Michael Savage: Not a smart man

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

It's not often that I enter the house of shattered mirrors that is Michael Savage's psyche, but one of his brief asides last night stuck with me, demonstrating as it does that Savage -- for all his boasting of intellectual prowess -- is as ignorant as they come.

Here he is bouncing from news story to news story, one of which touches on the Vikings and their voyages to the New World: "How about more proof that Vikings were the first to America? You didn't know that, huh? And you thought it was the Indians, or the Africans."

I see... The Vikings reached America first, not "the Indians," and certainly not "the Africans."

Savage was talking about this story from Time.com. It's difficult to pick a starting point in explaining what's so very wrong with his interpretation, so I'll just point out that the Vikings ended up leaving their North American colony, called Vinland, because of their strained relations with the people who had actually arrived there first -- the Indians. And those relations were strained because the Vikings, true to form, kept killing the natives.

As Jared Diamond wrote in his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed:

Today we know that North America was by far the largest and most valuable North Atlantic land discovered by the Norse; even the tiny fraction of it that the Norse surveyed impressed them. Why, then, did the Norse give up on Vinland, land of plenty?

The sagas offer a simple answer to that question: the large population of hostile Indians, with whom the Vikings failed to establish good relations. According to the sagas, the first Indians that the Vikings met were a group of nine, of whom they killed eight, while the ninth fled. That was not a promising start to establishing friendship. Not surprisingly, the Indians came back in a fleet of small boast, shot arrows at the Norse, and killed their leader, Erik the Red's son Thorvald. Pulling the arrow out of his intestines, the dying Thorvald is said to have lamented, "This is a rich country we have found; there is plenty of fat around my belly. We've found a land of fine resources, though we'll hardly enjoy much of them."

The next group of Norse voyagers did manage to establish a trade with local Indians (Norse cloth and cow's milk in exchange for animal furs brought by Indians), until one Viking killed an Indian trying to steal weapons. In the ensuing battle many Indians were killed before fleeing, but that was enough to convince the Norse of the chronic problems that they would face. As the unknown author of Erik the Red's Saga put it, "The [Viking] party then realized that, despite everything that the land had to offer there, they would be under constant threat of attack from its former inhabitants. They made ready to depart for their own country [i.e., Greenland]."

So... yeah. Crazy, stupid, crazily stupid. The world according to Michael Savage.

Michael Savage
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