Monday, October 12, 2009

October 12: Columbus' Letter Miraculously Found (Vol. 43, pp. 21-27)

A 1493 letter from Christopher Columbus to Luis de Saint Angel about his voyage to the New World is today's reading. It is impossible to read this now, knowing Columbus' sordid record of genocide and enslavement.

Few historical figures have been so thoroughly demythologized than Columbus. Where once he was a hero, today we see him as one of the most despicable characters in the history of our nation. Even in this letter, you can see how gold was the primary motivation for everything he does and how the inhabitants he finds on these islands are treated as inferiors to be exploited.

A century ago, few gave a thought to what sort of society the indigenous peoples of the New World had. It was automatically assumed that European values were superior and that the natives needed to be converted to Christianity. The subjugation of the godless savages was seen as a necessary and heroic act critical to the advancement of humanity.

This is now rightly seen as anything but heroic. All but the most reactionary see the acts of Columbus and his fellow explorers for what they really were — the original sin that still stains the soul of America.

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