer an American festivity, it is the day of opprobrium that should be remembered for all the pain and suffering that the discovery of America brought upon the native populations.
Berkeley started it all by disowning Columbus Day in 1992, five hundred years after the Italian navigator landed in a small island in the Caribbean. Then came other cities such as Minneapolis that last April renamed Oct. 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Last one to get into the act was the city council of Seattle, which canceled Columbus Day after listening to an American Indian chief who stated with assurance that “nobody discovered Seattle,
Washington.” To be sure, a century ago the American Indians were the first to decry Columbus’ discovery of America through their first indigenous advocacy group. Certainly the American Indians do not lack targets. The Washington Redskins are only the latest.
But American Indians are a small part of the movement to condemn Columbus as a miserable incident of history. For a growing number of people, Columbus brought murder, diseases, exploitation and misery to the indigenous people. He did not do it personally, of course, but created the conditions for such crimes against humanity. Genocide is the preferred choice.
Others who opposed Columbus Day early on were those who in 1934, when President Roosevelt decreed the celebration, objected to it because in their eyes it was influenced by a Catholic organization that they claimed was an outreach of the Vatican and, needless to say, of Italian Americans who at that time were on the receiving end of discrimination together with Jews and other Southern European immigrants.
Present-day Italian Americans are not taking it lightly. They see the abolition of Columbus Day as an offense to their sense of pride and identity in the world discovered by their compatriot. Of course, trying to abolish an entrenched American holiday is an exercise in futility. America is not a perfect world and besides, the crimes against the American Indians were committed by the pioneers of English and Northern European stock.
The bashing of Columbus goes hand in hand with other recent revelations that belittle his endeavors. There is a story out that actually it was another Italian who got first to the American continent, Marco Polo, who set foot in Alaska in the middle of the 13th century. According to a bunch of old parchments, the Venetian explorer discovered the New World two centuries before Columbus and even drew a map of the Aleutian Islands and the coast of Alaska.
The latest entry in the Columbus downgrading is by a Washington lobbyist who has just published a book attributing the merit of the discovery of America to two Andalusian brothers, Martin and Vicente Pinzón, who sailed with Columbus on his first voyage in 1492. According to the lobbyist, the two brothers were the real heroes of the expedition and Columbus stole the credit from them. Not only that, but while the Pinzón brothers are described as superb mariners, Columbus “had never skippered a ship in his entire life.”
Such inanities accompany many of the writings that put down Columbus by rewriting the history of his voyages and dramatizing the atrocities that Columbus’ enemies attributed to him. In fact, accusations of “tyranny” accompanied the last years of the navigator who was arrested and jailed with his brothers until King Ferdinand rehabilitated him. Ironically, Columbus’ greatest failure was that he thought to have reached the east coast of Asia. It was Amerigo Vespucci, who traveled to the new land years later, who speculated that it was not part of Asia but a new continent. For that, and thanks to a German cartographer, he gave his name to the continent.
While there is no question that the native populations of Central America suffered enormously at the hand of the conquering Spanish (the Tainos of Hispaniola disappeared), the revisionism that makes Columbus the culprit is way beyond historical reality. The campaign by American city councils and indigenous organizations has
all the trimmings of desecration and contributes nothing to the understanding of the historical record of the discovery of America.
Any American who is serious about Columbus has a good place to start, Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard authority who wrote “Admiral of the Ocean Sea.” Nowadays, there are several well-intentioned historians, quite apart from the Washington lobbyist, who have searched the records and come up with enlightening information. One of them, journalist Ruggero Marino, has unearthed documents that show that Pope Innocent VIII was the main sponsor and mastermind of the expedition.
Ruggero’s thesis is that Columbus shared the Templar dream of Christians, Jews and Muslims living in peace in a New Jerusalem and that his voyage across the Atlantic was both to find a new passage to Asia and the place where the New Jerusalem would be built. Under this light, King Ferdinand and his agent, the Spanish Pope Alexander VI, initiated a disinformation campaign against Columbus that lasted 500 years and succeeded in obscuring the purpose of his voyage. From the new studies, Columbus emerges as someone quite different than the standard hagiography, as a revolutionary and mystic, the mirror image of Pope Innocent VIII.
The new reconstruction of Columbus’ ecumenical vision does not redress, unfortunately, the rampant revisionism that makes him the catalyst of an alleged genocide. This is only the latest injury in a long string of Columbus’ misfortunes than go well beyond the put down by Seattle’s city council or the removal of his statue from a central square in Buenos Aires to make space for Juana Azurduy, a Bolivian guerilla leader. Columbus ended up in Mar del Plata, an ocean resort. No word has been heard so far from the administrators of the two American state capitals that carry Columbus’ name in Ohio and South Carolina, or for that matter from the District of Columbia where Columbus’ statue in front of Union Station was strewn with red paint in lieu of blood.
To all of those who engage in the sport of desecrating the name of Christopher Columbus, the message that should be sent is that enough is enough. The legacy of Columbus is that when America was discovered, it stayed discovered, as Congressman Peter Rodino of Watergate fame used to say. And all of those who live and prosper in this country should remember that they exist because of one man, a navigator who made America a fixed point in the consciousness of humanity.