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“Columbus and Western Civilization” by Howard Zinn

“Who controls the past controls the future. And who controls the present controls the past.”

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By the above quote, it is meant that Orwell claims those historians to be in power who govern our society. Only such historians who lead the society through their deeds or words are in a position to make necessary amendments in the past as well as they possess the authority to prevail in our future. By necessary amendments I do not mean ‘historical incidences’ but those viewpoints that are never mentioned. An example is what Zinn has mentioned in his book “Columbus and Western Civilization” on page 90 that such authors who dominate our society ignore those people who they never wanted to attain and relate to any historical significance like black slaves, immigrants, working women, and so on (Zinn, 1997, p. 90). Zinn explains this notion while referring to his knowledge about Columbus and creates a bridge between American history and ideology to explain Orwell’s claim in detail and declares that it is only the viewpoint that matters to the historian.

This is what Columbus thought of “Indians” and therefore today we find no historical memoirs of Indians, but only we can find traces of their leftovers if we realize Columbus’s journey to the Bahamas. However what Columbus has paid tribute to and mentioned ‘admiring’ in his journal is the Native Americans, to which he further declares as ‘honest’ and ‘liberals’. That elucidates to a common man what Columbus has claimed Native Americans, only deserve to survive in American historical pages, the rest is all waste. Historians like Samuel Eliot Morison and Harvard writes in Columbus biography in a way which one finds easier to criticize than how Columbus was held responsible for the depopulation in 1942. Despite a huge number of killings of the original natives, Columbus remained unable to find enough gold to send his home to inspire Spanish King and Queen; therefore he continued his voyage by taking slaves with him, which later, historians have remained unable to cover brutal acts.

Abduction or Discovery

It is obvious that Columbus ruled our past; if he had not then the historians of the quincentenary had not been found sympathizing with the indigenous peoples of the past who had suffered. Columbus followers would have been hard put to find words to express the understandable hatred felt for the Mexicans and Indians. The main reason for their reluctance, however, is because the interest of these writers in the events of 1492 derives only in small part from any real sympathy they might have for the natives and far more from their fervor to adopt a politically correct stance against their own society. Zinn writes that the way we teach our younger generations the lessons of plurality and diversity does not go along with the pride of our “free society”. Therefore our generations only see one side of the facts related to Columbus, the other side they never see since they never have been taught. It is important to understand the difference between ‘taking hold off’ and ‘discovery’ and unfortunately we have remained unable to teach our children this difference because our leaders have omitted the difference from our minds and have always presented one ‘dominating’ standpoint.

Columbus attempted to restore order in a way most ugly. In most of the wars, he utterly ignored acts of generosity thereby deceiving Europeans, Indians, and Mexicans who had repeatedly rendered to keep him and his men alive. Columbus not only turned on his hosts and sent troops out to hunt them down with superior weapons and war dogs, but in no time, Columbus selected the best specimens of men and women to be herded vessels and locked in below decks for shipment to the slave market. Of course this way Columbus ruled the week and shattered and allowed any Christian could take as many as he wanted.

Controversies of the Natives

Even if we think about telling the truth of ‘discovery’ to children, it would falsify the facts that historians have claimed. For this reason, Orwell’s claim is true. Zinn mentions this issue while acknowledging the extent to which children are exposed to history that even Columbia Encyclopedia mentions about his discoveries thereby paying attribute to Columbus in 1000 words but not a single word on atrocities committed by him. History has been changed to the extent where crimes by Columbus and his men are regarded as ‘controversies of the native people’. Zinn writes “Carnages by Columbus which include enslavement, forced labor, rape, murder, diseases carried from Europe and the wiping of huge numbers of native people are named as ‘contradictory disputes’, which to this day are rarely acknowledged by writers and scholars” (Zinn, 1997, p. 486).

History has been altered, modified, and reshaped by such people who came to control not only the past, present, and future of the generations but in such a manner that made them think they have bought history for some bucks of ink. Chauncey DePew according to Zinn, witnessed Columbus’s self-celebration at the time when the working poor class of America felt it hard to survive. In their huddled slums, children were sick and malnutrition when Columbus was involved in celebrating his success.

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Patriotism or unpatriotic

Columbus was patriotic because patriotism to him was conquest, expansion, and victory of America. The trend goes on and only after six years, Spain was expelled from Cuba thereby undertaking Puerto Rico and Hawaii, thus a new era of war began to which today we salute Columbus for shouldering the war trend. This so-called patriotism escorted us to the Second World War and was reinforced by the United States as the superpower and to which 1988 was declared as ‘American Century’. Columbus’s celebrations to this day are considered patriotic for they showed a new dark era to the United States in which she learned one thing “War, destruction, and celebration”.

Slavery and Racial segregation

The forced migration of Africans shouldered by Columbus is still to this day has created the unending marks of slavery and racism in the American society. The concern is never signified to how this forced migration became one of the great crimes against humanity in world history, that today its hazards have made Africans, as well as Europeans, participate in its ‘rewards’. The Columbus expeditions marked the transition from savagery to civilization for which the United States continued the footsteps by capturing through unethical means the Indians’ land and property, slaughtering them, destroying the sources of food, and escorting them towards a destructive society. This way Columbus teaches the new generation how to be civilized and his footsteps are still followed by the American political leaders whenever there is a concern for bringing in ‘civilization’ to the country.

