Regarding the feature article on Christopher
Columbus (“Hero or Heathen,” Nov. 24), it seems
that some of the interlocutors in this article
practice what is noted in James Lowen’s “Lies
My Teacher Told Me.” That is actually a risk
that one who teaches history is guilty of if
one does not stay current with most recent scholarship.
One needs humility in teaching history. It has
been long established that Christopher Columbus
and many of the other Spanish conquistadors
and their counterparts from France, Holland,
England, Portugal and Russia in the course of
the centuries of discovery from 1500 to 1800
were often cruel, exploitative and in general
very nasty people.
However, to single one individual as being responsible
for the destruction of Native American cultures
and peoples from Alaska to Patagonia over a
time period of approximately 300 years is a
great stretch. We have testimony from Spaniards
as to the cruelty and what would today be genocide
against the Arawak peoples of the Caribbean.
The cruelty was in forced labor, rape and mass
execution. (Columbus states that native women
preferred European men over their own men. History
can be very complex, very confusing and the
truth is often difficult to determine.) The
extinction of native peoples and cultures in
the end had more to do with disease pandemics
set off unknowingly by the Europeans as they
brought the diseases of the Eastern Hemisphere
(Europe, Africa and Asia) to the Western Hemisphere.
Columbus in my view was a very bad man, but
Hitler he was not in spite of what some teachers
in the article mention. Exaggeration in history
is not a reputable value.
The supposed thinking by Aztecs and Incas that
“the explorers were gods” is old fantasy history
that has been discredited by more recent scholarship.
I myself did not like learning that, but in
the interests of historical truth and of not
perpetuating “good stories,” I have now accepted
assigning that good story to the ash bin of
Distinguished historians like Henry Kamen and
Hugh Thomas have shown how Spain’s official
circles even to the 18th century were troubled
by how its empire had been put together. You
do not find anything similar amongst other conquering
European states and certainly not in the new
United States of America. Whatever else were
the many faults of Christopher Columbus, Admiral
Samuel Elliott Morrison thought C.C. was a credible
sailor. Leif Erickson was not a “1,000 BC” figure.
There is speculation that Irish missionaries
made it to the Americas before the Vikings.
It’s probably true that many made it to the
Americas and had little idea as to “where are
Eyes in the sky
I liked the recent article about the traffic
cameras in Des Moines (“Eyes in the Sky,” Nov.
17). I think it might be interesting to publish
the names and speeds of those caught by the
I-235 speed camera. It is 60 mph through most
of the city. You have to be going more than
71 to register a violation and more than 81
to hit the extra $2 per mile. Going that fast
is just not safe, when the rest of the vehicles
are going the speed limit. The police have better
things to do than run speed traps.