Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks): “Imagine if Christopher Columbus had come back from the New World and no one returned.” Apollo 13 (1995) Universal Pictures.
They’re tearing down statues now. And history. And memory. The purveyors of political propriety who dictate the latest of whose in and whose out may swing around in any direction, at a moment’s notice, and point bony fingers at past heroes and declare them anathema. So who will be next? Who will be the latest victim of our past who cannot muster the madness of the new norms of societal acceptance? And, what test must they pass in the eyes of the pretended proletariat who falsely claim to be champions of justice?
Columbus, I think. He doesn’t stand a chance.
He’s been under attack in academia for years. Are there reasons for this? Yes. Of course there are, as anyone does who we put under a microscope and see for the first time through the eyes of modernity. But, that’s no reason to discount the historic victory Columbus achieved. He prevailed where the Vikings failed. He transcended ordinary thinking and centuries of legitimate doubt that said no one could sail west to reach the prize of the Indies because there was no port to replenish and re-provision ships on such a long voyage. This took guts. It was a unique vision of how the waves and winds acted in concert. And it required a brave and extraordinary man to not only sell this idea to the courts of Europe, but to actually do it.
But, this is not what modern man remembers. He knows only that Columbus brought destruction on an innocent populace. Search any Common Core web site and find that, surprise! Columbus was actually a very bad actor in a very bad play that brought nothing but misery and disease and slavery to the innocents of the western world. Ergo, he must not be emulated, esteemed, or, God forgive, remembered in granite as a hero for Americans of Italian heritage to honor and respect. Trust me. This is coming to a town near you. But, why?
For the very same reasons they uproot statues of Robert E. Lee. Like Columbus, and Washington and Jefferson and you name it in American history, these people had their faults and were a product of their times. Yet there are those today who cannot countenance any sins whatsoever that do not yield to their righteous indignation. Much like a preacher who only sees someone else’s sins and not their own, they clamor for popular acceptance thereby alleviating personal culpability. Case in point is Quinn O’Callaghan, who wrote a commentary piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week. In his diatribe against the anticipated Philadelphia Columbus Day Parade he says this:
“The truth is that the defenders of Columbus Day and Confederate statues are the ones committed to rewriting history”
NO! The ones committed to rewriting history are those who ignore or dismiss it like an annoying fly or gnat who gets in the way of enjoying themselves at a family picnic. Or, diabolically, by deliberately skewing historical evidence in order to achieve a political agenda. Most Americans, I trust, are of the former persuasion only because we really don’t teach history any more. Just agreed upon garbage carefully sorted through sifts of universal sand where the bad guys are always what used to be called western civilization. Remember courses in college called Western Civ?
Although, it has become evident in recent years that forces (I mean money) have been provided to certain groups to alter the balance of power. Nevertheless, you can’t deny history with every whim that seems popular today and you can’t ignore truth when it faces you square in the face. You can, however, dismiss it if that suits your fancy. O’Callaghan continues:
“Monuments and holidays celebrating Columbus extol the Schoolhouse Rock edition of a conqueror and killer.” And, and this is really grist for the mill, “the iteration of Columbus we give a federal holiday to is born out of antiquated textbooks and bad junior high social studies classes.”
Having taught junior high school, I can agree with O’Callaghan on at least one thing, we should never have digressed to teaching “social studies” at all. We should have stuck to the time-honored liberal disciplines of history and geography. If we did, perhaps such nonsense would never be published in a major American newspaper.
Today, well, for the last fifty years or so – we’ve been looking at history through opaque lenses. Tinted so that we can only see what we’re told to see. It’s been a history lesson in optical illusion where facts are replaced or dismissed or ignored to make room for a triumphant exposition of progressive clarity.
When my kids were younger – I’m sorry, even to this very day, I always told them to look at the big picture when witnessing and evaluating current events. Because anything current has happened before whether we like it or not. Our culture dictates us to view ourselves, each other, and those who came before us with a new morality that is anything but transparent. In doing so, we fool ourselves. Nothing that much has really changed in the past millennium or two. We’d like to think that it has and that’s a comfort to us. But, human nature, whether it was Christopher Columbus’ or ours hasn’t changed that much at all. And, that’s the big picture. You can call Columbus a killer, blame him for genocide against innocent people, even say he began slavery. If it makes you feel good. But, it won’t come out in the wash.
I think Rodney Stark said it best in his book How the West Won (2014, Intercollegiate Studies Institute):
“Perhaps the primary conclusion to be drawn from these historical episodes involves the fundamental similarity of human nature. Just as there is nothing surprising about the fact the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas imposed great empires on those unable to resist them, so too it was to be expected that Europeans would impose empires on the people of the New World, especially since those indigenous peoples lacked metal weapons but were not short of precious metals. It surely is an instance of moral progress that colonialism has become unacceptable – at least in most Western societies. But it is pointlessly anachronistic to suppose that sixteen-century Europeans, Aztecs, or Incas should have known better.”
Christopher Columbus was and is an icon of modern civilization. He ushered in the Age of Discovery. He personally found a way west to a new world. He should be honored for his great deeds. Let parades march in Philadelphia for as long as we can honestly appreciate history and those who made it.