Columbus, Churchill, Caine, and courage


Thursday, January 24, 2019

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Christopher Columbus arrived in Jamaica nearly 525 years ago on May 3, 1494 (on the Julian calendar). Sir Winston Churchill died exactly 54 years ago on January 24 1965. Political historian Troy Caine died recently. None of them were perfect, but if there was one common thread running through all of the above it was courage.

The truth is that Columbus, Churchill and Caine all made great efforts, and in all cases they went beyond the call of duty on many occasions.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) Christopher Columbus saw himself as being called by God to carry His message “to the four corners of the Earth” (Isaiah 11; 12). This appears to be so despite whatever wrong he did for which he will be judged.

The voyages of Columbus made information about the Western world available to the east, which opened up trade opportunities. This knowledge was previously unknown to most Europeans.

Columbus was courageous to make voyages in primitive boats in all sorts of weather and, on arrival here, endured dangerous diseases hitherto unknown to Europeans. Many of the first settlers in Jamaica, and in just about all parts of the so-called New World, died due to diseases caused by mosquitoes and flies as well as poor sanitation habits.

Sir Winston Churchill is remembered as the prime minister of Britain which declared war on Germany and its allies. Adolph Hitler wanted to take control of the world and had already invaded countries in Europe. Churchill declared war before Hitler could get into Britain.

But the same Winston Churchill was also opposed to any colony of Britain receiving self-government and political independence. When Mahatma Gandhi was fighting for political independence in India, Churchill, as prime minister of Britain, said that he “did not become His Majesty's first minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire”. Churchill also referred to Gandhi as a “half-naked fakir”.

The British colonies, which included Jamaica, got self-government, in the first instance, as part of a deal with the United States of America. According to the late Richard Hart, the United States joined the war on the side of Great Britain as an exchange for self-government in the British colonies. The United States Government, and many private interests there, were fed up of wanting to do trade with British colonies only to be told that the final approval had to come from England.

But, in a real way, Churchill saved the world. His courage was shown when he addressed the troops in giving one of the shortest speeches ever in history when he said these few words: “Never, never, never give up!”

But we must never dismiss a person for only one thing they do. Sir Alexander Clarke Bustamante, despite his role in getting higher wages for the peasants of Jamaica in 1938, was in fact a demagogue, and also a very conservative politician. He made up a lot of stories about his youth, including the fantasy of being adopted in Spain by a Spanish admiral and that he served as an army officer in Morocco during the First World War. Bustamante's first cousin, Norman Manley, refuted his wild stories, and so did his biographer George Eaton in his book Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica.

Bustamante also said that he was Roman Catholic, which complemented his fictitious story about being adopted in Spain, as 99 per cent of the Spanish population is Roman Catholic. But there was absolutely no record of his being baptised into the church when he initially gave that statement. Some say he was baptised Roman Catholic on his deathbed, but I sincerely doubt it.

Michael Manley, who, in following his father's plans carried social justice to a level that surpassed anything done before in Jamaica, was also someone whose personal life left a lot to be desired. This is one of two reasons I have never advocated that he be made a national hero.

King David or Paul the apostle should not be compared, as in both cases they repented before death. My point here is that many great people have at least two 'sides' about them. My second reason is that too many heroes spoil the respect for the genuine ones, just as “too many cooks spoil the broth” or “too much rat neva dig a good 'ole”.

The courage in taking time to pursue what must have been a hobby (as it is with me) to research every election in Jamaica from 1944 for paltry remuneration is an act of generosity that should always be remembered. Troy Caine took the blame for at least one thing that was not his fault. In 1977, Kingston Publishers did a booklet on the eulogy done by former Prime Minister Hugh Shearer for Sir Alexander Bustamante, and Caine was the editor. In that booklet, there is a photograph of Bustamante smiling as the results of the 1955 election were broadcast. The caption read that he accepted defeat with a smile, which was not so. In truth, Bustamante smiled because early in the counting of the 1955 election the Jamaica Labour Party was in the lead. But when the People's National Party finally won Bustamante called Jamaica “Judas Island” and accused Jamaicans of being ungrateful.

Troy Caine told me that he had nothing to do with the misleading caption, although he edited the draft. But Caine courageously took the rap like a prisoner falsely convicted. I also have been a victim of being blamed over many years for illustrations and captions not of my doing.

By the way, today is nine years since the death of Roman Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Burke. No, we were not related. His grandfather, whose Indian name was Singh, took the name of his employer, which was Burke, whereas my great-great-grandfather was an African indentured servant.


Burke news

Last week Thursday, in my article entitled 'Judgement Cliff and earthquakes', I mentioned some of my relatives. I did not mention the former national tennis coach Douglas Burke, but in answer to an often-asked question, Douglas, who resembles my brother Paul more than I do, is actually our first cousin.


Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian, and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or


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