Reflections on Columbus Day

Columbus Taking PossessionSince April 1934, Columbus Day was established by Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a federal holiday set aside to pay tribute to Christopher Columbus, the man credited with the discovering of America. The legal observance was heavily petitioned by the Knights of Columbus and Generoso Pope, the Italian community leader in New York City. In 1970, the legal observance was changed to the second Monday in October. It is not the establishment of a federal holiday that has the American Left up in arms – it is that this particular holiday celebrates everything that irks the American Left about America.

Having taught at the college and university level for over ten years, I was really not surprised when I heard that the Seattle City Board decided not to celebrate or observe Columbus Day, but instead, to celebrate “Indigenous Peoples Day” in honor of the many contributions of American Indians into American society. As I was listening to National Public Radio this morning, the person being interviewed stated that it was preferred to celebrate the contributions of American Indians over that of Christopher Columbus because Columbus was responsible for the deaths of millions of American Indians. This intellectually dangerous and dishonest debate actually has its seeds planted in the American classroom  of all educational levels. The narrative currently taught was that the various tribes of American Indians were peaceful in nature, coexisted in harmony with nature and surrounding tribes. This existence was shattered by the arrival of white men who were xenophobic, ethnocentric, and cared less about diversity of cultures or cultural preservation of indigenous peoples.

There are several problems with the arguments made by the American Left regarding Columbus. The most obvious is the desire to judge his actions through our vantage point in history. In the 21st Century, we understand the dangers of introducing foreign pathogens into new areas; even with the Apollo moon missions, lunar samples were treated with extreme caution lest they spread some lunar contagion that life on Earth would have no immunity. During the days of Columbus, there was no understanding of the dangers that smallpox, gonorrhea, influenza, and a host of other standard Asian and European pathogens that would pose a threat to the American Indian.There were no processes nor world governing body seeking to preserve primitive cultures nor vast armies of academics to lead the moral charge that so many of them make today. Christopher Columbus and the men that accompanied him were shaped by the world of the 15th and 16th Centuries. Compared to our standards, they were superstitious, crass, and from a society shaped by nearly three centuries of warfare. They had more modern technology than their Indian counterparts, and judged them as being inferior based on their religious system, governance, customs, and traditions. The men that were with Columbus simply saw a new world through eyes shaped by what they had come to know in their lifetimes.

The American Left tells the story surrounding Christopher Columbus through a Progressive/Leftist/Marxist/Environmentalist view. The problem is that when any part of the history of human civilization is held up and measured according to our sense of morality, the past will always fall short. Instead of celebrating the spirit of discovery, the willingness to face the unknown to learn what it holds, and the legacy it has left on this nation, the Left sees it as the start of Euro-American oppression, raw capitalism and greed, and at the expense of the well-being of the American Indian. The same scientific minds that claim the banner of Darwinism to explain why life exists on earth refuses to use that same Darwinism to explain why all of the history of mankind is full of the victors, the strong, those that could resist, and the subjugated. Empires rise and fall; out of their ashes a new civilization arises. Rome fell, Greece fell, and the Soviet Union fell; in each of their places, new civilizations, new nations, and new cultures were born into existence. While it is the job of the historian and political scientist to tell the story of why governments and nations have collapsed, it is neither wise nor prudent to mourn the loss of any civilization that became the foundation that the modern world needed. Without Columbus and the contributions and history of Europe and the American Indian, there would be no United States, no Canada, no Mexico, or the dozen other nations that share the western hemisphere. From my perspective, it is almost as if the American Left and the American Left-thinking intellectual actually loathe the civilization that brought them into existence.

So, to those people who are celebrating “Indigenous Peoples Day,” I will continue to pay my respects to the brave explorers of those long gone eras whose sense of adventure, quest for discovery, and determination to do what they believed never to have been done before would forever transform their world into what we now know as our modern era. They were simply men, not the monsters that many in our academic institutions have tried to make them. It has been 522 years since his epic voyage in a ship about the length of a modern semi-tractor and trailer. I wonder when those of the future will look upon us with admiration or condemnation.

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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