“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue”. This is a quote from a poem that is taught to grade school children to help them remember Christopher Columbus and his maiden voyage to discover America.
Every October, Americans celebrate Columbus Day to honor this brave hero. Was he really a hero? Did he even discover America? He landed in Central America in 1492, but the Chinese had sailed to the Caribbean in 1421. What about all the crimes he is said to have committed? He is majorly associated with slave trade. In my opinion, the holiday should also honor all those who arrived in America first and rarely spoken of.
Discovery of America
John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), Sir Henry St. Clair or Antonio Zeno are all names that are much less popular with the general public, unlike Christopher Columbus. This is generally because the discovery of America is greatly attributed to Columbus who in 1942 is said to have visited the Central America (Lathe 1). When Columbus set out in his first voyage, it was for the sole purpose of reaching Asia by sailing to the west and not to discover any new habitation (Minster 1).
Lathe in his article explores some details that put to doubt the honor crowned to Columbus as the discoverer of America (Lathe 1). For instance in 1398, it is said that Sir Henry St. Clair had arrived at the coast of America. Antonio Zeno his “chief navigator” is said to have given the details of their voyage (Lathe 1). Even earlier in about 995 AD, it is said that Leif Eiriksson had even settled in “Vinland” which is found in North America (Lathe 1).
There is even archaeological evidence put forward by Patricia Sutherland that indicates artifacts of European descent (Lathe 3). Thus a strong opposition can be launched against the argument that Columbus discovered America. It will be an honorable move to give credit to those who were also there before Columbus came, or not to downplay anyone’s discovery, make the Columbus Day one to honor all who took part in the discovery.
The Crimes of Columbus
If per chance Columbus had no major negative aspects linked to him, then may be there would not have been a lot of fuss about the holiday named after him. But in contrast, there are major atrocities he is said to have committed. It is on this basis that a strong opposition is necessary on having a holiday named after one who was involved in “slavery, warfare and inhumane acts” (DeWitt 1).
When he settled in a place, he completely disregarded the natives and went to the extent of giving them new names with the purpose to “glorify Spain…while creating fame for himself” (DeWitt 1). He had an inclination of making profits in order to win the favor of Queen Isabella of Spain who had supported his expeditions (DeWitt 1). He resorted to slave trade when the gold and other forms of trade failed him (Minster 1).
The Indians are known to have suffered most of his wrath: he “terrorized, tortured and killed them” (DeWitt 1). The Indians were exported in masses and it is said that only two thirds arrived alive, the rest died and their bodies were left floating on the water (DeWitt 1). Rape is considered to have been a minimal crime in comparison to worse crimes committed against the Indians (DeWitt 1).
Columbus should be viewed as a criminal who lowered the standard of human dignity. There should not be a holiday for Columbus taking into consideration the kind of hostile activities that he committed. Various critics have voiced their concern against this holiday for example: “Columbus makes Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent” says one Russell; the National Council of Churches calls for a time of “reflection and repentance” during the Columbus anniversary, and “not a time for celebration” (D’Souza 1).
There are those with a differing opinion concerning Christopher Columbus. One such is Carroll, who states that all heroes are flawed and that Columbus should be given the due credit for discovering America (Carroll 1). Christianity in America can also be much attributed to him in many ways than one. The Queen Isabella of Spain agreed to sponsor him mainly because she had faith in him and the course he was pursuing (Carroll 1). For this reason, Carroll consented to the fact that Columbus was flawed, but should still be honored (Carroll 1).
Columbus was not only flawed, he was majorly flawed, how could one commit all those crimes with no mercy whatsoever? That is not the type of heroism children should be taught. Most of all, he did not achieve the purpose for which he had set out for. He was to discover a route to the west connecting Asia and he did not accomplish this. America was a “mistake” per se since it wasn’t his goal. Minster rightfully summarizes him as “am man and not a legend” (Minster 1).
That he was a great voyager is in no doubt, but that he committed all those atrocities and can still be called a hero is almost insane. Credit should be given to the other discoverers as well and they should be allowed to share the fame during a public holiday not named after Columbus, but one honoring all of them.
Carroll, Warren. Honoring Christopher Columbus. Home Library, 1999. Web.
D’Souza, Dinesh. The Crimes of Christopher Columbus. Leader, 1995. Web.
DeWitt, Whitney. Christopher Columbus: Hero or Murderer? Campus pages, n.d. Web.
Lathe, Richard. Who discovered America anyway? Pieta Research, 2003. Web.
Minster, Christopher. Biography of Christopher Columbus. Latin America History, 2011. Web.