There's Nothing Wrong With Columbus Day
I will admit to having holiday fatigue. We have so many days and weeks and months on the calendar remembering a historical figure or commemorating a historical event or even “raising awareness” for some cause that there’s literally not a day that goes by that isn’t special for some anointed reason or another.
It gets to the point where nothing is special, because everything is.
That said, the complaints about Columbus Day are also a bit tiresome.
The complainers, including those who want to ban Columbus Day in Fargo, say that Columbus wasn’t really some great explorer. Rather, he stumbled onto a land he never intended to find in the first place and that he didn’t really discover because there were already lots and lots of indigenous peoples living here. His discovery, we’re told, set off generations worth of conquest, enslavement, and eradication of Native American peoples.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]History is complicated stuff, and we don’t do anyone any favors by taking simplistic and politically-motivated positions on it.[/mks_pullquote]
These things are basically true, sure, and debunk the grade school understanding of Columbus “discovering America” and the European settlement of North America being a totally positive thing. But they also belittle a more nuanced understanding of Columbus’ accomplishments. While I’m not sure we need a day on the calendar to commemorate Columbus, his achievements are worth remembering and studying.
I recommend Samuel Eliot Morrison’s excellent and Pulitzer Prize winning Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. I was turned onto this book years ago by Glenn Reynolds who recommends it every Columbus Day as an antidote to the political attacks on his legacy.
I think it’s unfair to saddle Columbus with all the negatives of European expansion into North America. I think it’s unfair to cast Columbus and his explorations as totally evil just as it’s unfair to cast them as totally pure.
History is complicated stuff, and we don’t do anyone any favors by taking simplistic and politically-motivated positions on it.
So rather than eradicating Columbus day, which is what some activists want, we should add to it. Recognize not only what Columbus’ “discovery” meant for Europeans, but what it meant for Native Americans as well. Don’t ban the holiday, or supplant it with something else, but rather expand it and make it more inclusive.
That’s a compromise we can all get behind, I think.