October 11, 2017 at 10:09 pm #2943
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, so goes the elementary school rhyme. But Columbus also committed numerous crimes against humanity that we never learned about in school. This coming Monday, whenever you see a status update or tweet mentioning Columbus Day, share this article in response. On the anniversary of Columbus’ landing, it’s important for everyone to remember that Christopher Columbus was one of the most evil men to ever walk the earth, and that the myths propagated about him were completely wrong.
1. Columbus never once reached the mainland US.
Christopher Columbus never discovered America. The closest he got was Cuba, on his first voyage. Even on his second, third, and fourth voyages, Columbus reached Central America and the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), but it wasn’t until April of 1513 when Europeans first set foot on the mainland US, when Juan Ponce de Leon sailed to Florida from Puerto Rico. A map of Columbus’ 4 voyages, shown below, reveals exactly how far Columbus actually was from the New World.
2. Columbus misrepresented the natives who rescued him as cannibals.
Upon his arrival to the Bahamas, Christopher Columbus wrecked the Santa Maria. The native population worked for hours to rescue the crew and their cargo. Despite the natives’ kindness, Columbus’ mind immediately went to how profitable enslaving the native population would be. In his journal, Columbus wrote,
“…With fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.”
Despite the natives’ kindness and hospitality, Columbus later described the indigenous population as cannibals, when he wrote in 1493:
“(They are) evil and I believe they are from the island of Caribe, and that they eat men.”
Columbus elaborated, describing them as “savage cannibals, with dog-like noses that drink the blood of their victims.”
3. Columbus’ sailors were rapists and murderers.
On Columbus’ second voyage, he was accompanied by 1,200 men, who viewed the native population as theirs to exploit. One particularly sickening account of the raping and pillaging that Columbus’ men carried out was from Michele de Cuneo, a wealthy aristocrat who called Columbus a close friend:
“While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun,” de Cuneo wrote. “But seeing that, (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.”
One of the few men accompanying Columbus who eventually grew disgusted with his actions was Bartolome de Las Casas. De Las Casas bore witness to the atrocities the Spanish colonists committed on the native populations, and was so moved by his experiences that he renounced his past life and became a friar, committed to social justice for indigenous populations. In one of de Las Casas’ letters, he describes the monstrous brutality of the colonists toward the natives, including nursing mothers and their babies.
“They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house,” de Las Casas wrote. “They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, ‘Boil there, you offspring of the devil!’”
4. Columbus massacred over 250,000 natives for gold.
Columbus could only justify his multiple voyages across the Atlantic Ocean by assuring King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that the newly-discovered lands were rich with gold. So on his subsequent voyages, Columbus was pressured to deliver. The native populations were quickly enslaved and forced to mine at least a thimbleful of gold every three months. In A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn described the gradual genocide of indigenous populations in the Bahamas, saying they were “worked at a ferocious pace.”
“In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead,” Zinn wrote. “By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks [on the Bahamas] or their descendants left on the island.”
5. Columbus sold children into sex slavery
After several voyages and raping and pillaging, Columbus and his men grew increasingly depraved. When he was replaced as governor of Hispaniola and recalled back to Spain in 1500, he wrote in a casual tone of how he provided sex slaves to his men, some of whom were small children, for a high price. Death and Taxes called Columbus “the pimp of the New World.”
“A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid,” Columbus wrote.
6. Columbus fed natives to dogs.
In the book A Dog’s History of America, author Mark Derr described the horrific pasttime of Columbus and his men: using dogs to hunt natives instead of foxes. This hellish sport was referred to as the monteria infernal. Derr also described how the dogs brought over from Spain were bred specifically to have a bloodhound’s scent, with the long legs and crushing jaws of a mastiff, used to hunt down and kill natives.
Natives were even pitted against these dogs in barbaric, gladiator-style death matches. A native would be armed with nothing but a stick and stripped naked, and colonists would entertain themselves by watching the dogs maul the natives by decapitating them with their jaws. The natives grew to fear being thrown to the dogs as the worst form of death.
