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Ralph Reiland

Ralph R. Reiland: Little moving set for statues in Big Apple

| Sunday, April 8, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
In this Aug. 27, 2017, file photo, the Christopher Columbus statue stands in Manhattan's Columbus Circle in New York. A movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has new momentum but the gesture to recognize victims of European colonialism has also prompted howls of outrage from some Italian-Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too.
In this Aug. 27, 2017, file photo, the Christopher Columbus statue stands in Manhattan's Columbus Circle in New York. A movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has new momentum but the gesture to recognize victims of European colonialism has also prompted howls of outrage from some Italian-Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too.

“A task force created to figure out what to do with controversial statues and monuments on New York City property — described by the mayor as ‘symbols of hate' — has recommended only one statue be moved from its current location,” Fox News recently reported.

Among statues and monuments under scrutiny were the Columbus Circle statue of Christopher Columbus; a lower-Manhattan plaque for Henri Philippe Petain, a French general during World War I who became chief of state for Vichy France and was subsequently found guilty of World War II treason and collaboration with France's Nazi occupiers, including sending French Jews to Nazi extermination camps; and a Central Park statue of Dr. James Marion Sims, known as the “father of modern gynecology,” an American who pioneered innovative surgeries in the 1840s — and purchased female black slaves to use as guinea pigs, without anesthesia, in his experiments.

Among those three statues and all the monuments it reviewed, the task force recommended that only the Sims statue be moved. It will go, fittingly, to the Brooklyn cemetery where Sims is buried.

“For the Columbus statue, the city wants to add historical markers and commission a new monument to honor indigenous people,” Fox News reported.

That would produce a paradigm shift not unlike the switch of Saigon's name to Ho Chi Minh City.

To calm critics who view Columbus as an imperialist, racist, capitalist, anti-indigenous slaver and mass murderer, the most fitting plaque to be added to his statue might include the words he wrote describing the occasion when he and his sailors came ashore — in an opening salvo that brought Western civilization into the Americas — as the Arawaks of the Bahama Islands ran to greet them, offering food, water and gifts.

Columbus wrote later in his log of this landing and his initial encounter with the inhabitants:

“(T)hey ... 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 ... . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features ... . They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane ... . They would make fine servants. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

For a follow-up voyage seeking gold and slaves, Columbus was provided with 17 ships and more than a thousand men.

Howard Zinn reports how Columbus, in Haiti, established a system to fill his ships with gold and pay dividends to those who had invested.

“They ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.”

Ralph R. Reiland is associate professor of economics emeritus at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (rrreiland@aol.com).

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