June 27, 1492
TO THE EDITOR, BARCELONA SPOOF
Dear Editor: At the risk of having my head lopped off I think someone has to demand from her royal majesty an explanation for the ridiculous voyage to China that she has just approved and which departs shortly. How in the world could anyone have convinced her to hock the crown jewels in order to finance a Tom fool expedition to China by sailing West? China is to the East, not West!
If Spain had a constitution we'd all be looking for the clause that permits removal of the monarch on grounds of insanity. Unfortunately, we have neither a constitution nor an insane queen. Isabella is as sound as a peso. She just doesn't use common sense.
This fiasco is about as practical as a Mission to Mars.
Because the Portuguese reached the southern tip of Africa and discovered an all-water route to Asia, Spain must have its own "passage to India." But we can't go the normal way. We have to pioneer a new one.
Why? What good could possibly come from opening a Spanish sealane to China? Asians have nothing that Spaniards need. We lived for centuries without trading with China. Then this Polo guy comes along and suddenly it's chic to have a Chinese bauble. Well, I don't need any. I can get along fine without anything from the Orient.
What do we produce that Asians would want to buy? Furthermore, the cost of shipping would eat up any profit. Chinese tourists won't come to Spain for the bullfights.
How long will it take to get there? The captain of this ill-advised expedition, Chris Columbus, has told the queen not to expect him back for a year. Six months to China? And six months to return? What could we possibly find there that would make such a tedious, costly and seemingly endless voyage worthwhile?
How can a ship sailing west get to the "Orient," which by definition is in the East? While it's unlikely the ship will fall off the edge of the world, although that view is still held by paleocons, the Vikings claim there is a large island out there blocking the way west.
If God intended a route to China via the Atlantic it would have been found long ago. How come no Chinese navigator ever landed on our shores?
Suppose the queen's folly is successful. What's to keep a hundred million Chinese from putting to sea in their own ships and flooding our land with illegal aliens?
It's a scam - and the queen's been duped. First of all, this Columbus guy's not even a Spaniard. He's Italian, for goodness sake.
How come the royal treasury is shelling out a fortune to a foreigner for a harebrained voyage to nowhere that won't benefit Spain one centavo?
Furthermore, Columbus doesn't want one ship, he wants a whole fleet.
If Chris and his cronies want to get to China let them sail with the Portuguese. Let them pay for the junket themselves. Spanish taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for a bunch of sea junkies.
Once at sea who knows where Columbus will go. Certainly not to China. Chances are he'll set himself up on that Viking island, call it Columbia and make himself king.
Or perhaps the whole thing is a fishing expedition. Columbus was seen purchasing a rod and reel in a local sporting goods store and inquiring about a taxidermist.
If Isabella wants to do something maritime, she should use our tax money to increase the royal navy. We need a Spanish Armada to offset the English. Some day England and Spain will tangle. With a big fleet we'll not only stop the English but we can launch a first strike and catch them by surprise. But not if the queen diverts our naval resources into this China folly.
The queen's henchmen are already saying that if protests stop the expedition, the opposition will be denounced as the ones who "lost China."
What we need is an official inquisition into the origin of this scheme. A little water boarding of Columbus and his groupies will surely reveal that the whole plot was hatched by Basque separatists or remnants of the Muslim invaders we not so long ago drove out.
This voyage diverts attention from real threats to Spain. And it will only grow worse if Columbus is successful. I can see it now - the queen and Columbus on the Santa Maria under a "mission accomplished" banner. The press will go crazy, as will our citizens who look for anything to cheer in these dark times.
Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona.