Separating the fact, fiction of Christopher Columbus

October 19, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

A WORD OF thanks is due to the Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA), which published a brochure called Columbus: Fact vs. Fiction just in time for the celebration of the holiday named for the Italian explorer, which took place Monday.

Reviewing our grade school history, we're reminded that Christopher Columbus is the guy credited with discovering America, sailing on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria in 1492 from Europe to the West Indies. For years, he was revered as a bold explorer who helped alter the course of history.

Today, he's another dead white guy the American left has pilloried for the crime of being, well, a dead white guy whose sins include racism, genocide and slavery. Even other Italian-Americans have jumped on the anti-Columbus bandwagon. Read this comment from The Sopranos cast member Joe Pantoliano, an obtuse sort of fellow who simply couldn't understand why other Italian-Americans didn't want him at New York City's Columbus Day parade:

"I don't know about this Christopher Columbus parade that is basically celebrating some guy who ... found America and then killed all the Indians," Pantoliano is quoted in the Oct. 21 edition of Newsweek magazine.

It's not surprising that someone willing to star on a show that brazenly stereotypes Italian-Americans might be so disconnected with Italian and American history. But the folks at OSIA must have anticipated Pantoliano's snacking on a shoe sandwich. Columbus: Fact vs. Fiction explores the "Indian killing" charge and several other misguided notions about Columbus.

Calling the notion that Columbus committed genocide "fiction," the brochure points out that most Native Americans were killed by the Spanish explorers who followed Columbus. Far more Native Americans died of European diseases from which they had no immunity.

OSIA debunks other charges that Columbus was a racist and involved in the slave trade. It seldom gets said in the dead-white-guy bashing, but the Europeans who colonized the Americas, Africa and parts of Asia did nothing non-European people hadn't been doing for centuries. If they did it better, it was because of a superior technology.

The way to combat superior technology is to develop a superior technology of your own. Asians seem to have caught on to that fact. Africans and their Afro-American cousins, for the most part, have not.

The brochure is available on OSIA's website at

Now, having dispensed with one myth, let's tackle another. What's with this idea that the nation's service academies can't play football?

OK, so Navy has only one win this season. Hapless Army hasn't won at all. There was a time when both schools had perennial powerhouse football teams and top 10 rankings. It used to be that Army-Notre Dame, Navy-Notre Dame and Army-Navy were the top three collegiate football games of the year.

That was before the surge in popularity of professional football. The best football players these days don't want to serve in their country's military after college. They want to play in the National Football League and make millions of dollars. The blue-chip players don't go to the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy anymore.

But a service academy out west, in Boulder, Colo., does get football players who are able to get the job done against top-tier collegiate competition. That would be the team from the U.S. Air Force Academy. To date, Air Force has faced six and licked `em all. The Falcons are ranked No. 15 in the country and face seventh-ranked Notre Dame tonight.

The matchup leaves Ruth Kane's oldest son with a dilemma: Do I root for Air Force or Notre Dame?

Maybe, as a Catholic baptized at the ripe old age of 2 weeks, I should go with the Catholic school with the proud football and academic tradition. As an African-American, I'm also delighted that Notre Dame has its first black coach ever, Tyrone Willingham.

On the other hand, I'm an Air Force veteran. It's been 26 years since I've been paroled from -- er, uh, that should read "honorably discharged from" -- the service. Air Force runs a triple-option offense I love to watch and one that is lamentably absent from the pros. Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge should -- along with Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace -- be a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

Air Force players don't engage in the clowning, posturing and buffoonery that have become so commonplace in college and pro football. And it's nice seeing a service academy team holding its own for a change.

Looks like I'll be rooting for Air Force tonight.

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