Monday was Columbus Day. Did you notice? It seems to be another one of those traditional holidays that has sunk into oblivion.
Now, let me be clear on one point: I don’t view Columbus as a role model. Yes, he did believe God was leading him to sail west. And, in some fashion, he believed the Christian faith was to be spread through him. That’s balanced out, however, by his ego—desiring and winning the title Admiral of the Ocean Seas—and his quest for riches. Further, he was a little confused. He never did figure out that he had found something new. Until the day he died (largely forgotten and impoverished) he firmly held to the idea that he had found the western route to Asia. It remained for others to figure out the truth.
Yet he did open up a new vista. Without someone stumbling across the Western Hemisphere, there would be no America. It would have happened eventually, but why not give Columbus his due? He was the first.
Why has he been ignored? A slanted view of history has overtaken him. As the Spanish continued to populate this New World, old civilizations fell and many died, some through warfare and oppression, to be sure, but most by the introduction of diseases for which the native population had no immunities. It has become fashionable now to label Columbus as the originator of genocide. At some universities his “day” has been renamed: they call it Indigenous People’s Day. All evil is laid at the feet of European explorers and settlers.
The story is far more complicated than the ideologues would have you believe.
Columbus actually created friendships with some of the native leaders. He left some of his crew with the natives while he returned to Spain. When he arrived back in the New World, all the people he left behind were dead—killed, he was told by his chieftan friend, by “others.” While this may sound fishy to us, Columbus chose to believe his new friend. This is hardly the attitude of a promoter of genocide.
There’s more truth to this fanciful survey than we may be willing to acknowledge, both in the perspective offered on Columbus and in the students’ level of knowledge. Happy belated Columbus Day!