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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Separating the fact, fiction of Christopher Columbus
Gregory Kane

Originally published Oct 19, 2002

A WORD OF thanks is due to the Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA), which published a brochure called Columbus: Fact vs. Fiction just in time for the celebration of the holiday named for the Italian explorer, which took place Monday.

Reviewing our grade school history, we're reminded that Christopher Columbus is the guy credited with discovering America, sailing on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria in 1492 from Europe to the West Indies. For years, he was revered as a bold explorer who helped alter the course of history.

Today, he's another dead white guy the American left has pilloried for the crime of being, well, a dead white guy whose sins include racism, genocide and slavery. Even other Italian-Americans have jumped on the anti-Columbus bandwagon. Read this comment from The Sopranos cast member Joe Pantoliano, an obtuse sort of fellow who simply couldn't understand why other Italian-Americans didn't want him at New York City's Columbus Day parade:

"I don't know about this Christopher Columbus parade that is basically celebrating some guy who ... found America and then killed all the Indians," Pantoliano is quoted in the Oct. 21 edition of Newsweek magazine.

It's not surprising that someone willing to star on a show that brazenly stereotypes Italian-Americans might be so disconnected with Italian and American history. But the folks at OSIA must have anticipated Pantoliano's snacking on a shoe sandwich. Columbus: Fact vs. Fiction explores the "Indian killing" charge and several other misguided notions about Columbus.

Calling the notion that Columbus committed genocide "fiction," the brochure points out that most Native Americans were killed by the Spanish explorers who followed Columbus. Far more Native Americans died of European diseases from which they had no immunity.

OSIA debunks other charges that Columbus was a racist and involved in the slave trade. It seldom gets said in the dead-white-guy bashing, but the Europeans who colonized the Americas, Africa and parts of Asia did nothing non-European people hadn't been doing for centuries. If they did it better, it was because of a superior technology.

The way to combat superior technology is to develop a superior technology of your own. Asians seem to have caught on to that fact. Africans and their Afro-American cousins, for the most part, have not.

The brochure is available on OSIA's website at www.osia.org.


Rob's reply
Yes, the Order Sons of Italy in America have posted a "study" purporting to prove Columbus didn't do anything bad. You can download it at Columbus: Fact vs. Fiction. Some excerpts:


FACT: In 1950, a map surfaced in Europe that shows the "Island of Vinland" in the northwest Atlantic Ocean....But when researchers at London's University College used a laser technique to test the map's ink, they found it contained a chemical substance called anatase, which was not synthesized until 1923, proving that the map is a forgery.

Real fact: There are documented Viking settlements in Newfoundland.


FACT: Most of the native tribes Columbus found were hunter-gatherers who engaged in bloody tribal wars....

Real fact: The sophisticated Native civilizations of the Maya and Aztecs existed even if Columbus didn't reach them in his bumbling voyages.

I don't know if anyone has tried to quantify tribes by their means of food production, but a large number were farmers as well as hunters and gathers. Nor is there anthing "backward" about hunting and gathering. It's a sensible approach when you have a relatively small population to feed.

I don't know if anyone has tried to quantify tribes by their tribal wars either. I'm guessing most tribes did not engage in wars. Those that did usually engaged in raids or skirmishes, not full-scale wars. And the fighting was decidedly not bloody compared to European fighting. Many Indians preferred symbolic killing to actual killing.


FACT: Columbus never owned any slaves or brought any to the Western Hemisphere from Africa.

Real fact: Columbus captured Indians and took them as slaves back to Europe.


FACT: No evidence indicates that Columbus thought the islanders he met were racially inferior in any way.

Real fact: Columbus considered the Indians children compared to Europeans.


FACT: The destruction of the native populations of the Western Hemisphere over the centuries is a complex historical tragedy.

Real fact: Columbus didn't commit genocide himself, he merely instigated the genocide to come.


FACT: Columbus and the other Europeans brought with them Old World agricultural techniques, including crop rotation and animal breeding....These imports led to improved farming methods, a greater diversity of crops and a more dependable food supply that benefited the native populations.

Real fact: The Natives arguably had better agricultural techniques than the Europeans, and Western-style agriculture has helped destroyed the balance between man and nature.


FACT: A sad fact of human civilization is that powerful nations usurp the land of the vanquished.

Real fact: The "fiction" is correct, as the "fact" confirms, since "usurp" is synonymous with "steal."


Why We Should Celebrate Columbus Day

Columbus Day recognizes the achievements of a great Renaissance explorer who founded the first permanent European settlement in the New World.

Comment:  If Columbus was such a great explorer, why did he think he reached Asia, half a world away?

The arrival of Columbus in 1492 marks the beginning of recorded history in America.

Comment:  Native people have recorded their history in petroglyphs and monuments as well as in the Maya's written language and the Aztecs' codices.

Related links
This ain't no party:  a Columbus Day rant
Those evil European invaders
Native vs. non-Native Americans:  a summary

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