The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster. — Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. — George Orwell, 1984
There are misconceptions, some of them benevolent, some malignant, some neutral, that, repeated, persist for a very long time in spite of their not being true. One such misconception is that Christopher Columbus set out on his voyage to dispel the popular view of his time that the world was flat. In reality, that idea was an urban legend that originated in the mid-1800s. No one, as far back as the Ancient Greeks, really thought that the earth was flat.
But there are other misconceptions about Columbus that are extremely malignant. In recent decades, Christopher Columbus has been demonized. He has been called a war criminal, a thief, a rapist, a bumbling fool, and someone who carried out genocide. These accusations have supposedly been the basis for the recent vandalism and destruction of statues in America of Christopher Columbus in the cities of Richmond, St. Paul, Baltimore, Miami, Wilmington, San Antonio, Sacramento, St. Louis, Detroit, Trenton, Buffalo, Boston, and Providence (in Providence, the vandalism was done by a middle school teacher). In states controlled by Democrats, Columbus Day has been replaced by Indigenous Peoples’ Day, particularly during anniversaries of his discovering the New World (an instance of cultural appropriation), while some Republicans in Congress are trying to replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth Day.
There is just one problem. The “crimes” that these individuals — and they curiously seem to be in a perpetual state of hysterics — attribute to him is a total fabrication. Not true. Not true at all. They are fictional.
What makes matters worse is that the few defenders appear to be equally ignorant, and have accepted the defamation, arguing that regardless of his crimes, his exploratory achievements are praiseworthy — which, if anything, goes to show the power of repetition.
There is not one single historical source in existence that substantiates any of the “crimes.” Not one. None!
Consult, not secondary sources written centuries later by individuals with a political agenda, but primary (i.e., contemporary) sources in the original Spanish: Los Cuatro Viajes del Almirante y su Testamento, and, Brevísima Relación de la Destrucción de las Indias, both by Bartolomé de las Casas. De las Casas, as every schoolchild in the Caribbean and Spain knows, was The Apostle of the Indians, an indefatigable defender of the Indians who fulminated endlessly against the Spanish crimes on the indigenous people. More importantly, he chronicled the atrocities against the Indians, fearlessly naming the criminals. Not once does he mention Columbus as an evildoer. On the contrary, he documented the exact opposite, that Columbus repeatedly defended the Indians against Spanish depredations.
The third primary source is the biography of the explorer written by his son, Fernando. Should the reader cynically discount his son’s biography as whitewashed because his son somehow saw that 500 years later his father’s statues were going to be vandalized in a new country called the United States and he had to salvage his reputation, think instead that, considering the zeitgeist, Fernando could have easily portrayed his father as a great conqueror of satanic, evil savages who practiced cannibalism (after all, look at all the hagiographies written on Napoleon, who turned Europe into a charnel house). Significantly, Fernando also portrayed the natives in a benevolent light — and this was long before the syrupy “noble savage” mythos that we have been force-fed to this day. He was being faithful to facts.
Lastly, there is the Capitulations, the documents between the Spanish monarchy and the Admiral.
If Columbus had, indeed, committed the countless crimes that some people with their ignorance of history have attributed to him, if he was, indeed the monster that he has been portrayed, on a par with Attila the Hun, Josef Stalin, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, I for one would be among those condemning him. But the historical facts are clear: the atrocities that have been heaped on him are nowhere to be found, except in the minds of his detractors. They are just not there.
YouTube has a number of channels that state that Columbus, for example, sold Indian women into sexual slavery, including a 9-year-old girl. In reality, primary sources show that he was complaining to the Crown of the mistreatment of the natives by the Spaniards, like sexual slavery, including that particular 9-year-old girl. Again, this falsehood went against Columbus’ true self and it is a lie. In fact, we can read in the original texts that time and again, he ordered the men not to steal anything from the Indians, to treat them well, and to simply trade for the gold nuggets that were lying around. Furthermore, gold was abundant in Hispaniola and the natives willingly traded with it. Another accusation portrays him as being overly greedy: a reward had been set aside for the first person to discover land; Columbus is supposed to have been so greedy that he stole the credit. In reality, he was the first to sight light at night, hours before landing; the next day, a sailor sighted land. But it was the King of Spain who decided that the reward should go to the Admiral. Another is that on his first voyage he brought back thousands of enslaved Indians. That must have been some feat, considering that he had two of the three caravels left; I have been on a caravel and they are one of the smallest ships in existence. Caravels are about the size tugboats.
