Columbus Day and Hitler Day
By Delisena Auguste, Malith Jerice, and Francois Telamir
Social Justice Education
Christopher Columbus played a big role in the history of the development of Western civilization. As Western historians report it, Columbus was the first man to discover the Americas. Today, anyone familiar with the Aztecs, the Incas and the Mayans knows that this version of Western “History” is a fantasy.
The Native Nation peoples who were living here were doing so with no knowledge of European civilization. The queen of Spain decided to send Columbus to look for gold.
Adolph Hitler is considered, by the same historians of Western civilization, as the most evil man in the twentieth century. As the Fuehrer (president) of Germany, Hitler wanted to take over all of Europe and then the entire world. This goal led to what is known as World War II, one of the greatest disasters in the history of humankind. He invaded many countries, like France, Bulgaria, Poland, and Hungary. He killed many of those people when invading their land. He also killed millions of Jews, many of whom lived in Germany.
In our social studies class, as we studied the record of Christopher Columbus, one student remarked that “the great discoverer” had a lot in common with Adolph Hitler. As we considered this view, another student asked the question: “Why do they celebrate Columbus Day, but not Hitler Day?”
In order to understand the question it is important to establish the conditions which brought it forward: the social studies class is all people of African descent — African American, Caribbean, and African. Therefore, in the question, “why do they…,” “they” refers to the people who made Columbus Day a holiday — those in power in this country; and, at the time at least, this was all White people.
As the discussion continued, a few theories were proposed. The first one went this way: “Hitler killed White people. They [sic] don’t like that.” Another member of our class gave us a quote for which she did not know the author: “History is made by the winners.” By this she meant that: the person who wins a battle or a war is the one who survives, is the one who is in power; it is this person who is able to tell his story — his-story is written by the winners. Columbus won. Hitler lost. Hitler does not get to tell his story the way he would want it to be told.
We’ve all heard about the atrocities of Hitler, but Columbus is not spoken of in the same way in U.S. history books. A brief look at his record reveals the following:
· Columbus brought African captives as slaves with him to the Americas; and so began the nearly 400-year-old criminal system of European enslavement of Africans in the Americas;
· In his 22 years as governor of the island which they called Hispaniola (present day Haiti and Dominican Republic), the eight million Taino Indians residing there when Columbus arrived were reduced to 100,000; (Churchill, 1996, p22)
· By 1508 there were only 60,000 native Arawaks left on Hispaniola. This people had a death rate of more than 95 percent; (Donahue)
· “As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean… Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape.” He bragged that the nine and ten-year-old girls became the most popular sex slaves for the Spanish soldiers he brought with him. (Loewen)
The federal holiday is for a “discoverer, adventurer, and a hero,” who was, in reality, a mass murderer, a pimp/rapist and a greedy miser who was out to become rich.
International Law, and specifically the United Nations Convention on Genocide (1948), was created in the wake of WWII, and in reaction to the Nazi attempt to take over the world. This convention, representing most of the countries of the world, developed a definition of genocide which included the following attributes:
· “Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor.” (Lemkin, 1948, p79)
· “Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killing of all the members of a nation…” (1948)
· “Genocide is the destruction of the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity but as members of the national group.” (1948)
The specific language with regard to nations and individuals was chosen to define genocide as the practice of taking away the nationhood or peoplehood of a definite nationality, whether this was accomplished by wiping out all of the people in the nation, or by wiping out some of them, and then forcing the rest to lose their national identity.
In the case of Native Americans all of the above happened. In the instances in which all of the people were wiped off the face of the Earth, as in the case of the Arawaks and Tainos on the island of Hispaniola, that is called genocide. In the instances in which Columbus’ efforts left some of the people of the nation still alive, but turned the men into alcoholics, thereby wiping out who they had been as peoples, wiping out their national ways, that too is called genocide.
