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Columbus Day Reconsidered

— Filed under: People & Culture, Opinion
First landing of Columbus on the shores of the...

Image via Wikipedia

As many countries around the world celebrate Columbus Day today, I feel compelled to link to one of the most illuminating and powerful articles I've ever read about the supposed discoverer of the New World. In truth, it's an excerpt from a book by Thom Hartmann, and although it was originally posted online in 2007, it remains a timely and insightful piece of research into Columbus and what he represents in a broader context, even to this day.

Expanding, Hartmann says:

"This wasn’t just the story of Hispaniola; the same has been done to indigenous peoples worldwide. Slavery, apartheid, and the entire concept of conservative Darwinian Economics, have been used to justify continued suffering by masses of human beings."


"We live in a culture that includes the principle that if somebody else has something we need, and they won’t give it to us, and we have the means to kill them to get it, it’s not unreasonable to go get it, using whatever force we need to."

Is this what we're unconsciously, unknowingly celebrating on Columbus Day — the exploitation and subjugation of indigenous populations? The concept that we should grab everything we can, when we can, because we can?

Christoper Columbus arrives in America

Image via Wikipedia

DJ Pangburn at Death & Taxes mounts a defense of Columbus and attempts to paint the debate as a conservative vs. liberal issue with a point-by-point essay that essentially amounts to "Columbus was bad, but probably not as bad as they say". From the article comes this shocking statement:

"If there was no Columbus to rape and pillage the New World, then surely there would have been someone else to take his place."

Not exactly a vigorous endorsement of Columbus' character. In Pangburn's defense, his argument is rounded out nicely at the end with some bigger-picture thoughts, including:

"Columbus is simultaneously terrorist and imperialist, which makes him no different than any other Western personality up to and including current government and business leaders.  To single him out as a unique form of evil–that we have somehow moved beyond his atrocities–only distracts us from the reality that we are still led by men who are no better than Columbus, just better at hiding it."

Which is certainly true, but in my mind does not explain why we should be celebrating this kind of behavior at all, even if Columbus was not as bad as some people say.

What are your thoughts? Is the controversy over Columbus Day overblown? Or is it time to move away from celebrating a man and a mode of thought which has become unacceptable, and "uncivilized"? Post a comment below and let me know your thoughts - seize the skull!

Bernard's picture

Someone else would have

From Pangburn's logic, it follows that if Hitler had not killed the Jews, someone else would have. If Chapman hadn't shot Lennon, someone else would have. If I hadn't run the red light, someone else would have.

Further, I am unimpressed by his final statement. To say that there are still evil men in this world is stating the obvious. But I am unwilling to sit back and say "well, at least they're not as bad as some." That, my friends, is defeatism.

anonymous's picture

Of course I am indignant that

Of course I am indignant that Columbus saw the Indigenous Peoples of North America as less than human and committed horrendous crimes against them and stole their land.  He thought much the same as other Europeans of his day.  That doesn't let him off the hook.  If he had spent just an hour a day in quiet reflection, I think that God in him would have revealed the truth to him.  We can't throw stones at him if we ourselves don't take the time to search our souls.  What are we doing today that is the equivalent?   

timedesign's picture

a bit harsh

Seems a bit harsh on old Chris Columbus. I'm pretty sure that when he set off in his little ship to sail completely off the edge of the map, he wasn't doing it in the name of some Darwinian-Fachistic polemic. More likely, he just wanted to make a lot of money. There is a danger of judging a man of his time through our 21st century spectacles.

DaveR's picture

a bit too kind

timedesign, check out the first link in the article. Slavery, sex slavery, mutilation as punishment, and eventually genocide. All direct orders from Columbus, all documented by Cuneo. These abuses were so extreme that the local Taino took to mass suicide as an escape.

Too harsh? I think your being too kind, too forgiving. Judging through my 21st century spectacles? Of course I am. I don't give a free pass on moral issues just because it was a long time ago. "Oh well it was common to do those things back then, so it was okay to sell women as sex slaves."

timedesign's picture

Sounds interesting

Sounds interesting, where's the link?

DaveR's picture

It's in the first

It's in the first paragraph.......

timedesign's picture


Uhhhh. Oh yeah.... sorry.