Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Christopher Columbus Conundrum

The Columbus Day holiday presents our American society with a revealing conundrum. An increasing number of people regard Christopher Columbus to be more villain than hero, and are saying he should NOT be celebrated with a holiday. If this is so, on what basis do we judge him to be a villain?

That Columbus did and said some troubling things is pretty much beyond dispute. When Columbus landed in the Indies, he was met by a party of Arawaks, the native inhabitants of the land he claimed for Spain. In his journal, Columbus wrote of the Arawaks: "They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

Indeed, Columbus did subjugate many of the Arawak, and he didn't stop there. His treatment of the native inhabitants of North America set a pattern that would in many ways define European colonization and exploitation of the Americas. Bartolom√© de las Casas, a Catholic priest and contemporary critic of Columbus, wrote: “While I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months...Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation ... in this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk.”

Understandably, many today find Christopher Columbus a deplorable figure and consider the Columbus Day holiday to be highly objectionable. Still, such moral assessments of Columbus beg a question that is too often ignored in our society: What is the basis of any such moral judgment?

American culture today is feverishly resistant to any kind of "imposed" moral system, especially if such a system has any religious roots to it. Consider the debate over abortion. Most of those who defend abortion rights do so on the grounds of emphasizing the importance of personal autonomy and a rejection of any attempt to impose a religious-based morality on the rest of society. The irony is that those same themes were echoed in the defense of slavery in pre-Civil War America as well as many episodes or situations where Native Americans were mistreated. If religion is to be cast aside as a source for morality -- if indeed we are to set aside any objective system of morality - and we are to instead celebrate individual autonomy, then it's difficult for me to understand how anyone can rationally judge the actions or beliefs of another person, such as Columbus.

If morality is determined by each individual, then it was completely understandable for Columbus to ignore critics such as las Casas. What's more, why should he let a native's cry for mercy or freedom dissuade him from his quest for profit? Sure, the native inhabitant had a life and had goals and desires, but if each person can ultimately determine his or her own moral code, then it comes down to an issue of power, not ethics. If Columbus had the desire and the power to enslave people for his own purposes, then why should he not do so? Why must he yield to someone else's morality? After all, he did what he thought was right. If you're someone who supports individual-based morality, you have NO sensible or judicious grounds upon which to judge Christopher Columbus.

On the other hand, if morality is determined by community or culture, then how do we rationally decide WHICH community or society gets the final say? Why should, say, the Arawaks get to decide what's right or wrong? If individuals determine morality, then (as we saw above) it comes down to power, not ethics. The same would logically be true for communities, would it not? If one community has the desire and the ability to subjugate another, so be it.

Some may counter that, in the case of conflicting societal values, size matters. They may say that a large number of people who believe a certain way should enlighten others who feel differently. But how does that follow? Are moral questions determined by a vote or by public opinion polls?

There's also the issue of time. Since Columbus' level of public approval has fluctuated throughout the last few centuries, does that mean a person's status of hero or villain should be based on what year it is and what generation happens to be living at that time?  So, if the Spanish in 1492 believed slavery was appropriate, but today believe slavery is wrong, does that mean slavery was okay in 1492 but wrong today? Is the morality of slavery dependent on the times?

Whether we're talking about the treatment of Native Americans, the sanctity of human life, sexual ethics, the definition of the family, or any other moral question, it makes NO RATIONAL SENSE to say, on the one hand, that ethical principles are based entirely on individuals and/or communities -- and to then turn around and pronounce moral judgments on the actions or beliefs of others. It's intellectually incoherent to make ANY kind of moral judgment on anyone or anything if morality itself is based on individual choice or public opinion. And thus...

Without an objective, external, moral referent, no one can make any kind of rational assessment of Christopher Columbus. Period. 

I don't write this to defend Columbus. On the contrary, I believe much of what Columbus did was reprehensible. But my moral compass isn't set to public opinion or individual preference. When you have an objective standard (as I do), it's simpler (not always easy, but simpler) to come to a moral conclusion. And that is certainly the case with Columbus. Enslaving people against their will is wrong today and it was wrong in 1492. That's an objective moral standard which Christopher Columbus violated, and thus his actions were immoral. But if you remove objective morality from the equation, then no such judgment can be rendered. And, in that case, we may as well celebrate a Columbus Day holiday, because no one can dispute that his actions were monumentally consequential.

So, the next time you're tempted to make a judgment about Christopher Columbus or anyone else, ask yourself what is the BASIS of that judgment. Such an intellectual and philosophical exercise, on your part, will make Columbus Day worthwhile.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Is America Great?

Is the United States of America a truly "great" nation? Dinesh D'Souza, author of America (and director of the documentary of the same name) says so. Check out this article and make any comments below...

God bless the USA!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy July 4 Everyone!