7. Columbus was brought back to Spain as a prisoner, but was immediately pardoned.
News of the atrocities committed by Columbus and his men along with his mismanagement of the island’s resources created enough outrage that in 1500, he was stripped of his official title as governor of Hispaniola and ordered back to Spain in chains. But King Ferdinand liked Columbus so much that he not only pardoned him, but funded Columbus’ 4th voyage.
In just 8 years, Christopher Columbus managed to begin the eradication of an entire indigenous population, put the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade into motion, and establish precedent for centuries of raping and pillaging by other European colonists. Rather than observing Columbus Day this coming Monday, take after Seattle, Washington; Richmond, California; Lawrence, Kansas, and other cities and observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
History Not Taught is History Forgot:
Columbus’ Legacy of Genocide
Excerpted from the book Indians are Us
(Common Courage Press, 1994)
by Ward Churchill
Columbus and the Beginning of Genocide in the “New World”
It has been contended by those who would celebrate Columbus that accusations concerning his perpetration of genocide are distortive "revisions" of history. Whatever the process unleashed by his "discovery" of the "New World," it is said, the discoverer himself cannot be blamed. Whatever his defects and offenses, they are surpassed by the luster of his achievements; however "tragic" or "unfortunate" certain dimensions of his legacy may be, they are more than offset by the benefits even for the victims of the resulting blossoming of a "superior civilization" in the Americas. Essentially the same arguments might be advanced with regard to Adolf Hitler: Hitler caused the Volkswagen to be created, after all, and the autobahn. His leadership of Germany led to jet propulsion, significant advances in rocket telemetry, laid the foundation for genetic engineering. Why not celebrate his bona fide accomplishments on behalf of humanity rather than "dwelling" so persistently on the genocidal by-products of his policies? To be fair, Columbus was never a head of state. Comparisons of him to Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler, rather than Hitler, are therefore more accurate and appropriate. It is time to delve into the substance of the defendants' assertion that Columbus and Himmler, Nazi Lebensraumpolitik (conquest of "living space" in eastern Europe) and the "settlement of the New World" bear more than casual resemblance to one another. This has nothing to do with the Columbian "discovery," not that this in itself is completely irrelevant. Columbus did not sally forth upon the Atlantic for reasons of "neutral science" or altruism. He went, as his own diaries, reports, and letters make clear, fully expecting to encounter wealth belonging to others. It was his stated purpose to seize this wealth, by whatever means necessary and available, in order to enrich both his sponsors and himself. Plainly, he pre-figured, both in design and by intent, what came next. To this extent, he not only symbolizes the process of conquest and genocide which eventually consumed the indigenous peoples of America, but bears the personal responsibility of having participated in it. Still, if this were all there was to it, the defendants would be inclined to dismiss him as a mere thug along the lines of Al Capone rather than viewing him as a counterpart to Himmler. The 1492 "voyage of discovery" is, however, hardly all that is at issue. In 1493 Columbus returned with an invasion force of seventeen ships, appointed at his own request by the Spanish Crown to install himself as "viceroy and governor of [the Caribbean islands] and the mainland" of America, a position he held until 1500. Setting up shop on the large island he called Espa–ola (today Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he promptly instituted policies of slavery (encomiendo) and systematic extermination against the native Taino population. Columbus's programs reduced Taino numbers from as many as eight million at the outset of his regime to about three million in 1496. Perhaps 100,000 were left by the time of the governor's departure. His policies, however, remained, with the result that by 1514 the Spanish census of the island showed barely 22,000 Indians remaining alive. In 1542, only two hundred were recorded. Thereafter, they were considered extinct, as were Indians throughout the Caribbean Basin, an aggregate population which totaled more than fifteen million at the point of first contact with the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, as Columbus was known. This, to be sure, constitutes an attrition of population in real numbers every bit as great as the toll of twelve to fifteen million about half of them Jewish most commonly attributed to Himmler's slaughter mills. Moreover, the proportion of indigenous Caribbean population destroyed by the Spanish in a single generation is, no matter