Skip to comments.Columbus gets his day, and no more
Posted on 10/11/2001 7:58:50 AM PDT by Hegewisch Dupa
Columbus gets his day, and no more
By Gerry Trzupek
As we enter October, America winds up for her yearly Feast of the Inaccurate Deception, otherwise known as Columbus Day.
Lately, more and more groups who like to make themselves heard have been condemning Columbus for wholesale slaughter of Indians. These vocal groups decided Columbus best signifies Western civilization, which, quite frankly, was going to find it all but impossible to coexist on a resource-rich continent with a hunter-gatherer society. In that battle, put your money on the team with thundersticks.
But Columbus is not to blame. Are we to believe that without him Westerners would never coming knocking at the natives' wigwam door? That's ludicrous. If one wants to deride Columbus, especially as a symbol of Western civilization, better reasons exist.
First, a major misconception should be put to rest. Columbus didn't set sail to prove the world was round. Educated people proved the Earth's spherical shape back in the days of the Ancient Greeks. In trying to find a westward passage to Asia, Columbus led his men into unknown territory. Keeping a worried crew from mutiny proved one of his more impressive accomplishments. Falling over the edge of the earth didn't scare them, running out of fresh water and food in the middle of uncharted waters did.
Columbus also deserves to be remembered as an extremely talented sailor. To this day, the routes he found to and from the New World remain the best for sailing vessels. He managed to keep up to 17 ships together while crossing the ocean during everyone of his four trips to the New World.
He demonstrated quick thinking by amazing a tribe, who hitherto was unwilling to supply his men with much needed food, by predicting an eclipse. Numerous literary characters have repeated this trick; Columbus provided the inspiration.
Unfortunately, one of the worst curses of Western civilization manifests itself in Columbus - that being self-serving pseudoscience.
In four trips, Columbus refused to see the light. He would not back down from his belief that he had found the shortcut to Asia. Before the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria set sail he stacked the deck against himself. He utilized little-respected theories of the day and came up with a circumference of the earth four times smaller than reality.
His lies started early. He kept two sets of navigational books, one for himself, another for the crews' benefit. The second under-reported their distance traveled, so as not to alarm the crew.
Tricking the crew is forgivable. Columbus could do without a mutiny. His distortion of geographic facts is another matter, however.
During his first trip, he visited numerous Caribbean islands, positive he ran into some unknown portion of Asia. On a subsequent trip he came across Cuba. He sailed along the coast for days, sure he had found the mainland of Asia. With supplies low, sails in tatters, he turned around just fifty miles short of the western tip. Had he sailed around the tip, he would have had to admit he had found another island.
Still, ample evidence existed that Cuba was an island. So much so that Columbus felt the need to silence (quite literally) any of his crew who offered opinions contrary to his own. Sailors and officers were forced to sign an oath testifying that Cuba was connected to a continent and not an island. Those failing to comply would face a fine and have their tongues cut out.
Later Columbus found the mouth of the Orinoco River in South America. Such a massive source of freshwater could only stem from a continent. Even Columbus initially admitted this, but later decided the continent was China, a stretch even for Columbus' geography.
And Columbus was willing to stretch his geography quite a bit. Eventually he declared the Orinoco flowed from the Terrestrial Paradise. He also decided that the world was in fact pear-shaped in order to account for his new findings and still maintain his belief in a certain land-water ratio.
Columbus could not see the whole picture no matter how many vantage points he encountered. In his stubbornness he twisted the facts to match his reality. Five hundred years later, too many people still jump at the chance to do likewise.
Open debates seldom are just that. Numerous "experts" wouldn't think of passing on a chance to fire up peoples' emotions, make themselves seem compassionate and maybe even pickup a paycheck on the way. No need to let facts get in the way.
Luckily, in our country's story, history judged the founding of the New World well. Many of our school children, busy with diversity and self-esteem lessons, don't know that the Americas were named after Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine explorer. There are no statues to the man; some, like Ralph Waldo Emerson even called him "a thief."
He explored the New World immediately after Columbus. Vespucci displayed a knack for ingenuity. Stuck on land for repairs for twenty days, he made painstakingly accurate astronomical observations with which he was able to calculate the circumference of the earth to within 50 miles, the best measurement to that day.
After a trip cut short by shipworms eating his vessel's hull, Vespucci planned another voyage with lead-lined ships, an innovation for the time.
But most of all, he recognized the new world as just that: previously uncharted continents. His observation lead to the same inescapable conclusion as Columbus had before him. The difference between the two is Vespucci, unlike Columbus, was no Houdini when it came to facts.
Early in the 16th century an obscure clergyman named Martin Waldseemuller, inspired by Vespucci's discoveries, decided to name the new, southern continent after Amerigo. His maps proved immensely popular at the time, filling two print editions and selling over 1,000 copies.
Later, Waldseemuller suffered a change of heart and decided Vespucci no longer deserved credit for the new land. In those embryonic days of mass media Waldseemuller learned a lesson true to this day: publishing information is easy, retracting it is next to impossible. Not only did the name "America" stick to the new southern lands, it was passed on to the North once explorers found that continent.
So be it. In the end all worked out as it should. Columbus, with his courage and sense of purpose, gets his day. Amerigo, for representing the best of the West; this land is your land.
Depends on the size of your printing press and your determination to undo your mistakes.
Offer of "Sto Lot" not valid for members of the Taliban...
Reparations for the American Indian, this is an interesting thought.
The American Indian, or "Native American" were a stone age people when discovered by the Europeans. They had not domesticated animals, they had no written language and they had not even invented the wheel.
However, their lack of technology did not prevent them warring among themselves, practicing genocide (Iroquois, Mahegan), slavery (Choctaws, Chickasaws) and cannibalism (Navajo, Anasazi).
I wonder, will the Iroquois and Anasazi descendants pay the Erie and Pueblo descendants for their "guilt" from their ancestors actions?
Slavery talk came up, and my wife mentioned the Indians kept slaves. She was told that was wrong outright. She from Texas, and offered that she has ancestors who were freakin' slaves of Indians, so she knows damn well it's true. The best the prof could counter with is that the Indians learned slavery from the Europeans. ARGH!
The prof wouldn't buy into any of the warring between tribes or slave-taking that occurred before any white man set foot on our shores. It's easy to win arguments when you can just ignore reality...