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Was Columbus an imperialist or not?

Christopher Columbus’ arrival on a small Bahamian island in 1492 is often judged to be a defining moment in the history of mankind, changing forever the map of the world. Kirkpatrick Sale offers readers a unique take on Columbus and his legacy, separating the man from the legend. Sale also looks at the global consequences of the discovery, revealing the colossal impact this brief moment in history had not only on a continent but also on the world. The book gives a great overview of a “new world “.

The European conquest of two giant continents, Columbus was backed by Ferdinand and Isabella, the king and queen of Spain , who presided over one of the most murderous regimes in Renaissance Europe. They gave us both the Spanish Inquisition and the most brutal campaign against the Jews prior to Hitler’s holocaust. The book shows Columbus as the product of a sickly and dispirited Europe convinced of the impending end of the world. It reveals him to be a rootless and lonely man who had difficulty getting along with his fellow Europeans and had little or no understanding of the lands he discovered and later governed.

The book also dispels many enduring myths, such as how Queen Isabella supposedly pawned her jewels to finance his voyage, tales of mutinous sailors who believed the world was flat, and how Columbus supposedly died in obscure poverty. Not so many years ago, Christopher Columbus was a national hero. Now, with the quincentenary of his landing, a different picture of Columbus is emerging. To Kirkpatrick Sale, he was rapacious, homicidal, very likely insane, the Mister Kurtz of the so-called Age of Discovery.

Anticipating the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus’s famous first voyage to the Caribbean, Kirkpatrick Sale offers us in ”The Conquest of Paradise” a learned, lopsided account of the discoverer’s career, and of what he calls the ”Columbian legacy” of environmental destructiveness. Convinced that altering the natural environment is wicked, and attributing the vast changes that have come to American landscapes since 1492 to Columbus’s example, he has set out to destroy the heroic image that earlier writers have transmitted to us. Mr.

Sale makes Columbus out to be cruel, greedy and incompetent (even as a sailor), and a man who was perversely intent on abusing the natural paradise on which he intruded. Greed and cruelty were indeed characteristics of the first European adventurers who invaded the New World, and Mr. Sale, the author of the book and an environmental activist has combed the relevant documents and secondary literature to show that Columbus shared these traits with those who came after him. No doubt this is a useful corrective to the hero worship Columbus has often been accorded. But uncritical adulation and the lambasting that Mr.

Sale administers are both unhistorical, in the sense that they select from the often cloudy record of Columbus’s actual motives and deeds what suits the researcher’s 20th-century purposes. That sort of history caricatures the complexity of human reality by turning Columbus into either a bloody ogre or a plaster saint, as the case may be. The book falls into four distinct parts. The first eight chapters, representing a little over half the entire work, describe Columbus’s career in the Americas from 1492 to his death, putting rather more emphasis on his unhappy efforts at governing the new lands than on his seamanship and discoveries.

In the next three chapters Mr. Sale describes the transmission of Columbus’s bad habits to England and to the English colonists of what became the United States. In this way he plants the ”Columbian legacy” of environmental destruction squarely in our own backyard. Then he devotes a chapter to lyrical praise of the natural, environmentally sound life led by the millions of Indians who inhabited the New World before Columbus arrived. Finally, he concludes with a very interesting chapter on the way Columbus’s reputation has altered across the centuries.

This last chapter was, by far the best part of the book. It is learned and, as far as one can tell, unbiased. It shows how poets, publicists, politicians and historians have twisted the figure of Columbus to suit their different purposes (just as Mr. Sale himself has done). A conspicuously Roman Catholic seaman from Genoa who served the Spaniards was an odd hero for the new American republic to latch onto in the 1780’s, yet that is when Columbus entered our national iconography.

In our own century he has become the patron saint of Italian-American ethnicity. Mr. Sale summarizes the surprising sea changes Columbus has endured, but says little about why he was chosen for such roles, or why the record lends itself so well to radical, protean reshaping like the one he himself has perpetrated. The most ridiculous passages of the book are concentrated in Chapter 12, which purports to show how American Indian society, technology, religion and ethics were all superior to their European counterparts.

