Today is Columbus Day.
It’s a different kind of national holiday—it doesn’t commemorate a president or a great American statesman.
Columbus found North America while looking for something else.
For the first century or two of our country, Columbus was viewed as important—a great explorer, brave and fearless. In fact he was considered a saint by some.
That was before progressives decided he wasn’t any of those things. Now a generation of kids have been taught subtly and implicitly he was an abusive exploiter of peaceful indigenous people living in the Western Hemisphere.
He deserves, the kids are told, only disdain.
Seattle has gained national attention this past week in declaring the city will celebrate “Indigenous People’s Day” rather than the national Columbus Day.
Associated Press reports that other Washington cities are following Seattle’s lead. Seattle schools are also following the city council’s decision.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray plans to sign the proclamation today.
When President Obama has spoken of Columbus, he has subtly changed the focus of the holiday, as he did year before last.
Rather than merely celebrating a daring explorer, he highlighted the “plight” of the “indigenous people” resulting from Columbus’ landing.
However another President saw a very different Columbus. President Reagan saw “a dreamer, a man of vision and courage.”
Who is Columbus? Is he a good guy or a bad guy?
President Obama has made proclamation that all Americans should “reflect on the tragic burdens tribal communities bore in the years that followed [Columbus’ landing].”
President Ronald Reagan chose to reflect on a different aspect of Christopher Columbus.
He reflected, in his 1988 Columbus Day proclamation that Columbus was a man of great spirit: “He was a dreamer, a man of vision and courage, a man filled with hope for the future and with determination to cast off for the unknown and sail into uncharted seas for the joy of finding whatever was there.”
Reagan said, “Put it all together and you might say that Columbus was the inventor of the American dream.”
The Heritage Foundation has pointed out that President Obama “misses the significance of why America celebrates Columbus Day,” referring people to a thorough overview of the history and tradition of Columbus Day found in the curriculum, “What So Proudly We Hailed.”
In the curriculum, the authors explain that Columbus was indeed an important figure in American history.
They say, “The association between Columbus and America continued to prosper as the revolutionary colonists sought to distance themselves from England”, observing that “In Columbus they found a hero who had challenged the unknown sea, leaving the old world for a new beginning on a virgin continent—much as they were attempting to do.”
By the late 18th century, Americans saw Columbus as a “mythic founding figure.”
In the 19th century he was seen “as an archetype of the American ideal; bold, adventurous, innovative.”
Italians and Catholics called Columbus a symbol of civil rights and equality, while other admirers invoked him as a symbol of patriotism, progress and westward expansion.
In more recent years Columbus has fallen out of favor with progressives and they have made efforts to redefine him or ignore him—but mostly, vilify him.
Anthony W. Hager is a recognized expert on the subject on Columbus.
Writing for the American Thinker, a source I rarely quote, says:
On Columbus Day it is appropriate to discuss Christopher Columbus’s legacy. Critics seem emboldened on the day we recognize the famous mariner’s arrival in the New World. Was Columbus the barbaric sadist his detractors claim? Or was he a great explorer and discoverer?
Columbus lived an impoverished, unspectacular childhood. He spent his youth studying geography and developing his love for sailing. In manhood Columbus was relentless in peddling his belief in a spherical earth and westward sailing route to reach India. His audiences with the Spanish royalty are legendary.
However, the concept of a round world didn’t originate with Columbus. Neither was a westward trade route to India his idea. His desires to prove these theories weren’t rooted in scientific advancement. Columbus sought personal fame and fortune, expressing an entrepreneurial, capitalist attitude, which could partially explain why the modern Left hates him so.
Ultimately, Christopher Columbus never amassed the fortune he sought and died in poverty just 15 years after a discovery he never realized. He secured fame, but not in his time. Columbus never sailed west to India. Actually, he believed the New World was India. According to modern standards he would be an ignorant failure. But Columbus didn’t live by modern standards.
Columbus was an excellent navigator, a courageous explorer and an able captain. He discovered a land unknown in his world and returned home across a trackless ocean. He commanded sailors who believed the Atlantic Ocean was full of sea serpents intent on devouring the wayward seaman. They thought the Atlantic an infinite sea that boiled at the equator. Christopher Columbus’ accomplishments were remarkable considering the obstacles he faced.
Then there is the other Columbus, the murderous slave trader who destroyed the “utopian paradise” that existed in the “New World.”
Columbus, his antagonists allege, sparked a genocidal avalanche of misery and mayhem that decimated the Arawak Indians. In fact, the entire European exploration and settlement era exploded into an imperialistic inferno with Christopher Columbus holding the match. Yet the idea that the Western Hemisphere was the Garden of Eden prior to 1492 is fairly naïve. Some European explorers were brutal, and the Taino Arawak tribe suffered at Spanish hands. But to lay all violence at the feet of Columbus ignores the New World brutality that existed before his arrival.
The Taino were rather passive. But the Caribs were a fierce people who abused the Tainos and took their lands before Columbus arrived. The Caribs made wives of captured Taino women (slavery, anyone?), fashioned necklaces from their vanquished enemy’s teeth and may have practiced cannibalism.
The Caribs may have decimated the Ciboneys who once inhabited the Caribbean. The Ciboneys descended from a prior culture that was all but exterminated by yet another people. And if the Caribs themselves weren’t cannibals, the Tupinamba Indians were. Finally, these tribes were indigenous Caribbean Indians; they migrated from the mainland. Thus the peaceful natives Columbus assaulted were neither peaceful nor native, but warrior explorers and conquerors.
“Christopher Columbus is neither as pure nor as despicable as he is portrayed,” Hager says.
Rather than using this day to dwell on past wrongs, highlight divisions within our country or apologize for the American story of greatness, perhaps we could celebrate one of the many values that made America great.
Risk and reward.
Reagan said Columbus was “not only an intrepid searcher,” but represented the “dreams and opportunities that brought so many here after him.”
Be Informed. Be Vigilant. Be Discerning. Be Prayerful. Be Blessed.
Originally Published: 2014