Should we celebrate historical figures that murdered and enslaved innocent people, or should idolized men such as Moses and Christopher Columbus be labeled as criminals? In regards to Columbus, there is no doubt his ambitions played a tremendous role in history, but should he be herofied? There is much controversy over this issue and two sides to the argument. When examining Columbus, it’s important to analyze beyond his accidental collision with an unknown continent in 1492 as an explorer. His real crimes against humanity are from when he returned in 1493 as a ruthless conqueror.
For the people who are pro-Columbus, they bring up his admirable characteristics such as bravery, seamanship skills and persistence. Even though he wasn’t the first to “discover” America, his voyage was overwhelmingly the most significant in that regard. Many critics point to Columbus and the other invaders bringing horrible diseases to the native people. Although this is true, in Columbus’s defense it’s not something he had intended. Superior weapons and immune systems made the Europeans unstoppable. A nation state will defeat isolated tribes.
Following the voyages of Columbus, a tremendous amount of wealth was injected into Europe from the Americas. This wealth spread to India and China through trade. The broad introduction of potatoes and corn provided a remarkable food supply throughout the rest of the world. For millions of people a better quality of life was achieved, but for Native Americans the result was unspeakable suffering and cruelty. Human flesh was ripped apart from the steel of the sword and the teeth of vicious attack dogs. People were murdered along with their religions, their treasure was plundered. The survivors were forced to work under the whip of their new masters.
In order for folks to properly determine if the hero or villain label fits, they need to research the complete biography and gather all the facts. They need to extend their knowledge beyond the often sugar coated, biased, and watered down history books. There is no doubt that Christopher Columbus has been herofied by the victors who benefited from his voyages. This bias must be recognized. In any type of investigation, a neutral perspective is typically best for finding truth.
There is no doubt that Christopher Columbus has much blood on his hands. The same can be said of many historical figures, so it’s important to understand the character and objective as well. For example, it can be said that Abraham Lincoln had much blood on his hands, but the carnage was necessary to end slavery. The cause was moral. The deaths resulted in life and freedom. The deaths resulted in the moral progress of a civilization that would benefit countless future generations. For the cause and the way he conducted himself, Abraham Lincoln is a hero. What was the cause for Columbus? The answer is an arrogance and greed that justified humans suppressing other humans. Everything that was gained from the Americas could have been done so through fair trade and respect instead of oppression, murder and thievery. For the way in which he achieved his cause, Columbus is a villain regardless of how many people may have benefited from his actions.
Apologists often excuse Columbus’s crimes because, after all, he had a world view from 500 years ago. Culture and time frame can never be an excuse for cruel behavior. We must never give into might makes right ideology. A hero isn’t someone that simply adopts the moral standards of their time; a hero is someone who transcends it. People like Benjamin Franklin broke the mental chains of their childhood to recognize what were societal norms at the time such as racism and slavery were wrong. That is the definition of a hero. And since we have many true heroes in history, there is no reason to have Columbus Day when a civilized society can provide far better examples of character and achievement.
James Kirk Wall
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