The Italian American Alliance Defending Columbus and Exposing the Lies of Howard Zinn

Two Thousand Three Hundred and  52 Members
           The dumb thugs who vandalized the statues of Christopher Columbus in Boston and in other places made a serious mistake. In their minds, they thought that Italian Americans would become depressed and quietly surrender our Heritage to them. All it proved was that they are wrong and dumb.
         What the statue’s vandals accomplished was to outrage Italian Americans as well as our very many friends. It has taken us to a firmer resolve. The bigotry that the fake historian and liar Howard Zinn imposed upon Italian Americans who identify with Columbus is incalculable.
         Statues can always be restored and put back in place. The true task ahead is to save our children from the poisonous writing of Liar Zinn’s ‘Peoples’ History of the United States’. This means we must embark on the path of teaching teachers, and influencing School Committees. Mary Grabar’s best selling ‘Debunking Howard Zinn’ will be an important part of that effort. (The book, which is winning rave reviews by historians, is difficult to find since it has already sold out of its first two printings –however, a new hardcover edition is due out in July and a paperback edition is due to be out in August.)
         With 2.6 million copies of Liar Zinn’s trash sold to the public schools every year, there’s a lot of money on the other side. So, it will be a tough fight – but it’s a fight worth having. Otherwise, the disease of Marxist Socialism that Liar Zinn promotes will infect more children.
         Meanwhile, we take this opportunity to present once again a condensed series of the true Christopher Columbus by the noted anthropologist Dr. Carol Delaney.
Editor’s Note: Readers interested in this series may purchase “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem” by Carol Delaney at your local book store. If it’s sold out, insist to have them order a copy for you from Free Press – a Division of Simon & Schuster.
                  As you know, many people are calling to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day –indeed some cities and towns have already done so.
I have no problem with an Indigenous Peoples’ Day but I am very much opposed to it as a replacement for Columbus Day. We need to learn more about Indigenous peoples, but people also need to know more about Columbus.
Most people, even professors, know very little about him. Before I began my research, I too, knew hardly anything except “that in 1492 he sailed across the ocean blue.” I never imagined I would write a book about him.
Here is how it began.
In the fall of 1999 I was teaching a class at Stanford called “Millennial Fever” in order to observe the apocalyptic frenzy that was gripping the United States over the turn of the millennium. We also explored the history of the religious underpinnings of apocalyptic millennial thought. In one of the readings I came across a tiny footnote about Columbus’s apocalyptic millennial beliefs.
I was stunned. I had never heard of this, nor had any of the historians at Stanford. I was intrigued since a lot of my academic work has focused on religion [critically].
I started to read some books about Columbus but quickly became dissatisfied because NONE of them mentioned his religious beliefs, certainly not his apocalyptic beliefs. Instead they seemed to treat him as if he were just like us and only his clothes and his ships were different.
And that is a problem.
I am an anthropologist and our purpose is to try to understand people in their cultural context because that influences how they think and how they act. People during Columbus’s time didn’t think of separate/different religions –there was only one true belief and way of life –the Christian way. Other beliefs and life ways were simply false.
Anthropologists generally study living cultures [my own fieldwork, for example, was conducted in a Turkish village] but if “the past is another country” as the saying goes, it seemed reasonable that I could visit Columbus’s world. I began to read a lot about 14th and 15th century Europe to get a sense of the world into which he was born.
1.    First, the universe was very small and the earth was at the center—the sun, the moon, and stars revolved around the earth.
2.    The earth had only three parts: Europe, Africa, and Asia –thought to have been peopled by the 3 sons of Noah!
3.    Jerusalem was at the center where the 3 parts met.
4.    People believed that there were only 7 millennia to the Earth’s existence – one millennium for each day of creation and people thought the End was near. Columbus had twice figured out how many years were left.
5.    Before the End of the world, Jerusalem had to be in Christian hands for that was where Christ would come in judgement. It was the duty of Christians to evangelize and try to convert non-Christians so they could be saved. It was an outrage that Jerusalem was held by Muslims.
