Friday, October 12, 2012

Columbus Day and Lies My Teacher Told Me

Hopping by from the Evernight Publishing Birthday Blog Hop? See this post

October 12, as you know, is Columbus Day. I'm going to ask you all to do something, not for me but for yourselves - read Lies My Teacher Told Me:   Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. (It'll be interesting, but less immediately relevant, to you if you live outside the U.S.) It was first published in 1995, but it's about history, and I doubt very much has changed in that academic field in the intervening 17 years. Read the book and you'll discover why.
I "read" this book (listened to it on CD) probably 8-9 years ago, and two things always stick with me. One is that the U.S. Republican party has historically been the proponent of human rights in a way that seems the polar opposite of the party's current incarnation. The other is that Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of America led to events so horrifying, they make Dick Cheney seem like a humanitarian. If Ann Rule had been alive in 1492, she would have been writing true crime books about Columbus.

I'm going to share excerpts from this book. I know Christopher Columbus was said to be a native of Genoa, Italy (it can't actually be proven), and is a folk hero of many Italian-Americans. I promise you, I am not trying to pick on Italy or people of Italian descent. I love you; you're pretty. (See Wednesday's post.)

BUT you don't want to associate yourselves with Columbus. He was not a good guy. This is graphic, so sensitive readers may not wish to continue.

Using materials written by Columbus himself and other first-hand sources from the fifteenth century, Loewen writes:

  • "When Columbus and his men returned to Haiti in 1493, they demanded food, gold, spun cotton - whatever the Indians had that they wanted, including sex with their women. To ensure cooperation, Columbus used punishment by example. When an Indian committed even a minor offense, the Spanish cut off his ears or nose."
  • Quoting a biography written by Columbus' son Ferdinand on the quashing of a rebellion against the Spanish by the Arawak people: "The soldiers mowed down dozens with point-blank volleys, loosed the dogs to rip open limbs and bellies, chased fleeing Indians into the bush to skewer them on sword and pike..."
  • "Spaniards hunted Indians for sport and murdered them for dog food." 
  • "Haiti under the Spanish is one of the primary instances of genocide in all human history."
  • "Columbus not only sent the first [American Indian] slaves across Atlantic, he probably send more slaves - about five thousand - than any other individual." When large numbers of American Indian slaves died of starvation, overwork, suicide and disease, the Spanish simply looked to African slaves to replace them. 
  • "A particularly repellent aspect of the slave trade was sexual. As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean, before it even reached Haiti, Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape. On Haiti, sex slaves were one more perquisite that the Spaniards enjoyed. Columbus wrote a friend in 1500, 'A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.'"
There you have it, in Columbus' own words even. He literally believed that he had the right to do whatever he pleased to people who were non-Catholic. Their refusal to accept the Spaniards' "faith" justified everything, according to the cultural ethos of the time. The sex trafficking of 9- and 10-year-old children didn't bother Columbus. Dismemberment didn't bother him. Murder didn't bother him. Genocide didn't bother him. 

So now I hope you see why if we're going to observe Columbus Day in the U.S., we might as well observe Slobodan Milosevic Day, too. Read Lies My Teacher Told Me. It's disturbing, and sometimes we should be disturbed. 

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