Another falsehood regarding Christopher Columbus is that Hispaniola had no gold, which so infuriated Columbus that he cut off Indians’ hands (he did not cut off any body parts and, besides, Hispaniola was rich in gold), that he took Indians along in his ship in order to have fresh meat for his dogs, that Bartolomé de las Casas, who denounced and chronicled the crimes against the Indians, wrote about Columbus’ crimes (wrong; de las Casas wrote after the explorer was dead and said nothing bad about him) and—best of all—that Columbus was responsible for crimes committed in North America.
State Rep. Rachel Talbot-Ross (D) of Maine called him “a war criminal.”
Nowhere did he set foot — or sail — in North America.
And it is not just YouTube. The same can be found in articles in Huffington Post, the Guardian, and The New Yorker, and many, many other publications that have saturated the culture, all written by smug, self-confident leftists with a colossal ignorance of history. They are even briefly inserted in television programs (The Sopranos, The Office, The Good Place), like drive-by shootings. That illustrates how thoroughly saturated our society has become with leftist lies.
It appears that some of the detractors have no real interest in accuracy, but in forwarding an agenda, because the errors appear deliberate (none can even read Spanish). Books can lie, just like people, especially if they are written by a Communist (histories written by Marxists tend to be caricatures). A case in point is Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Zinn was an admitted Communist and the purpose of his textbook (which is presently being used in schools) was for the purpose of making gullible, naïve, students hate their country. It has succeeded. And Christopher Columbus has been one of his victims. Nor is Zinn alone.
Here is an example of Zinn’s lies: “At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two Arawaks were run through with swords and bled to death.”
This incident occurred on the return trip from his first voyage. Hitherto, whenever Indians had been encountered, they had initially run away, thinking that the explorers were cannibals. The Arawaks/Tainos were constantly terrorized by seafaring cannibals. Cannibals ranged widely among the islands in boats, landing and capturing their meals; they would take them home alive and if, they were adult males, were castrated in order to improve their flavor. The cannibals (aka Caribs/Caribes/Canibas) had a technological advantage: powerful bows and arrows, whereas the other Indians only had sticks. When it was clear that the Spaniards were not cannibals, the Indians welcomed them, thinking that they came from heaven. A brisk trade ensued for the gold nuggets that the natives wore. In Hispaniola, the gold was so abundant that nuggets could be found among the tree roots (gold was the only metal they knew since they were still in the Stone Age). Initially, he kidnapped a handful of Indians in order to learn the language, which he learned in a matter of days; later as they made landfall in numerous places, they refused to go back home and, in one instance, another native went aboard the ship wanting to travel with the explorers in spite of his family’s pleas to return (if an alien spaceship landed, wouldn’t you like to travel back with them?). Incidentally, all the natives were naked, not wearing even a loin cloth, and some tribes’ members were as white as Europeans. Again, and again, Columbus ordered his men not to steal anything and to respect the Indians, to trade, not steal.
When Columbus encountered the island that Zinn mentions, the dynamics were different. The natives (cannibals, not Arawaks/Tainos) did not initially run away but went towards the lifeboat with their bows and arrows, screaming and “looking ferocious.” Undoubtedly, they were surprised that anyone would be so stupid as to come to them. The natives were told to leave their bows, arrows, and ropes off to one side. Columbus traded for two bows (he had collected plants, animals, foods, and crafts to take back as proof of his voyage), but the natives refused to trade any more. When the Spaniards were about to leave, the fifty cannibals ran to their bows and arrows and the ropes with which to tie up their dinner and rushed to the seven Spaniards to overwhelm them. For once, their dinner fought back. One cannibal was stabbed in the buttocks and another in the chest, whereupon they all fled. None “bled to death.”
During the second voyage, they entered a deserted village, they found a human arm in the process of being roasted and pots full of human bones. The captured noncannibal women begged to be taken away.
They also found out that the cannibals had a curious arrangement: their women lived apart in another island; periodically, they got together to mate. The boys would then be brought up by the men and the girls by the women. The women could use the bow and arrow and were described as “very stout.” One of these women tripped up a sailor, jumped on him, and almost strangled him to death, but he was saved by the arrival of his companions.
Incidentally, cannibalism was very popular among the indigenous people in South America, not so much in North America.
