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.

–Cristoforo Colombo

National ‘What Is This Day About?’ Day

When we Americans aren’t busy celebrating murdering monarchists or our Gods, our third most controversial holiday is Columbus Day.

I really like the push to call it Indigenous People’s day. The tragedy that Columbus wrought, although not really intentionally. Most of the death and genocide was delivered by smallpox. And while there definitely were cases of infected items being included in trade on purpose, it was rare. And the death from war and violence accounts for too much, but you can get into a “who started it” debate until you get back to Columbus.

A lot of the reaction against Columbus Day comes from people saying that this is hero worship. Is it?

I’m not sure where the ideas of hero worship come from. Maybe it’s the name. The day is the day he landed. If we celebrated his birthday, he would be a national hero. If we celebrated his death, he would be a messiah or saint. But we celebrate the day he landed because that’s the only important thing he ever did in his life worth remembering.

Columbus, the man, was a horrible greedy racist. Manipulating a murderous regime, he opened the door for half a dozen of other murderous regimes to come over and do what they did best.

He also was a man of science and progress. He opened the doors to new foods, new civilizations, new people. New foods that eliminated famine for centuries in the old world. New civilizations and people, that although mostly mistreated in reprehensible ways, increased our wealth of stories and ideas and has made the human race stronger.

If he’s to blame for all those things, then what must we be to blame for? And what future events we can’t imagine, that will result from our well intentioned actions to live a decent life?

Eventually, I’d see this day as Americas day. Or perhaps World Unity day. It’s the day when the world was finally united. Oh sure, it was united under the thumb of a very small and technologically powerful alliance of infighting children who inherited their thrones through blood and sex, but we’ve gotten a little better since then.

I kind of like the name Columbus Day. It makes it easier to talk about and debate about. There’s no clear answer that he was a villain or a hero. Like the rest of us, he was just some miserable human trying to find a way to a better life and fucking it up royally.

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