Issues & Insights

An Historian Explains How ‘Cancel Columbus’ Controversy Came To Be

Christopher Columbus. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Once again the legacy of Christopher Columbus — and particularly at this time, his statues — have come under unreasonable and blind attacks in many parts of our land. It is time that all people become aware of the hidden origins of this anti-Columbian movement, citing the original instigators, their motives and the propaganda they have used to make a villain out of one of the world’s great heroes.

Our journey of examination begins with the protests of the 1960s, which included a very militant American Indian Movement (AIM). Spurred on by AIM and its allies,by 1977,  concern for all indigenous peoples resulted in a Geneva meeting of international NGO’s (non-governmental institutions, e.g. non-profits).

This gathering decided that, in the Americas, Columbus Day would be marked as a day of international solidarity with indigenous peoples. It was not to be replaced. Still, Columbus unjustly became the symbol for all indigenous protest, and was blamed for almost everything that followed in the European colonization of the Americas!

Consider what this very low level  conference decided. Their resolutions condemned continued settlement of immigrants on lands of indigenous peoples in the Americas ( presumably in Mexico and lands south to Argentina.)  Another resolution called for cessation of efforts to integrate indigenous peoples into cultural mainstreams. Also adopted was an agenda for protest and publicity of their causes.

Publicity they did get over the next two decades. Propaganda idealized simple, even primitive, lifestyles of native Americans. Such propaganda still resonates with rebellious youth — and others — in the U.S. today. 

However, barring a cataclysm, such lifestyles have no chance of widespread rejuvenation.These principles hearken back to the timeless agricultural village society which has endured from neolithic times even to our own age. The Village ideal is contrary to progressive modern civilization.

The next major step was the radical Quito, Ecuador Conference of 1990, which filled the sails of the anti-Columbian movement. This conclave was sponsored by South American native groups to counter the planned 1992 celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the New World.

Again, this was not a gathering of high level official governmental representatives, rather one of indigenous native groups and allied protesters.

The conclusions of the conference were extreme and even irrational. Delegates called for cultural and political revolution with demands for self-determination, concluding that existing nation-states in the Americas negated their rights.

These governments had to be replaced with new nations and a new social order. Apparently, not one government in the Americas was legitimate.The conference denounced current U.S., European, Japanese, and Israeli imperialism. And it declared an end to Columbus Day.

In the face of such strong headwinds, the Bush Administration (Bush I) meekly cancelled plans for celebrating a glorious 500th. Yes, there had been plans and high expectations, as with the 400th Columbian celebration of 1892. But, in a presidential election year,the president decided to avoid any controversy that may cost some votes.

Meanwhile, prompted by agitators, in 1992 Berkeley, California introduced Indigenous People’s Day as a substitute for Columbus Day. A small group of people, in America’s most radical city, scored a significant public relations victory.

Then came the deluge. Anti-Columbian sentiments attracted funding and participation from agitator-activists of all sorts, including globalists. Let us note a glaring contradiction here: Modern technology is the lifeblood and oxygen of globalism. Anti-technology Indigenous people would become totally  irrelevant in any new global order. 

Self-promotion also became more problematical among activists.

Some “leaders” like Ward Churchill claimed to be part-native American, but their claims were vigorously disputed by various tribal groups. Churchill is best known for his labeling the murdered workers in the 9/11 attacks as “little Eichmanns.”

Jimmy Durham, godfather of the 1977 Geneva NGO meeting, has been described in Cherokee publications as a phony, a poser who fraudulently sells his art as a native American.

But the most significant figure in the Anti-Columbian tempest was the Marxist historian Howard Zinn, whose chapter on Columbus is quoted verbatim by all dissidents. His quotes have appeared ad infinitum in revised public school curricula,which depict Columbus as a major villain.

Though sometimes praised for its novel approach to history, Zinn’s work has also drawn serious criticism.  For example, critics like Michael Kazan, an editor of the leftist publication Dissent, describes Zinn’s work as bad history. His “history” of the American people is in reality a recounting of negativity and class struggle richly lathered with ideological fantasies.

You won’t find Americans storming the beaches of Normandy or anything else about America’s sacrifices contributing to a better world for all peoples. Zinn’s work is carried on by highly organized disciples who have definitely made an impact. In the modern day university professoriate few if any would stand against Zinn’s distorted history for fear of being “canceled.”

Zinn and others use Bartolomeo de Las Casas as a main source This 16th century author has a complicated style, with lengthy sentences . Zinn often quotes what he wants, using ellipses (…) to convey his desired meaning without any context.

One example given to me by a translator of old Spanish: On Slavery. Columbus is supposed to have said of the Indians “..They would make good servants…”,  implying Columbus’ intention to make them slaves. But the proper translation is “…They must be good servants…”, implying they had possibly been servants (captured slaves?) before Columbus met them.

Context referring to natives’ scars and wounds supports this meaning. Further accurate translation of de Las Casas may produce similar re-evaluations, proving he was not the villain he is made out to be.

We must understand how, when, where and why this anti-Columbus movement began. Only then can we attack erroneous, agenda-driven history. .

It’s time to alter course. Cancelling Columbus does nothing to help Indigenous peoples Nor does toppling his statues. Instead, we need a blue-ribbon panel of historians, linguistic experts, educators and representatives of interested societies to reconsider the Columbus controversy. Let the truth be heard!

Silvio Laccetti is a retired professor of history at Stevens Institute of Technology and a syndicated columnist.

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2 comments

  • They cancel because we let them. No one has the guts to stand up for old dead White guys.

  • Thank God! Finally, someone who knows it’s “an historian”, not “a historian”. Always remember it’s Anheuser-Busch.

  • [print-me target="#post-%ID%"]

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