Columbus, You Rascal.

13 Oct

“It’s a holiday today, you know,” the gray-haired gentleman growled over the roar of Monday’s afternoon traffic.  “Is it?” I replied, unaware that the date was anything but an average Monday, the most dreaded day of the week.  He had forgotten too–until he arrived at the Veteran Affairs hospital and found the crew to be lacking.

We were at the train station—doing what strangers in waiting do—chatting to pass the time.

Long silence.

“What holiday is it?” I asked, more to keep the conversation rolling, as I anxiously glanced at my watch, wary of arriving to work late.

He pauses, deeply in thought, searching the recesses of his mind for the answer he’s certain he will find.  After what feels like an eternity he remembers: “Ahhhhhhh, Columbus Day.”

I nod back at him in recognition, but secretly can’t seem to remember who the heck this Columbus guy was.

So I do what anybody would in this situation: I googled “Columbus Day.”

One of the top items in the queue is a listing from the Huffington Post labeled “Columbus Day 2010: 5 Books That Expose The Scandals, Violence and Dubious Tactics of America’s Discoverer.”


The article lists books that all question the role and celebration of Christopher Columbus and other American heroes.

Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me begins by examining the actual holiday.  That Christopher Columbus is “one of two people the United States honors by name.”  The other is MLK.

Loewen and all of the other authors contend that Christopher Columbus was not the first “discoverer” of the Americas.  Apparently, the Viking had landed here some 500 years before.  The only difference this time around was “Europe’s response.”


Loewen takes time to evaluate the motives behind the expedition in the first place.  Why in 1492?  Increased military technology, social technology, and, oh yes, the rising role of money (gold to be exact) in Europe are amongst the top five.  But what I found most interesting was the role of European Christianity in the expedition.

“Religion rationalized conquest,” Loewen states while citing a version of the Requirement, the rights that Indians were read (in Spanish) by the Spaniards upon arrival.  You’ve gotta read it!  Keywords I picked out were “I will take your women and children and make them slaves. . .” and “The deaths” and “injuries that you will receive. . .[are] your own fault and not that of His Majesty.”  Seriously.  It’s the “Indians” fault that you killed and conquer them.

Key Takeaways from my Crash lesson on Christopher Columbus?

Christopher Columbus’ expedition is remembered today because (1) It was funded by the Spanish government:  It was heavily followed and anticipated because of the government’s involvement. (2) The invention of the printing press spread news like wildfire of Columbus’ findings. (3) His exaggerations about the gold created renewed interest and investment in the expedition—Investments that he would repay through another type of currency: slave labor.

So Columbus Day is a celebration of “conquest and exploitation.”  That’s so fittingly American.

Until next time.


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