What we have learned from Columbus expeditions is the notion that how characteristics of color, stature, and speech mark off and distinguishes one people from another. This, of course, is neither an argument for nor a justification of, any feeling of superiority on the part of any race. That certain misinformed people have relied upon their peculiar racial characteristics in asserting an alleged superiority over another race is unfortunate. A common notion is that only by education can this unwarranted assumption be dispelled but how adverse is the concept that our leaders presented to us that despite educating our generations we have remained unable to turn their minds to accept some bitter truths.

Truths about our past leaders, those who have purchased the pages of history and have ruled through our past and present. The animosity arising from this misinformation and want of education can be observed, not only in Detroit but wherever different races are thrown together. Of present concern to this committee, however, is the increasing tendency among certain hoodlum elements in Detroit, both white and Negro, openly to flaunt established social order in combating this animosity. Certainly, no criticism is to be made of the honest efforts of responsible leaders, both Negro and white, who seek by lawful means the removal of unjust barriers between the races. But it is equally certain that vigorous criticism should be directed to those irresponsible leaders, who by their words and conduct, actively inspire among their followers a disregard for the law, order, and judicial process, in seeking the racial equality to which they are entitled.

The relationship suggested by Zinn between ideology and history provides a comprehensive account of how the dominant leaders have ruled throughout generations. It is said that behind the success of Columbus were Jews who helped him in many ways. The rejection of ideology seems particularly bizarre in a nation whose political culture, from its very beginnings, has been suffered from historical influences and symbols. Our ideology is built by observing such ‘patriotic’ dominant leaders who were more or fewer snatchers. Most Americans believe that such leaders have a hand in rescuing their nation, and consider those whose history and destiny have been uniquely shaped and enhanced by American heroes. They are unaware of the other end of the story. They are unaware because such leaders have brainwashed our ideology for not seeking the truth. The truth escorts us towards leaders like Columbus who are responsible for the mass destruction of humanity. Heroes like Christopher Columbus that only taught us to ruin and betray other nations, who left ideal footsteps for our ‘patriotic’ politicians who only concern about imposing sanctuaries for a common man, model of democracy, and so-called God-given human rights and benevolence to the world’s suffering peoples.

Any ideology or public theology that fails to deal with this paradoxical and materialistic complex is bound to be captive to the interests of the rich and insensitive to the suffering of the poor. This is what we have learned throughout decades, that to rule the poor or to deprive him of his rights. The imperative of ideological reconstruction derives especially from this concept that the United States of America is the richest country in the world, with the richest personalities in the world, at a time when the great gulf between the rich and the poor, in both America and the world-at-large, and since America discovery, this region is supposed to expand catastrophically, whether by hook or by crook. All the human flesh-and-blood facts that neither the present rhetoric of American politics nor the present priorities of the American government seem prepared to recognize are behind the great discoveries.

Loopholes exist since the fundamentalism was nurtured in the early decades of American identity a sociological orientation that would persist through all the generations of industrialization and urbanization and continue to shape majoritarian attitudes even when the poverty shrank to a single-digit minority. Although the protocols have been many times effectually exploded, what they contain and the manner of their production shed much light upon the character of Columbus’s agitation to the extent he used reference for Christians in demand. The Christians have not merely been attacked because they were Christians but sometimes they have been assailed in order to promote some political or social purpose, which did not primarily concern them. The Christian racist factor as confessed by the mythical historians, in effect cherished the purpose of producing revolution, overturning government, destroying Indians and Mexican culture and civilization, and in general of propagating the diseases of which all the world is now so mortally sick and, in some inscrutable fashion, out of it all, to secure the dominion of the world for their own religion. This way Columbus presented before us a light of hope to rule the world.

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This is surely a very ambitious program thus to be formally acknowledged by these historians and so obligingly delivered over to the enemies of the religious groups, with the result of fomenting agitation against the race. We are taught to believe that the Christians now inhabiting the earth seek to sacrifice themselves and subordinate their own interests entirely to the interests of the Christians of the future, whose power and glory they are thus attempting to secure.

Today historians mention the forced displacement that was initiated by Columbus and which deprived Africans of their native land, this is still marked as a wound of cultural prominence in the African and African American racial memory. How could we stop our generations from not seeing their founders as those brutal personalities that brought middle passages all the massacre voyages from Africa to the Americas in the belly of slave ships and lays bare the intricate mechanisms that facilitate not only the ruptures of a spiritual and cultural wholeness but also the formation of a linguistic system of suffering framed in the borderlands of the scar? It has only made us familiarize ourselves with a new era of bondage and suffering that as long as African Americans remain, would make them cause psychological and physical wounding of the black body in transit in the watery passages.

Columbus – a dominant leader has not only ruled our minds but also our bodies who fear and are threatened with starvation. No education, no literacy, living under the heaviest handicaps if they were permitted to live at all, and when they succeeded in accumulating property it was liable to be taken from them by force. Businesses that were unregulated were lending money by individuals illustrated the most atrocious abuses conducted under Columbus shelter. If this is what America has gained so far, then it is better to stop looking forward towards ‘civilization’ and initiate a new era of understanding not the whites, the blacks, Mexicans, or Spaniards but humans. If we are to comprehend and fill up the gap created between real history and ideology, we have to understand the role of ‘nation’ in American civilization, we must look beyond the nation’s desire for practical accomplishments. It is especially important that we do so at a time when every man’s life is profoundly affected by the actions taken by our politicians and leaders and at a time when the national government has assumed direct responsibility for understanding the need of humanity.

Work Cited

Howard Zinn, (1997) The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy: Seven Stories Press, pp.479-498.

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