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Goodbye, Columbus

In fourteen hundred, ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But he was lost. Oh so lost.

And when he slogged ashore in the Bahamas the morning of October 12 - a Thursday - he had become the first official male traveler who got lost because he wouldn't stop to ask for directions.

"Is this Fort Lauderdale?" he reportedly asked the first person he met.

"No," said Bruce, the first AAA Indigenous Peoples' Travel Agent.

"Which direction is Fort Lauderdale? And where's the gold?"

"Dunno," said Bruce.

"You don't look Chinese," the lost traveler said. "I'm also trying to find China. Is this China?"

"No. Never heard of it, either. You must be lost, mister. Here, let me get you some travel brochures."

And thus was launched the official historical misaligned career of "The Man Who Discovered America," although technically he did not discover anything, and it certainly wasn't America.

While protesters bring down Stonewall Jackson and Bobby Lee statues, the real Lost Cause is Christopher Columbus, whose reputation for cultural worthiness might well be doomed. He deserves every obliteration that's going to happen to his legacy.

in the 1930s, abused and insulted Italian-Americans wanted to cheer for any Italian not named Bonanno, Gambino, or Genovese; so they picked Columbus.

America had treated Italian immigrants with much the same gentle regard as they did Irish and Jewish immigrants, which is to say, better than it treated Black slaves.

The Knights of Columbus asked, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the first national observance of Columbus Day in 1934. Lots of Catholics vote.

Italian-Americans loved him as a hero. Almost nobody else can stand him, because he was always a very odd choice. He was responsible for more deaths than the Mafia.

Not really their best decision Why? You ask.

You know how you can marry the wrong person, and then can't get out of it? And then you pretend everything is fine.

That's what Italian-Americans did.

First, Italian-Americans did not designate Columbus as the American Discoverer. That was done by Revolutionary War politicians and historians desperate for a heroic national origin story that did not mention the loathed British. We were sore winners.

Spain's King Ferdinand also stiffed Columbus on his prize and tossed him in jail. So post-Colonial Americans loved any story that made European monarchies look like jerks.

But it's even more simple than marketing.

The authors of the first Revolutionary-era histories needed a first chapter: How we got started. They needed a first hero, and so they invented Columbus's good intentions.

Almost no one in Europe had paid any attention to him for 300 years. He was a second-string adventurer.

Otherwise, the most obvious choice might have been John Cabot, who landed in 1497 on actual America - Newfoundland or Labrador. Cabot was as Italian as Columbus, but he was working for the British king. So he was out.

Or even more fair and accurate, the title could have gone to Leif Erikson. We should have backed Vikings in the discovery derby because they got here 500 years earlier. But "ocean blue" rhymes with "14 hundred and 92," and "Leif Erikson" doesn't rhyme with anything.

As for Columbus, he was a professional pillager and plunderer, but he was the first European to see a hummingbird, so that was nice.

Also, he and his men launched pandemics that killed millions of natives and obliterated a marvelous, peaceful culture of which only faint echoes remain.

Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas detailed the Columbus heroism in his eyewitness book whose title is roughly translated: "You kill a few million natives here, and a few million there, and sooner or later people will start to notice."

When he arrived on the island of Hispaniola (shared by Costa Rica and Haiti) in 1508, Las Casas says, "there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it . . . "

Eventually, there were 500 left of the original Arawak tribe. Now there are none.

If you can't efficiently mass murder unarmed natives who don't even know what a sword is, you can't call yourself a conquering cultural hero. It's the Cortez Rule.

Nonetheless, Italian-Americans have loved Columbus for reasons that somewhat baffle other Americans with no Italian tendencies, except for liking spaghetti and spumoni. His Chicago cultural heirs have suffered grievous insult and heartache in recent days.

More grief is coming.

Cristoforo Colombo's fame has come upon hard times nationally, including last week when protesters inspired Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to pull a pair of Columbus statues out of public venues, lest they be melted into bronze ingots.

Columbus statues are being pillaged - karma is fair - and besides, there was very little culture in Columbus to cancel. He was good at murder, but not much else.

First, the cultural cancellation bandwagon cancels TV's Cops. And then it smites 15th-century mercenary thugs. Someday the anarchists will tear down Vanilla Ice statues.

Just on heroic definitions, Columbus had it coming. Start with the definition of "discover." If you drive west far enough on I-80, you will find Denver, but you won't really discover it. You and Columbus both will have crashed into something that already existed.

