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COMMENTARY: Clarifying the Columbus 'cancel' controversy

COMMENTARY: Clarifying the Columbus 'cancel' controversy

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PHOTO: Columbus statue in lake

Vandals tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus in Richmond’s Byrd Park and threw it in the lake.

ONCE again, the legacy of Christopher Columbus has come under unreasonable attacks in many parts of our land. It is time that all people, especially Italian Americans, become aware of the hidden origins of this anti-Columbian movement, the motives of the original instigators, and the propaganda they have used to make a villain out of one of the world’s great heroes.

Our examination begins with the protests of the 1960s, which included a very militant American Indian Movement. Spurred on by AIM and its allies, concern for all indigenous peoples resulted in a low-level Geneva meeting of international non-governmental organizations in 1977 that decided that Columbus Day would not be replaced, but be marked as a day of international solidarity with indigenous peoples.

So Columbus unjustly became the symbol for all indigenous protest, and was blamed for almost everything that followed in the European colonization of the Americas!

The conference’s resolutions condemned continued settlement of immigrants on indigenous lands (presumably in Mexico and territories south to Argentina) and ured 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. Their propaganda idealized simple, even primitive, lifestyles of Native Americans that still resonate with rebellious youth—and others—in the U.S. today.

However, barring a cataclysm, such lifestyles have no chance of widespread rejuvenation.They hark back to the timeless agricultural village society which has endured from neolithic times. But 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.

Delegates called for cultural and political revolution with demands for self-determination, concluding that existing nation–states in the Americas had to be replaced with new nations and a new social order.

Apparently, not one government in the Americas was legitimate.

The Quito conference also 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 first Bush administration 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 could cost him some votes.

Meanwhile, prompted by agitators, Berkeley, Calif., introduced Indigenous People’s Day as a substitute for Columbus Day in 1992. A small group, 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. Some activist “leaders” like Ward Churchill claimed to be part-Indian, but their claims have been vigorously disputed by various tribal groups. Churchill is best known for labeling the murdered workers in the 9/11 attacks as “little Eichmanns.”

And Jimmy Durham, godfather of the 1977 Geneva NGO meeting, has been described in Cherokee publications as 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 and appears ad infinitum in revised public school curriculums depicting Columbus as a major villain.

Though sometimes praised for its novel approach to history, his 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 that 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 in the modern day. Few if any members of the university professoriate would stand up against Zinn’s distorted history for fear of being “canceled.”

Zinn and others use 16th century author Bartolomeo de Las Casas as a main source. But Zinn often quotes what he wants, using ellipses (...) to convey his desired meaning without any context.

One example given to me by a Puerto Rican translator of old Spanish: Columbus is supposed to have said of the Indians, “...They would make good servants...”, implying his intention to make them slaves.

But a 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 translations of de Las Casas may produce similar re-evaluations, proving Columbus was not the villain he is made out to be.

We must understand how, when, where and why this anti-Columbus movement began, and use this information to attack erroneous, agenda-driven history.

Cancelling Columbus does nothing to help indigenous peoples. Nor does toppling his statues. We need a blue ribbon panel of historians, linguistic experts, educators and representatives of interested ethnic societies to reconsider the Columbus controversy.

Let the truth be heard!

Silvio Laccetti, a retired professor of history at Stevens Tech in New Jersey, is also a syndicated columnist.

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