Columbus day and American Mythology

For centuries powerful forces have committed despicable acts in the name of “progress” using lies and half-truths to justify such actions. One could point to 1492 as the year when this behavior found its way to America.

Fortunately, as time affords a more nuanced understanding of past events, we often come to condemn the actions and reject the flawed justifications. This is true in the cases of slavery, the invasion of Vietnam, the internment of Japanese citizens and so on. But for some reason we have yet to collectively condemn the absurdity that is Columbus Day.

It was in 1492 that a sailor on “The Pinta” – one of the three ships in Christopher Columbus’s ten-week voyage from Spain -- spotted land and paved the way for European expansion into the "New World."

After his first exposure with the Arawaks, he wrote in his log:

" They willingly traded everything they owned.... .... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance..... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want ...As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts."

Since then public schools and the public-at-large have perpetuated one of the biggest farces in American history: the notion of Columbus as a hero worth celebrating.

And celebrate we do, honoring Columbus with one of only nine national holidays, only two of which are named after a single individual (the other being Martin Luther King Jr). But there is an ugly truth that American folklore and public school history books downplay: Columbus was a vicious tyrant, ruthless in his pursuit of personal acclaim, who perpetuated unspeakable atrocities to the indigenous populations who were exploited and often killed by Columbus and his brethren in order to increase their wealth, power and stature.

His human-rights abuses notwithstanding, there is serious doubt as to whether or not Columbus was the first settler to discover the Americas. In Minnesota Columbus Day is not celebrated since they believe the Vikings discovered America prior to Columbus. There is also evidence to suggest that the Chinese arrived in the New World more than 70 years before Columbus did. Such ambiguities as to who actually discovered America first has prompted at least one historian, Patrick Gavin of Princeton, to suggest renaming the holiday to “Explorer’s Day. “

Whether it is in the form of a name change or otherwise, it is time for us to rething Columbus Day. Allowing this fraudulent despicable man to be honored yearly is a great injustice to the Native Americans whose ancestors were victimized by his vile acts of brutality.

The idea that learning institutions still honor this holiday and by extension this man, is an insult to academic process – by allowing made-for-second-grade textbook propaganda to suppress historical accuracy.

Columbus belongs in our history books; the myth of Columbus does not. That our country still perpetuates this enormous lie is no reason to celebrate.