In Defense of Christopher Columbus

Yesterday was Columbus Day, a once rather low key holiday that has since become a yearly flashpoint in our country’s ongoing culture wars. On one side we have those, such as myself, who rightly defend Columbus Day and the legacy of the man whom we honor by it, flawed though he may have been as are we all. On the other side, we have the ideological heirs of Karl Marx & Vladimir Lenin, those who’ve picked up the red banner of revolution and chosen to run with it.

Regarding the furor over Columbus and his greatly exaggerated crimes, it is important that we remember very clearly that the animating grievance many on the left have with Columbus has very little to do what what the man himself actually did or didn’t do and all to do with what he has come to symbolize in American culture.

To understand this, we need to go back and look at why we actually have a Colombus Day in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, it has little to do with his famous expedition to the New World. In reality, Columbus Day’s first recorded observance in the United States was in 1792 when Tammany Hall (that most historic of New York political institutions) decided to host a celebration for Columbus on the 300th anniversary of his landing in the New World. But was that the focus of the celebration? No. Not at all, rather the celebration centered on Columbus’ Italian ancestry and his Catholic faith. It was a way for Italian and Catholic communities to celebrate one of the most famous Catholics in the history of the Americas and to acknowledge that Catholicism has a history on this continent predating the establishment of the thirteen colonies. By 1892, exactly 100 years after the holiday’s first unofficial celebration, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation urging all Americans to take part in celebrating a holiday that had come to represent traditional Christian morality and a spirit of adventure and discovery.

But it wasn’t until 1937 that Columbus Day became an official Federal Holiday. Following intense lobbying from the Knights of Columbus, FDR decided to grant the holiday official status in the United States. From that point on, it became a time of year when families could celebrate not only the spirit of discovery and freedom that led to the birth of our nation, but also the traditional morals that, since our beginning, formed the foundation of this great nation.

Then, as with so many other things in contemporary American history, the 1960s happened. Prior to the 1960s, there was a general consensus that Columbus day was a good & fine holiday, but as the left’s cultural revolution got underway in the 60s, cracks began to emerge in that consensus. Suddenly Columbus was painted, rather unfairly, as a Hitlerian racist who came to the New World with the intention of wiping out every native person he came across.

This, quite simply, isn’t true. While it is true that Columbus engaged in what we might consider pretty heinous activities today, it’s important to note that this was just par for the course in Columbus’ time and far from the Nazi-esque desire to exterminate an, “inferior” people as the left paints it today. Take for example Columbus’ diary entry on the Taino people, whom he later enslaved, “They do not carry arms or know them….They should be good servants.”

Sound like a murderous racist to you? Perhaps a bit condescending, in the manner one might expect of an aging grandparent, but not the vitriolic hatred that the left has accused the late explorer of harboring.

What is often left out of this picture, is the way in which Columbus’ exploration, and yes, even his crimes in the new world, ultimately paved the way for greater equality and higher standards of living than ever seen before, including for minorities. While true that Columbus never stepped foot in America, his exploration nevertheless did bridge the old world to the new, making the colonization and eventual creation of the United States possible.

But as noted earlier, the left’s not actually bothered by Columbus’ mistakes so much as they are what he represents. As one may have guessed by now, Columbus Day holds a particular place in the hearts of many Catholic Americans, indeed of many Catholic nations, and has been consistently defend by the Catholic League and the Knights of Columbus throughout the past few decades precisely because of it’s importance to Catholic Americans.

The revolutionary left has had a gripe (to put it lightly) with the Church for quite some time. The over the top, hysterical hatred of Columbus Day is merely the latest manifestation of this gripe. Because the holiday was founded to honor a Catholic man and his contribution to our shared history, the left feels it must be wiped into the dustbin of history. All that is old must be destroyed and replaced with what is revolutionary and, in their eyes, “good.” This same Cultural Marxism is on display with regards to the Confederate monuments or the NFL anthem protests. If traditional Marxist thought maintains that wealth must be taken from the privileged and redistributed to the proletariat, then Cultural Marxism maintains that those groups (white people, Christians, heterosexuals) which have historically been dominant in the West must have their social status redistributed to those who’ve historically gotten a bad deal.

The fact that many of those under-privileged groups now share in the same prosperity and equality as their fellow citizens means nothing to the progressive. For Marxism maintains that all traditional institutions and hierarchies must be demolished on principle. The desire to replace Columbus Day with, “Indigenous People’s Day” is no different.

As with many, “revolutionary” concepts, Indigenous People’s Day is vaguely defined at best and incoherent madness at worst. As Catholic League President Bill Donohue writes:

“No one really knows who, or what, an “indigenous” person is. For one thing, all so-called indigenous peoples migrated here from across the Bering Strait. Moreover, even the United Nations confesses it doesn’t know how to define them.

In 2004, the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs issued a document, “The Concept of Indigenous Peoples.” After much study, it concluded that indigenous peoples were not a reality—they were a “concept.” It further noted that “the prevailing view today is that no formal universal definition of the term is necessary.”

That being the case, no one knows exactly who, or what, will be celebrated in those cities and states that hate Columbus.”

In the old days, it was said that if something was not broke, don’t fix it. Columbus Day isn’t broken, it’s not misunderstood, and it’s not a celebration of wanton acts of racism and enslavement. It celebrates a famous Catholic who played a pivotal role in the history of the United States and much of the Western world. A man whose spirit of adventure and dedication to succeed drove him to accomplish what many thought to be impossible.

So the next time you hear a progressive ranting and raving about how horrible Columbus Day is, remember that their animating grievance has little to do with Columbus and more to do with their own desires to slander America in the name of the, “revolution” whatever that means….

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