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First, Zinn makes it clear that Columbus and his Spanish backers were motivated primarily by a desire to discover new sources of wealth. This explains their approach to dealing with the native peoples they encountered. As Zinn says, "The information that Columbus wanted most [from the natives] was: 'Where is the gold?'" The second point would be his description of the effects of the policies of Columbus and the Spanish officials that followed him to the Caribbean. They led to the almost total extermination of the native peoples who inhabited the region. The famous account by Bartolome de Las Casas is cited to make this point all the more clear. The final three points are really related to historiography, and the uses of the past, and serve to set up the main thrust of Zinn's overall narrative. First he shows that previous historians of Columbus's actions in the New World such as Samuel Eliot Morison have effaced the unflattering parts, and that this has been deliberate: "the historian's distortion...is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports...some kind of interest." This leads to his next point, which is that the "quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress" has disturbing effects in our own time, making it easier for us to countenance the bad things people do with power today. Finally, Zinn argues that the whitewashing of history and celebration of the actions of men like Columbus is part of a larger historical approach that is told from the "point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats," and other powerful men. Zinn proposes a different approach, one which he will pursue in A People's History, that focuses on people from the "bottom up." So the aim of his treatment of Columbus is as much to set up his overall narrative approach as to tell an umportant, or unfamiliar story about the man.
Source: Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995) 1-9.
* Columbus would never have made it to Asia, which was thousands of miles farther away than he had planned, imagining a smaller world.
* The information that Columbus wanted most was gold.
* On Hispaniola, Columbus built a fort, the first European military base in the Western Hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christmas).
* Zinn said not that he must, in telling history, blame, judge, convict Columbus in absentia. And it’s too late for that.
* Columbus and his successors were not coming into an empty desert, but into a place which was as densely populated as Europe, where the culture was complex, and not simple.
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