Monday, October 13, 2008

Columbus Day - Should it Stay or Should it Go???

Perhaps the most controversial holiday on our calendars, Columbus Day was officially created by Congress in 1971 (but celebrated by many states and by presidential proclamations since 1892).

The day honors Christopher Columbus, the man who best publicized the discovery of the New World to the old one, on the date (October 12) that Columbus' crew first sighted land.

The legacy of Columbus is a hotly debated subject. Over at American Creation (a very comprehensive group blog on the American founding), Brad Hart poses the question: "Should We Celebrate Columbus Day?"

"Yes!" says David Sprecace, writing last year in a Denver Post op-ed titled "Columbus Should be Celebrated." Sprecace argues that "Columbus possessed admirable qualities, of which all Americans can be proud." He explains:

Even by his detractors, he is seen as a skilled sea captain of the highest order. He challenged the conventional thought that the Earth was flat, seeking to "reach the east by going west," an idea to which the scientists of the day were forcibly opposed. He challenged the Aristotelian philosophy of science that had guided scientists for centuries in favor of the newer philosophy of science that placed observation in a primary role of analysis. He supported the heliocentric concept of the solar system with Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler before it became known by that name. In capitalistic spirit (admirable in the eyes of most Americans), he sought glory, wealth and a title of nobility by opening new trade routes to China and Japan.

Sprecace sidesteps Columbus' atrocities, saying that the Italian explorer (who actually sailed for Spain) has become a "scapegoat for perceived European sins."

These "perceived European sins," however are a wee-bit more than perceptions, and were regarded as rather serious by some of Columbus' own contemporaries.

The Court of Spain appointed Francisco de Bobadilla to review and oversee the situation in the Indies. From 1500 through 1502, Bobadilla conducted a rather thorough investigation of Columbus' work as viceroy and governor, and his report resulted in Columbus being returned to Spain in chains and briefly imprisoned. Though Columbus would have his freedom restored, he was forever stripped of his authority. His reputation, during his lifetime, would never recover.

But, in the centuries following his death, his reputation was revived, with the focus being on his courage and achievements as an explorer - his brutality largely forgotten. Until recently.

In the last couple of decades, a renewed spotlight on Columbus' record has called the appropriateness of "Columbus Day" into question.

In the opinion of THIS author, the full record of Christopher Columbus should be acknowledged. And while the discovery of the New World is, in my opinion, worthy of a national holiday, the brutality practiced by Columbus while governor in the Indies, is most certainly NOT.