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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer
Thursday, September 21, 2017
A closer look explains the explorer’s New World conduct Courage and Vision of Columbus Illustration by Greg Groesch
With Columbus Day upon us leftist rage is approaching gale force. Blinded by their irrational hatred they denounce Columbus and the civilization he symbolized for every ill ever visited upon this hemisphere. They are domestic Taliban, whose goal is the cultural obliteration of our society.
First things first. Christopher Columbus was a man of his time in outlook but one of immense courage and vision. He was not looking for the New World, but his seamanship in crossing the Atlantic has seldom been equaled. And yes, he did discover America — no one else’s discovery took, St. Brendan and his merry monks or Norsemen notwithstanding.
Second, when the great explorer’s critics accuse him of genocide, they ignore the definition of the word. As defined by the American Heritage Dictionary genocide is “the systematic, planned annihilation of a racial, political, or cultural group.” Spaniards were brutal in suppressing revolts, but genocide was not part of the scheme; slavery and conversion were. Columbus was not even involved in suppressing the slave revolt in Hispaniola. The uprising, quite justified in light of Spanish cruelty, was crushed by Gov. Nicholas de Ovando. Meanwhile, Columbus was marooned on Jamaica with Ovando in no rush to rescue him.
Moreover, Queen Isabella and the pope had forbade enslaving Indians, to little avail. Isabella demanded their conversion and, to her great annoyance, found it to be proceeding much too slowly. Slavery grew because the crown was unable to enforce royal edicts in the Americas. Their majesties’ subjects either ignored or subverted them. As for Columbus, he was guilty of kidnapping Indians to use as translators and to display before the Spanish court, but of the six taken to Spain, five were returned, the sixth choosing to remain. Not justifiable actions, as Father Bartolome de Las Casas, a valiant defender of the Indians, said, but not genocide.
At the dawn of discovery relations were not all bad. There were Arawaks who willingly served Columbus, and Arawak females equaled Spanish sailors in promiscuity — not exactly indicators of bad relations. Columbus can be accused of dreadful policies toward the Indians, but he had no intention of eliminating them.
In clashes between Indians and sailors, the Spanish could be unmerciful, but any notion that the Indians lived in harmony with each other is false. Asserting that the discovery of the Americas was “native cultures victimized” is nonsense. The Caribbean was not idyllic: The Arawaks displaced and enslaved the Siboney, only to find themselves living in terror of cannibalistic Caribs. Samuel Eliot Morison’s biography of Columbus describes what one of Columbus’ search parties confronted on Guadeloupe: “They found large cuts and joints of human flesh caponized Arawak boy captives who were being fattened for the griddle, and girl captives who were mainly used to produce babies, which the Caribs regarded as a particularly toothsome morsel.” When Columbus intercepted Caribs with Arawak captives, the Arawaks did everything they could to make for the safety of his ships.
Likewise, foolish romanticizing of Aztec culture ignores the terrible price paid by subjugated tribes, who each year were sacrificed by the thousands to Aztec gods. Bernal Diaz, who served under Cortes, wrote in his memoir of his horror at seeing blood-soaked priests and blood-caked temples amid the splendor and riches of Mexico City. He wasn’t the only one. Cortes, who had only a handful of soldiers, would never have conquered the Aztec without the aid of his Indian allies, who were fed up being fed to pagan idols.
North American Indians were equally ruthless. In the East the Iroquois roasted captives, in the West the Blackfeet tried to exterminate the Flatheads. Pawnee and Sioux enjoyed bashing one another. Indians enslaved other Indians, blacks and whites, and willingly used the white man and his technology against tribal enemies. Europeans did not bring conflict to the Americas.
To critics who revile Columbus as an evil symbol of Western Civilization, I would ask, “What would you have?” It is the West that conquered many of the horrible diseases that afflicted mankind, replaced human sacrifice with the sacrifice of the Mass, and lifted human life from the “nasty, brutish and short.”
It is the West with its concept of the individual with a soul and rights that hastened progress, not the collectivist torpor of primitive societies. I have yet to see an American Indian turn in his pickup for a horse (a Spanish contribution) or a Bolivian Indian refuse medical care at a U.S. Army aid station.
Whatever its shortcomings, and its history with the Indian is one of them, Western Civilization is far ahead of any other. Those who denounce it do so only in terms of the Western world, a world whose material comforts and intellectual bounties they show no sign of eschewing.