A burglar can break into your home and find a large-screen TV to steal, but he hardly can be said to have "discovered" it.

It's not even as if Italian-Americans didn't have better choices.

They could have picked Julius Caesar, who was the most famous man in the world for several centuries and also was good at finding already populated nations to steal. After all, Chicago already has a monument and street (Balbo Drive) named after Mussolini's fascist air commander and donated by Il Duce.

Or they could have gone cultural and backed Marco Polo, Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo (1475-1564), or tossed in Vivaldi, Puccini or Verdi.

They didn't murder anybody. That's a good start.

Personally, I would have picked Sophia Loren, who is a historical monument to good Italian genes. It's not too late. She's only 86.

Columbus is a far more obsolete historical artifact, many of which seemed like bright ideas at the time. But their usefulness passes, and then you wonder what idiocy made you want them. Then they go away once you are "Woke."

The flaming Ford Pinto seemed a good idea momentarily, too. Remember the last time you made a collect call from a pay phone? All gone.

Junk clutters history that way, too. Columbus is junk culture.

If you are fond of Christopher Columbus, this is a warning that he's also expired, like mayonnaise left out too long.

Even in a 15th European century replete with plundering slave traders and religiously inspired genocidal murderers, he was notoriously vile.

Ever so slowly, cities across the country are ditching Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples' Day, an inelegant title for a well-it's-about-time premise. It's a slow-motion search to discover sanity.

Evanston and Oak Park became the first of Chicago's neighbors to adopt the position.

It's a quasi-federal holiday, but burgs that don't let workers off work that day can simply change their minds and ignore Columbus. The doomsday clock on the Columbus fib is ticking ever closer to extinction.

St. Paul, Minn., Seattle and Portland - centers of the current uprising - have joined the movement to designate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Why not honor millions of innocent people from a culture that Columbus enslaved, pillaged, and raped? And that was on Chris's good days.

Once the more-or-less total fabrication of the Columbus myth was embedded in our schools, we surrendered to Italian immigrants' natural desire to be respected. We should be happy Italians didn't insist on National Mussolini Day.

As for Columbus, almost no positive tidbit attached to his legend is true.

He called his announced discovery-that-wasn't this way: "October 12, the day of Our Lord 1492 when I claim the New World for all of civilization." (By the way, all your gold is now mine.)

There wasn't any gold.

Folks on the beach called the day Thursday because it almost was the weekend.

Over the next few years, Columbus stole as much as he could, lopped off ears and noses to show he was a deity-inspired discoverer, enslaved everyone he could find, and drafted 8-year-old girls into sexual slavery. This was all done according to the Almighty's will, as all national conquests are.

He even wrote that the inhabitants had pleasing faces, did not use weapons and were perfect for servitude. Easy-peasy.

Luckily for Europeans, they found enough slaves to repopulate the Southern Hemisphere after the natives were killed by torture and European microbes.

As for Denver, or Fort Lauderdale or Hoboken, Columbus never found that part of the New World or knew it existed. He never found Asia, either.

Columbus was lost most of the time, as is the culture he helped kill.

It's about time to lose him, too.


Recently by David Rutter:

* Kris Bryant's Future Bar Trick.

* Mansplaining To A Millionaire.

* Status Check: Chicago Sports.

* The Week In WTF Redux: Blago Is Back Edition.

* What Is A Chicagoan Anyway?

* Glenn Beck's Turn In The Volcano.

* Only Science Will Bring Back Sports.

* I Loathe The Lockdown Protestors.

* Reopening Books.

* A Return To Abnormalcy.

* I'm Having A Down Day Emotionally. Here's Why.

* So Long, Jerry.

* A Special "Trump's Bible" Edition Of WTF.

* 5 Things An Angry Old White Man Wants To Say.

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* The Fonz Lives And Franco Is Dead: News You Can't Use.

* Gone With The Wind: My Lost Cause.

* How To (Pretend To) Negotiate A Labor Deal.

* The Mystery Of Mitch's Missing Motivation.

* Dave's French Foreign Legion Tour Of Chicagoland.

* Remember The '85 Bears? Actually, No You Don't.

* On Boredom.

* Wherever Rod Moore Is, I Hope He's Safe.

* Blackhawk's Life Mattered.

* A Blackhawks Proposal.

* Launching College Football.

* Tom Hanks Meets His Match.

* The Truth About Hamilton.


David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on July 27, 2020

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