Monday, October 14, 2013

Columbus Day: Celebrating Crimes against Humanity

From Christopher Columbus's log: "They... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword; they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want..."
(qtd. in Zinn 1).

According to Zinn, "Because of Columbus's exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives... taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor... Columbus later wrote: 'Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold'" (4). 

Zinn states: "But too many slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death… In two years, through murder, mutilation or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead... (4-5). When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure—there is no bloodshed—and Columbus Day is a celebration... (7). One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions... (8). To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done... [W]e have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts... The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress—is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders..." (9)

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States, 1492 – Present. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.


  1. Having been raised in a very ethnic family and an Italian-American neighborhood, I have fond memories of the greatness of the 1950's version of Columbus. I also believed in Santa Claus. I no longer believe in either. One is still a sentimental attachment; the other is a travesty revealed.
    All of you know which is which.

  2. A "free market" that subsidizes corporations, foundations and their billionaire owner/managers is a travesty of the lah-dee-dah 2013 American political and media descriptions. Like Mayberry R.F.D., it never actually existed. Unlike Mayberry R.F.D., free market capitalism has left destruction in its wake.
    Isn't it about time for us to grow up and admit it aloud?

  3. It should be called the day of indigenous resistance.

  4. From Professor Beth Vinkler:

    This is why the native peoples of many countries in Latin America and in the US have renamed this day El Día de la Raza (The Day of the Race) to celebrate the survival of so many indigenous languages and cultures despite the best efforts of Europeans to annihilate them.


  5. Today's Free Market principles, supported by neo-conservatism or neo-liberalism and perpetuated by a “corporatists’ crusade,” are aligned with the policies of the “Chicago School” ideologues, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund. These doctrines perpetrate a blitzkrieg deconstruction of the middle class, privatization of public ownership and industry (downsizing and parceling out public companies and services to private interests), government deregulation and cuts to spending (thus, stimulating deep economic recessions) and cutbacks or the elimination of the public sphere and all social funding – hence, turning the working class into the “disposable poor” – to loosen control of the flow of money and to produce “freer trade” in the global market marked by an intransigent belief that “it should be left to correct itself.” Global free market theory has surfed “the waves of fear and disorientation” while advancing an ideology of “unfettered capitalism,” leaving inequality and degradation in its wake (Naomi Klein, award-winning journalist, fellow at the London School of Economics, author and filmmaker).

    The free market theory caters to self-interested desires and profit to the detriment of other peoples’ lives, all the while promising “freedom and prosperity.” Free market principles advocate that the rich and poor should be taxed at the same flat rate, despite creating a vast inequity; that, for example, education, health care, retirement pensions, national parks (and most any function intrinsic to essential governing) become privatized; that publicly-owned companies, services and their assets be auctioned off to private investors; and that besides allocating vast amounts of wealth and resources from public to private ownership, in the free market the transfer of private debts to the public sector while public ownership is systematically dismantled ironically continue.

  6. “Formerly known as Columbus Day, today is Indigenous Peoples Day in more than 80 (and counting) cities, counties, and states. While ‘official’ recognition of this day began in the late 70’s, with the U.N. discussing the replacement of Columbus Day, resistance and challenge to said ‘holiday’ existed in the hearts and minds of Indigenous and Native Peoples long before cities or states began to observe Indigenous Peoples Day.

    “As land defenders—people who are working for Indigenous territories to be protected from contamination and exploitation—we see Indigenous Peoples Day as progress; it signals a crucial shift in our culture to recognize the dark past of colonization. No longer are our communities, towns, cities, and states remaining silent and complacent in celebrating the cultural genocide that ensued after Christopher Columbus landed on Turtle Island (aka North America).

    “Today also means that the erasure of our narrative as Indigenous Peoples is ending and our truths are rising to the surface. These truths include: Christopher Columbus was not a hero, he was a murderer. The land we all exist on is stolen. The history we’ve been taught is not accurate or complete. And perhaps most important among those truths, Indigenous lands are still being colonized, and our people are still suffering the trauma and impacts of colonization.

    “Across the country we continue to see the violation of our right and treaties as extractive projects are proposed and constructed. Across the nation, we continue to grieve our missing and murdered Indigenous women, victims of violence brought to their communities by extractive oil and mining projects.

    “We continue bear the brunt of climate change as our food sovereignty is threatened by dying ecosystems and as our animal relatives are becoming extinct due to land loss, warmer seasons, and/or contamination. And now, we are fighting for the very right to resist as anti-protest laws emerge across the country, which aim to criminalize our people for protecting what is most sacred to us.

    “Yet despite these challenges, our people and communities are demonstrating incredible bravery and innovation to bring forth healing and justice. Through the tireless work of Indigenous organizers, activists, knowledge keepers, and artists, we are learning about what is working and what our movements need more of to dismantle systems—like white supremacy and systemic racism—that colonization has imposed onto our communities.

    “So while we could dive into the stories of how our people are still being attacked by the many forms of colonization, we find it important on this day, a day that symbolizes progress and evolution, to acknowledge what is working in our communities and in our movements. All too often, our people are framed as victims, and while there’s truth in those narratives, it’s also critical, for our self-actualization as Indigenous Peoples, to have our strengths, our resilience, and our creativity seen and honored…” (Letter from Indigenous Activists).

  7. “Christopher Columbus was a narcissist. He believed he was personally chosen by God for a mission that no one else could achieve. After 1493, he signed his name ‘xpo ferens’ – ‘the Christbearer.’ His stated goal was to accumulate enough wealth to recapture Jerusalem. His arrogance led to his downfall, that of millions of Native Americans – and eventually fostered his resurrection as the most enduring icon of the Americas…

    “Although the Spanish rulers wanted Columbus to disappear, he was allowed one final voyage from 1502 to 1504. He died in 1506, and went virtually unmentioned by historians until he was resurrected as a symbol of the United States.

    “In the mid-18th century, scholars brought to light long-forgotten documents about Columbus and the early history of the New World. One of the most important was Bartolome de las Casas’ three-volume ‘Historia de las Indias.’ This book was suppressed in Spain because it documented Spain’s harsh treatment of the native peoples. His depiction of Spanish mistreatment of the Indians provided the foundation for the ‘Black Legend.’ His account ‘blackened’ Spanish character by depicting it as repressive, brutal, intolerant and intellectually and artistically backward. Whatever Spain’s motives, the conquest of the Americas destroyed native cultures and ushered in centuries of African enslavement.

    “Another was the personal journal of Christopher Columbus from his first voyage, published in 1880. The journal captured the attention of Gustavus Fox, Abraham Lincoln’s assistant secretary of the Navy, who made the first attempt to reconstruct the route of Columbus’s first voyage. Renewed scholarly interest in Columbus coincided with political motives to deny Spain any remaining claims in the Americas. Columbus likely would have slipped back into obscurity if not for American hubris…

    “President Harrison declared a national holiday to coincide with opening of the Columbian Exposition – Columbus Day. It was officially recognized by Congress in 1937. In 1992, as the United States prepared for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, the pendulum swung again. The devastating impact of his ‘discovery’ on native peoples throughout the Americas led protesters to decry Columbus as a ‘terrorist.’ Columbus the legend is still being dismantled. His story illustrates the blurred borders between myth and history – how an architect of destruction was turned into a national symbol” (An Archeologist Explains How 'Narcissist' Christopher Columbus Became a National Symbol).