Several months ago I read an uninformed commentary by Michael Miller in the Record Pilot in which he proposed that the time has come for Columbus Day to “evolve” into something less offensive and more reflective of our present day culturally diverse sensibilities. He infers that this holiday is “broken”, in other words, politically incorrect. That bit of dishonesty has become the rallying cry for progressives to begin transforming Columbus Day into an amalgam of mindless, unidentifiable, feel-good mush celebrated by group hugs and the ACLU.
According to Mr. Miller, the Columbus Day celebration represents a misguided appreciation for our European heritage because it ignores its record of greed, exploitation and brutality. He bases his flimsy claims on, (1) Columbus’ landing spread deadly diseases among the native populations and (2) his interaction with the natives produced brutal conditions of slavery.
While it’s true that diseases unknown to the indigenous people were brought to the New World by Europeans who themselves died from these diseases in their own lands, it is also true that Europeans contracted virulent strains of syphilis and tuberculosis from the indigenous peoples which they brought back to Europe. Hundreds of thousands died because they had no immunity to those diseases.
“The indigenous Americas also had a number of endemic diseases, such as tuberculosis (although once believed to have been brought from Europe, skeletal remains found in South America have since provided evidence of tuberculosis before the Spanish arrival) and an unusually virulent type of syphilis, which became rampant when brought back to the Old World.”Excerpt from Clash of Cultures.
There is no evidence whatsoever that Christopher Columbus committed genocide, which is defined as the deliberate, intentional extermination of a people. It is more conceivable that crew members who were either carriers or had become sick on the voyage disembarked in the New World not fully understanding the catastrophe they had unleashed. Yet Mr. Miller neglects to include these possibilities, primarily because it would weaken his argument. Since he preferred to inflame with rhetoric he again deliberately ignored the fact that indigenous people were not disease free, not a minor point in his allegations because it is now clear that diseases were transmitted both ways across the ocean. Mr. Miller is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts. To judge 15th century man through the prism of the 21st century is the kind of sloppy thinking that leads to the worst kind of revisionist history.
I’m not excusing Columbus’ treatment of the indigenous people but accuracy demands some context. Almost all Europeans lived in isolated towns and hamlets never traveling more than 10 miles from their homes in their entire lives. In this societal cocoon, people who were different would be viewed with suspicion and fear, a perspective that wasn’t confined to just the Old World. Evidence of man’s inhumanity to man is rife throughout the 15th century world, including indigenous people of the western hemisphere.
Although superstition, illiteracy and intolerance still plagued the Old World, confident, determined men of courage like Columbus continued to set out on dangerous voyages on unchartered seas seeking fame and fortune for their sovereigns. Were it not for the explorers, entrepreneurs and visionaries of that day, it’s probable that the Old World would still have been slogging through the vestiges of the Dark Ages. Rather than condemn Columbus we should acknowledge that his voyage was nothing less than a remarkable, extraordinary achievement given the limitations he faced.
Today, a confused, self-flagellating United States of America appears to be incapable of defending its traditions and heroes for fear of being labeled xenophobic or worse. Destroy a nation’s culture and you destroy its soul. China’s Chairman Mao knew this when he purged his country of its history and heroes guaranteeing that future generations would have a connection only to Communism. I believe this as a cautionary tale.
Christopher Columbus’ legacy is worth defending and commemorating.