how the figures are twisted, far greater than the seventy-five percent of European Jews usually said to have been exterminated by the Nazis. Worst of all, these data apply only to the Caribbean Basin; the process of genocide in the Americas was only just beginning at the point such statistics become operant, not ending, as they did upon the fall of the Third Reich. All told, it is probable that more than one hundred million native people were "eliminated" in the course of Europe's ongoing "civilization" of the Western Hemisphere. It has long been asserted by "responsible scholars" that this decimation of American Indians which accompanied the European invasion resulted primarily from disease rather than direct killing or conscious policy. There is a certain truth to this, although starvation may have proven just as lethal in the end. It must be borne in mind when considering such facts that a considerable portion of those who perished in the Nazi death camps died, not as the victims of bullets and gas, but from starvation, as well as epidemics of typhus, dysentery, and the like. Their keepers, who could not be said to have killed these people directly, were nonetheless found to have been culpable in their deaths by way of deliberately imposing the conditions which led to the proliferation of starvation and disease among them. Certainly, the same can be said of Columbus's regime, under which the original residents were, as a first order of business, permanently dispossessed of their abundant cultivated fields while being converted into chattel, ultimately to be worked to death for the wealth and "glory" of Spain. Nor should more direct means of extermination be relegated to incidental status. As the matter is put by Kirkpatrick Sale in his recent book, Conquest of Paradise, The tribute system, instituted by the Governor sometime in 1495, was a simple and brutal way of fulfilling the Spanish lust for gold while acknowledging the Spanish distaste for labor. Every Taino over the age of fourteen had to supply the rulers with a hawk's bell of gold every three months (or in gold-deficient areas, twenty-five pounds of spun cotton); those who did were given a token to wear around their necks as proof that they had made their payment; those who did not were, as [Columbus's brother, Fernando] says discreetly "punished"-by having their hands cut off, as [the priest, BartolomŽ de] las Casas says less discreetly, and left to bleed to death. It is entirely likely that upwards of 10,000 Indians were killed in this fashion alone, on Espa–ola alone, as a matter of policy, during Columbus's tenure as governor. Las Casas' Brev’sima relaci—n, among other contemporaneous sources, is also replete with accounts of Spanish colonists (hidalgos) hanging Tainos en masse, roasting them on spits or burning them at the stake (often a dozen or more at a time), hacking their children into pieces to be used as dog feed and so forth, all of it to instill in the natives a "proper attitude of respect" toward their Spanish "superiors." [The Spaniards] made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow; or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mother's breast by their feet and dashed their heads against the rocks...They spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords. No SS trooper could be expected to comport himself with a more unrelenting viciousness. And there is more. All of this was coupled to wholesale and persistent massacres: A Spaniard...suddenly drew his sword. Then the whole hundred drew theirs and began to rip open the bellies, to cut and kill [a group of Tainos assembled for this purpose] men, women, children and old folk, all of whom were seated, off guard and frightened...And within two credos, not a man of them there remains alive. The Spaniards enter the large house nearby, for this was happening at its door, and in the same way, with cuts and stabs, began to kill as many as were found there, so that a stream of blood was running, as if a great number of cows had perished. Elsewhere, las Casas went on to recount how in this time, the greatest outrages and slaughterings of people were perpetrated, whole villages being depopulated...The Indians saw that without any offense on their part they were despoiled of their kingdoms, their lands and liberties and of their lives, their wives, and homes. As they saw themselves each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards, crushed to earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten and torn by dogs, many buried alive and suffering all kinds of exquisite tortures... [many surrendered to their fate, while the survivors] fled to the mountains [to starve]. Such descriptions correspond almost perfectly to those of systematic Nazi atrocities in the western USSR offered by William Shirer in Chapter 27 of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. But, unlike the Nazi extermination campaigns of World War II the Columbian butchery on Espa–ola continued until there were no Tainos left to butcher.
