Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Columbus Schmumbus

If there is one holiday that definitely needs to be repurposed, it's today's annual celebration of a murderous idiot. (Visit link for a five minute Adam Ruins Everything.)

The idea of the celebration was initially promoted by Italian Americans who craved recognition in a country that had been dominated by people from northwest Europe. Italians didn't originally have full "white" status. The idea seems to have been that drawing attention to the idea that an Italian had opened the way for European settlement of the Americas would validate their presence here, or something like that.

Of course this required that he be glamorized. Children were told the tale that he alone had the profound insight that the earth is spherical and that it would be possible to sale west from Europe to Asia and bring back highly desirable trade goods, mostly spices. How this idea is consistent with his heroic "discovery" of America is unclear but then again, if you've been reading the Bible with me that shouldn't bother you.

Of course everybody already knew that the earth is spherical. The ancient Greeks knew that and even made a very accurate calculation of its circumference. And based on that knowledge, navigators in the 1400s knew that if they tried to sale west to Asia, it would be something like 12,000 miles away and they would starve to death before they got there. However, Columbus misread a text and he thought the earth was only 2/3 its actual size.

So, when he got to the Caribbean islands he thought he was in India (his geography was bad as well, since obviously he would have been in Japan or China), and the first thing he did was come back with an army and start slaughtering and enslaving the people he called Indians. He never found any gold or spices and he never set foot in North America. He did, however, establish the template for how European invaders would treat the native people and lands.

Also, he wasn't Italian. Italy did not exist at the time, and he did not speak Italian, he spoke Ligurian.

So let's stop honoring one of histories greatest villains. If you want an Italian heritage day, this ain't it.

1 comment:

Don Quixote said...

Columbus Schmumbus, indeed. What a tragedy of errors!