Why do liberals hate Columbus Day?
Some in the Catholic Church would love to canonize Christopher Columbus as a saint, while Liberals and Native Americans seek to depict him as a brutal xenophobe.
The truth is quite a bit more complex, but we shall explore the absurdities attending the Liberal hatred of the controversial Italian explorer. Besides, with the Columbus Day closings, you have free time on your hands to read about why you’re off today.
1. Columbus’ expedition virtually wiped out the Taino natives
Certainly the Spanish under Christopher Columbus’ governorship acted brutally in some instances, but they could not know that the Taino were not immune to Small Pox, which the Spanish sailors had unwittingly carried over as hosts from Europe. (Surely a point the organizers of the 2010 Columbus Day Parade in NYC have overlooked.) Estimates place the Taino population in what is present day Haiti at about 250,000 in 1492 (some estimates put the number as high as 1,000,000). By 1517, that number dropped to about 14,000. Many would have us believe that systematic Spanish genocide and slavery caused the population decline (which was a factor), but just as Small Pox had ravaged Europe, it wreaked havoc on the New World where the natives had no immunity.
2. Columbus inaugurated the Age of Slavery in the Atlantic and Americas
There is a degree of truth to this assertion since Columbus did bring hundreds of Taino’s back to Seville in 1495, and African slaves were soon brought to Columbus’ colony to work the gold mines. But, the truth is that Columbus no more introduced slavery to the Atlantic nations than Wall Street pioneered the concept of croney capitalism (speaking of which, yes, some banks are open on columbus day). Lagos, Portugal was the location of the first African slave market, opening its doors for business in 1444 when Christopher was a lad of six years old.
It should also be noted that Native Americans were not some cohesive group of utopian angels — a long lost remnant of Man before the Fall. They engaged in inter-tribal warfare and alliances long before Europeans set foot on the West Indies or the North American continent proper. The difference is that the Native American form of slavery was small scale and not dominated by the Western or Christian ideas of racial superiority. The reason Columbus gets all the credit for this is because of the Spanish and, indeed, European talent for keeping records and establishing bureaucratic systems.
Slavery was thus alive and well on both sides of the Atlantic before Columbus landed in Haiti.
3. Columbus was the pimp of the New World
In 1500, Columbus wrote to a friend: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.” Another letter written by Columbus’ friend Michele de Cuneo (in 1492, before the expedition reached the New World) reads “Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape.”
From these letters it has been deduced that Columbus was something of a New World pimp, auctioning off women to his men for sexual pleasure. Surely this behavior must have occurred to an extent, but was it systemic and carried out with great relish by Columbus? No one can know for sure, yet the charge is leveled at Columbus by his detractors as if it is indisputable fact.
4. Columbus and his men tortured the Tainos who resisted slavery
Bartolome de Las Casas, one of Columbus’ men (who later became a Catholic preist) wrote that the Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades… My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.”
De las Casas is held up by many Columbus critics as some beacon of light amongst rapacioius and sadistic Spaniards. The reality is that de las Casas owned his own slaves and was interested in using African slaves instead of Native American slaves. Further, his account of the colonization of the West Indies could be seen as a self-serving–events filtered through his perception and more subjective than objective. It’s not likely that de las Casas conjured his imagery out of thin air, but we do know that people have a prediliction towards self-aggrandizement and exaggeration.
5. Columbus did not discover America
Yes, the Natives were well-established for about 12,000 years before Columbus weighed anchor, and Leif Ericson had a settlement on Newfoundland 500 years before Columbus arrived. But, Columbus was the first to make European settlements permanent, which led us inexorably to this point in history.
Why then do so many look upon Christopher Columbus as an aberrant evil? The man was a bastard, to be sure, and maybe a genocidal maniac, depending on the veracity of accounts such as de las Casas’. Without the hubris attending his expedition, the entire course of history might have been different. America would not exist as we know it: territories rearranged, no United States of America, no Thomas Jefferson and his transcendant ideals of democracy. No diffusion of those ideals across the world, for better or for worse.
If there was no Columbus to rape and pillage the New World, then surely there would have been someone else to take his place. Some other name to act as a lightning rod. In fact, as we well know, there were a number who followed Columbus, up and down the American continents engaging in similar behavior. Men whose quest for wealth, power and influence took them to mankind’s darkest psychological territories.
Perhaps what Columbus’ critics see in the explorer is their dark reflection staring back at them from the abyss of human evil, and they want to exteriorize their own tendencies into a totem. Exorcise their own demons as it were. To suggest — if only to themselves — that America and the world have moved beyond such barbarity, when, in fact, they know that 518 years hasn’t lessened the peculiar shadow of the human psyche manifested in wars both domestic and international, social and economic.
What they see in Christopher Columbus is but the prologue to the birth of modern civilization, which has reached its apotheosis in the technological capacity for war and death on a massive scale, and the subjugation of the world’s population by that other instrument of slavery: the wage.
Columbus is simultaneously terrorist and imperialist, which makes him no different than any other Western personality up to and including current government and business leaders. To single him out as a unique form of evil–that we have somehow moved beyond his atrocities–only distracts us from the reality that we are still led by men who are no better than Columbus, just better at hiding it.