Christopher Columbus Deserves to be Defended

by Armando Simón (October 2019)

Columbus Leaving Palos, Joaquin Sorolla Y Bastida, 1910
As we once again approach the anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World, leftists will once again posture in self-righteous snarls and re-hurl all sorts of accusations at the explorer. Some of them will be snarky comments, like saying he was not the first one to discover the new continent, the Vikings, or the natives were---which means absolutely nothing since the rest of the world remained ignorant of its existence, or by pointing out that he was wrong in believing that he had reached Asia, which proves he was incompetent (again, an asinine declaration). In his own time, some Spaniards also belittled his achievement, which resulted in the famous story of the egg.
Another snarky comment is that Columbus was interested in finding gold.
So what? He was poor. Spain was poor. Europe was poor. Even today, persons who are truly poor (not “American poor,” which means simply not owning a car, but dirt poor as in Third World countries) are constantly preoccupied with money. Just like well-off people in First World countries.
Some of the more extreme accusations against Columbus was that he was “a war criminal,” which, if nothing else, demonstrates leftists’ propensity for mutilating the language. And history. Through perseverance, these accusations have saturated the culture and can be found in the most unexpected of places. In one of the episodes of the TV show, The Office, one of the characters casually mentions that Columbus carried out genocide. In another show, The Good Place, it is casually mentioned that he is in hell because of rape, war, and genocide (“genocide” is one of the left’s favorite buzzwords). And the ignorance is breathtaking. The Daily News writes,
First President Trump hailed the carved symbols of Confederate racism as ‘beautiful,’ and now he’s defending statues dedicated to Christopher Columbus—the man responsible for genocide of North America’s indigenous people.
Columbus never even set foot on North America!
It is telling that the people who become immediately indignant at Columbus’ supposed crimes and “genocide” and “war crimes” lose all indignation if the crimes and the genocides of the Communists are brought up. In fact, they become indignant if they are brought up.
Now, there is no question whatsoever that the discovery was a catastrophe to the Stone Age cultures that existed. Bartolomé de las Casas, the famous Apostle of the Indians, extensively wrote and detailed the sickening crimes that the Spaniards carried out on the natives, which rivaled the sadism of the Mongols, the Muslims, and the Khmer Rouge. All the Indians that lived in the Caribbean islands were wiped out. And the same result would have happened if the Asians or Africans had conquered the New World instead of Europeans. However, the (deliberate) falsehood that has been bandied about is that Columbus himself carried out those atrocities. To my knowledge, de las Casas never mentioned Columbus as having done so in the Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, and de las Casas never held anything back. Even if it is acknowledged, to say that he is responsible for the Conquistadores’ later acts simply for discovering the New World is like saying that Nobel is responsible for the deaths caused by later explosions. This kind of logic reminds me of those individuals who blame Charles Darwin for the antics of new-Darwinists.
In reading over several of the primary sources of his exploration, again and again I come across entries wherein Columbus insists of treating the natives that he encounters in a friendly and kindly manner and simply trade with them and gain knowledge of the land; he has to continually hold back the men under his supervision that just want to rape and steal from the Indians, including jumping ship for just that purpose. Later, many of the Indians hate and despise the Spaniards but continue to have honest dealings with him. Incidentally, because of his detailed narrations of the natives’ religion, beliefs, ceremonies, etc., Edward Bourne considered Christopher Columbus to have been the first anthropologist of American native cultures.
David Wootton’s massive The Invention of Science gives us a fresh perspective on the significance of Columbus’ voyages of exploration, which is also well worth contemplating on this anniversary of the landing in the New World.
Regardless of one’s views on the man, his discoveries were earthshaking. The voyages caused a chain reaction.
First and foremost, his voyages of exploration created an upheaval in European intellectual thought. Up to that point (and for some time afterwards in rigid minds), it was the set in stone, very rigid, belief that the ancient Greeks had discovered everything that there was to know, particularly by Aristotle, who had compiled what we would roughly call an encyclopedia. Scholars during the Renaissance searched for ancient manuscripts in monasteries, hoping that they would yield more knowledge while the rest, and most, of the remaining scholars (in universities) would debate the finer points of Ptolemy, Aristotle, etc.
It came as a thunderbolt to suddenly realize that there was another, entire antipodal, continent aside from Asia, Europe and Africa. Simultaneously, there came a flood of knowledge of new peoples, animals, food, vegetation, languages, unknown to the Ancients. Furthermore, the discovery had been made not by any outstanding scholar, but by a common sailor, with the obvious implication that anyone could just make similar discoveries. And become famous. It also threw a monkey wrench in the Ptolemaic system of the universe which would ultimately collapse with the advent of the Copernican view. Such was the ossified European mindset up to then, that with Columbus’ voyages, it became suddenly apparent to one and all that knowledge and, therefore, progress was cumulative, rather than static and complete. Something that Wootton does not point out that supports this rigidity of worldview is the fact that Columbus to the end continued to think that he had, indeed, reached Asia, though not the country of Cathay.
On top of that, he points out that new words had to be invented to describe what was going on (after all, one word can encapsulate a paragraph of explanation). And so, it was the Portuguese who first invented the word “discovery.” Other words that were slowly invented were “science,” “experiment,” “exploration,” “facts,” “scientist.” Incidentally, no one had really believed that the world was flat. Instead, there were spheres within spheres. The flat earth idea came into being as a sort of urban legend in the 1800s to describe the previous world view.
Within a century of Columbus’ voyages, science took off, aided by the inventions of the telescope, the microscope, the printing press, the barometer and thermometer and it is in this period that Torricelli, Galileo, Kepler, Tycho, van Leeuwenhoek, and William Harvey appear. The printing press, in particular, with the subsequent massive proliferation of books and book fairs, suddenly united isolated scientists. Books also facilitated accuracy through engraving of machinery and organisms (instead of flawed copying of texts, as had been the practice). A paradoxical culture of cooperation and competition among scientists was created that persists to this day. Galileo, for instance, printed his findings and, within two years, anyone could verify that Venus had phases, that the moon had mountains, and that Jupiter had moons, telescopes having become commonplace (however, some scholars famously refused to look through the telescope because Aristotle and Ptolemy had decreed that the planets had no moons). “Replication” of experiments became common.
Likewise, anyone could get on a boat and verify Columbus’s discoveries. Anyone could become famous. Anyone could make discoveries. And you did not have to know Greek.

