Today statues of Columbus are being destroyed all over America. Was Columbus the vile, murderous conquistador that “woke” millennials portrays him to be? After all, Columbus is accused of committing the following atrocities: He/Europeans enslaved indigenous peoples; He/Europeans tried to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity; He/Europeans established brutal tribute systems; and He/Europeans did not control subordinates who pillaged, plundered and killed the Natives. So, was Columbus as evil as he’s accused or was he a “man of his time” who was doing what any other explorer would have done if they were in his position?
In year 1500, no European considered the American Natives as equals. This “inequality” between races was the accepted thinking, the world over. Read any history and an underlying theme is that all people and all races considered themselves superior to others. Name the era and the people, and that “superiority” was prevalent – everywhere. Each race considered themselves to be the “chosen” race. Even today in 2020, many races and cultures still see themselves as such. Look no further than Japan and China for proof.
Actually, Columbus was much more considerate of the Natives than were any of his men. On each of his voyages, he encountered and interacted with Indians. Columbus and his men traded back-and-forth, attacked and killed one another, and lived alongside each other. Yet Columbus still wanted to convert them to Christianity. He believed he was treating them fairly, and compared to others, he was. For example, in 1503, on his 4th Voyage, while shipwrecked on Jamaica and awaiting rescue, Columbus wrote, “Our people by nature being disrespectful, no punishment or order could have stopped them from running about the country and into the Indians’ huts to steal what they found and commit outrages on their wives and children, whence would have arisen disputes and quarrels that would have made enemies of them.” In other words, the Admiral understood the manner in which Spaniards interacted with the Natives. He wanted to avoid the rape, pillage, and plunder that usually ensued. To that end, he confined his men to their beached ships to keep encounters to a minimum.
If Columbus had delivered “21st century understanding” to the Indians would it have made any difference? Would subsequent explorers have treated the Natives any differently? The answer is NO. How do we know? Because everywhere that Europeans explored: Africa, Asia, North and South America, Australia, and the Pacific Islands – they treated the indigenous peoples pretty much the same. In reality, Europeans’ morals and standards of conduct were no different than any other 16th century culture anywhere in the world. Arabs had been extremely brutal in their treatment of Christians as they pushed into Europe and the Iberian Peninsula; same with the Mongols in Asia, tribes in Africa, and the indigenous tribes in the Americas.
Brutality between tribes has been present since the beginning of recorded history. In the Bible, God commanded the Israelites to kill the Canaanites who occupied the Promised Land (Book of Joshua). Brutality between tribes and nations has been continuous and continues to this day - think of the horrors inflicted by the Nazis and the Japanese during WWII (concentration camps, the rape of Nanking, etc.); Soviet communists who starved millions and sent millions to Siberian gulags; and Chinese communists of year 2020 are stamping out freedom in Hong Kong and sending millions of Uyghurs to concentration camps. Choose a period in history and the story of conquered peoples is the same – to the winner go the spoils. The spoils include killing the men, raping the women, destroying the conquered cities and culture, and enslaving those still alive. If the conquerors allowed anyone to live, they did so only to exact harsh tribute that insured the conquered peoples spent most of their time, energy, and capital working for the conquerors.
A problem with current academia is that they are judging past people against today’s 21st century, Western standards. We are projecting our Western culture onto past societies, and demanding those previous societies should have known our 21st century standards and behaved accordingly. Such thinking proves the failure of our education system. Educators have failed to teach students to comprehend the evolution of societies. We have produced uneducated people who don’t understand how societies originate and how societies change. Instead, “woke” millennials are angry that past cultures and past societies actually thought and behaved differently than they do. For example, in 21st century Western society, women can vote but they couldn’t as recently as 1919. Instead of acknowledging and celebrating the progress that’s been made over the centuries, academia condemns our Founding Fathers because women weren’t “equal” back in 1776 (Declaration of Independence) or 1787 (the Constitution). Same thing with Blacks; instead of recognizing how far we’ve come with equality for all, academia condemns the very founding of our nation insisting our Founding Fathers should have known the 21st century standards they’d be held to over 230 years in the future. Joe Biden said exactly that in his July 4th basement speech when he condemned America’s founding as “systemically racist.”
It’s as though year 2020 is actually Year 0. And every standard and value that we have today must be applied retroactively to everyone and every culture that ever existed. There’s a HUGE CAVEAT – today’s standards only apply to past white, Anglo-Saxon cultures. So, whites who enslaved people 200 years ago must be condemned; western cultures that didn’t allow women to vote 200 years ago must be condemned; and all ideas that Western society ever possessed must be discarded as “the ideas of a racist culture”. However, we’re not allowed to apply that same standard to previous Chinese, Muslim, Native Americans, or Black societies who did the exact same. We’re not even allowed to condemn cultures that oppress women and enslave people today in 2020. Go figure.
So, what should Columbus’ legacy be? He is arguably the greatest navigator and explorer – Ever. To put Columbus’ achievements in perspective, the development of agriculture was a seminal event in world history; so too was the Industrial Revolution. However, after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, nothing has changed world history more than Columbus’ discovery of the New World. That’s his legacy - Columbus had an idea that changed the world – Forever.
A retired Army officer who lives in Bolingbroke, email Sloan Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.