Goodbye, Columbus

Posted on November 30, 2017


Once again, Columbus Day has come and gone and I managed to refrain from writing another column on the great discoverer. I thought I had said everything I needed to say about the real, historical Columbus so much at odds with the Columbus that the modern indigenous community has invented in the past few years, mostly in the far-left corners of the political spectrum in this country.

But, alas, those advocating the removal of Columbus from our history — his statues, his holiday, his memory — are again so, almost comically, wrong in their “facts” that my fingers ran to the keyboard to respond. And, on Columbus Day a few weeks ago, my mouth probably ran as well on Kip Tyner’s show about events and happenings both here in Tuscaloosa and elsewhere.

Let’s start with the obvious. The indigenous peoples’ movement wants to remove Columbus from our historical memory since he is accused of initiating the beginning of the demise and destruction of Indian America. The Los Angeles City Council recently dropped Columbus Day as a holiday in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day. Or as the Los Angeles Times reported: The council “voted to eliminate Columbus Day from the city calendar, siding with activists who view the explorer as a symbol of genocide for native peoples in North America and elsewhere.” Other cities have followed suit. It reminds me of the story of the lemmings going over the cliff. Look it up.

Let’s go right to the heart of the activists’ arguments that stridently favor the Indians at the expense of the Italian discoverer who sailed in the service of the Catholic monarchs of Spain, Isabella and Ferdinand.

Since the movement epicenter appears to be California, and most Mexicans in California are descendants of mixtures of Spaniards and indigenous peoples, let’s look at the behavior of their heroes, the Nahua-speaking Aztecs of the central valley of Mexico.

The Aztecs had conquered most of the other peoples of Mexico before their first meeting with Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortéz, around 1519. Before the coming of the Christians the Aztecs governed their conquered rivals and sacrificed their captives with a brutality that shocked even the war-seasoned conquistadors.

Hundreds and thousands of captives were forced to the tops of pyramids in their capital, Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), laid on top of sacrificial tables and their still beating hearts cut out of their breasts in sacrifices to the Aztec gods. The bodies were flung down the sides and other victims dragged up to meet their fate.

The descendants of these Aztecs suggest substituting their barbaric heroes for Columbus. The great admiral was no saint. He did enslave a few hundred Tainos of Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti today) and sent them back as a gift to his queen, Isabella. Although very much an admirer and strong Catholic co-religionist of Columbus, she was shocked he had enslaved “her new subjects,” and freed them. She was interested in converting the pagans Columbus had discovered on the islands of the Caribbean, but not at the expense of their liberty.

The Spanish conquest of the New World that was kicked off by the discoveries of Columbus was itself brutal and often immensely self-serving. But it also brought Christianity to the New World, ended the ritual slaughter by the Aztecs of their rivals, banished cannibalism being practiced among many indigenous peoples in the Caribbean islands, and established the beginnings of a new civilization in the Americas, based on the intermarriages and unions between indigenous Americans, Europeans and Africans.

The self-styled denouncers of the monster Columbus accuse him of genocide because so many millions of indigenous people perished from European diseases unknown in the Americas. The transfer of diseases across seas and oceans, between continents, was not a conscious decision by one man to destroy another world. To hold him responsible is a gross political gambit to celebrate a political cause.

In a brilliant book written a generation ago by Alfred Crosby, he very correctly labeled the whole affair of the conquest: “The Columbian Exchange.” It was the widespread transfer of animals, plants, culture, human populations, communicable diseases, technology and ideas between the American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres in the 15th and 16th centuries.

It’s a good thing the activists who want to eradicate Columbus from the historical memory of Western civilization were not enemies of the Aztecs. As their armies swept through Mexico, they imposed their own empire, and brought thousands of captives back to Tenochtitlan to practice their pagan religion.

Placating the gods was a deadly business.

Published as “Columbus opponents misguided” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017