So, as can be seen, Zinn’s account has just enough details to seem truthful. But a mountain of details is deliberately left out that gives a totally different picture. This is a common tactic. By being brief, yet accusatory, it is like a drive-by shooting.
And this brings us to Michele de Cuneo’s letter, written somewhat around 1511, wherein he relates that Columbus gave him a young girl to rape during the voyage back. This is seen as contemporary proof of Columbus’ demonic character. There is just one little problem. It is a fraud. Aside from internal inconsistencies, the letter also mentions temples in the Caribbean. There were no temples in the Caribbean; the naked Indians lived in crude huts. Temples would come into play later, after Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs (1519-1521).
Now, before I bring up other clarifications, the reader must understand how things stood at this period of history. First, contrary to later centuries, all of Europe, including Spain, was poor. Europe lacked substantial gold and silver mines, just as it today lacks oil. The kings and queens were not as rich as thought of; in fact, the Spanish monarchy was close to be insolvent. This would change with the colonization of the New World, which was rich in gold and silver; Cuba and Hispaniola were rich in gold; in Potosí was found what could be characterized as a mountain of silver overlaid with a sprinkling of dirt. Second, just as today the cost of space exploration is a preoccupation, so was the exploration of the New World seen as costly, and justification for exploration had to be found (i.e., gold, silver, spices). Third, Columbus himself was poor. So, the preoccupation to find gold, which modern intellectuals turn up their noses at (while simultaneously groveling for jobs and tenure and higher pay) is perfectly understandable. Besides, the magnetic fascination for finding gold still exists today. Third, Christianity had long ago abolished slavery in Europe, but constant exposure to Muslims had made Iberians re-accustomed to the idea, particularly in Spain, which had recently finally expelled the last of the Muslim kingdoms, and Muslim culture was still present; another slave-owning Muslim kingdom lay just across the Straits of Gibraltar. And slavery still exists today—in several Muslim countries. In fact, because of the recent increase in immigration of Muslims, Europe is now seeing a resurgence of slavery. Besides, slavery was practiced worldwide, including by Africans and Native Americans, when Europeans re-adopted it centuries later in North America. When Columbus years later suggested making slaves out of the natives, he was very specifically referring to the cannibals, for whom he had developed a deep loathing for obvious reasons, and not the peaceful natives (and, frankly, I personally find nothing repulsive with that suggestion). Fourth, he is also just as irrationally blamed for the new diseases that decimated the natives in decades to come, after his death, forgetting all the diseases from the natives that ravaged Europeans. The diseases that the natives were vulnerable to were not introduced on purpose and, if tens of thousands of indigenous people died from smallpox, tens of thousands of Europeans died from syphilis. Fifth, and most importantly, as I have related elsewhere, the armies of these times lacked the rigid discipline that is nowadays commonplace and would be introduced in the 1700s. More often than not, “armies” were a motley crew of marauding, undisciplined, men. One must remember that such was the insubordination that European nobles often revolted against the Crown. In 1518, when Cortes assembled a group of men to conquer Mexico, he was going against orders. Halfway through the conquest, he had to go back to defeat a force that had been sent by Cuba’s governor to bring him back. Later, when Pizarro’s butchers took over the Inca empire, it was years before the Spanish Crown could subdue the anarchic Conquistadores.
It is surprising that Columbus has not also been criticized for his ships lacking transgender bathrooms.
To return to Columbus. After finding land and exploring throughout the Caribbean, Martín Alonzo Pinzón, the captain of Niña, contrary to orders, went off on his own to look for gold. Much later, they crossed paths again and Columbus freed two natives that Pinzón had kidnapped. In the meantime, one of the three ships had been destroyed in the reefs of Hispaniola. Columbus decided to leave 39 men, most of whom had eagerly requested to do so, in a constructed fort, La Navidad, with very strict orders to treat the natives with respect and to continue trading for gold. He demonstrated the cacique the use of a cannon by firing it towards the sea, telling the natives that they would protect against the cannibals.
Thirty-nine men—rough sailors—left on an island. Sailors who are poor. Some who had come directly from prison. Who hadn’t had a woman in months. Which island is abundant in gold. Where the women are totally naked, not even wearing a loincloth. Where their men appear to be cowards and helpless and fawn on the visitors. Where there is no one in authority over the sailors.