Georgi Dimitrov, then Secretary General of the Communist International, wrote in 1935 (to the Seventh Congress of the Communist International), that fascism (led by the Hitler variety) is “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital…. [I]t is unbridled aggression in relation to other nations…. Fascism is jingoism in its most brutal form, fomenting bestial hatred of other nations….” (Dimitrov)
Did not Columbus’ effort consist of all of these? Did not Columbus begin the evil practice of slavery, which soon after his “initiative” destroyed African nations and turned them into warrens for the hunting of black skins for unpaid, forced labor? Did not Columbus set up his nation, Spain, as the imperial power to conquer the native peoples of the Americas? Did not Columbus commit genocide against these nations? Was it not bestial chauvinism in its most extreme form? Did not Columbus set in motion a five-hundred-year chain of conquest by Europe and the United States against the rest of the people of the Earth? Was not Columbus the forefather of Hitler?
Persons and Politics
Columbus Day was the product of the Italian population of New York City, which organized the first celebration of his “discovery” of America on October 12, 1866. In 1869, the Italian American population of San Francisco celebrated October 12 as Columbus Day. It was not until 1905 that a state, Colorado, observed a Columbus Day. In 1937 United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 Columbus Day, the federal holiday.
While Columbus’ career lasted about 40 years, his personal history is not what is most important in our examination. We want to judge from the perspective of historians. This perspective does not allow us to limit Columbus’ impact to acts during his lifetime of rule over the native peoples. We must address the effect his activity had on the next generations — that is, we must look at his historical legacy.
When we look at Columbus from this perspective we can see him as the father of
· World-wide European imperialist conquest and slaughter
· Eurocentrism as a social/psychological/spiritual disorder
· White supremacy as a political and economic system
Hitler’s Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather
Viewed from this perspective, in other words, not from his personhood, but from the perspective of his political/historical legacy, Christopher Columbus was the Great, Great Grandfather of Hitler. Columbus and Hitler are relatives/kin/folks, from the same clan, birds of a feather….
And this brings us back to the original question: Why, then, do “they” celebrate Columbus Day and not Hitler Day? We believe that the two hypotheses proposed at the beginning of this discussion are worthy of consideration: (1) Hitler killed Europeans, Americans, White people; Columbus conquered, annihilated and enslaved African and Indians for White people (European imperialists); and (2) Columbus’ legacy lives today — the people for whom he conquered, that is, politically, the class of people who he fought for — their descendants are in power today. And they are going around the world still conquering — in Afghanistan, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Iraq….
The cause which Columbus initiated for Europe — world domination — Hitler failed at this. The United States of America is succeeding where Hitler failed. Hitler failed at the mission set out for him by his forefather, Columbus. The United States of America represents that cause today much better than Hitler did, because the United States is still succeeding at destroying other nations, committing genocide against the peoples around the world.
Columbus’ mission lives today in the country where his birthday is celebrated. The United States of America is succeeding at this mission… for the time being.
Churchill, Ward. (1996) . From a Native son. Boston: South End Press.
Churchill, W. (1994). Indians are us? Maine: Common Courage Press.
Corbet, Bob. “Pre-Columbian Hispaniola — Arawak/Taino Indians.” World History Archives. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43a/100.html
Dimitrov, Georgi. (1935). “The struggle of the working class against fascism.” Seventh World Congress of the Communist International. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/dimitrov/works/1935/08_02.htm
Donahue, James. (2004). “Great civilizations from before recorded time.” The Mind of James Donahue. http://perdurabo10.tripod.com/galleryi/id87.html
El Conservador. (2003). “No cheers for Columbus, says Venezuela’s Chavez.” Reuters. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/999687/posts?page=1
Forbes, J. (1992). Columbus and other cannibals. Berkeley: Autonomedia Publishers.
Lemkin, R. (1948). Axis rule in occupied Europe. Rumford Press.
Loewen, James. (1995). Lies my teacher told me. New York: The New Press.