Evolution of the Columbian Legacy
Nor was this by any means the end of it. The genocidal model for conquest and colonization established by Columbus was to a large extent replicated by others such as Cortez (in Mexico) a Pizarro (in Peru) during the following half-century. During the same period, expeditions such as those of Ponce de Leon in 1513, Coronado in 1540, and de Soto during the same year were launched with an eye towards effecting the same pattern on the North American continent proper. In the latter sphere the Spanish example was followed and in certain ways intensified by the British, beginning at Roanoake in 1607 and Plymouth in 1620. Overall the process of English colonization along the Atlantic Coast was marked by a series of massacres of native people as relentless and devastating as any perpetrated by the Spaniards. One of the best known illustrations drawn from among hundreds was the slaughter of some 800 Pequots at present-day Mystic, Connecticut, on the night of May 26, 1637. During the latter portion of the seventeenth century, and throughout most of the eighteenth, Great Britain battled France for colonial primacy in North America. The resulting sequence of four "French and Indian Wars" greatly accelerated the liquidation of indigenous people as far west as the Ohio River Valley. During the last of these, concluded in 1763 history's first documentable case of biological warfare occurred against Pontiac's Algonkian Confederacy, a powerful military alliance aligned with the French. Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander-in-chief of the British forces...wrote in a postscript of a letter to Bouquet [a subordinate] that smallpox be sent among the disaffected tribes. Bouquet replied, also in a postscript, "I will try to [contaminate] them...with some blankets that may fall into their hands, and take care not to get the disease myself."...To Bouquet's postscript Amherst replied, "You will do well to [infect] the Indians by means of blankets as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race." On June 24, Captain Ecuyer, of the Royal Americans, noted in his journal: "...we gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the smallpox hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect." It did. Over the next few months, the disease spread like wildfire among the Mingo, Delaware, Shawnee, and other Ohio River nations, killing perhaps 100,000 people. The example of Amherst's action does much to dispel the myth that the post contact attrition of Indian people through disease; introduced by Europeans was necessarily unintentional and unavoidable. There are a number earlier instances in which native people felt disease, had been deliberately inculcated among them. For example, the so-called "King Philip's War" of 1675-76 was fought largely because the Wampanoag and Narragansett nations believed English traders had consciously contaminated certain of their villages with smallpox. Such tactics were also continued by the United States after the American Revolution. At Fort Clark on the upper Missouri River, for instance, the U.S. Army distributed smallpox-laden blankets as gifts among the Mandan. The blankets had been gathered from a military infirmary in St. Louis where troops infected with the disease were quarantined. Although the medical practice of the day required the precise opposite procedure, army doctors ordered the Mandans to disperse once they exhibited symptoms of infection. The result was a pandemic among the Plains Indian nations who claimed at least 125,000 lives, and may have reached a toll several times that number. Contemporaneously with the events at Fort Clark, the U.S. was also engaged in a policy of wholesale "removal" of indigenous nations east of the Mississippi River, "clearing" the land of its native population so that it might be "settled" by "racially superior" Anglo-Saxon "pioneers." This resulted in a series of extended forced marches some more than a thousand miles in length in which entire peoples were walked at bayonet-point to locations west of the Mississippi. Rations and medical attention were poor, shelter at times all but nonexistent. Attrition among the victims was correspondingly high. As many as fifty-five percent of all Cherokees, for example, are known to have died during or as an immediate result of that people's "Trail of Tears." The Creeks and Seminoles also lost about half their existing populations as a direct consequence of being "removed." It was the example of nineteenth-century U.S. Indian Removal policy upon which Adolf Hitler relied for a practical model when articulating and implementing his Lebensraumpolitik during the 1930s and '40s. By the 1850s, U.S. policymakers had adopted a popular philosophy called "Manifest Destiny" by which they imagined themselves enjoying a divinely ordained right to possess all native property, including everything west of the Mississippi. This was coupled to what has been termed a "rhetoric of extermination" by which governmental and corporate leaders sought to shape public sentiment to embrace the eradication of American Indians. The professed goal of this physical reduction of "inferior" indigenous populations was to open up land for "superior" Euro-American "pioneers." One outcome of this dual articulation was a series of general massacres perpetrated by the United States military. A bare sampling of some of the worst must include the 1854 massacre