Celebrating Columbus: Hero, bufoon, or genocidal maniac?
Do you get as much kick out of the Huffington Post as I do? The top liberal site on the Web, it routinely gets stuff wrong, as in today’s gallery about Columbus Day revisionism. But then what can you expect from a journalistic enterprise that demands most of its writers work for free? Brave new world, indeed.
It’s true, though, that a bad odor surrounds the name of Christopher Columbus in later years, and not just because he botched the first two Harry Potter movies. Oh. Wait. Different Chris. Apologies.
He’s now often seen either as an idiot who didn’t know he’d failed to reach the East Indies, or as a rapacious colonialist who murdered and enslaved the peaceful Arawaks for their land and gold and set the pattern for enslavement, conquest and environmental despoilation that would follow for the rest of the New World.
Over at HuffPo, some anonymous blogger wants to remind us of such Columbian infamy by recommending “5 Books That Expose the Scandals, Tactics, and Dubious Tactics of America’s Discoverer.”
The problem lies in the selected books, not all of which are important works of popular history. On the other hand, the HuffPo list completely ignores what is probably the most significant anti-Columbus book ever written for the general reader.
The one clearly deserving title on the list: Howeard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to the Present. At least Zinn directly tackles the Columbian legacy. History with a lefty slant? Sure, but a useful corrective to received wisdom, too.
From there it gets dicey.
If Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America is included because it “features sections on American Indians, which debunks the myth of Columbus as hero,” then why not Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, which makes similar points from a different perspective?
Or Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, Vine Deloria, Jr.’s seethingly funny 1969 screed on Indian rights?
Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen, “is more a critique of textbooks, rather than history itself.”HuffPo’s words, not mine.
Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History, by Richard Shenkman and The Greatest Stories Never Told: 100 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stypefy, by Rick Beyer are popcorn books that reduce history to tasty, bite-size pieces.
Not that there is anything wrong with history as entertainment. But how can such a list ignore Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, by Mathew Restall, a somewhat scholarly book that challenges everything we think we know about interactions between Europeans and Indians?
How can such a list not include Kirkpatrick Sale’s profoundly angry Conquering Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, the granddaddy of all Columbus debunkers?
Even Gavin Menzies’ loony 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, thoroughly discredited by mainstream historians, deserves a place on the list. I mean, it contains 14 years of crank scholarship, written with enough style to interest a major New York publisher.
Or mayhap I just have a weakness for grand books by misguided gadflies….
At any rate, I’m sure there’s no end of additional books challenging the Columbian legacy. If you have a favorite, please share. Or, if you’re of a traditionalist, right-wing bent, then by all means defend the guy. But keep in mind, there’s no justifying the first two Harry Potter movies….