Vanquishing Columbus

It’s funny, but not so funny… how the victors write history.  If I were to believe the history books, Columbus, like so many other powerful historical figures, was a hero.  A great conqueror who “discovered” America; apparently, the people already living here didn’t know it existed.  One of the legacies left by the great historian Howard Zinn is that he gave us all a new perspective: history written by the conquered, the marginalized, the trampled, the disenfranchised.  In other words, the truth.  No need for propaganda to rally the masses, just the unvarnished and very ugly truth about some of the people our history teachers taught us to worship and adore.

None of us are perfect.  But the varnish on some of these despots and villains is so thick, it takes a while to get through it.  Then it’s pretty embarrassing to realize that we once thought so highly of them.  And once you’ve seen the truth, you’re no longer in the mood for a good shellacking by the spin doctors who have peddled our history books.  A good example of this is Christopher Columbus.

His name is so hallowed that books that are critical of him are still banned from schools.  In January 2012, Tucson schools banned Rethinking Columbus by Bob Peterson and Bill Bigelow.  The only people who would undertake to silence truth are those who would benefit greatly from lies.  And if we are compelled to believe those lies, we are complicit in the very sorts of human rights abuses they are trying to hide, that Columbus committed, and that our nation has continued to commit, against people of color and other cultures. 

It’s an effective way to keep those people invisible – those people with faces, names, families – who were raped, tortured, murdered, and enslaved by Columbus and his men.

I am ashamed that we were never taught as children the perspective of Native Americans, who rightfully view Columbus’s arrival as an invasion that resulted in genocide.  It was only the beginning of hell for an entire continent of human beings, resulting in untold human agony.  How can we, in good conscience, celebrate this man?  To do so is to perpetuate that very harmful myth of American imperialism, and the notion that there is glory in being a bully.

This Monday is Columbus Day, and instead of honoring a murderous slave trader, let’s honor the people who deserve it.  Let’s do the right thing, and tell the truth… about the Tainos, who were raped and enslaved.  If they failed to deliver the quota of gold Columbus demanded, he had their hands cut off or had them chased down and attacked by vicious dogs.  He reveled in the sale of young Native girls as sexual slaves for his personal profit.  He was not a “brave adventurer.”  He was a rapacious terrorist with no regard for human life or dignity.

Others who feel like I do have renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day.  This Monday, I hope you will join me in celebrating Indigenous People’s Day, by committing to learn the truth about Columbus, and vowing to support indigenous peoples all over the world, who continue to be terrorized.

The Zinn Education Project ( has some great articles about Columbus.  To learn more about the experience of the Tainos under Columbus, visit  There are many other informative websites as well.

Let’s remove the varnish and uncover the truth.  Let’s work together to create a world where perpetrators of violence are held accountable instead of glorified.  We may not be able to change past history, but let’s not forget that we are responsible for the history our children and grandchildren will be taught.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad I was able to read your blog from 2013. Columbus was NOT a hero as we were brainwashed into thinking during history classes. You are right in saying that we can't change past history but we can make sure murderous myths like this are not carried forward to our future generations.


Father's Day

I spent this last Father’s Day in silent, burning rage at my dad, and it’s taken me three months to sort it out enough to write.