Last week, the United States, or at least the sane part, marked Columbus Day.
Columbus Day is meant to mark the day when Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailing under Spanish colors, came upon the new world on Oct. 12, 1492, after a courageous 10-week journey of exploration.
Columbus’ voyage was one of those absolutely rare moments in history when the course of human events is undeniably and irrevocably changed forever.
Unfortunately, a number of historically ignorant Americans, usually leftists, have attempted to demonize the intrepid explorer and the movement has gained traction in recent years as they have successfully lobbied some cities to change the name of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day.
They blame him, without reason or evidence, for everything from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the so-called genocide of the aforementioned “indigenous” people. With enough time, they will probably be blaming him for climate change, the murder of Jimmy Hoffa, and the election of Donald Trump.
This shows their ignorance in at least two ways. First, there are no indigenous people in the Americas. Human life, as far as anyone has been able to determine, did not originate here. Even he American Indians were immigrants.
And second, if one wishes to compare the actions of Columbus to the behavior of the American Indians, Columbus comes across as a saint.
Obviously, Columbus was not the first person to reach this land. As noted above, the American Indians arrived first. After this, there is evidence that the ancient Chinese, Japanese, Egyptians, Africans, Romans and other Old World cultures either had contact with the New World or actually traveled here. Then there was a brief Viking colony.
So he obviously did not “discover” America. That does not, however, diminish the magnitude of his accomplishment. Those earlier sporadic contacts had no historical significance. Columbus’ voyages put an end to thousands of years of isolation and reunited the Western Hemisphere with the rest of the world.
Columbus also proved it was possible to cross the Atlantic safely, founded the first permanent European settlement in the New World, and he opened relations between Europe and the New World that has lasted more than 500 years.
Some say he simply was lost and found the New World by mistake. Even if true, so what? Many great achievements were the result of accidents, such as penicillin, the microwave oven, and Teflon.
The greatest miscarriage of justice, though, is the indictment that somehow Columbus is responsible for every bad thing that happened to the American Indians.
Pre-Columbian Americans were a disgusting and brutal people. The myth of the noble savage needs to be set aside and the American Indians seen for what they were, a violent and vicious people.
Slavery was not uncommon among the various tribes and in some tribes, the population of slaves was as high as 25 percent.
The land was in an almost constant state of war. In South Dakota, for example, a mass grave was found containing more than 500 men, women and children, some 60 percent of the village’s population. They were tortured, mutilated and slaughtered sometime around 1325, in what is known now as the Crow Creek Massacre.
Archaeologist Lawrence Keeley estimated that only about 13 percent of American Indians did not engage in wars with their neighbors at least once per year.
Then there were the human sacrifices. In one four-day period in 1487, it is believed the Aztecs sacrificed as many as 80,400 people. It is estimated some 250,000 people were sacrificed in Mexico during the 15th century. One method of human sacrifice involved extracting the beating heart from a living person.
Nor would one wish to become a prisoner of war. Prisoners were often tortured before being sacrificed to the gods or sold into slavery. Body parts were often taken as trophies. And enemy soldiers were sometimes eaten by their captors.
Nor can you blame Columbus for the Old World diseases that ravaged the New World after contact. Just as we can’t blame the American Indians for New World diseases that plagued Europe, most notably syphilis.
Columbus was largely exploring for religious reasons. He owned no slaves and even instituted rules that prevented his men from abusing the American Indians. His contact with the American Indians was largely benign.
Compared to a 21st century ethos, Columbus might seem barbaric in some ways. But he was certainly enlightened when compared to his 15th century contemporaries. Slavery, the law of conquest, torture, pillaging and any other behavior that is erroneously attributed to Columbus were common 15th century practices.
Americans would know this if history were actually taught in our schools. History should be taught properly and without burdening past actors with the fleeting moral and ethical standards of the moment. We are ill-equipped to judge Columbus. Honor him for his deeds and let Providence judge his heart and mind.