Not many holidays have big controversies. There is the supposed “war on Christmas” by religious groups, but other than that, many holidays are celebrated without much opposition. Not Columbus Day, however. To many, it is a long waited day off from school or work, but it incites an angry passion in others. Many of it’s opponents claim that Columbus was a tyrant over the people he ruled and therefore should not be celebrated. Many actually made Columbus Day into “Indigenous Peoples Day”! The opponents cite the fact that Columbus did indeed treat the native peoples harshly. Among the claims made at the time, Columbus used torture and mutilation as punishments for draconian laws he passed. The king and queen even replaced him with another man, Francisco de Bobadilla and he investigated the allegations of tyranny. Columbus was briefly imprisoned once he got back to Spain, but was later released and went on a fourth voyage. However, he was never made governor again.
The question now is not whether or not he did bad things, but is the condemnation he’s receiving is all justified. To our modern sentiments, Columbus was a tyrant over the people he ruled and his punishment seemed like a slap on the wrist today! However, one forgets to put what Columbus did into the historical context of his time-period. Through our modern eyes, our society has placed great emphasis on being “multicultural”, and is more sensitive than ever before to other minority groups. According to modern sentiments, Columbus did the antithesis of what modern people expect. However, in his day, what he did was in line with every other explorer! Granted, he did things that were highly unethical, but it is not like he stuck out in any way in that manner. Think of people like Pizarro, who imprisoned and killed the Incan ruler, Atahualpa, just for throwing down a Bible in confusion, or Cortes, who also ruled as a tyrant over the native Aztecs. One could easily argue, that they were all equally atrocious, but Columbus got the brunt of the blame put on him. Why condemn one man more than the others when they all did the same crime? Also, is is really fair to hold Columbus to contemporary ideas about imperialism and people with different cultures? Remember, this man lived in the 15th century! How he treated indigenous peoples in his time was not out of line with the current attitudes. Everyone did it, so did Columbus. Poor Columbus would have no clue what ideas he had were to be deemed outdated, and with society quickly discarding many ideas for new ones, who knows what some of our attitudes will be labeled archaic in the near future?
A big argument could be, well, he’s the only one with a holiday in his memory! I think the holiday itself is honestly overblown. People say Columbus discovered the new world, but he really only discovered a portion of the Caribbean. To commemorate him discovering the continent we lived on would be a blatant lie! However, he was one of the first European explorers to come to a new world in the great Age of Exploration. He and other explorers, despite their wrongdoings, laid the foundations for advanced countries today, including our own! As much as we would like to shy away from it, countries are born out of conquest. The only way to get land we rule over ourselves it to take it away from those who have it now. Indeed, who said that the indigenous peoples lived in an anti-imperialist utopia either? I’ll bet you they warred with neighboring tribes for the same reasons any human group desires conquest. The natives were just as brutal to fellow natives as those European explorers could ever be! Overall, men like Columbus were not born into a vacuum, they were a product of their time-period, as are we, and did what was the norm for their society. As for the holiday, without those explorers, the country we so cherish and get fanatical about at times, wouldn’t be here if not for Europeans that came here for many reasons. Regardless, enjoy that extra day off, and reap the spoils at the Columbus Day sales!
(Poor Columbus, hounded by modern ideals he’s never even heard of!)
(Hee, Hee! Real funny!)