of perhaps 150 Lakotas at Blue River (Nebraska), the 1863 Bear River (Idaho) Massacre of some 500 Western Shoshones, the 1864 Sand Creek (Colorado) Massacre of as many as 250 Cheyennes and Arapahoes, the 1868 massacre of another 300 Cheyennes at the Washita River (Oklahoma), the 1875 massacre of about 75 Cheyennes along the Sappa Creek (Kansas), the 1878 massacre of still another 100 Cheyennes at Camp Robinson (Nebraska), and the 1890 massacre of more than 300 Lakotas at Wounded Knee (South Dakota). Related phenomena included the army's internment of the bulk of all Navajos for four years (1864-68) under abysmal conditions at the Bosque Redondo, during which upwards of a third of the population of this nation is known to have perished of starvation and disease. Even worse in some ways was the unleashing of Euro-American civilians to kill Indians at whim, and sometimes for profit. In Texas, for example, an official bounty on native scalps any native scalps was maintained until well into the 1870s. The result was that the indigenous population of this state, once the densest in all of North America, had been reduced to near zero by 1880. As it has been put elsewhere, "The facts of history are plain: Most Texas Indians were exterminated or brought to the brink of oblivion by [civilians] who often had no more regard for the life of an Indian than they had for that of a dog, sometimes less." Similarly, in California, "the enormous decrease [in indigenous population] from about a quarter-million [in 1800] to less than 20,000 is due chiefly to the cruelties and wholesale massacres perpetrated by miners and early settlers." Much of the killing in California and southern Oregon Territory resulted, directly and indirectly, from the discovery of gold in 1849 and the subsequent influx of miners and settlers. Newspaper accounts document the atrocities, as do oral histories of the California Indians today. It was not uncommon for small groups or villages to be attacked by immigrants...and virtually wiped out overnight. All told, the North American Indian population within the area of the forty-eight contiguous states of the United States, an aggregate group which had probably numbered in excess of twelve million in the year 1500, was reduced by official estimates to barely more than 237,000 four centuries later. This vast genocide historically paralleled in its magnitude and degree only by that which occurred in the Caribbean Basin is the most sustained on record. Corresponding almost perfectly with this upper-ninetieth-percentile erosion of indigenous population by 1900 was the expropriation of about 97.5 percent of native land by 1920. The situation in Canada was/is entirely comparable. Plainly, the Nazi-esque dynamics set in motion by Columbus in 1492 continued, and were not ultimately consummated until the present century.
The Columbian Legacy in the United States
While it is arguable that the worst of the genocidal programs directed against Native North America had ended by the twentieth century, it seems undeniable that several continue into the present. One obvious illustration is the massive compulsory transfer of American Indian children from their families, communities, and societies to Euro-American families and institutions, a policy which is quite blatant in its disregard for Article l(e) of the 1948 Convention. Effected through such mechanisms as the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding school system, and a pervasive policy of placing Indian children for adoption (including "blind" adoption) with non-Indians, such circumstances have been visited upon more than three-quarters of indigenous youth in some generations after 1900. The stated goal of such policies has been to bring about the "assimilation" of native people into the value orientations and belief system of their conquerors. Rephrased, the objective has been to bring about the disappearance of indigenous societies as such, a patent violation of the terms, provisions, and intent of the Genocide Convention (Article I(c)). An even clearer example is a program of involuntary sterilization of American Indian women by the BIA's Indian Health Service (IHS) during the 1970s. The federal government announced that the program had been terminated, and acknowledged having performed several thousand such sterilizations. Independent researchers have concluded that as many as forty-two percent of all native women of childbearing age in the United States had been sterilized by that point. That the program represents a rather stark¾and very recent¾violation of Article I(d) of the 1948 Convention seems beyond all reasonable doubt. More broadly, implications of genocide are quite apparent in the federal government's self-assigned exercise of "plenary power" and concomitant "trust" prerogatives over the residual Indian land base pursuant to the Lonewolf v. Hitchcock case (187 U.S. 553(1903)). This has worked, with rather predictable results, to systematically deny native people the benefit of their remaining material assets. At present, the approximately 1.6 million Indians recognized by the government as residing within the U.S., when divided into the fifty-million-odd acres nominally reserved for their use and occupancy, remain the continent's largest landholders on a per capita basis. Moreover, the reservation lands have proven to be extraordinarily resource rich, holding an estimated two-thirds of all U.S. "domestic" uranium