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.