6.    Although a number of crusades had been launched to recapture it, none had succeeded. As a boy, Columbus witnessed a crusade launched from Genoa –perhaps that is where he first got the idea.
[BY THE WAY: Columbus makes clear in several places that he was born in Genoa. In his will, he left money in the bank in Genoa to care for the people in his lineage…”since from it I came, and in it I was born.”]
People thought the end was near because of several events: The Bubonic Plague took the lives of 25 to 50 million people, and there were still outbreaks of it. There was also a schism in the Catholic Church whereby there were two Popes – one in Avignon and one in Rome and the schism was not resolved until the 15th century.
But the capstone to all of these turbulent events was the conquest of Constantinople by Muslims in 1453. This was devastating especially to the Genoese because they had a large trading colony there.
Muslims were clearly in the ascendant. Now they blocked not only the overland pilgrimage rout to Jerusalem but also cut off the trade route to the riches of the East that had been established by Franciscans and especially Marco Polo. Columbus’s copy of Polo’s Travels is well annotated and is one of the nine books from the library that still exist.
Columbus had a large library, and he knew three languages – Genoese, Latin, and Castilian Spanish. Genoese was not a written language so Columbus’s writings are mostly in Castilian Spanish and a few in Latin. Yet I still hear people, including TV news people, claim that Columbus was illiterate!!
Marco Polo, as well as the Franciscans, believed that the Grand Khan of Cathay [what we think of as China] was interested in Christianity, for he had asked that friars be sent to instruct him and his subjects. Some, like Polo and then Columbus, began to think that perhaps the Grand Khan could be persuaded to launch a crusade from the East as the Europeans marched from the West to recapture Jerusalem!!
Because the overland route to the East was blocked, most thought the only alternative was to sail down the coast of Africa to reach the Indian Ocean. This was the route explored by the Portuguese. Columbus had sailed with them a number of times but he was already thinking of going West across the ocean because Marco Polo said the landmass of Asia was huge and thus the ocean separating it from Europe must be quite narrow.
While sailing to Iceland for the Portuguese Columbus had experienced eastward flowing currents. Later when he passed the Canary Islands he felt westward flowing ones and decided that would be the place to start a westward crossing. Columbus petitioned the Portuguese to sponsor the voyage but since they were making progress taking the route around Africa they were not interested.
Columbus did not give up: he sent his brother to England while he went to Spain. His wife had died and now Columbus had his young son Diego in tow; together they sailed to the Port of Palos de la Frontera, from where, 7 years later, the first voyage would depart. They arrived sometime in the summer of 1485 and climbed up to the Franciscan monastery of La Rabida. Columbus had always been partial to the Franciscans and his friends noted that he was a passionate man of ardent faith. For example, Bartholome de las Casas knew Columbus and said this about his faith:
    “He observed the fasts of the church most faithfully, confessed
and made communion often, read the canonical offices, like a member of a religious order, hated blasphemy and swearing and was most devoted to Our Lady and St. Francis and was grateful to God for benefits received and was especially devoted to the idea that God should deem him worthy of aiding somewhat in recovering the Holy Sepulcher.”
Columbus and Diego were well received at La Rabida and lived there for several years while the monks worked on getting him an audience with Queen Isabella.
[I have visited La Rabida and the current monks are very proud of their connection to Columbus; they have preserved, relatively intact, several rooms where Columbus spent time.]
               Columbus met Isabella in May 1486. She was clearly taken with him. She, too, was partial to the Franciscans, and was also interested in the recovery of Jerusalem as her grandfather and uncle had made that pilgrimage. She was quick to agree with Columbus’s plan because the Pope had given to Portugal all the land along the coast of Africa [as well as the right to enslave any Muslims or pagans they encountered.] That decree is known as Romanus Pontifex.
         Isabella submitted Columbus’s proposal to a committee for further study. It would be a long wait. During this time, Columbus met Beatriz de Harana. Though the daughter of peasants she was educated and could read and write –qualities that appealed to Columbus. They soon became a couple and in 1488 their son Ferdinand was born.