reserves, about a quarter of the readily accessible low-sulfur coal, as much as a fifth of the oil and natural gas, as well as substantial deposits of copper, iron, gold, and zeolites. By any rational definition, the U.S. Indian population should thus be one of the wealthiest if not the richest population sectors in North America. Instead, by the federal government's own statistics, they comprise far and away the poorest. As of 1980, American Indians experienced, by a decided margin, the lowest annual and lifetime incomes on a per capita basis of any ethnic or racial group on the continent. Correlated to this are all the standard indices of extreme poverty: the highest rates of infant mortality, death by exposure and malnutrition, incidence of tuberculosis and other plague disease. Indians experience the highest level of unemployment, year after year, and the lowest level of educational attainment. The overall quality of life is so dismal that alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse are endemic; the rate of teen suicide is also several times that of the nation as a whole. The average life expectancy of a reservation-based Native American male is less than 45 years; that of a reservation-based female less than three years longer. It's not that reservation resources are not being exploited, or profits accrued. To the contrary, virtually all uranium mining and milling occurred on or immediately adjacent to reservation land during the life of the Atomic Energy Commission's ore-buying program, 1952-81. The largest remaining enclave of traditional Indians in North America is currently undergoing forced relocation in order that coal may be mined on the Navajo Reservation. Alaska native peoples are being converted into landless "village corporations" in order that the oil under their territories can be tapped; and so on. Rather, the BIA has utilized its plenary and trust capacities to negotiate contracts with major mining corporations "in behalf of" its "Indian wards" which pay pennies on the dollar of the conventional mineral royalty rates. Further, the BIA has typically exempted such corporations from an obligation to reclaim whatever reservation lands have been mined, or even to perform basic environmental cleanup of nuclear and other forms of waste. One outcome has been that the National Institute for Science has recommended that the two locales within the U.S. most heavily populated by native people¾the Four Corners Region and the Black Hills Region¾be designated as "National Sacrifice Areas." Indians have responded that this would mean their being converted into "national sacrifice peoples" Even such seemingly innocuous federal policies as those concerning Indian identification criteria carry with them an evident genocidal potential. In clinging insistently to a variation of a eugenics formulation dubbed "blood-quantum" ushered in by the 1887 General Allotment Act, while implementing such policies as the Federal Indian Relocation Program (1956-1982), the government has set the stage for a "statistical extermination" of the indigenous population within its borders. As the noted western historian, Patricia Nelson Limerick, has observed: "Set the blood-quantum at one-quarter, hold to it as a rigid definition of Indians, let intermarriage proceed...and eventually Indians will be defined out of existence. When that happens, the federal government will finally be freed from its persistent 'Indian problem'." Ultimately, there is precious little difference, other than matters of style, between this and what was once called the "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem." The above article is an excerpt of a legal brief from Ward Churchill's book Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America (Common Courage Press, 1994). The defendants in the brief are leaders of the American Indian Movement, who were charged for stopping a Columbus Day celebratory parade near the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver, Colorado on October 12, 1991. **********Uncomfortable truth: Columbus was a mass killer and father of the slave trade
Christopher Columbus is a polarizing historical figure whose life has been defined, by many, for his astonishing level of courage and intestinal fortitude; nevertheless, such impressive traits should never blur the fact that he oversaw a murderous quest for material riches that resulted in the utter demise of a people. Each year, as October 12 comes and goes, a question is raised – what are we celebrating about his life? Christopher Columbus was an immensely talented mariner who navigated the Santa Maria and two other smaller ships across the Atlantic Ocean in search of Asia. However, he and his crew inadvertently arrived in the New World on October 12, 1492. Their long and arduous journey was driven by one clear objective – to find and establish a long-term source of wealth, preferably gold, for the King and Queen of Spain. In return, Columbus would be allotted 10 percent of the profits, governorship over new-found land, and awarded the prestigious title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Upon arriving in the islands, which we now refer to as the Bahamas, Columbus and his crew first encountered the Arawaks. It was at that fateful juncture in human history that he made two keen observations regarding these indigenous people. Firstly, they were docile and trusting in nature; and, secondly, they