Monday, October 11, marked the 50th Columbus Day since the first official federal holiday of that name in 1971. The explorer from Genoa made landfall in the New World on October 12, 1492—a Wednesday. But we Americans like three-day weekends, so we note his achievement on the second Monday of October.
Correction: Not all Americans will celebrate Columbus this week. Some will ignore or even vilify him. A few places have even struck him from the calendar, substituting “Indigenous Peoples Day” to honor the locals who were allegedly victimized by the foreigner Columbus.
It’s a kind of pompous, leftist virtue-signaling rooted in the myth of the “peaceful and noble natives.” One of its most notorious perpetrators was the pseudo-historian Howard Zinn, an angry Marxist liar thoroughly discredited by actual scholars such as Mary Grabar, author of Debunking Howard Zinn and Debunking the 1619 Project.
Extremists among Zinn’s disciples exaggerate and even fabricate the sins of Columbus but rarely speak of the ugly side of the natives of the region in the 15th Century. On the very island where Columbus’s first landing occurred, tribes were slaughtering each other.
The Tianos lived in terror of the ferocious Caribs, who rampaged, murdered, plundered, and enslaved on a regular basis. From the Aztecs to the Mayans to the Incans and most other tribes in the Americas at that time, ritual violence often took the form of brutal warfare and subjugation, child sacrifice and even cannibalism.
Some of the Spanish conquistadors who came later were just as cruel as the worst indigenous brutes but it’s utterly unfair to lump Columbus among them. Columbus executed some of his own crew for acts of cruelty toward the natives. “It’s a sad twist of fate,” writes historian Jarrett Stepman in his authoritative book, The War on History, “that Columbus now gets blamed for the very actions he tried to prevent.”
Charlatans such as Zinn blame Columbus for inaugurating an influx of European explorers who brought devastating diseases with them, centuries before the world even knew of such things as viruses, bacteria or sanitation. Diseases among the indigenous peoples were already a leading reason why few lived beyond the age of 35.
What about the fact that Columbus set sail for Asia and not only never made it, he died thinking that in fact, he had? Can we fault him for not knowing there were two entire continents in the way (North and South America)? If we do, then we should question the wisdom of many other fathers of accidental discoveries—from x-rays to quinine to corn flakes and Vaseline.
Christopher Columbus deserves admiration for many good reasons: Like the Apollo astronauts, he set out on a dangerous mission with no guarantee of success. He possessed extraordinary seamanship. At a time when how to calculate longitude was 250 years off, he excelled at navigation via “dead reckoning.” He was a courageous pioneer, warts and all, whose story is inseparable from the origins of American liberty.
Therein lies, I suspect, the real motive for denigrating Christopher Columbus. If your aim is to delegitimize American liberty or even Western Civilization in general, then Columbus must go even if it requires lies to get the job done.
Celebrate Columbus this week. Talk to your school-age children about the great explorer and find out what they’re learning about him in school. If he’s portrayed as the hero he was, thank the teachers. If he’s painted as a villain, demand an end to the indoctrination and the restoration of truth and history.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.