Love him or hate him, you owe more to Christopher Columbus than you may be willing to admit. Yet, few who walked this Earth are as universally reviled as he. So much so, in fact, that there has arisen in recent times a movement to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day.
The motivation for renaming the secular holiday appears to be twofold. First, it is to call attention to the specialness of indigenous cultures. That would be well and good, if not for the second motivation: to shame into oblivion Columbus's legacy and that of Western civilization.
Backers of Indigenous People's Day, by lumping so many unique native cultures into one heading, show that they cannot be bothered to specify which "people" they are referring to. Might they mean those indigenous to the Americas like the Sioux, Cree, Taíno, or Aztecs? Or Australian aborigines? Or the Suebi, a fourth century Germanic tribe who were the forerunners for everyone of peninsular Spanish descent? This line of thinking waters down indigenous cultures to an arbitrary and discriminatory label. It debases these cultures to a lowest common denominator: that at some point in their history they encountered Western culture.
This line of thinking also shows an ignorance of historical events.
It may be edifying to proponents of Indigenous People's Day that they might not feel safe living among the historical indigenous cultures which they are too arrogant to learn about. Would they agree that the ritual human cannibalism of the Papua New Guinean Korowai Tribe is something to be celebrated? Would they feel comfortable being immersed in the Mayan practice of using a ballgame to determine who next to sacrifice upon their altars?
If nothing else, cessation of Mayan ritual human sacrifice is something we can chalk up to Columbus's legacy. But what else, if anything, should we thank Columbus for?
Like living on a continent that isn't Europe, Asia, or Africa regardless of where you're originally from? You're welcome.
Like enjoying the benefits of Western civilization, medicine, culture, politics, and economics? You're welcome.
Feel good knowing your local pagan priest won't kick in your door to demand your heart as a sacrifice to the gods for a bountiful harvest this year? The rain won't fall without shedding the blood of innocents, don'cha know. You know you're welcome.
Indeed, if the one day in October when we celebrate Columbus should be replaced with Indigenous People's Day, then the month of October should be renamed to Columbus in recognition of his legacy.
Like all heroes, Columbus was no saint during his time alive. Admittedly, he was a better sailor than he was a governor, but that is like saying an optometrist isn't as good at brain surgery as a neurologist. All things considered, Columbus wasn't the monster his detractors make him out to be. The man deserves respect.
Foremost, Columbus was a man of God. His faith was genuine and sincere. His writings suggest that his search for a western trade route to India was driven by a desire to enrich a Christian monarch, so that this monarch would in turn have the means to retake Jerusalem. The holy land had for centuries been in the grip of Muslim invaders. In Columbus's day, Ottoman Turks raided European shipping in the Mediterranean, plundering vessels and press-ganging captives into slavery. During a time in which many thought this subjugation by the Ottomans would never end, Columbus held out hope. This crusader spirit must have struck a chord with the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, who in 1492 wrested Granada from Muslim control and completed the centuries-long Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula.
With that said, wealth and conquest were not Columbus's primary objectives. They were means to an end, not ends in themselves. In point of fact, Columbus sought to limit the search for gold in the New World. Had he had his way, only those colonists who established a permanent home in the New World would be permitted to seek out gold, and only at certain times of the year. Columbus was concerned that greed would sidetrack the colonists from their duties in the Americas. History would prove him right in a handful of examples, though Columbus himself should not be counted among the overly self-interested.
The religious character of Columbus's second voyage in 1493 cannot be overstated. Many times throughout his journal, Columbus relates his fervent desire to convert the natives to Catholicism. When asked how to better colonize the New World, Columbus recommended to the Spanish monarchs that one percent of the wealth derived from the colonies be used for the construction of churches. He also requested that the crown send more priests and religious brothers to establish parishes in the Americas. The Spanish monarchs echoed this pious sentiment in their letters to him, acknowledging the urgency of the natives' conversion and dispatching priests to the expedition. To put it simply: Columbus was not a pirate. The acquisition of wealth factored into his mission, but it was not the impetus.
Second, Columbus was bold. That he was willing to risk his life on a voyage into the unknown reflects the strength of his character. Despite currently-held myths that people of the fifteenth century thought the Earth was flat, it was already well-settled by Columbus's time that the Earth was round. Naturally, at the outset of his voyage, Columbus did not know that the Americas lay between him and India. He nonetheless believed that if he sailed west far enough, he would eventually arrive in India. What he was not certain of, however, is how far India lay from Europe via a western sea route. There was also no way of knowing whether ships of the era could stock enough provisions for so long a journey. Many may have considered it a voyage from which no one could return alive.
This was not lost on Columbus or his crew. After thirty-one days without sighting land, the crew was on the verge of mutiny, even going so far as threatening to hurl Columbus into the sea. Here, Columbus proved himself to be a strong, diplomatic leader. Not only did he reestablish order, but he secured the loyalty of his crew for the duration of their voyage. Five days later, they made landfall, a turn of events Columbus deemed miraculous. Had they turned back to head home, they would likely have exhausted their supplies and died.
