I saw a fascinating doco running over the last two Sundays on the ABC, called 1421: The Year China Discovered America?. This is the title of a book by Gavin Menzies, described as a “historian and former submarine commander”, who claims that the fleet commanded by Zheng He, and known to have sailed to India and East Africa, actually continued on to America and circumnavigated the world.
The first episode gave the historical background on Zheng He and a reasonably sympathetic outline of Menzies’ theory. In the second episode, the pieces of evidence advanced by Menzies were presented in more detail, along with responses from experts on a wide range of topics, nearly all of whom tore Menzies’ claims to shreds (though in a very polite way). He didn’t seem to be fazed and was busy mounting an expedition to look for more evidence.
What struck me, watching this, was how different everything would have been if it had, for some reason, been politically useful for the US Republican Party and their Australian offshoots, to support Menzies’ claim. Then we would have had opinion pieces from Andrew Bolt and the like denouncing the experts as elitists only concerned to suppress dissenting views, claims of ABC bias, blogospheric recycling of bogus quotes, claims that many scientists support the 1421 theory and so on. The whole panoply of postmodernist tricks would be pressed into the service of a patent absurdity, just as we’ve seen with Intelligent Design, global warming denialism, defence of CFCs and so on.