On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, an instrument that made public what had taken place two days prior: a vote to separate from Great Britain. To my fellow Americans....Happy Independence Day!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Happy 800th Birthday to the Magna Carta

Happy 800th Birthday to the Magna Carta (aka "Great Charter"). If you like the idea of the government being UNDER the law, then you should not let this anniversary go by without at least a moment of gratitude. To read more about its importance, check out this article....

"The Field Where Liberty Was Sown" by Mark Steyn

Friday, March 20, 2015

Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen Bring George Washington's Revolution to Life

Whatever you think of Newt Gingrich as a politician, you must give him props as a brilliant thinker and accomplished author. An example of Gingrich's impressive talent with a pen (or personal computer keyboard) is his foray into historical fiction. Gingrich has co-written several marvelous historical novels (some of them in the alternate history category) with William R. Forstchen. Among those terrific novels is an inspiring trilogy set in the Revolutionary War - a trilogy that begins with To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom. 

To Try Men's Souls tells the true-life story of George Washington saving the American Revolution by pulling off an audacious and brilliant defeat of the dreaded Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, New Jersey. It's a captivating read -- made all the more special by the fact that the events described are real (even though much of the dialogue and the details of the story are fleshed out by the authors' imaginations). If you haven't read To Try Men's Souls, I encourage you to pick up a copy today at the link below.


Order your copy of To Try Men's Souls now at And don't forget the sequels Valley Forge and Victory at Yorktown

Friday, March 13, 2015

5 Amazing Inventions by Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was many things, including printer, businessman, postmaster, philosopher, diplomat, and statesman. He was also a scientist and inventor. As a scientist, Franklin helped drive the American Enlightenment, charted the Atlantic Gulf Stream, and contributed greatly to the study of physics and electricity. As an inventor, Franklin is probably best known for the bifocals and the Franklin Stove. In this video from The Discovery Lists, we see five of Franklin's most amazing inventions.

Do you agree with the video? Let us know in the comments.


For more on Ben Franklin, check out The First American by H.W. Brands.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

TBT: Mel Gibson Massacres British Soldiers in The Patriot (2000) with a Tomahawk

Thought I would get in the spirit of Throw-Back-Thursday (TBT) with this graphic action clip from The Patriot (2000), starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. In this scene, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) rescues his son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) with the help of his two under-age sons, though Martin does most of the killing. And the killing is rather savage. Here's the clip...

Gibson's character, Benjamin Martin, is styled after Francis Marion (aka "The Swamp Fox"), but departs from the famous Revolutionary War guerrilla fighter in several ways. Though Marion (like the fictional Martin) hailed from South Carolina, fought in the French and Indian War, and waged guerrilla war against the British in the Revolutionary War, Marion was a slave owner (whereas Gibson's Martin pointedly did not own slaves) and several of Martin's exploits in The Patriot were naturally fictionalized. Some critics of Francis Marion and The Patriot (which they perceive to have glorified him - albeit indirectly) go even further by alleging that the real Francis Marion was a vicious racist who, not only owned slaves, but hunted Native Americans "for sport." Marion has, in his own right, been the focus of past television treatments, most notably Disney's The Swamp Fox. Leslie Nielson played Marion.

Whatever the nature of Francis Marion's legacy, The Patriot has plenty of controversy in its own right. Its depiction of British atrocities (particularly the burning of civilians in a church) understandably outraged many British citizens, though in fairness that brutality was carried out by a rogue cavalry officer styled after the hated Banastre Tarleton.

The film does have great cinematography, costuming, and special effects. And it boasts some of the best battle scenes and action sequences in any recent war epic. The savage tomahawk scene (see above) is among the most memorable. Whether it's realistic for a guy with a tomahawk (click here to see a similar tomahawk to the one Martin used) to take down a dozen British soldiers (the rest, he shot) is a discussion for another time. The scene is nevertheless cool - though it is brutal and helps earn The Patriot an appropriate R rating.

The Patriot is not the most accurate historical film ever made - not by a long shot. But it was refreshing to see the Revolutionary War brought to the Big Screen. Here's to hoping Hollywood does more American Revolution films.


The Patriot is available via Amazon on Demand and via DVD

Walt Disney's The Swamp Fox is available via DVD.

If you'd like to add a Revolutionary War style tomahawk to your wall (or collection) in the spirit of The Patriot and Benjamin Martin, take a look at this Hand Forged Revolutionary War Tomahawk with Hickory Handles

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Edward Larson Talks About George Washington's Return to Civic Duty

Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward Larson recently spoke at the Richard M. Nixon Library about his book The Return of George Washington. As Larson makes clear, Washington's retirement in 1783 established a government of the people, and his return from retirement in 1787 preserved it. You can watch Larson's speech below...

...and pick up a copy of The Return of George Washington courtesy of

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mr. Washington: 10 Things to Know About George Washington

On this birthday of our nation's first President, George Washington, we should remember how blessed our nation was to have such a remarkable man at the center of its founding. In that spirit, the folks at Mount Vernon have offered 10 things every American should know about the father of our country....