American Indians have made Columbus the focus of all resentment in the Western Hemisphere. For the sake of condemning him, all indigenous people here are willing to dismiss their own different cultures, languages, religions, and nations, to unite in a global drone of disdain for Europe’s greatest explorer. But this grand intertribal, international pow-wow of protest has missed the mark. Columbus deserves a different kind of honor.
What he should be honored for is his unique bravery. Considering the circumstances in which he lived, the socio-economic elements, the political environment, the international issues, it is a wonderful thing that a man would be willing to strike out and determine the truth for himself the way he did. The Columbus venture is a statement about the grand courage of an individual man.
Everyone knows Columbus wasn’t the first non-Indian person to set foot in the Americas. The Vikings were apparently first, though everyone else these days is claiming to have been first, like the Africans, the Arabs, the Chinese, and even the Irish. What Columbus did was to chart a map, and create a reliable path, which others followed in shiploads. For this, he is held up as the cause of all evil in the Western Hemisphere.
As a Comanche, I see Columbus as a daring, triumphant man. My people had a great penchant for exploring. Comanches certainly knew the thrill of discovery. There is oral tradition recalling certain Comanche raiding bands which had seen men with tall green feathers in the far south. This suggests that Comanches had wandered all the way down to the Yucatan (and did a lot of plundering along the way, in fact).
Of course, this was a long while (about 350 years) after Columbus landed in America, but, still, it was “discovery” for the Comanches. It doesn’t matter that there was already a civilization there. The point is that the Comanches were striking out into a brave new world, for them. They certainly didn’t consider it a crime.
And neither did Columbus. Columbus did no evil. Columbus did what all brave men do. He went where no man had gone before—at least as far as he knew, on the route he took. He was certainly going where he had not gone before and where but very, very few others had. Yes, there were abundant rumors and reports available to him from near and abroad. All sorts of descriptions, theories, and fantasies were in his face. But Columbus wanted to know for himself. He was determined to demonstrate that the earth was round. Never mind the ancient Greek Pythagorean theory. It was time to show the world, in no uncertain terms, that earth was in fact a globe.
Indeed, there were other motivations besides this overwhelming vision and purpose. There were perhaps financial rewards for his nation, Spain. There were favorable political consequences. There might be great personal benefit. But, for any man of his fortitude and passion, the only reward that really mattered was the satisfaction of demonstrating the truth.
Columbus was a scientist, much more than a sailor or an explorer. The world was his laboratory, the earth his beaker, and his own heart the Bunsen burner that kept the vision alive. Great men are compulsive and determined. Weaker men become discouraged and quit. To start out on a ship with a group of ignorant, mean mercenaries, not knowing where you were going nor how long it would take you to get there, was an act of transcendent faith and sheer guts. You know the men are likely to mutiny. You know you are taking the ultimate risk—and all for the sake of your own passion to know the truth.
Columbus is entirely innocent of what developed after him. None of that drove him. Aftermath can be attributed to him only in the most artificial, generalized, “academic” theory, the kind for which our modern universities have become lately infamous.
That Indians should ride this fabricated wave of prejudice is truly an irony. That a people known for dauntless courage should disdain the same in another man, of another race, is a terrible sin. It is true prejudice, fanned by liberal, self-destroying white leaders.
They will condemn Columbus for all that ensued, but they won’t honor the man for his simple, personal accomplishment: he was true to himself—and this they hate. Columbus had a profound vision, and persevered until he accomplished it.
Columbus Day should honor Columbus. It’s not about European Civilization.
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