Excerpt: “A People’s History of the United States“
by Howard Zinn
When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure. There is no bloodshed. Columbus Day is a celebration.
Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else…
Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, was the most distinguished writer on Columbus, the author of a multi-volume biography, and was himself a sailor who retraced Columbus’s route across the Atlantic. In his popular book “Christopher Columbus, Mariner” written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing:
That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book’s last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:
He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great-his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and in his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most outstanding and essential of all his qualities-his seamanship.
One can lie outright about the past.
Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions.
Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide. But he does something else: he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him.
Outright lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer.
To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important. It should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.
How do you feel about America’s celebration of Christopher Columbus?
How do think they feel about it?