Mr. Sale treats the varied ways of life that actually prevailed in the Americas as if all Indians were the same, and confuses time as well by quoting late-20th-century Indian spokesmen as though their words applied universally to every tribe and people. A sample of his many absurd statements will suffice to suggest the tone of this chapter: ”Indian societies had a variety of technologies, some quite sophisticated and many well beyond anything comparable in Europe at the time . . .

and certainly could have developed others if they felt any need to do so, particularly in regard to food supply. If they did not, there was likely to be a good reason: if they did not anywhere use the plow, for instance, that may have been because their methods of breaking the soil with a planting stick worked just as well with a tenth of the effort, or because they had learned that opening up and turning over whole fields would only decrease nutrients and increase erosion, or because their thought-world would not have allowed such disregardful violence.

” It seems obvious to me that the absence from the American scene of domesticated animals capable of pulling a plow had more to do with Indian use of digging sticks than their putative knowledge of how plowing increases erosion. And I am perfectly sure that anyone who ever used a digging stick would not agree that it produces equivalent results with one-tenth of the effort required for walking behind a plow!

Silly remarks and callow, sweeping judgments disfigure the rest of the book as well, and tend to obscure a few worthwhile challenges to received opinions that Mr. Sale scatters through his pages. On the positive side, I was struck, for instance, by his argument that Columbus recognized that he had in fact discovered a new continent in the course of his fourth (and final) voyage, and by the importance Mr. Sale gives to the discovery of a lode of gold-bearing ore in Hispaniola in 1499. Yet there is no ignoring the negative side.

Consider the following characterization of European agriculture: ”Cultivated lands were harvested over and over, often with four and five crops a year, and although fallow systems and manuring were in general use everywhere, yields were perennially inadequate, harvest failures frequent, and crop efficiencies low. . . . In the aftermath of both over farming and overgrazing, the thin soils gave themselves quickly to erosion by both wind and water, and despite subsequent reclamation in the nineteenth century the legacy still can be seen today throughout the Mediterranean and in much of France and Germany.

” Europe’s devastation, according to Mr. Sale, collided with a New World ”as close to Paradise as non-celestial existence has,” with the sad result that we are all now banished from Eden and can only clamber back inside the Garden if we are willing to go to the Indians and learn from their environmental wisdom. ”It was salvation then, it might possibly be salvation now. Certainly there is no other. ” Thus spoke the Prophet Kirkpatrick Sale, whose saving message requires him to rewrite the past so as to change the future – perhaps.

In this lively and pugnacious argument with those who insist on denigrating Columbus as the representative of an exploitative, colonialist Europe, Robert Royal presses hard to answer the criticisms, but a sarcastic tone complicates his attempt to be persuasive. Thus, he asserts that “Despite the complicity of religious individuals in some atrocities, Christianity in general was not a moral or spiritual pathogen. ” Royal deplores the brutality and greed that accompanied the conquest, and cites the attempts to mitigate these evils.

Trying to answer the question whether Columbus was an imperialist or not Kirkpatrick Sale the author of “The Conquest of paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy “, says that he was and Robert Royal the author of “1492 and All: The Political Manipulation of History “says- no, Kirkpatrick Sale, a contributing editor of The Nation, characterizes Christopher Columbus as an imperialist who was determined to conquer both the land and the people he encountered during his first voyage to the Americas in 1492.

Robert Royal, vice president for research at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, objects to Columbus’s modern-day critics and insists that Columbus should be admired for his courage, his willingness to take a risk, and his success in advancing knowledge about other parts of the world. FICTION: COLUMBUS DID NOT DISCOVER THE AMERICAS. THE VIKINGS DID. FACT: In 1950, a map surfaced in Europe that shows the “Island of Vinland” in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. The map’s text in Medieval Latin explains that Leif Erickson and his Vikings Found Vinland in the year 1000 A.

D. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C. , dates the map’s parchment to around 1434 A. D. – nearly 60 years before Columbus’s first voyage. But when researchers at London’s University College used a laser technique to test the map’s ink, they found it contained a Chemical substance called anatase, which was not synthesized until 1923, proving that the map is a forgery. Did Columbus “discover” America? In every significant way, he did. Even if others visited the continent sporadically before he did, their voyages had no historical significance.

