Bequeathed posthumously as America’s original sinner, Christopher Columbus has been characterized as a sexually perverse, blood-lusting imperialist; a man more worthy of prosecution for his crimes against indigenous peoples than worthy of commemoration or mention on the fall calendar.
According to historian Jacques Barzun the retrospective lynching of Columbus goes largely unjustified:
“The Spanish colonists committed atrocities from greed and racist contempt that nothing can palliate or excuse. But to blame Columbus is a piece of retrospective lynching; he was not the master criminal inspiring all the rest. It is moreover a mistake to think that because the native peoples were the sufferers, all of them were peaceable innocents. The Caribs whom Columbus first encountered had fought and displaced the Anawaks who occupied the islands. The Aztecs whom Cortez conquered had originally descended from the north and destroyed the previous civilizations. To the north and east many of the tribes lived in perpetual warfare, the strong exploiting the weak. And several – notably the Iroquois – had slaves. In short, what happened on the newfound hemisphere in the early modern times continued the practice of the old.”
Damning Columbus for colonizing foreign lands for his sovereign, as if he was the first person to do so, is a willful distortion of historical events. History is peppered with people who have been dispersed, trampled or subdued by force or threat of death. Alexander the Great raided the Persians. Muhammed cleansed the Meccans. Genghis Khan conquered the Chinese.
Applying a sliding scale of condemnation to Columbus and his endeavors, weighing them more heavily than those of say Caligula, exposes a contempt not for nation building but for the building of this particular nation.
Columbus was a navigator, an adventurer. He set out to establish a trade passage route to India. His mission was one of exploration, not of conquest.
How the landing of the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria has swelled into a story of the evils of our founding is characteristic of the America is worst crowd. The revised tale of Christopher Columbus could easily complete a set of a politically-charged spook stories including The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy and An Inconvenient Truth.
Those who excoriate the marking of Columbus Day, to them the demarcation point of pandemic, plunder and pillage, are the same who cry racism at the mention of securing our border or shutting off air travel from ebola-infected countries.
Christopher Columbus was no saint. But not every atrocity that befell the Native American people can be traced back to his landing.
If the script doesn’t fit, then you must acquit.
Source: Barzun, Jacques. (2000). From Dawn to Decadence. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.