By the time this column appears in print, the 528th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ journey to the New World will have come and gone – to the regret of some and to the utter delight of others. By today’s “woke” standards, Columbus is an unredeemable miscreant!
In 1934, at the urging of Italian Americans, Columbus Day was designated a federal holiday by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Since 1971, the second Monday in October has been reserved to pay homage to the Genoese explorer who ventured into the great unknown in search of a new world.
More recently, this 15th century adventurer has elicited the ire of “protesters” who have torn down his statues and railed against his exploits contending that they resulted in the ruination of Native American populations. Although historians continue to debate the extent to which Columbus participated in the abuse of native tribes, his detractors, nevertheless, insist that the legions of European immigrants that followed him across the sea brought nothing but destruction (both intended and unintended) to entire civilizations.
Although by the standards of modern American morality we may condemn the acts of our European forebearers, it is only fair to remember that many Native American tribes, while competing for territory and resources, also committed many of the same abuses. According to Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, “destructive, high casualty warfare was widespread, with documented battles involving thousands of warriors and hundreds of fatalities.” While one bad act doesn’t excuse another, it is, at the very least, an objective acknowledgement of our primal nature as a species regardless of race.
As with the modern-day maligning of our Founding Fathers, is it fair to measure the worth of men strictly based on their misdeeds or is it more reasonable to evaluate them based the totality of their actions? The same people who call for Columbus to be erased from our collective memory, have no problem excusing the violent and antisocial behavior of anarchists in our streets. This is hypocritical at best and, at worst, antithetical to our belief in fundamental fairness.
In his book entitled “Columbus and the Age of Discovery,” author and film maker Zvi Dor-Ner, questions whether we should view Columbus as a daring explorer whose “discovery” ultimately enabled millions of disenfranchised Europeans to find a refuse from brutal poverty and religious persecution or should we condemn and lament his first voyage as a precursor to an “invasion”? Dor-Ner is mindful of the irrefutable fact, that, like the rest of us, Columbus was “complex, imperfect, and fallible.”
In an article he penned for the Epoch Times, author Jeff Minick insists that “before we pass moral judgment on Columbus, we might pause to consider the times in which he lived.” Life in the 15th century could be “harsh, brutal and short” and practices we now condemn as repugnant such as slavery and colonization were commonplace in Columbus’ world and he was, inescapably, a product of his time. “While condemning those practices,” Minick writes, “we might also bear in mind our own recent past: a century of not one but two world wars, a century that also saw 100 million people murdered by communists and fascists.”
When tempted to condemn others for their transgressions we should hold our own self-righteous tendencies in check and consider the words of Jesus Christ who, when asked to judge an adulteress, “lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her.”
By reflecting on our own missteps and limitations, perhaps we, like the scribes and Pharisees of old, will be “convicted” by our own consciences.
Shelly Aldean is a Carson City resident.