What could possibly go wrong?
On his second, return, voyage, Columbus found the fort burnt down. From a friendly cacique, he learned that the men had quarreled with each other, resulting in murder, and in stealing gold and women from the natives. Eleven men stayed in the fort while the rest scattered into the hinterland, after which the fort was attacked by justifiably hostile tribes.
The dynamics had radically altered.
With his second expedition, he sailed elsewhere on the island and established the town of Isabela. Many of the Spaniards immediately became disgruntled at the idea of farming, or any type of manual labor, particularly in building a mill. They had come in the expectation of grabbing a bunch of gold, raping a few women, then going back to Spain rich, even though he was going to build a settlement. Meantime, Columbus had gold prospectors escorted by security to the primary source of gold. However, he became ill, an illness that lasted four months. Upon recovery, he sailed, exploring further for two months before returning to Isabela because of another illness that temporarily made him blind. He found that a repetition of La Navidad had occurred, though this time without the town’s destruction. A group of armed men roamed the countryside, ignoring the town council’s authority, and committing outrages among the Indians, so that the natives were uniformly hostile. Columbus now had a war on his hands.
Within a year (Hispaniola being a huge island), the Indian rebellion was suppressed with a minimum of bloodshed and a maximum of noise from weapons. Each Indian had to give a tribute of a thimbleful of gold dust every three months, a very mild punishment, done more for form’s sake, considering how plentiful was the supply of gold. In other words, it was a gesture, more to pacify the Spaniards than for the Indians. Whereas the Indians hated the Spaniards, many of them trusted and continued being friends with Columbus.
He now sailed home to report. On the way, provisions were nearly exhausted and some of the sailors suggested throwing the accompanying Indians (who had gone willingly) overboard while others proposed eating them. Columbus prevented both options and they all landed safely.
Columbus also took the time to give a detailed narration of the natives’ religion, beliefs, ceremonies, etc., to the Crown, so that Edward Bourne considered Christopher Columbus to have been the first anthropologist of American native cultures (incidentally, Columbus reported that some of the Indians were as white as any European).
On his third voyage back, there was another repetition of La Navidad, but worse. Columbus now had an armed mutiny on his hands, led by one Roldán (part of the problem was that Columbus was a foreigner to Spaniards and so they felt that they should not have to obey him, regardless of the Crown’s orders — thousands of miles away). To make a long story short, while Columbus was elsewhere on the island, the aptly named Bobadilla arrived and was won over to the side of the rebels (presumably in exchange for raping Indian women and forcing the natives to give them gold) and proclaimed himself governor. When the Admiral returned, he and his brothers were immediately put in chains and sent back to Spain; the embarrassed ship’s captain offered to remove the chains, but Columbus refused. Upon landing, the king and queen had the chains removed and Columbus was fit for another expedition of exploration.
Another modern accusation that can be read these days is that Columbus was such a bloodthirsty dictator in the newly founded town, that the Spaniards rebelled and asked for relief from his oppression, which came in the form of the new benevolent governor, Bobadilla.
Upon returning to the New World during his third voyage, he attempted to dock his ships at Isabela in order to wait out a hurricane but was forbidden. At the same time, in spite of his warnings otherwise, thirty-one ships set sail for Spain. Of the fleet, only three survived. Among the drowned were Bobadilla and Roldán. Karma. Columbus and his men survived and subsequently continued exploration in South America.
Decades after his death, the Spaniards committed so many blood-curdling atrocities among the Indians that none survived throughout the islands. In this, they matched the sadistic cruelty of the Mongols, the Muslims, and the Khmer Rouge. It has been customary for his detractors these days to claim that Columbus ordered these atrocities — which occurred decades after his death. To blame him is as absurd as to blame Henry Ford for all of the deaths from car crashes or tanks.
It has, likewise, been customary to denigrate his discoveries — even by his contemporaries — at the time because he was Italian rather than a Spaniard (the famous story of the egg comes to mind). In modern times, it is pointed out that Columbus discovered nothing since Vikings and the Native Americans had discovered the territories before him, so he is of no importance. But, as Yevgeny Zamyatin said, “America existed before Columbus for ages, but only Columbus found it.” Hans Selye, though, clarified it best: “The important difference between the discovery of America by the Indians, by the Norsemen, and by Columbus is only that Columbus succeeded in attaching the American continent to the rest of the world.” In regards to discoveries, he goes on to say in From Dream to Discovery, “We must always measure the importance of a discovery against the background of the times in which it was made.”
