Today is Columbus Day in the United States, celebrating the day that Christopher Columbus reached the New World. In Berkeley and some other Leftist enclaves, it is Indigenous People’s Day, in which Western Civilization is condemned for its many crimes against humanity. Columbus Day is no big deal, just a three day weekend for banks and such. Still, should we honor Christopher Columbus with a day?
I think we can absolve Columbus of the destruction of many Native American cultures and peoples. That was inevitable. Europe’s sailing and navigation techniques were advancing rapidly and it was only a matter of time before someone stumbled across the Americas. Since the natives were centuries behind in technology and had no immunity to smallpox and other diseases the Europeans brought, they were doomed. They weren’t entirely helpless victims though. They did fight, with varying degrees of success. But between the massive death toll from disease and their own disunity, often they were more interested in using the guns they acquired from European traders to fight traditional rivals than the Europeans, the Native Americans were doomed.
Still, Columbus did set the pattern by enslaving the natives of the islands he discovered.From the Wikipedia article there is this excerpt from his log.
From the 12 October 1492 entry in his journal he wrote of them, “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.” He remarked that their lack of modern weaponry and even metal-forged swords or pikes was a tactical vulnerability, writing, “I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.”[40
He seems not to have been a very good governor of Isabella, the first Spanish colony in the New World. He was charged with excessive cruelty and sent back to Spain in chains. These charges might be false though, since Ferdinand and Isabella felt they had promised him too much reward for his discoveries. Before he set out, they had promised him governorship any lands he discovered. As it became obvious to everyone but Columbus that he had discovered a whole continent, the king and queen wanted a bigger share.
Maybe the biggest reason not to celebrate is that he was wrong. The popular view is of Columbus bravely asserting that the Earth is round against the scholars and intellectuals of his time who “knew” the Earth was flat. Of course, everyone knew the Earth was round. Every educated person in the West had known the Earth was round since the time of the Ancient Greeks. The Greek scholar Eratosthenes had even calculated the size of the Earth with reasonable accuracy back in the third century. The scholars and intellectuals who opposed Columbus knew about how large the Earth actually was and they knew perfectly well that Columbus was fudging his calculations to make his voyage seem feasible. If the Americas hadn’t been in the way, his voyage would have ended in disaster. But the Americas were in the way and Columbus was able to make the most amazing discoveries in history, bringing the old and new worlds together.
For all that though, I like Christopher Columbus. Despite his flaws, and he was only a man of his time. He had courage and vision, two qualities that are rare enough in any time, especially our own. So, by all means, let’s celebrate this man and his deeds.