On Columbus Day, Fight the Narrative and Remember This Great Man
“In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue…
The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.” —Jean Marzollo
(I originally wrote and published the article below in 2021.)
Today is Columbus Day—a day once meant to celebrate the man who discovered the New World, and also to celebrate Italian Americans, who previously suffered intense and violent prejudice in the US. Christopher Columbus: explorer, visionary, leader, Catholic, world-changer. Columbus has been smeared as a racist, exploitative tyrant in recent decades, but the real man was far different—like any human, he made mistakes, but his intentions were nearly always good, and, far more importantly, his actions indicated a dedication to treating every human, of every race, with respect.
In an article titled “Will the Real Columbus Please Stand Up,” Tad Callister rehabilitates the man so vilified that Joe Biden in 2021 renamed the holiday “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Columbus was a dedicated Christian, with the “conviction that God destined him to be an instrument for spreading the faith [that] was far more potent than the desire to win glory, wealth and worldly honors, to which he was certainly far from indifferent.” Of course Columbus wanted to be rich and honorable—who doesn’t? He was a man with gigantic vision and a sort of genius, and he wanted to make history. Columbus might not have been Francis of Assisi; but, like Francis, Columbus aspired to be an evangelizer—and the Genoese explorer decided that “any gold found should be used first and foremost to propagate the faith and to launch the final crusade to Jerusalem.” Columbus wanted to take back the Holy Places of Judeo-Christianity from the Muslim invaders. He was not looking for gold purely to enrich himself.
Columbus was far more friendly to the natives than moderns would think. Not only that, the explorer treated them as fully human, each with a soul worthy of salvation, an attitude in which even friendly Europeans sometimes fell short. Historian Carol Delaney noted that Columbus made great efforts to befriend the natives of the “New World,” guilty perhaps only of not keeping strict enough tabs on his less-amiable subordinates:
“His relations with the natives tended to be benign. He liked the natives and found them to be very intelligent. … Christopher strictly told the crew not to do things like maraud [or] rape, and instead to treat the native people with respect. There are many examples in his writings where he gave instructions to this effect. Most of the time when injustices occurred, Columbus wasn’t even there.”
As for the story about Columbus sending enslaved natives to Spain, it might seem as if no context can redeem that, but you might be surprised (as I was).
“King Guacanagari was a native chief who sought the help of Columbus to defeat an enemy tribe of cannibals who were destroying his own tribe. Columbus did assist in this request and sent the captured cannibals as slaves to Spain.
Regarding these slaves, Columbus wrote to the [Spanish] monarchs: ‘We send by these two vessels some of these cannibal men and women, as well as some children, both male and female. Their Highnesses can order them to be placed under the care of the most competent persons to teach them the language.’ Columbus then explained his motive for sending these slaves: ‘that they may one day be led to abandon their barbarous custom of eating their fellow-creatures. By learning the Spanish language in Spain, they will much earlier receive baptism and ensure the salvation of their souls.’ What a noble sentiment!
Columbus also said of these slaves that he ‘intended to reclaim’ them and then ‘return them to their lands so they would instruct others.’ This helps us understand the motives behind Columbus’s actions, namely, to help civilize and save these indigenous natives, some of whom practiced cannibalism.”
Columbus only “enslaved” these natives at the request of other natives! In other words, Columbus did not interrupt an idyllic paradise where tribes lived in complete harmony with each other and nature. It seems that cannibals were terrorizing another tribe, and Columbus helped the victims out. But, even beyond that, Columbus still hoped that the cannibals themselves could be redeemed, and returned to their homes! That is not paternalism or racism, that is the attitude of a true Christian, a man able to see humanity and potential nobility in even the worst of his fellow men.
By the way, as ItalianCenter.net notes, calling today “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” actually attacks vulnerable groups and undermines the fight against prejudice through eradicating Columbus Day:
“Columbus Day was recognized in 1892 by President Benjamin Harrison as a national holiday to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery by Columbus. In fact, The holiday was recognized in part to address the fierce prejudice, widespread discrimination and the lynching’s [sic] Italian Americans faced in the America of the time. The mass lynching of 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans in 1891 prompted creation of the holiday. Italian Americans were the second largest ethnic group to be lynched in the United States.
Columbus Day is an integral part of the American and Italian American heritage. It was created to affirm the United States as a ‘nation of immigrants.’ The Pledge of Allegiance was written to honor the day. . .The movement to replace Columbus Day puts Italian Americans and native Americans on a collision course. While Native Americans want to eliminate Columbus Day and take the day for their own, Italian Americans are urging them to choose a different day to conduct their protest movement.”
Have a day to celebrate American Indians (though I’m not sure how one day could encompass the traditions of the numerous very different native tribes)! I think few people would object to a holiday remembering American Indian heritage—I know I wouldn’t (so long as it does not simply get appropriated by leftists to spread hatred). But trying to take over Columbus Day is wrong.
To try and supplant this holiday is erasure of history, and it is unjust. After all, if Columbus had never discovered the Americas, we would not have federal holidays and public platforms to celebrate diverse groups at all, because America would not exist. Fight the mendacious narrative. Celebrate Christopher Columbus.
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