And here, we bring to bear David Wootton’s massive and fascinating The Invention of Science. Up to the time of Columbus’ discovery, it was the set-in-stone belief that all of the world’s knowledge had already been discovered by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Up to that point, it was the set-in-stone, very rigid, belief that the ancient Greeks had discovered everything that there was to know, particularly by Aristotle. Scholars during the Renaissance searched for ancient manuscripts in monasteries, hoping that they would yield more knowledge while the rest, and most, of the remaining scholars (in universities), would debate the finer points of Ptolemy, Aristotle, etc. Knowledge was finite. An entire antipodal, continent aside from Asia, Europe, and Africa had been found. Columbus’ voyages of exploration created an upheaval in European intellectual thought because now people realized that knowledge was infinite and did not simply lie in dusty old scrolls: a new continent had been found with new peoples, new plants, and new animals in a new geography. Furthermore, the discovery had been made not by any outstanding scholar, but by a common sailor, with the obvious implication that anyone could just make similar discoveries. And become famous.
On top of that, Wootton points out that new words had to be invented to describe what was going on (after all, one word can encapsulate a paragraph of explanation). It was the Portuguese who invented the word “discovery.” Other words that were invented over the years were “science,” “experiment,” “exploration,” “facts,” “scientist.”
Within a century of Columbus’ voyages, science took off, aided by the inventions of the telescope, the microscope, the printing press, the barometer, and the thermometer and it is in this period that Torricelli, Galileo, Kepler, Tycho, van Leeuwenhoek, and William Harvey appear. The printing press, in particular, with the subsequent massive proliferation of books and book fairs, suddenly united isolated scientists. Books also facilitated accuracy through the engraving of machinery and organisms (instead of flawed copying of texts, as had been the practice). A paradoxical culture of cooperation and competition among scientists was created that persists to this very day. Galileo, for instance, printed his findings and, within two years, anyone could verify that Venus had phases, that the moon had mountains, and that Jupiter had moons, telescopes having become commonplace (however, some scholars famously refused to look through the telescope because Aristotle and Ptolemy had decreed that the planets had no moons). “Replication” of experiments became common.
In a way, the recent vandalism of Columbus’ statues is not surprising when one considers that statues of Thomas Jefferson, Raoul Wallenberg, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Julius Ceasar, Earl Grey, Robert the Bruce, Caesar Rodney, Sir Charles Napier, George Washington, General Kosciuszko, Abigail Adams, Calvin Griffith, Indro Montanelli, Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, St. Junípero Serra and other saints, Andrew Jackson, Hans Christian Heg, Robert Peel, Charles Dickens, Jesus, Captain Cook, Francis Drake, Edward Colston, Francis Galton, Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote), William Gladstone, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Ten Commandments statue, Frederick Douglass, Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln have also recently been vandalized by other vandals here and abroad (Earl Grey, Ulysses Grant, Sir Charles Napier, and Abraham Lincoln, if you did not know, abolished slavery while Abigail Adams and Hans Heg were abolitionists). In Boston, these Red Guards also vandalized the Glory monument of the Civil War’s African-American 54th Regiment and a statue of the Virgin Mary, along with the Holocaust Memorial, Thompson Elk Fountain in Portland, the “Little Mermaid” statue in Denmark and the UK’s Penny Lane (famed by the Beatles), and Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts). Additionally, The Guardian wants suppressed the image of St. Michael subduing Satan because it is … “racist.” Pair that with the looting, the killing, and the burning in cities, and it should be obvious by now that the goal of these vandals is not just against Columbus, or Confederate statues, but against civilization itself, or, put another way, cultural destruction. Regardless of the slogans used to rationalize the vandalism by the self-admitted Communists, the participants are destroying for the joy of destroying.
We haven’t been invaded by barbarians; it would appear that we have created barbarians.
And, as someone recently pointed out, history shows that after statues are destroyed, people are next.
Armando Simón is a trilingual native of Cuba, a retired college professor, and forensic psychologist with publications in technical journals and popular sites. He is also the author of Very Peculiar Stories, The U, The Cult of Equality and Other Scifi Stories, as well as the stage plays Pro Se, The Feast of the Cannibals, Illegal Alien, Don Juan in Despair, and Infidel!