Saving Christopher Columbus

This week, the Seattle City Council decided that it was time to stop celebrating the legacy of Christopher Columbus. Despite the fact that every American who enjoys their life in this country owes the growth of the United States to those early voyages, it’s become politically incorrect to attribute any greatness to the man. Instead of Columbus Day, Seattle will now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. Doesn’t really roll off the tongue…

Well, if Seattle’s City Council is so desperate to recognize the plight of Native Americans, why not kick all their Euro-settlers out and start fresh? Invite Native Americans to take Seattle as theirs. After all, is this just a symbolic gesture or is there real sentiment behind it? Of course, we all know the answer to that one.

Seattle’s move is only the latest shot across the bow when it comes to redefining what Columbus means to modern America. For the last thirty years, there has been a concerted effort to tarnish the man who “discovered America.” The left wingers, unsatisfied with merely shedding some light on the man behind the myth, now want to erase him from the history books. But that kind of historical revisionism doesn’t change the facts. And a man who is still widely known 500 years after he lived is deserving of a little more respect. This liberal trope of feeling guilty about things that happened long before any of us were here is asinine.

It’s outrageous to judge Columbus by today’s social norms. These are the same people who think we should remove the Founding Fathers from our national consciousness because of their views on slavery. But one thing has nothing to do with the other. We can learn from these great explorers and pioneers without elevating them to the status of deities. I’m in agreement with the liberals in one respect: we need to stop “cherry-treeing” figures of American culture.

But we can’t hide from the reality of human civilization. It is a brutal tale, filled with war, conquered lands, and outright tragedy. Was the part Columbus played in America’s discovery morally defensible? The question is immaterial. Whether you approve of Columbus’s expeditions or not, they are extraordinarily important to the history of the world. And setting aside a day to recognize that fact does not mean we tacitly approve of everything that happened. It means we refuse to forget the history upon which this country was built.

The truth is that Columbus is neither a cultural folk hero nor an Italian devil. He was both a product of his time and a man outside of it. He pushed human exploration to new frontiers, without ever realizing the grandness of his discoveries. Yes, if you read his well-kept diary, he did terrible things by the standards of today. The same will be said in the future of things we think nothing of today. That’s how society evolves.

The key to a well-rounded understanding of history lies not in choosing to celebrate one group of people over another, but in accepting the full truth of what happened. That can be difficult to uncover beneath all the politicization, but we can only strive to do the best we can. Sure, let’s celebrate Native Americans. But let’s not pretend like changing the name of Columbus Day will change American history.

 


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