wore gold jewelry. Columbus’s own words from his personal journal capture the ominous fate that awaited the Arawaks: "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." The concept of private property and the pursuit of material riches had reached a frenzied pitch within 15th century Europe. As an independent contractor, Christopher Columbus recognized the seemingly limitless economic potential of the land he had “discovered.” It was at this point in time that his bravery had begun to shift to sheer brutality. This transition within his personality was encapsulated in many of the notes that he had sent to the King and Queen of Spain to bolster expectations. In one particular note he promised “as much gold as they need and as many slaves as they ask.” Soon thereafter, he and his men kidnapped a number of the Arawaks and forced them to identify other sources of gold throughout the region. With an extensive arsenal of advanced weaponry/horses, Columbus and his men, arrived on the islands that were later named Cuba and Hispaniola (present day Dominican Republic / Haiti). Upon arrival, the sheer magnitude of gold, which was readily available, set into motion a relentless wave of murder, rape, pillaging, and slavery that would forever alter the course of human history. A young, Catholic priest named Bartolomé de las Casas transcribed Columbus’s journals and later wrote about the violence he had witnessed. The fact that such crimes could potentially go unnoticed by future generations was deeply troubling to him. He expanded upon the extent of Columbus’s reign of terror within his multivolume book entitled the "History of the Indies": "There were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over 3,000,000 people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it." Such words offer the reader a firsthand account of the state-sponsored genocide that the Spanish Empire had financed through Columbus. Clearly, the intent of the Spanish Empire was to eradicate the islands of indigenous people through slavery and violence. In doing so they had further established their already dominant political / economic standing within Europe. In a matter of years, Columbus and his men decimated the indigenous people of the Caribbean islands. The fact that Columbus Day is celebrated each October is a testament to the intellectual dishonesty that has stemmed from the likes of academics, teachers, and politicians. It has become an annual ritual to sanitize history and present half-truths as absolutes. In 1937, Columbus Day was officially established as a federal holiday in the United States; however, to this day it is not observed in Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and South Dakota. The other 46 states that observe the holiday acknowledge Christopher Columbus as a superior mariner that had unknowingly found himself in the Caribbean Sea after departing from Europe. Incidentally, in conjunction with those facts, it would also be quite fair to label Columbus as one of the “founding fathers” of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Unfortunately such an unpleasant truth has been relegated to the background of history. For decades now we have been hearing self proclaimed “experts” espouse Columbus’s many accomplishments – particularly his “discovery” of the New World, yet, in doing so they have opted to minimize the extent of his violence or have utterly disregarded it. The shame in all of this is that people living in countries throughout the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, have been indoctrinated into believing such fallacies and have been intentionally miseducated. In sum, history cannot be rewritten. However with information now at our fingertips we can no longer fault our teachers, politicians, etc. for being left in the dark regarding our collective histories. Thoroughly researched academic materials are readily available for those who seek the truth. In fact, it is fair to assume that as people gain a better understanding of Columbus they will begin to support other efforts to acknowledge this particular point in time. Such forthright thinking is certainly evident within the cities of Denver and Minneapolis which have both taken the lead in distancing themselves from Columbus’s crimes and have acknowledging his victims with an “Indigenous People’s Day” on October 12. Or, perhaps, we should consider an “Italian Heritage Day”? One could certainly make a valid argument for the recognition of Galileo Galilei, Saint Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri, or Leonardo Da Vinci’s accomplishments. Be that as it may, most Americans take pride in our collective history and it is incumbent upon us to rectify past errors through education and enlighten our young people to the rich, yet, nuanced nature of American history. Taking a moment to reflect upon the man Columbus truly was is the first step to gaining a better understanding of how far we have come as a model nation. Owen McCormack is a teacher within the New York City Department of Education. He holds a Master of Arts degree in History from the City College of New York and a Master of Science degree in Special Education from the College of Staten Island. He enjoys analyzing the complexities of today’s social and political issues through a religious / historical prism. His writing has been featured in TRUTH-OUT.org.
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