         In 1490 the Commission rejected Columbus’s proposal. So did a second commission. Columbus had been waiting 6 years and thinking about his project for a decade. He decided to go to France and was already on the road when a confidant of the Queen rushed to find him and brought him back telling Isabella she was losing a great opportunity at little cost.
         She signed the papers in April11492 and told the people of Palos to prepare ships for the voyage. As you know these were the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.
         Once underway Columbus began to keep a diary –very unusual at the time, since not all sailors could write, and even if they could, they jotted down only wind, direction, and speed. At the beginning of the diary he recapitulated his understanding of the voyage. He wrote that he hoped to meet the person who “is called the Grand Kahn which means in our Spanish language “King of Kings”. To see how the conversion to our Holy Faith might be undertaken because so many times he had asked for men learned in our Holy Faith in order that they might instruct him in it and how the Holy Father had never provided them; and thus so many people were lost, falling into idolatry and accepting false and harmful sects. And you commanded that I should NOT go to the East by way of land. But by the route to the West,….by which route we do not know for certain that anyone previously has passed.”
The purpose of the voyage was to set up a trading post to obtain gold and spices that would finance the crusade. There was absolutely no intention of enslaving or killing the people belonging to the greatest empire in the world.
Finally, on August 3, 1492 the small fleet slipped away from Palos into the unknown. Columbus was confident and began to think of himself as Christ-bearer, like his namesake Christopher, carrying the Christian faith across the waters. But the men were afraid they might run out of food before they reached land and may also run into monstrous races described by Pliny.
Their anxiety increased when the rudder of the Pinto came loose on their way to the Canaries. Then there was an eruption of a volcano on the nearby island of Tenerife – Not good omens. But finally, they set out on the unchartered ocean and sailed due West.
Late in September they got entangled in the Sargasso Sea and saw some birds so they thought they might be approaching land But the crew became anxious and demanded that if they did not find land within three days, they should turn around before they ran out of food. Amazingly, in the next couple of days there were more signs that they were getting close. Late at night on October 11 Rodrigo de Triana, on board the Pinta called out, Tierra –Land. They sat out the night in great anticipation.
Their vigil was rewarded. Early morning a veil of mist opened and Columbus and crew ”saw an island. ..full of green trees and abounding in springs with a large lagoon in the middle.” Columbus was relieved: he had crossed the ocean no one thought possible and done so in 33 days—a feat that few sailors in small boats have surpassed –and had instinctively chosen the route that such sailors continue t follow.
October 12 is the date that Columbus wrote in his Diary but –he was using the Julian calendar whereas we use the Gregorian which was not adopted until 1582. Between the two is a difference of 10 days.
So, actually our holiday commemorates a day when he was still at sea.
The crew scrambled ashore, kissed the ground, and thanked God for bringing them safely across the great water. Columbus called it San Salvador for their salvation.
Soon “a multitude of people hastened to the shore astounded and marveling at the sight of the ships.”
Columbus’s impulse towards the people was one of benevolence and friendship motivated by a concern for their conversion.
“I, in order that they would be friendly to us – because I recognized that they were a people who would be better freed and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force—gave them red caps and glass beads and many other small things in which they took so much pleasure and became so much our friends that it was a marvel.”
They “came swimming to the ships”. And brought us parrots and cotton thread and many other things, and they traded them to us.” Then his description of the people, reflecting an almost anthropological attention to detail, comes across as objective, writing what he saw with his own eyes:
“All of them go around naked as their mothers bore them. They are very well formed, with handsome bodies and good faces. Their hair is coarse. Almost like the tail of a horse – and short except for a little in back which they wear long.”
The natives must have been astonished to see such heavily dressed men with beards since they had very little facial hair. Columbus also marveled at their small swift boats that he would soon call by the native name “canoe”.
We now know that they had arrived in the Bahamas, but Columbus imagined they had landed on one of the many islands described by Marco Polo and was eager to find the land of the Grand Khan.
So they continued on, passing islands all “very green with sweet smelling breezes.”
Columbus’s eyes pained him and his descriptions give a sense of the therapeutic value of their beauty.
“I also walked among those trees, which were more beautiful to see than any other thing that has been seen. I d not know where to go first; nor do my eyes grow tired of seeing such beautiful verdure and so different from ours…and the smell of the flowers or trees that came from the land was so good and soft that it was the sweetest thing in the world.”
