Is there anyone who understands History Is A Weapon chapter one, “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” by Howard Zinn and can briefly explain it to me?

In the first chapter, “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” Howard Zinn reveals the murder and brutality committed by the Christopher Columbus expeditions and the English settlers. Zinn also reveals the primary aim of his book. His goal is to present a history from the viewpoint of common, ordinary people, not from the perspective of high-powered government leaders and their associates.

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History Is a Weapon is the website for Howard Zinn’s book A Peoples’ History of the United States . It’s a place where you can read the entire book for free. The title of the site links to his belief that history holds a lot of power. A skewed...

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History Is a Weapon is the website for Howard Zinn’s book A Peoples’ History of the United States. It’s a place where you can read the entire book for free. The title of the site links to his belief that history holds a lot of power. A skewed interpretation of history could be used to maintain harmful policies and beliefs. While a less partial view of history could confront past representations and change present conditions.

In the first chapter, “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” Zinn details Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the Americas. He uses history to challenge the notion that Columbus intentionally set out to discover America. Zinn writes Columbus intended to go to Asia. Zinn also counters the belief that the land Columbus stumbled upon was vacant or populated by savages.

Citing Bartolome de las Casas, Zinn clearly demonstrates that the indigenous people were civilized, generous, and even pro-choice. Using herbs, indigenous women had the freedom to give themselves abortions.

Rather, it was Columbus and the European colonizers who behaved like savages. Zinn tells how colonizers burned and hanged indigenous people. He writes how they enslaved them and worked them to death.

In this first chapter, Zinn wants to make the following clear: Columbus was not a hero. Zinn uses Columbus to highlight how history is often told from the perspective of governments, conquers, diplomats, leaders, and other people who have ample to gain from placing the past of the United States on the side of progress.

With his first chapter, Zinn lays out the primary aim of the book. He’s not interested in perpetuating a history that makes American leaders and idols look good. He doesn’t want to continue the idea that nations are families and communities. He wants to reveal the

fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex.

In this first chapter, Zinn makes it clear that his history will be from the perspective of those without a lot of power or affluence. Zinn recognizes that his project might overly romanticize or glorify the common, regular, and perhaps downtrodden person. Yet as Zinn says, “The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don't listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

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The website "History is a Weapon" is all about exposing the role that the telling of history plays in shaping propagandist narratives. Howard Zinn uses his writings and this website to expose the parts of history that have been ignored and forgotten. His page "Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress" is meant to unravel the myth of Columbus as a noble and heroic explorer. It is also the first chapter of his award winning book A People's History of the United States.

Zinn includes many primary source examples, notably Columbus's own journal and letters, to show that Columbus and his Spanish sailors were brutal conquerors of the native peoples that they encountered. These sources show that Columbus was on a voyage of conquest and repression as much as he was on a mission of discovery.

Zinn uses the example of Columbus to show that the way history is told is as important in the present as the events that actually occurred. He states that his writings "will be skeptical of governments and their attempts, through politics and culture, to ensnare ordinary people in a giant web of nationhood pretending to a common interest."

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Let me just add a couple points.

To Zinn, Columbus was pretty much a genocidal murderer.  Zinn argues that Columbus came to the New World with a lust for gold and other riches.  He was met there by innocent Indians who wanted only to share with him.

Because of his greed, Columbus systematically exploited the Indians.  He did this by such things as

  • taking hostages in an attempt to force them to tell him where he could find gold
  • by enslaving them on encomiendas

Basically, Zinn argues that Columbus intentionally destroyed the Indians out of his own greed.

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The website "History is a Weapon" is devoted to exposing a conflict view of history.  This particular approach to history is one that stresses the viewpoints of the dispossessed, the dis-empowered, and the silenced.  It features primary sources from points of view of those who have engaged in resistance, and speak from an oppositional point of view.  The site features much in both reference and content from Howard Zinn, a historian who is deeply committed to the conflict point of view and driven by the idea that American History must retain balance between its standard depiction of promise and possibility and the reality of where it falls short.  In the selection identified, Zinn explores how the Columbus landing drastically, and horribly, changed the lives of Native Americans.

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