Huckabee's Columbus Cartoon: The Happy, Smiling Arawaks

I've just finished watching the latest cartoon from Mike Huckabee's Learn Our History series of educational videos, and I once again find myself gobsmacked at the celebratory propagandism the former Arkansas governor has injected into cartoons geared towards children -- or rather, parents who want to insulate their children from the liberal conspiracy to accurately retell American history.

In this newest cartoon, Huckabee's troupe of poorly animated grade-school protagonists travel back in time to witness Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World.

For those who can't see the video, at voyage's end Columbus and his sailors are greeted by a party of Arawaks, who provide them with food. The Arawaks are depicted as bald, grass skirt-clad, spear-clutching stereotypes. And they all look exactly the same. Seriously: the animators designed one Arawak and just copied-and-pasted to fill out the tribe. Each European character, in contrast, gets their own face, clothes, hair, and period headgear. I guess if you've seen one Arawak you've seen them all.

Anyway, Columbus and the natives meet, and everyone is smiling and happy, even the set of identical triplet Arawaks who accompanied Columbus back to Spain, presumably of their own free will.

The reality is that Columbus reacted to the Arawaks' passivity and lack of technology by excitedly remarking on how easily they might be enslaved. “The people here are simple in war-like matters, as your Highnesses will see by those seven which I have ordered to be taken and carried to Spain in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should choose to have them all transported to Castile, or held captive in the island. I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.” And, following through on that observation, Columbus and his exploratory entourage kidnapped and enslaved hundreds of natives over the course of several voyages.

Now you might think I'm being unfair -- after all, this is a video for kids, right? Why would a children's cartoon depict kidnappings and enslavement? Well, a little later in this same cartoon, the time-traveling tots encounter Viking explorers... who promptly kidnap the African-American character to hold her for ransom. “The Vikings are some of the roughest people the world has ever known,” explains another character. Notably, previous Learn Our History cartoons haven't shied away from content that could be considered inappropriate for younger audiences. Their video on the “Origins of World War II” depicted the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler's anti-Semitic speeches, and the Gestapo rounding up Jews.

But why whitewash the voyages of Columbus? Why note (and demonstrate!) the Vikings' marauding ways but omit the elements of conquest that Columbus himself so eagerly expounded upon in his own journals?

The answer lies with a small group of right-wing historians determined to wrest control of the American historical narrative away from “liberal” academia, which they view as insufficiently jingoistic or deferential to “American exceptionalism.” One of the leading voices of this movement is Larry Schweikart, author of A Patriot's History of the United States, and the top-billed historian on Learn Our History's impressively named “Council of Masters.” After quick perusal of A Patriot's History's first chapter, it's easy to see Schweikart's heavily revisionist hand at play in Huckabee's Columbus cartoon.

In A Patriot's History, Schweikart goes to war on the straw-man that “America start[ed] with Columbus' killing all the Indians.” This includes a mini-essay entitled “Did Columbus Kill Most of the Indians?” which offers up bluntly specious counterarguments: “What is certain is that vast numbers of natives were killed by other natives, and that only technological backwardness -- the absence of guns, for example -- prevented the numbers of natives killed by other natives from growing even higher.”

Schweikart writes in the introduction that “an honest evaluation of the history of the United States must begin and end with the recognition that, compared to any other nation, America's past is a bright and shining light.” That thesis -- which proudly stakes out Schweikart's intention to ignore information that conflicts with his worldview -- has become the animating spirit behind Huckabee's cartoon propaganda outfit.