Catholic League: Howard Zinn ‘Inspiration Behind Attacks on Columbus Day’


Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, the watchdog agency and defender of the civil rights of all Catholics, wrote a three-part series on Columbus and the origins of the attacks on the man and the day intended to honor his achievements.

Donohue noted that in the 1990s, Yale University decided not to accept a $20 million contribution from Lee M. Bass to expand the Western civilization program at the school.

“Highly politicized members of the faculty wanted to replace it with a multicultural program,” Donohue wrote. “The faculty won and Bass got his money back.”

Elaborating, he observed:

The fact is that many professors, especially in the humanities and social sciences, hate Western civilization; they have a particular animus against the United States. That this is happening at a time when many poor people from Latin America are crashing our borders is perverse. Yet the pampered professors still keep railing against the U.S. They just don't get it.

“The attack on Columbus, and on Columbus Day, is traceable to the ideology of multiculturalism,” Donohue continued, adding that Pope Benedict XVI “rightly observed that multiculturalism has bred not only a contempt for the moral truths that adhere to the Judeo-Christian ethos, it has led to ‘a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological.'”

Donohue credited the efforts of Howard Zinn and his A People's History of the United States with providing the “inspiration behind the attacks on Columbus Day and the one most responsible for replacing it with Indigenous People's Day.”

Zinn's book has sold two million copies since its publication in 1980, and the Zinn Education Project continues his work to this day, not only attacking historical icons like Columbus but also promoting critical race theory (CRT) in K-12 schools.

The Catholic League president observed the irony of the characterization of Zinn as “a man who hated oppression”:

He found it almost impossible to condemn atrocities committed by the Communist regimes of Stalin and Mao, owing, no doubt to his membership in the Communist Party. According to Ronald Radosh, one of the most prominent students of Communism, “Zinn was an active member of the Communist party (CPUSA)–a membership which he never acknowledged and when asked, denied.”

Donohue noted the work of Alexander Hamilton Institute scholar Mary Grabar, author of Debunking Howard Zinn, who asserted Zinn lied profusely about Columbus, contributing to campus outrage against the October 11 day set aside to honor his memory.

As Breitbart News reported in 2019, Grabar made the case that Zinn “intentionally misleads his readers” by “omitting relevant portions of Columbus' writing.”

For example, Zinn wrote in A People's History:

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log: ‘They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton, and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned …

According to Grabar, Zinn purposefully placed the ellipses to deceive his readers in order to omit text from the explorer's journal that would not contribute to his narrative.

Grabar wrote:

But Zinn's most crucial omissions are in the passage from Columbus's log that he quotes in the very first paragraph of his People's History. There he uses ellipses to cover up the fact that he has left out enough of Columbus's words to deceive his readers about what the discoverer of America actually meant. The omission right before “They would make fine servants” is particularly dishonest. Here's the nub of what Zinn left out: “I saw some who bore marks of wounds on their bodies, and I made signs to them to ask how this came about, and they indicated to me that people came from other islands, which are near, and wished to capture them, and they defended themselves. And I believed and still believe that they come here from the mainland to take them for slaves.”

Donohue added that Zinn also “would never acknowledge what Carol Delaney, a Stanford University anthropologist, had to say about Columbus. She maintained that Columbus acted on his Christian faith and told his crew to be kind to the Indians.”

In October 2019, Professor Emeritus Delaney wrote in a letter to the editor at the Providence Journal that she was “appalled” following an attack on a statue of Columbus.

The author of Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem, called “one of the 100 best books of the year” by The Times Literary Supplement, Delaney asserted, “Most people know little about the man and it is about time they learned.”

She continued about Columbus:

His project was to meet the Grand Khan of China to set up a trading post. There was absolutely no intention of enslaving the people in the greatest empire in the world. The gold obtained was to be used to finance a crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims before the end of the world, which people thought was fast approaching because of a number of seemingly apocalyptic events. Columbus continually begged Queen Isabella to send priests to instruct and baptize the natives. Baptized people could not be enslaved.

He remained friends with the Indians throughout; the horrible deeds were committed, against his orders, by the men he left behind while he was trying to find the Khan. This is all in Columbus's writings. He was a very religious man and became a Franciscan monk after the first voyage. No doubt, this was partly in penance for the deeds of some of his men.

Donohue said about Zinn's omissions of “this side of Columbus,” it is not that the leftwing historian was “unaware … he just glossed over evidence that contradicted his thesis.”

“Just as bad,” Donohue added, is that “some promote the idea that virtually all the Indians were kindly souls who respected the land and treated each other with dignity.”

“This is a romantic fairy tale having no basis in history,” he asserted. “The truth is that some were gentle while others were brutal.”

Donohue warned that “a country that cannot agree on who to honor is in trouble.”

“Worse, a country whose public officials take no action against those who destroy statues on public land of those who have made significant contributions to American society are sending the wrong message,” he wrote. “When a nation's historically renowned figures become part of our throw-away culture, it does not bode well for instilling patriotism in young people.”


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