Columbus’s voyages, however, marked the end of thousands of years of isolation between the Western Hemisphere and the rest of the world. The recorded history of the Americas and the Caribbean starts with Columbus. Columbus’s voyages contributed to the emergence of the modern world, in making it possible for the first time in history for all people to be in contact with one another. FICTION: COLUMBUS FOUND SOPHISTICATED NATIVE CIVILIZATIONS. FACT: Most of the native tribes Columbus found were hunter-gatherers who engaged in bloody tribal wars and, in the case of the Arawaks, Caribs and Canibs, slavery, torture and Cannibalism.

To survive, the native populations depended on “slash-and-burn” cultivation of the land along with hunting, fishing and collecting edible wild plants, seeds and shellfish. They had no written language, history or literature. In their struggle for survival, these peoples were not the environmental exemplars they are mistakenly portrayed today as having been. FICTION: COLUMBUS WAS IN THE SLAVE TRADE. FACT: Columbus never owned any slaves or brought any to the Western Hemisphere from Africa.

Following his second voyage in 1493, however, Columbus and his men won a battle with some of the native tribes on the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Columbus took 300 natives prisoners and sent them to Spain to be held for ransom, as was the custom in the 15th century with prisoners of war. The Spanish monarchs sent the natives back since there was no chance they could ever be ransomed. Columbus never again sent prisoners of war to Spain. Columbus found that slavery was practiced in the Caribbean by the native tribes.

The Caribs and Canibs made slaves of the tribes they conquered and also ate their victims. In fact, the Spanish arrival in the New World was the decisive factor that eventually ended the practices of human sacrifice and cannibalism. FICTION: COLUMBUS WAS A RACIST. FACT: No evidence indicates that Columbus thought the islanders he met were racially inferior in any way. In fact, in the journal of his first voyage, Columbus describes the Tainos and other tribes as “well-made with fine shapes and faces… their eyes were large and very beautiful… straight-limbed without exception and handsomely shaped….

” He praises their generosity, innocence and intelligence, saying they could “readily become Christians as they have a good understanding. ” Initially, Columbus had friendly relations with the people he found in the West Indies. These relations soured after his second voyage when he found the colony of men he had left behind had been slaughtered and possibly eaten by the Caribs. FICTION: COLUMBUS COMMITTED GENOCIDE. FACT: The destruction of the native populations of the Western Hemisphere over the centuries is a complex historical tragedy. No one knows exactly how many people were here when the Europeans arrived.

The numbers vary from 8 million to 145 million. Many researchers believe the number to be around 40 million. Columbus made four voyages to the Caribbean in a ten-year period (1492-1502), spending only a few months each time (except for the year he was shipwrecked on his fourth voyage. ) It is inconceivable that he could have killed millions of people in so short a time. In fact, other than a few armed skirmishes neither Columbus nor his men had any violent episodes at all. Responsibility for the deaths of many thousands of natives can justly be attributed to the Spanish conquistadors and other Europeans who followed Columbus here.

FICTION: COLUMBUS DESTROYED THE BALANCE BETWEEN MAN & NATURE. FACT: Columbus and the other Europeans brought with them Old World agricultural techniques, including crop rotation and animal breeding. They also introduced new tools (including the wheel) as well as new plants and domesticated animals, including the horse. These imports led to improved farming methods, a greater diversity of crops and a more dependable food supply that benefited the native populations. Perfected over the centuries, they have helped make the nations in the Western Hemisphere a significant source of food for the rest of the world.

FICTION: COLUMBUS AND OTHER EUROPEANS STOLE THE NATIVES LAND. FACT: A sad fact of human civilization is that powerful nations usurp the land of the vanquished. The Spanish conquistadors who followed Columbus in the 16th and 17thcenturies were establishing an empire through military conquest. The arrival of Columbus in the Western Hemisphere more than 500 years ago enriched Western civilization in ways that is still measurable. From the above detailed discussions and finding of facts and dismissal of fiction we can safely conclude that Columbus was not an imperialist, but an adventurer and a great explorer of the new world.It was the mere condition and the passing of the times that must have lead to this misconception.

References

• Kirkpatrick Sale. The Conquest Of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy. • 1492 and all that: Political Manipulations of History http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_n21_v44/ai_12933143 • Ward Churchill. Deconstructing the Columbus Myth. October, 2002. http://www. uctp. org/ColumbusMyth. html • George McNamee. The Conquest Of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian

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