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Opinion on Christopher Columbus ‘short-sighted’

To the editor:

Martha Allen’s opinion on Christopher Columbus is short-sighted and lacking in historical specifics on the life of the navigator. It saddens me that the Lake Placid News recently published a disingenuous and distorted opinion by Ms. Allen that ridicules and trivializes the accomplishments of one of the “greatest navigators of his time.” This characterization was made by Samuel Eliot Morison, a former Harvard University history professor. Ms. Allen is wrong to insinuate that Columbus was responsible for the ills that beset Hispaniola, Cuba and other Spanish colonies in the New World.

She fails to attribute any responsibility for the unfortunate events that afflicted the native populations on Hispaniola and Cuba to the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela, the Spanish Church, and the greed and avarice of the Spanish settlers aka “encomenderos,” many of whom could not be controlled by Columbus. This view is expressed in the writings of the Spanish monk, Bartolome de Las Casas, the foremost writer on the life of Christopher Columbus. Even Professor Morison points out that Columbus “… suffered deeply from the contempt to which he was early subjected, and the envy, disloyalty, ingratitude and injustice which he met as a discoverer.”

I am astonished by Ms. Allen’s derisive and dismissive attitude when she refers to Columbus’s four voyages to the New World as simple enterprises “that she can trace with her fingertip across the Atlantic Ocean from Italy to the Bahamas.” I find it odd that Ms. Allen would make a connection between Italy and the Bahamas when Columbus’s four voyages to the New World originated from Palos de la Frontera, a seaport in southern Spain and not Italy. Columbus had to rely on his own intuition and knowledge as a mariner to make the perilous journey of his first voyage across the uncharted waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Yet, Ms. Allen belittles Columbus and elevates Leif Eriksson when she writes that the Scandinavian navigator 500 years earlier, knew where he was going, supposedly North America, when he sailed westward on the same uncharted waters of the Atlantic Ocean. If this is what Ms. Allen had in mind, then, it is a preposterous assumption on her part, not based on evidence and facts. There are still unanswered questions regarding Eriksson’s probable landing in North America.

Nonetheless, Ms. Allen chooses to deride Columbus for failing to reach “the fabled Orient which was his goal” without pointing out that in 1492, no one knew that there was a large landmass westward, the Americas, that stood in the way of reaching Asia.

Columbus was not a “failed explorer” because his discovery enabled many future immigrants to call The Americas their home, including Ms. Allen’s ancestors. Ms. Allen calls this development colonization, which is not any different from other historical colonizations that have taken place worldwide, including North America with the arrival of the Dutch, British and French colonizers.

Further, Ms. Allen insults supporters of Columbus when she refers to them as “snowflakes,” a disparaging and insensitive term particularly for Italian Americans who view Columbus as a symbol of admiration and pride.

Contrary to Ms. Allen’s view that Columbus was a wealthy man, the navigator died a poor man. In 1500, Columbus was returned to Spain in chains on trumped up charges made by his Spanish detractors who felt that Columbus, who was not a Spaniard, was preventing them from seeking gold at any cost that led them to commit crimes against the native people on Hispaniola. Approximately a year later, Columbus was exonerated of these trumped up charges, his privileges and status were restored by the Spanish monarchs who even supported the mariner’s fourth voyage. If Ms. Allen is truly interested in a more balanced account of the life of Columbus, I suggest she read Columbus’s travel logs, the writings of Bartolome de Las Casas; Samuel Eliot Morison’s, “Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus” and Mary Grabar, “Debunking Howard Zinn.” Perhaps these works will inspire Ms. Allen’s future “musing” on Columbus to provide a more accurate and balanced perspective to the readers of the Lake Placid News.

Michael Giammarella

Professor emeritus

CUNY Brooklyn