Saturday, October 10, 2009

Columbus was a Failure!

With the 517th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's "discovering" of the new world fast approaching, it's worth nothing that he neither discovered the new world, nor was it new at the time he supposedly discovered it.

Yes, that's right, the man that everyone reveres as the person who made our life here in America possible, was a failed explorer. A fraud. Though probably not the first person to take credit for something he didn't do.

And who could blame him. What with everyone coming up to him and patting him on the back and all. He obviously reveled in all the "Way to go Chris. Nice discovery."

But what exactly did he discover? I guess you could argue he discovered the Bahamas. Though that's pushing it a bit too.

On his first voyage from Spain, Columbus landed in the Bahamas (the specific island he actually landed on is still in dispute) in 1492. He was looking for a direct trade route to the Indies. Subsequent voyages took him to Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. He died in 1506 thinking he had found his trade route, never realizing his calculations and navigation were seriously flawed.

To be fair, Columbus was responsible for making Europe aware of the Americas -- more so than any other explorer before him. And he did sail to Central America on subsequent voyages. But he was hardly the discoverer of the New World. And he wasn't even the first to get there. The Norse, led by Leif Erikson, established a temporary colony in Newfoundland in about 1000 AD.

What Columbus did do -- and something he is conveniently not given credit for -- is enslaving a portion of the native population and causing a genocide.

According to Columbus's diary:

"Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language."

This certainly doesn't sound like someone who has the natives' best interest at heart.

On his second voyage to Hispaniola (today known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Columbus enslaved and murdered most of the native Taino Indians. Many were sent to Europe as slaves. Those that remained on the island were put to work for Columbus. He ordered them to procure gold for him. The only problem was that there was very little gold available on the island. For those that failed to comply with his orders, Columbus had their hands cut off. Within two years, nearly half of the Taino people were wiped out.

In addition to slaves, Columbus apparently brought with him Syphilis to Europe. Many of his crew later fought in King Charles VIII's army, which in 1495 invaded Italy -- and help spread the disease throughout Europe.

So this is the man everyone reveres as a great explorer. A great hero who made it possible for us to have what we have today.

It seems to me our veneration could be better placed. Thankfully, our country is called the United States of America (widely believed to be named for Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci) and not the United States of Columbus.

All of which leads me to this thought. Given the long, rich history of Italian exploration and its connection with America, all this Italian-American bashing and stereotyping is misplaced. If it weren't for the Italians (Columbus not withstanding) we wouldn't be here today.

So give it a rest.