What if Christopher Columbus hadn’t sailed the ocean blue in 1492?
Woke critics of the great mariner insist that the world would be a better place if he’d stuck closer to the shores of Europe and that, moreover, Columbus himself is unworthy of the great admiration heaped upon him in previous times.
He is the ultimate exemplar of white, male privilege in the woke view. They are wrong.
Columbus remains an inspiring historical figure for those who have not dissolved into a frenzy of hatred of the West. Several columnists are giving us excellent advice on this Columbus Day: David Marcus urges, “Happy Columbus Day, Say It Loud, Say It Proud,” Dave Seminara argues in City Journal that we “Don’t Defend Columbus—Celebrate Him,” and the Daily Signal’s Jarrett Stepman examines the historical record in “The Truth about Columbus.”
As Marcus sees it, Columbus was the first person in history to exemplify the American Dream—he did this before we had America:
Christopher Columbus wasn’t just the man most responsible for opening up the New World to the Old; he was also an example of the American Dream centuries before our nation was born.
The son of a tradesman, he was mainly self-taught in the ways of words and letters and began acquiring his sailing chops as early as age 10. This wasn’t a privileged young man, but rather one who through pluck, will and a healthy Catholic faith, rose far above his humble origins and became one of humanity’s greatest and most famous heroes.
At a time when the world is battling a global pandemic and the economic catastrophe of lockdowns, Columbus offers an example to us about balancing the fear of death against the immortal human longing for prosperity, achievement and discovery.
Columbus, Marcus writes, contributed to the creation of the modern world—and that’s the rub. Wokesters seek to tear down the modern world. Hence it is only natural that, to the degree they care which statues they pull down (the destruction itself is primary), Columbus is a natural target. Read Marcus’ entire column.
Stepman traces how Columbus, once honored, came to be maligned. Far left historian Howard Zinn was key in changing perceptions about Columbus. In Columbus, Zinn finds a harbinger of the hated United States:
“Behind the English invasion of North America,” Zinn wrote, “behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilizations based on private profit.”
The truth is that Columbus set out for the New World thinking he would spread Christianity to regions where it didn’t exist. While Columbus, and certainly his Spanish benefactors, had an interest in the goods and gold he could return from what they thought would be Asia, the explorer’s primary motivation was religious.
I’m sure that the enlightened would interpret this as oppression by Christianity, as bad as seeking profits!
But what about the native cultures that developed in the Western Hemisphere before the arrival of Columbus? Did Columbus and his mariners commit genocide? Dave Seminara writes:
Colombus’s voyages to the New World did result in the decimation of Native American communities that lived under Spanish rule. But this was obviously not a premeditated genocide—neither Columbus nor anyone alive at the time understood what we now know about infectious diseases and germs. That makes no difference to the woke police, for whom no historical figure born decades or centuries ago can pass muster. Even Mohandas Gandhi apparently expressed racist sentiments as a young man, and some want his statues taken down, too. As the Italians say, chi cerca mal, mal trova—if you go looking for evil, you’ll find it.
What if Columbus hadn’t embarked on his groundbreaking voyages to the New World? Indigenous tribes weren’t living in harmony before his arrival—contrary to popular perception today—and they wouldn’t have had the country to themselves for long in any case. There’s no reason to believe that they would have been better off if Chinese or Arab explorers, for example, had settled here first instead of Europeans.
Tearing down statues of Columbus and replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day—as several states and hundreds of municipalities have done—won’t save lives, black or otherwise. And it would be an insult to Italian-American families who raised money to honor Columbus with these monuments. We live in a culture that glorifies victimhood, but none of the Italian-Americans I know chooses to embrace this role. While we understand that America isn’t perfect, we’re grateful that our ancestors got on those boats to cross the ocean, just as Columbus did centuries before.
Happy Columbus Day!