by Rod D. Martin
October 12, 2015
Today we honor one of the greatest adventurers, explorers, entrepreneurs and visionaries of all time, Christopher Columbus, discoverer of the New World.
Yes, I realize that today’s narrative about “the Admiral of the Ocean Sea” is very different. Our public schools now teach that he was a genocidal maniac; to hear some leftists talk you’d think that he was Freddy Krueger in a wooden ship.
Some of that is due to events beyond his control, chiefly the subsequent deaths of 90% of the native population of the Americas due to Eurasian diseases, and battles four centuries later such as Wounded Knee. But if Columbus is responsible for those events, which Chinese scoundral should we hang in effigy for the Black Death, which killed something between 75-200 million Europeans in the 1300s?
The very idea is farcical.
I address that issue and many more in “Did America Commit Genocide Against the Indians?“, published today right here on RodMartin.org.
But it seems right that on Columbus Day, we should actually spend some time thinking not about latter day detractors, but about Christopher Columbus himself.
Though Columbus set out to find a new route to China, he found something far more important. Though he did not realize the fullness of what he’d found, the fullness of his personal understanding is no more relevant than Wilber Wright’s understanding of the Space Shuttle. Columbus ushered in an entirely new era of history, through dogged determination and a complete unwillingness to take no for an answer.
He ought to be the patron saint of every startup.
Though he was a late medieval Genoan in the service of a Spanish crown that had only just concluded an 800 year war of liberation from Islamic rule (“la Reconquista”), Columbus embodied much of what it is to be a modern American. He would have been right at home at Cape Canaveral or in Silicon Valley: a man who refused to accept traditional thinking and was willing to bet everything, even his life, on his idea.
And in perhaps his most modern American act of all, when the Spanish crown reneged on its (extremely generous) deal with him, he and his family sued the King, the official records of which lawsuits constitute much of what we know about the “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” and his voyages today.
Columbus was a Christian, and saw what he was doing as glorifying God, pushing back want, and spreading truth to the whole world. We post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment, post-Industrial Revolution, even postmodern types may have a hard time grasping the cultural values and historical environment that shaped him. But we should make the effort, avoid easy presentism, and appreciate him for who he was and what he wished to achieve.
To suggest Columbus was some sort of monstrous mass murderer is gross revisionism. To belittle him because someone else either previously had or would have eventually made the same discoveries is a joke: that thriving Viking Kingdom in Newfoundland speaks to the former, and as to the latter, one might as well say Steve Jobs was no big deal because someone else would have eventually made a Macintosh.
No, Columbus was a great man to whom we owe virtually the entire modern world. He’s a role model for all who might ever have a big idea with which they want to make a difference. And the world would be immeasurably poorer had he never lived.
So Happy Columbus Day. Celebrate it with gratitude, pride and hope. We live in a time when a new Columbus might be just around the corner.