Third, Columbus's efforts were a crucial first step toward civilizing the New World. In his journal, Columbus recorded an initial meeting with the natives upon landing at San Salvador. He observed that the people he encountered there were naked and seemed to have no religion at all. Moved by compassion, he remarked upon his desire to convert them, teach them Spanish, and provide them an education.
The crown shared his compassionate sentiments toward the indigenous peoples. Spain was the first European power to enact legislation protecting native Americans. It was decreed that the native inhabitants of South and Central America should possess the same rights and obligations as any Spanish subject. Thus, Spain—and Columbus by extension—did not set sail with an eye toward blood and plunder. Quite the opposite, in fact: Spain was a civilizing powerhouse, responsible for the erection of many universities, churches, and hospitals in the New World.
Neither Columbus nor Spain sought to commit genocide of the native peoples, and neither actually carried out genocide. While it is undeniable that there was some bloodshed during the three centuries of Spanish involvement in the Americas, the principal cause for the decline of the native populations was disease. Wholesale slaughter of the natives does not comport with Columbus's character or his deeds; nor do such atrocities dovetail with how Spain reacted when allegations of brutality eventually surfaced.
By 1499, rumors of Columbus's supposed ill treatment of the natives had reached the crown. Spain dispatched Francisco de Bobadilla to investigate these claims. Columbus fought these allegations to the utmost, but Bobadilla put him in shackles and had him shipped back to Spain, where he would be imprisoned.
The claim of Columbus's mistreatment of the natives is suspect given what is known of Bobadilla's political aspirations. Bobadilla sought to take Columbus's position for himself. Upon arriving in Santo Domingo, he confiscated Columbus's home and installed himself as governor. His investigation included taking the sworn depositions of known enemies of Columbus. Bobadilla's actions stoked the ire of the Spanish crown, who recalled him and ordered he return the property he had taken from Columbus. A new governor was then installed in Bobadilla's place. Columbus was released from prison and entrusted with a fourth voyage to the New World.
Thus, the claims that Columbus savaged the native peoples of the Americas may well be an unfounded smear campaign. Were they true, why would the Spanish crown exonerate Columbus and fund another expedition at his request? Why would Bobadilla be punished and stripped of his title? Such considerations are often overlooked by those who heap aspersion onto Columbus. They cherry-pick only those questionable circumstances that fit their narrative, all the while conveniently dodging historical facts.
And for what purpose do they do this?
In years past, one might say that everyone loved rooting for a heroic underdog. Nobody ever wanted to be the underdog, and that is understandable. But nowadays, everyone wants to be thought of as the underdog, except that nobody wants to do anything remotely heroic. The mere expression of empty solidarity is thought of as heroic; whereas anyone who calls out that hypocrisy for what it is gets labeled a racist, a dog whistle, or a virtue-signaler.
Today it is fashionable to appear sympathetic to perceived historical wrongs without actually having any skin in the venture. When two or more engage in this behavior, what results between them is a race to the bottom; a cut-throat game of competitive victimhood where the Olympic gold goes to the one who is privileged enough to hide his privilege with perceived oppression. This is self-hatred on the level of Jerry Lewis's self-deprecating comedy, except we laughed at Lewis's act but are pigeonholed into our politically correct roles by unjustified societal pressure.
It begs the question: did indigenous people have any say at all in the renaming of Columbus Day? Or were they exploited (as some may claim Columbus exploited them) and made into unwilling poster boys of victimhood?
This culture of victimhood makes it abhorrent to think native people benefitted from contact with Western civilization. It tars as abhorrent anyone who considers Western culture as anything but oppressive and tyrannical.
All this is to avoid the uncomfortable conclusion: some cultures are better than others.
The ancient Egyptian civilization no longer exists, but it is known for its pyramids and agricultural science. Ancient Rome no longer exists, but it is known for the organizational efficiency of its legions and civic governance. The culture of the United States of America has distinguished itself from its immigrant forebears since the nation's founding in 1776, and its people are lauded for their many world-changing achievements. While Egypt and Rome produced wonders in their day, even these pale in comparison to the discovery of penicillin or any hundred-story skyscraper being erected at the present.
It is therefore undeniable that, on an objective level, some civilizations throughout history achieved more than others. Their level of achievement is linked to their people's standard of living; and their standard of living reflects of their level of achievement. Naturally, standard of living is not the only factor, but even the poorest in any modern industrialized society has an easier time surviving than the wealthy in pre-industrial life. It is far easier to accomplish great things when one is not constantly seeking out his next meal or defending himself against attacks from his neighbor. Ergo, some civilizations are better than others, and Western civilization is among the best. Having few other threats with which to occupy themselves, some Westerners burden themselves with the guilt of having highly successful ancestors.
Might I be so bold to ask: is it possible that some indigenous people are thankful for Columbus's involvement in the New World? The 80,400 slaughtered in 1487 during a four-day orgy of Aztec human sacrifices might have wished Columbus had arrived sooner.
Last I checked, the Aztecs haven't sacrificed anyone in a long time.