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Millions upon millions of Americans grew up believing that the reasons Christopher Columbus’ became the first European explorer to cross the Atlantic were pretty much inherent — that he was extremely intelligent, boldly courageous and uncommonly persevering.

Now the forces of political correctness are insisting it’s high time that the crueler side of Columbus be prominently displayed throughout our educational system — from expensive preschool courses through K-12 and even in our elite private and public universities.

Their demands are being met widely — event at the highest level. Ivy League leaders Yale, Harvard and Princeton among others, have gone out of their way to emphasize to their students that Columbus treated the natives he encountered in the Caribbean and South America as backward savages.

Foremost among their claims is that the Genoan native enslaved, tortured and slaughtered the Arawaks and their companion tribes when they refused to be subjugated and bend their knees to the Catholic faith.

The University of Notre Dame, arguably the nation’s finest Catholic school of higher education, gave further publicity to the progressives’ claims recently when it publicly announced a decision to cover a dozen historic murals depicting Christopher Columbus as a kindly friend of native races.

Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, noted the paintings, which were painted inside the university’s Main Administration Building from 1882 to 1884, “hide from view the darker side of this story.”

There can be little doubt the Arawaks were virtually wiped out by their encounter with Columbus and his crew, although it’s a fair point that their deaths were caused mainly because they had no immunity to the old world diseases transmitted by the Europeans.

When one considers the disdain and viciousness that Columbus and other European explorers displayed toward the original inhabitants of North and South America, Jenkins and others are surely right in demanding our students be taught the whole story, even if it means shrouding paintings that have historical significance.

While the actions of the early explorers are deplorable by today’s loftier standards, it’s well to remember that similar British tactics against hapless natives were common through the end of 19th century.

The British, who once liked to consider the Victorian era as a showcase of high morality, now are beginning to see that their much-touted conquests of Africa and India are shameful at best and utterly despicable at worst.

One should never forget the underlying racism exposed by Kipling’s poetry in “Gunga Din” and “The Road to Mandalay.” And especially not, the last line of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” as he considers the shame of Belgium’s colonization of the natives of the Congo: “The horror, the horror.”

No American should discount courses that accurately inform us about own heritage by the derogatory term “political correctness.” After all, the more we know about the shortcomings of our own historical heroes, the better chance we have of survival in a rapidly changing world.

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A graduate of the University of Mississippi, Wayne Madsen is a journalist whose opinion pieces have appeared in most leading European and American newspapers.

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