"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue."
Every year in grade school we would celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, who had set out to prove the earth was round. We drew the blue sky and the gray-green water separated by a line we called the horizon. Sitting on this line were the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. We marked Oct. 12 in that year as the day America was discovered. It would be more accurate for us to believe that was the day we began collecting lies about America, its founding, its history (good and bad) and have continued to this day in spite of reality and the truth. We did not receive the updated version: "In 1493, Columbus stole all he could see."
• Columbus set out to prove the earth was round. No. Columbus and others of that age knew the earth was round; flat earth theory went out with Aristotle...look at the statue of Atlas holding the earth on his shoulder in 100 BCE...it is a globe not a disk. Eratosthenes, a Greek philosopher, astronomer and mathematician, calculated the circumference of the earth to within 1% of accuracy.
• The ships were the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. No. The ships were the Santa Clara (nicknamed Nina meaning "little girl"); the Pinta (a rename of Pintada, meaning "the painted one/prostitute"); the Santa Gallega (nicknamed Santa Maria after a local prostitute, Maria Galante).
• Columbus died penniless and in prison. No. He was imprisoned for six weeks for his crimes, torture and cruelty, but he was pardoned, and his wealth and freedom restored.
• Columbus discovered America. No. The Vikings were in North America by 1000 CE. Also, 72,000 years ago, there was a migration of humans through Siberia, across the the Bering Land Bridge to Alaska and then south and east across and into the Americas. When Columbus sailed toward the Americas, he landed between the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, and ultimately on what he named Hispaniola (Little Spain) or as we know it today, Haiti.
Upon landing, the first thing Columbus did was to imprison the peaceful Arawaks and ask, "Where is the gold?" Since the Arawaks had no ready gold supply, Columbus killed many of them and left a crew at a military base he named Fort Navidad ("Fort Christmas").
After returning to Spain he promised the Spanish crown that he would go back to the island, find and return with as much gold and as many slaves as they wanted. Once again, the Spanish financed his trip, with not three but 17 ships and 12,000 men. Fort Navidad was deserted.
During this and two more voyages, natives who did not supply gold, had their hands cut off and bled to death. To escape the invaders, natives committed mass suicide and infants were killed at birth to save them from Columbus and his men. In two years, through murder, mutilation, suicide and disease half of the 250,000 inhabitants were dead. By 1650, none of the original natives or their descendants were alive. Columbus began the European invasion and colonization efforts which ultimately reduced a population of 60 million indigenous people in the Americas to 6 million.
Columbus' next venture was slave trade from Africa to the Americas. In 1937, after much effort by some religious and ethnic factions, Columbus Day was designated a federal holiday and states followed suit. John Wirt wrote, "Though it has its controversies, Columbus Day should be celebrated. Without him, the modern world would not be the way it is today." Many cities, including Louisville, after reviewing historical facts, replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. In Kentucky, state offices remain open.
The United States has a proud national and international identity. We have created a country from an idea of freedom, equality and democracy that has taken in millions of needy immigrants and led the world in humanitarian endeavors. But we cannot forget the other side of the truth. We have our "saving lies" and disinformation from Columbus to our current lies about racism, slavery, poverty, inequality, Critical Race Theory, replacement theory, COVID, masks, vaccinations, domestic terrorism, insurrection and the "Big Lie" regarding elections and democracy. While these and other lies help us maintain the comfort of our illusions, they do not help us advance the human condition within the common good. Let us remember who we are and how good we can be.
Glenn Ballard, of Frankfort, has 40 years of experience in administration in the areas of mental health, health care and education. He is retired and "a repurposed citizen for commonwealth and country." He can be emailed at email@example.com