Thomas Lucente: Stop maligning Columbus Day

Last week, as Columbus Day approached, I was considering writing a column singing the praises of the Italian explorer. After all, Adm. Cristoforo Colombo was one of the most important figures of the second millennium despite what some in the third millennium try to claim.

Then Columbus Day arrived and my blood began to boil.

I love the diversity of my social media networks. I have many leftist “friends” and “followers” and really do enjoy the debate. Social media would be much less tolerable if the only thing in my various feeds were conservative or libertarian viewpoints.

With that diversity of opinion, however, comes a lot of stuff I simply find over the top.

Columbus Day was one such topic. I was inundated with unfounded and often incorrect memes, commentary and news stories created by people who have not the slightest clue of American Indian history.

I must laugh at all the cities trying to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. The American Indians are no more indigenous to the Americas than the Europeans, hence my refusal to use the term Native American.

I am not opposed to renaming the holiday, per se, as I am philosophically opposed to naming holidays after people — Discovery Day instead of Columbus Day, Civil Rights Day instead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day instead of Washington’s Birthday, etc.

However, if we are going to change the name of Columbus Day because we don’t think the admiral’s behavior comported properly with modern-day mores, then we have to change all the holidays honoring a specific person. Of the four men honored with a federal holiday, only one can stand up to historical scrutiny when judged with modern-day mores — Columbus was a tyrant while acting as governor, George Washington owned slaves, and King was a plagiarizing, womanizing philanderer. The bad, however, does not negate the person’s other achievements.

Then there were the memes claiming the Europeans were illegal immigrants. This is utter nonsense. Indeed, the modern American Indians were likely not even the first immigrants here. The Northeast Asians who arrived over the Bering Land Bridge likely found a continent containing people from Southeast Asia who arrived several thousand years earlier. Would that make modern-day American Indians illegal immigrants?

Besides, no one has been able to show me any American Indian immigration laws that did not permit the Europeans from landing on the continent. And their arrival was certainly legal under British common law, as U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall most eloquently explained in 1823 in Johnson v. M’Intosh.

However, the idea that was most absurd was not even directly related to Columbus. The idea is that there was an American Indian genocide by Europeans and Columbus should be held responsible for every possible atrocity that happened here in the five centuries since his death.

The problem is, there was no American Indian genocide by Europeans. It is a myth, a one-sided indictment of Columbus and subsequent European explorers and settlers that really has no basis in historical fact.

While space limitations prevent a full debunking of the genocide myth, let me attack one element that I saw repeated several times on Columbus Day and appears to be believed by a majority of Americans.

The nonsense of which I speak is the oft-repeated claim that Europeans intentionally distributed blankets infected with smallpox.

This simply did not happen. There is one documented case where two traders in 1763 gave some blankets from quarantine to American Indians hoping to spread the disease. Other than that, there is no documentary evidence of such biological warfare. Indeed, in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson instituted a program to inoculate the American Indians against smallpox.

What Europeans did do, and they can’t be blamed for it, is introduce a host of diseases to the New World for which the American Indians had no immunity, a so-called virgin-soil epidemic. While pre-Columbian population numbers are in dispute, there is general agreement that smallpox, measles, influenza, whooping cough, diphtheria, typhus, bubonic plague, cholera, and scarlet fever killed millions and was responsible for as much as 90 percent of the population decline from 1492 to 1900.

Certainly the American Indians suffered because of the European migration. And there were certainly isolated atrocities committed against them as they also committed atrocities against the Europeans.

Sadly, Columbus Day is just another victim of the leftist attack on history and American heritage, including misguided attempts to erase any public mention of the Confederacy and those who fought for her.

History cannot and should not be sanitized. It is too important. This should be, and used to be, self-evident. Our view of history shapes the way we view the present.

More importantly, he who controls the past controls the future. Those who seek to rewrite history do so because they want to control the shape of our future. And, based on their actions so far, the future looks bleak if they win.

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By Thomas Lucente

[email protected]

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an Ohio attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.