Columbus Day

I’ve thought long and hard about this post and came to the conclusion it was readily worth it to address the very popular and constantly supported myth of Christopher Columbus.  First, people lived here before Columbus got here (we know this, but never is this emphasized in History classes – at least wasn’t when I took it) so the notion of celebrating his discovery of a land THAT WAS ALREADY INHABITED is kinda absurd; second, he wasn’t the first person to land on the Americas (near as I can tell this could very well have been the Vikings who landed in Novia Scotia circa 1000); third, Christopher Columbus was a wonderful war monger who set about exploring the globe at least partly because of the profit.   Don’t get me wrong, the seeking of reward via profit from enterprise is something I hardly view as a bad thing the war monger thing, on the other hand, and the need to convert those of other faiths (if people doubt this about the faith please recall the Spanish Inquisition) are hardly reasons to view this guy as a hero.

Devastation, should you choose to acknowledge it, either followed Columbus around or he was the one that begot much of it.  While it is not doubtful that the journey Columbus took in 1492 was ultimately what led to the colonization of the continent, the reason for celebrating such a person is limited to just that.  For landing upon what is now known as the US.  Which would have happened eventually.  If this is all about celebrating accomplishment, one which we all benefit from, then why is it we choose to celebrate him on his own day and not revert back to celebrating Washington’s as well as Lincoln’s birthdays, eschewing President’s Day?  Moreover, why was Jefferson or Adam’s not ever celebrated in this manner?

[If anyone is interested in a ridiculously biased, but really well researched book (try to ignore some of the conjecture if you can – there’s seriously some good stuff in there) I highly recommend checking out Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen.]

Ah, alas, I don’t have the answers to these questions merely suppositions which, truth be told, I couldn’t even count as a hypothesis.  For now I wish all fellow citizens a most joyous long weekend if you had one, and for those abroad I’ll simply say “Happy Monday”!

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18 responses to “Columbus Day

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  • laurelrainsnow

    Yeah, you’re right…and this is certainly not the only example of “misplaced hero” status in our culture. I can’t think of the others right now…it’s Monday, and it’s too early!

    Intriguing post, though.

    BTW, I noticed in your sidebar that you’ve linked to my now defunct Collections site, which I have deleted and merged it into Potpourri at http://rainysnowday.wordpress.com/

  • Laura Marcella

    LOL, I don’t know if you meant this post to be funny, but it made me chuckle! Honestly, when it comes to history, especially from hundreds of years ago, who knows what’s true? So much of history, even just from five years ago, gets lost in translation and interpreted incorrectly because everyone has a different perception of the truth. Humans are error-prone, and unfortunately, that often results in rather distorted versions of history.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Totally agree with you, Laura. The largest issue in the way history is taught these days is in teaching that it IS concrete. That other things might have happened, that whatever could have/did happen was a result of whatever motivation, are not discussed speaks ill of how the system is currently operating. It teaches belief instead of thought and theory. Would be better for everyone to know of the very fallibility of being human than to build up an unrealistic and unattainable way of being in this world.

  • Carol Kilgore

    There was a great show about Columbus on the History Channel yesterday. One of my history teachers once said that history is written by those who won the wars, and I try to factor that into what I read.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I’m now wishing I had the History Channel, Carol! Totally agree with that assessment about who writes history. Let’s face it, those who lost are often not around to tell their side or are simply discredited as being sore losers.

  • Helen Ginger

    Very good post. It does seem odd that he gets his own day when others would seem to be more worthy.

  • Conda V Douglas

    Interesting post about the oddities of our society and Happy Monday back!

  • Arlee Bird

    I’ve read Loewen’s book and found it to be interesting and entertaining, but I wouldn’t be inclined to use it a definitive history by any means. It is agenda driven and fabricates some myths of its own.

    Regarding Columbus, and other “heroes” of the past, we have to put it all in context of the era and the accepted knowledge and mores of societies back then. It’s much easier to judge in retrospect what was looked at much differently in those times. Columbus has a deserved place in history for some incredible achievements, whether we see them as wrong or right.

    Sometimes it takes decades or even centuries to understand and learn from past mistakes, but while the mistakes are being made the perpetrators probably don’t see them as such in the majority of cases.
    And Columbus wasn’t acting alone–he had plenty of accomplices who reaped their own rewards. The true history of Columbus certainly needs to be looked at in its entirety and objectively to understand the mindset of the day and the reprecussions of the actions he took that had a negative impact on the world.

    I was annoyed that there was no mail today.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

    • kimberlyloomis

      Lee – Totally agree with you about the conjecture and suppositions in the book. The bits on Columbus (I ignored the parts without citations) were very well researched which I found of great interest. His agenda was painfully obvious in his diatribes within the text.

      I don’t abide by moral relativism for a few reasons, the largest one being the inescapable notion that it would act as reasonable justification for just about any crime. While the times do need to be considered, I am hard pressed to find myself thinking it matters all that much when it comes to massacres and the like. Culturally there are many differences, which I can understand, but that does not make it right. I think that’s more a conversation about ethics though.

      Didn’t mean to imply that Columbus did a bunch of bad stuff all on his own. Too much damage was wrought for that to even be feasible never mind believable. Just more addressing the man and what he seemed to have supported as the holiday was named after him. 😉

  • martha drummond

    How much money did he actually make for his endeavors. Did he actually get to enjoy the money. I have a suspicion that adventurers like Columbus especially the sea faring fellows were addicted to the life/death challenges of nature and interpersonal conflict of each day. Cannot imagine what it would be like to commandeer a boatload of men for long periods of time and with limited provisions, having to deal constantly with the threats of nature, and the fear of the unknown. I will look at the reference book you have described. Would also be interesting to look at the lives of other adventurer/explorers and their interactions with natives (De Soto, Hudson, LaSalle, etc.) They were entrepreneurs of a unique type, one that would in many instances cause them to be viewed as “ruthless and violent” They had to be obsessive characters. A book describing the lives of seafaring adventurers of various historical eras and cultural links would be worthy of writing if not already written. Have a great Monday. Hope you enjoyed the ccs. Martha

    • kimberlyloomis

      Martha – That does sound interesting! There’s an anthropologist who has written some interesting stuff, Wade Davis, and might be worth checking out. If interested let me know. 🙂 No doubt about a certain personality being drawn to such endeavors and, I think, your theories have a certain degree of truth in them.

  • Jillian

    Great post, Kimberly. It’s absurd that so many centuries later, we’re still celebrating the ‘discovery.’ It feels like group think; it doesn’t occur to people to question the tradition.

  • litlove

    I do love myth-debunking. We should have a Myth-Debunking Day in which we get permission to wonder why we revere some of the figures and events we do. History is always written by the victors, it is said, and they are not always entirely truthful in the interests of a good story. Probably what the US is celebrating in Columbus is simply the longevity of certain stories through time, that have existed without significant challenge. Time for you to start a revolution, Kimberley!

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