To the editor:
Why is the “flat earth” and Columbus still something believed by people like Beatrice Heinze (”Don’t shun Columbus,” Aug. 3)? People knew the world was round; it was a question of the size and scale of the ocean between Europe and China. Research, not fealty to myths, shows Washington Irving told the “flat earth” story in his 1828 biography of Columbus shortly after the country’s 50th anniversary.
Columbus’ truth is that his funders, the Spanish monarchs, also expelled Jews from Spain in 1492 and took much of their property and money. Those who remained converted to Catholicism, only to be subjected to the infamous Spanish Inquisition. That money played a crucial role in funding Columbus’ later voyages. During his voyages, Columbus, by his own accounts, killed and enslaved many natives and the diseases that he brought killed tens of thousands more.
Columbus didn’t contribute to the scientific record. His legacy stands as a forefather of prejudice and violence that started with American indigenous peoples, would later include African and Asian people, and continued onto the 20th century in the lynchings of the U.S. South, the Japanese internment camps, and the mass incarceration of Black people, among many other atrocities perpetrated in the name of a supposedly better world.
Does one want a feel-good story or a history that is complicated, ugly, but real? The latter wields truth; the former just coddles people’s sense of righteousness. You can enjoy the former, but don’t kid yourself that you’re redeeming anything more than your ego.