The one thing about history is that it must be view in context. There is a real danger in view history through contemporary perspectives, particularly for political or religious advantage. Both the Left and Right are guilty of that. Which is not to negate a critical accounting of history. It is important to learn lessons from history, but the true imperative of history is to learn all history, from as many perspectives on all sides. There is the age-old adage, history is written by the victors; a phrase which must rank among the most immoral and most regressive statements ever uttered. Such are the words of criminals and the ignorant. History must be the choral narrative of humanity, not an egotistical soap opera for the 1%, royalty and the powerful, or a scorecard in a dead-end tit-for-tat grudge match between religions. Fundamentally, it is the same reason that we judge the mistakes of children differently than those of adults.
Both the Left and Right will attempt to score points with truly meaningless hyperbole regarding Columbus and Columbus Day. As with most issues used as political and ideological footballs, the truth lies solidly in the middle. Real history becomes irrelevant here, because both sides have either abandoned it, do not know history, or are completely partisan in their positions that both truth and history or compromise are hardly a consideration.
So, was Christopher Columbus responsible for all that came after his arrival in the so-called “New” world? For one, it wasn’t new, as people had already been here for the better part of 25 thousand years. So, ole Chris didn’t discover anything, any more than I discovered the central Texas town of Saledo near where my parents live when I drove through it some years back. Following that logic I might have declared little Saledo, with its tourist shops and Inn where General George Custer stopped once, mine, or that I claimed it in the name of then Chicago Mayor Daley. So Columbus did not discover America, he stumbled upon a place someone already lived on and, if possession is 9/10 of the law, owned.
So what is Columbus guilty of? Personally, nothing. His largely innocent but failed efforts to uncover new supply routes to Asia did commence an occupation by Europeans over the coming centuries resulting over the course of 4 centuries somewhere between 33 million and 145 million indigenous deaths.
What is true is that that invasion and occupation, cloaked innocuously with terms like colonization led to an absolute destruction of the aboriginal peoples of the Americas. The assault and degradation and outright slaughter of those people was in fact a multi-generational genocide. In a proper perspective of history, and a proper accounting of the human soul, that must be accounted for and come to honestly, not racially as it has been done as a means of obscuring European crimes and ignorance.
That is hardly to accuse or impugn all Europeans, or all Americans today, or in the past. We are at the culmination of a history in which there are indeed a grand majority of innocent European and Western colonists. While the momentum of that colonization ground aboriginals under hoof and boot, the history cannot not be undone without doing greater harm. So where does that leave us?
History instead becomes a tool to establish standards for human rights and human dignity. The imperative is to progress from the past, and past ignorance, and not to continuously recreate crimes from that past, nor to continually reopen or re-enflame the scars and pain evoked from those crimes. And certainly now to create a revolving scheme of oppressors who exact revenge as they come to power. That is the risk of exalting the victim too much, ignoring their inherent humanness as well.
And then is where the consideration for not celebrating a fake holiday like Columbus day. At the very least we are celebrating a myth and a cartoonish and bigoted view of history, which we all should have learned from. We wouldn’t celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday nationally. Even though he didn’t start the KKK, and disavowed the Confederate flag under which he fought, he did nurture men like Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest, the first Grand Wizard of the Klan. We wouldn’t celebrate that day out of respect for the pain and insult it would cause Blacks in this country.
The point here is that history is a process, forged as much by blunders and success as a continual ascension from the ignorance we harbored the moment before. The choices and steps we make now will resonate. In truth, future history is yet to be written. We are all the authors of that history, and so inherent is a guarantee of chaos and calamity. It is the weight of those who side with human dignity and human rights through the greatest driver of human history-mutual respect and understanding.
So, if you’re passionate about Columbus, take the wife out to dinner, have a couple of Morettis, but realize that others, many with generational lines in this country extending many thousands of years before Columbus was born are sensitive about it. Realize that only a hand full of generations ago happened the Trail of Tears, Wounded Knee, and that throughout most of the 20th Century open racism against Native Americans was rampant and overt. Realize that those same struggles continue now as the sovereignty of indigenous peoples re routinely violated, and that promises and treaties are likewise violated with impunity. Columbus wasn’t an evil person, nor was he a hero. He is a myth, but history has inflated his legacy far beyond the person, and that is what needs to be remembered.