Armando Simón is a Cuban native and the author of Very Peculiar Stories, A Prison Mosaic, Samizdat 2020, and The Cult of Suicide and Other Sci Fi Stories.

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30 Sep 2019
Send an emailKirby Olson
I enjoyed this. It takes a few decades for truth to get its pants on. Mary Grabar has a book just out called Debunking Howard Zinn. The opening chapter discusses Zinn's theft of materials from another historian. Inaccurate and a liar and a thief to boot but Zinn's calumnies are now taken as truth. Another scholar is Carol Delaney at Brown. She argues that Columbus made his voyage in 1492 because the way to the east was now blocked by Muslims who had defeated Constantinople in 1453. Columbus saved Christianity by finding another route out of Europe in 1492. She also goes over Zinn's aberrant lies. She says Zinn attributes to Columbus things his men did and for which he hanged them. Even history is clogged up with the fake news of the left. Our whole hemisphere is an Augean stable and it will require a Herculean effort to cleanse it. Thank you for your part, Simon, in clearing the name of Christopher Columbus.

2 Oct 2019
Send an emailFloridiano
Yes, here's what was written about the war criminal: "For several months, [his] soldiers moved across the highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians - in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed..." "They frequently tortured and shot prisoners, severing ears and scalps for souvenirs." "No one knows how many unarmed men, women, and children were killed by these soldiers years ago. I knew it was wrong, but it was an acceptable practice." "Their captains knew of the soldiers' atrocities and in some cases, encouraged the soldiers to continue the violence. Soldiers talked about the executions of captured ones - so many they were hard pressed to place a number on the toll." "Ybarra slit the throat of a prisoner with a knife before scalping him, placing the scalp on the end of a [arquebus], they said in sworn statements. Another prisoner was ordered to dig a trench, then beaten with a shovel before he was shot to death." "[He] shot and killed a 15-year-old boy near the village... He later said he shot the boy because he wanted his slippers." "[They] ended up carrying out what became a ritual among the soldiers: he cut off the teenager's ears and placed them in a sack... soldiers said the severing of [the] ears became an accepted practice. One reason: to scare them." Soliders strung the ears on laces to wear around their necks." "...natives recalled the grim task of burying neighbors and friends whose bodies were left in the fields. "We wouldn't even have meals because of the smell. I couldn't breathe the air sometimes. There were so many natives who died, we couldn't bury them one by one. We had to bury them all in one grave." "A 13-year-old girl's throat was slashed after she was sexually assaulted, and a young mother was shot to death after soldiers torched her hut." Oh wait- this is not from Bartolome De las Casas about Columbus, this is an account by journalist Michael Sallah for the Washington Post about the United States Army-Tiger Force soldiers unleashing their wave of terror upon the civilian villagers of the Central Highlands in Vietnam- NOT Viet Cong! U N I T E D. S T A T E S. S O L D I E R S.

3 Oct 2019
One has to wonder at the motivation of Floridiano's comment. What could possibly be the purpose of criticizing American soldiers for their behavior in combat in a war now 50 years old? Everyone who knows the history of the Vietnam war, and of any war, is aware of the fact that war is brutal and savage. It is understood that in all wars, it is a maxim that the civilians are the ones who suffer the most. The Vietnam conflict was extraordinarily savage on BOTH sides. What, then, is the purpose to call out this savagery in a purported comment relative to an article on Columbus?_________________________________There can be only one purpose and it's obvious to anyone who cares to look that the commenter's purpose is to denigrate the United States and American soldiers. Shame on the commenter. Next time, try to a be a little bit more subtle.

5 Oct 2019
Former Floridiano
The Ybarra mentioned by Floridiano was Sam Ybarra, a San Carlos Apache. He could have taught Columbus a thing or two about genocide and war crimes.

12 Oct 2019
Send an emailKirby Olson
Howard Zinn's real target in his horrid book on American history was Washington, DC. The last part of his book goes after American involvement in Vietnam. We still do not have a book in English that tracks our departure from North Korea and Vietnam as making nightmarish political conditions in those countries as well as in China. Vietnam is not as bad as Cambodia was during the period of the Killing Fields, but it wasn't a pretty place, and still isn't. Japan, on the other hand, and South Korea, where we fought for their freedoms, are quite good by comparison. No communist like Floridiana is ever going to see this. Cuba is a horrid mess now too from the viewpoint of freedom.

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