He was overwhelmed not only by the beauty of the trees and flowers but also of the fish and the birds and uses the words “marvel” or “marvelous” too many times to count.
He also marveled at the natives’ houses and especially at their “hammocks” which would soon solve the sleeping problems of all sailors.
Columbus also understood that they were not speaking gibberish as so many Europeans attributed to “primitive” peoples but that it was one language and he began to learn some words vowing “that little by little I will progress in understanding and will have this tongue taught to people in my household.”
They headed toward a large island called Cuba which he thought might be Cipango [Japan} and thus thought he would soon reach China because he wrote: “I have decided to go to Quinsay and give Your Highnesses letters to the Grand Khan.”
Columbus noted how generous the natives were and demanded from his men that there be an exchange of goods. This would become a common refrain as the sailors were rapacious. But while he had control of them he said: “ I did not allow anything to be taken, not even the value of a pin.”
         In early December they reached Haiti which he named Hispanola and when those natives came aboard he
“ordered that they should be treated courteously because they are the best and most gentle people in the world, and especially because I have much hope in Our Lord that Your Highnesses will make all of them Christians.”
But he was becoming very much annoyed with his sailors when he sent them ashore to explore and compared them unfavorably with the dignity and generosity of the natives. News of his arrival traveled fast and soon he received an invitation from Guacanagari, chief of another area.
         On December 24 they set out in his direction but they arrived last. So they anchored outside the harbor to wait out the night.
The person on watch was careless and before dawn Columbus felt his ship go aground. They were unable to save the ship and he named the place Navidad because it was “born” from the Santa Maria.
As soon as Guacanagari saw what happened he sent his people to help unload the ship and had their goods safely stored. Columbus invited him to dinner on the Nina but the chief had already ordered a feast for his men and he and Columbus exchanged gifts.
Robert Fuson, one translator of Columbus’s diary wrote:
“Columbus expresses nothing but love and admiration for the Indians. His affection for the young chief Guacanagari, and vice versa is one of the most touching stories of love, trust, and understanding between men of different races and cultures to come out of this period in history.”
Columbus had equally effusive praise for the islanders:
         “I believe that in this world there are no better people or better land. They love their neighbors like themselves, and they have the sweetest speech in the world and are gentle and always laughing.”
To him, they ad already seemed to be natural Christians and he hoped that the friars would be sent to teach them about the faith so they would become true Christians and thus saved.
But his situation was precarious. Martin Minzon, the captain of the Pinta had taken off weeks earlier hoping he would be the first one to fid gold so they had only the tiny Nina left. Some men would have to be left behind while Columbus returned to Spain to get a rescue ship. He wrote in his diary that when he returned hoped to:
         “find a barrel of gold that those left behind would have acquired by exchange; and that they would have found the gold mine and the spicers, and those things in such quantity that the sovereigns, before three years [are over] will undertake and prepare to go  conquer the Holy Sepulcher : for thus I urged Your Highnesses to spend all the profits this my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem.”
The phrase “for thus I urged” implies that they had already discussed the ultimate goal.
         Columbus told the men who would remain to strip the Santa Maria and to build some lodgings for themselves and ordered them to “do no harm to the people and to respect chief Guacanagari to whom they owed so much.” Guacanagari held a farewell feast inviting other chiefs to attend.
On January 4, 1493 Columbus said good bye to the chief and the men who would remain. He also took six of the natives, one of whom was a relative to the chief. He said more wanted to come. They were definitely not slaves as many have claimed. On their way they caught up with Pinzon who had captured “four native men and 2 young girls by force,” and Columbus ordered they be returned to their homes. “
Sometime later they met a very fierce group of natives who attacked them with bows and arrows. These were the Caribs and the natives on board were clearly afraid of them. Columbus noticed that their language, hair styles and body ornamentation were different, as was their demeanor,
One scholar believes that
         “The most advanced concept Columbus offered was that of a cultural region –unified by language and customs”—obviously aware that not all the people he was encountering were the same.