Monday, October 13, 2008

Let's at least remember the real Columbus

Yet another Clolumbus Day rolls around, and every time it is mentioned, I stop myself from rolling my eyes. It seems that some people even forget about the holiday, but for those that do, I hope they are at least remembering there is a different perspective on just what Columbus meant for the world.

While so many remember Columbus as a great savior who "discovered" a whole new world and brought the old and new together - the beginning of what would become a great nation, even - for the indigenous people of both North and South America, it was a black day indeed.

For those that might say, "History is history - it's in the past... leave it there."

Umm... exactly. While we're at it, let's stop dragging up the past when we remember a man who treated two continents of people as little better than animals, and contemplated the conquership strategy on day one. When we celebrate his memory, why is it we must only celebrate the false image generations of bad history lessons have given us?

I fell about Columbus the same as I feel about President Andrew Jackson (you know, the "Trail of Tears" dead Indians are the best guy?) Why do we continue to hold these people up as good people? Can we remember them with honesty?

I have heard that Adolf Hitler did some good things to Germany's economy. Does the "good" he did excuse the horrors he committed?

Quotes from passages of the Columbus' voyage - ship's diary:

Day One:
(of the Native people they are encountering)"It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion."

Day Four:
(of the Native people they encountered)"I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased."

Day Five:
(of an indigenous man)"...and give him his property, that he may carry a good report of us, so that if it please our Lord when your Highnesses shall send again to these regions, those who arrive here may receive honor, and procure what the natives may be found to possess."

Really? This is the guy I should honor?

Yes, it was a pivotal moment, but we do not remember the attack on Pearl Harbor with the same rose-colored glasses. Surely Pearl Harbor ranks up there with days that changed the world. Or maybe September 11? Far less people died because of the terrorist attacks, but we shudder at the men and women who have made martyrs of the terrorists.

I have heard arguments too, that "it was just the time and culture." Yet any time that there is gross social injustice, it is people of the time and culture that must change it. Not fifty years ago, it was socially acceptable to be racist. It took the people of the time saying, "No, it is not acceptable" to change the culture. People know right and wrong, and have always had the ability to discern between them.

And yes, the Native people of the Americas - for that matter every culture EVER - have committed great atrocities of their own. But I am not suggesting we make a holiday of their actions. From my own heritage - the Tlingit people and the Haida people regularly made slaves of each other in their warfare. I have never tried to hide that, and I have certainly never tried to make a hero of those who did it.

We can celebrate the good that came of Columbus' voyage (and yes, there were some) without making an idol of the man himself.


House of Brat said...

Small correction, it was Andrew Jackson, not Alexander.

1) Christopher Columbus was a rapist and pedophile, not something commonly reported about him, but it's there in the history books. And he encouraged it with the men on the mission.

2) Vikings/Scandinavians made it to North America first.

Writing Raven said...

Whoops! Thanks for the catch! I think the later I post these, the more silly errors you can find!