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Columbus and the Beginning of the American Way of Life: A Message to Indoctrinate Our Children

As a Marxist agitator and lowlife who wants to, as Trump puts it in a recent teleprompted fascist address, “tear down our statues, erase our history, and indoctrinate our children” I feel obliged to make some remarks—to all the impressionable children of the world—about the moron president’s ringingly stupid statement last week under Mt. Rushmore:

“We will teach our children to cherish and adore their country so that they can build its future. Together, we will fight for the American Dream, and we will defend, protect, and preserve American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America.”

Comments:

1. Any kid now knows that the ancestors of native people discovered this hemisphere when they crossed the Bering Strait around 20,000 years ago. There were advanced civilizations in the Americas before any Europeans arrived. To talk about Columbus “discovering” America is beyond Eurocentric, it’s offensive and ignorant.

2. Columbus didn’t even “discover” America for Europeans. Earlier, Basques, Irish and Scandinavians had visited and some had even briefly settled (in Newfoundland). Greenland, considered part of North America (and coveted by Trump) was settled by Scandinavians in the 10th century.

3. Columbus and his crew did not establish any “American way of life” other than the principle of private property and the enslavement of native people. ( In 1493 Columbus brought the first native Americans—Taino people—to the Spanish court. They were slaves.) Soon the acquisition of gold and silver (mined by indigenous slaves) was a principal motive for the Spanish conquests in all their savagery.

4. Columbus was from Genoa in Italy. In his time—the 1400s—Genoa and Venice were the prime slave markets in Europe. (We forget about the existence of late medieval European slavery, often the enslavement of whites by other whites. Baltic, Slavic, Mongol slaves from Crimea were all available in Renaissance Italy; our very word “slaves” derives from “Slavs.”) He was a representative of a maritime trading class totally comfortable with human trafficking within Europe itself.

5. Columbus was dispatched by the united crowns of Aragon and Castile, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel, who ordered the expulsion of all Jews and Muslims from Spain in March 1492. (In 1478 they had established the famous Spanish Inquisition that terrorized suspected Jews, Muslims, heretics, witches, sodomites etc.) Columbus sailed west in August, representative of a viciously anti-Semitic religious fanatic state.

6. Upon setting on land (Hispaniola), Columbus “took possession of the island for the king and queen” of Spain. Even though the misguided explorer thought that he might be somewhere near China (an empire more powerful than he could imagine) he had the audacity to think he could claim “possession” on the basis of his “discovery.”

7. Columbus was an Italian explorer hired by foreign monarchs to explore a maritime trade route to India, which he did not find (although other Europeans soon did). He never set foot on what is now U.S. soil (except for Puerto Rico). He was the first European explorer to reach the Caribbean, and pioneered in the infliction of terror on the people he encountered. His voyages stimulated others that soon destroyed the mighty Aztec Empire (1521) and the Inca Empire (1532) and established Spanish hegemony in the western hemisphere. That is his main historical achievement.

8. The celebration of Columbus Day is of course very political. It was only made an official national holiday in 1937, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt bowed to intense lobbying from the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal order founded in the U.S. in 1882. As the name suggests, it had (and has) a large Italian-American membership. In 1892 Pres. Benjamin Harrison had declared a one-time national celebration of Columbus Day, to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage; he was prompted to do so in part to address Italian-American rage at the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans that year. (Some consider this the largest mass-lynching in U.S. history.) For many in the Italian-American community, Columbus Day is a day of ethnic pride in the face of historical discrimination, rather than a celebration of imperialism and slavery as “the American way of life.” Even so, to celebrate it as a holiday is now more than ever an insult to Native Americans.

9. Using Columbus to “preserve our way of life” means encouraging children and adults to focus on Columbus as the imagined mariner, explorer, expressing that eternal AMERICAN value of reaching out—like the Star Trek crew—to where no man has gone before… The Columbus as Explorer theme. But there were much more interesting and competent European explorers of the Americas in the early period whose legacies are not tainted by savagery. And when Columbus ceases to be the patron saint of exploration, what is left but all the bad stuff?

10. One almost immediate result of Columbus’ voyages, a secondary achievement, was the introduction of tobacco into Europe. The Taino smoked it in pipes, sharing kindly with the strange visitors. Sailors brought back the smoking habit to Europe where it spread rapidly in the early 1500s. This is another enduring gift of the Discoverer.

Children, the president of the United States is a dumb ass. He’s a racist fool. He doesn’t know anything about history. He makes things up. He needs the votes of the most stupid and gullible, and whips them up with what somebody once called “the last refuge of scoundrels”—dumb-ass patriotism. He wants you to sing the Star-Spangled Banner and pledge allegiance to the flag while you go back to school prematurely risking your lives to show that everything’s fine and back to normal in the made again great America.

Children, I urge you to bring down the Columbus statues, defying the president’s fascistic threats to punish people who do so.

Oh, indoctrinated Children, especially elementary school kids! I urge you to demand textbooks that tell the truth about Columbus and that “erase” the history which was disinformation all along. And help erase Trump as much as possible from history.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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