Happy Columbus Day, everyone!
I wanted to take a moment to defend one of the most maligned holidays (and individuals) in American history. The movement to villianize Columbus the man, and denigrate his achievement has been picking up steam in recent years, and needs to be addressed. Typically, the objections to Columbus fall under one of two categories, both of which are rooted in the worship of indigenous cultures as superior to European culture:
1) Columbus didn’t discover America, there were already people living there!
2) Columbus isn’t a hero because he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples.
Number one is a semantic argument that is very easy to address. The obvious response is that it depends on how you define the word “discover.” Whether or not Columbus arriving in the Western Hemisphere represents a true “discovery” is not really relevant. He certainly discovered it from the perspective of Europe, which is where our western civilization descends from. In any case, his achievement was remarkable. He was the first European to sail from Europe to America. This achievement directly led to the founding of the United States of America. Whether he was looking for Asia or not is not relevant. Whether he thought he was in Asia or not is not relevant. Whether Leif Ericsson founded a quickly-abandoned colony in Newfoundland centuries earlier is irrelevant. Leif Ericsson’s colony did not lead to rampant exploration and colonization of the Western Hemisphere. Columbus did. His achievement was remarkable, regardless of whether indigenous peoples already occupied the land he “discovered” or whether Leif Ericsson technically “got there first.”
Number two is a tad more complicated. There is no doubt that the arrival of Columbus set in motion a chain of events that would change the world forever, and would affect virtually everyone on Earth. Some were affected positively, some negatively. It led to some things we look back on with pride (the founding of the United States) and some things we look back on with shame (the African slave trade). To address this claim, we must ask some hypothetical questions. The first of which is, would humanity as a whole be better, or worse off, if Columbus never made the trip at all? I would certainly say worse off. America is by no means perfect, but I believe its existence has been a net positive for humanity. This is obviously a matter of opinion. Some leftists out there are adamant that the opposite is true, that the loss of native culture, customs, and traditions, is not worth any price. That “colonialism” is the greatest evil perpetuated on Earth. Personally, I think the European colonization of the Western Hemisphere led directly to countless breakthroughs, inventions, and philosophical shifts that would ultimately increase the freedom of quality of life for all of humanity.
Columbus was an amazing man whose achievement is one of the most significant in human history. Negative opinions of some of his personal behavior, and a dispute over the meaning of the word “discover” are not valid reasons to denigrate his accomplishment. It is an accomplishment well worth honoring, celebrating, and remembering.