DId you miss 'Indigenous People's Day'?

The man who made perhaps the most consequential voyage of discovery in human history is being buried in a wave of guilt about exploiting his find.

Christopher Columbus is one of the most unlovely characters in our history books. But whatever his faults - and they were legion - he should be honored for opening an entire continent to settlement and resource exploitation.

What's that you say? There were people here already? That's very true. But the history of humanity has been a history of restless movement since the beginning of our species 125,000 years ago in Africa when homo sapiens spread throughout the world - including Europe, where Neanderthals were well established.. By 30,000 years ago, the Neanderthals were gone - either absorbed by modern humans or wiped out.

Over the milennia, each and every place on earth has seen newcomers come in, and those already established either pushed out or eliminated. It is unreasonable to expect that singular fact of history to have been ignored in the case of the Americas. It is illogical to think that Native Americans would have been immune to the single most powerful force that has driven our species for tens of thousands of years - the need to go to new places and exploit the resources for themselves.

The land bridge over the Bering Sea that appeared about 14,000 years ago spawned several migrations. Each successive migration moved into areas that were already populated by humans. One of the earliest was the Clovis culture, from which about 80% of all current Native Americans are descended. To assume that all interactions between the newcomers and those already established here were friendly is idiotic. Of course, the scale of massacre is far less than what happened when Europeans began to throw their weight around in the Americas. But it seems hypocritical for Native Americans to claim total innocence just because their ancestors have less blood on their hands than white Europeans.

The move to make Columbus Day into "Indigenous People's Day" misses the point. The Americas were going to be "discovered" eventually by someone. And given the enormous riches found in North and South America, the flood of strangers would have been just as great if Chinese had made that voyage, or Englishmen, or Africans, or anyone else.

Columbus made his voyage in the first historical moment that the technology of ship building made it possible to do so. Once that technology spread, the fate of Native Americans was sealed. For not only did the Europeans bring guns to the New World, they unknowingly brought diseases for which Native Americans had absolutely no immunity. It's estiimated that about 75 years after Columbus' landing, 90% of Native Americans had died - most of them without ever seeing a white man. Trade between tribes, which allowed for sea shells from Florida to find their way to Washington State doomed the inhabitants to suffer and die of diseases for which they had no name.

As Jared Diamond points out in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Guns, Germs, and Steel," it has always been that way. The ability of Europeans to organize themselves into nation states with large, lethal armies, their superior technology, and the deadly nature of their diseases, all combined to doom Native Americans to a fate not of their own making.

But how do we judge Columbus and those who followed? Thomas DiBaccio writing in the Washington Times:

Of course, the reason that Columbus is now vilified by some Americans is that he is associated with exploiting Indians, bringing disease to the New World and enslaving peoples in the wake of his discoveries.

The tragedy of such thinking is that it violates one of the sacrosanct standards of the historical method, namely, avoidance of present-mindedness. This standard has been inculcated into American classrooms from earliest times, that is, it’s a lesson to avoid using the values of today to judge a historical event rather than the values that existed at the time of the event.

Teachers test present-mindedness by giving youngsters, for instance, a pictorial rendition of a famous person such as George Washington, the president seated at a desk in appropriate dress for the period, with a quill pen, blotter, and thick writing paper. For a contemporary youngster, there might be, in addition, something that couldn’t have been around in GW’s time, such as a TV. And the student would be asked to determine what is wrong with the portrayal?

Such is the error that contemporary historians make about Columbus by employing today’s values instead of those at the time. Superiority of peoples and harsh treatment of subordinate ones were standard values in Columbus’s time. That these harsh values were mitigated — and at what pace and degree — in favor of more humane ones comprise the relevant historical barometers. And most Americans, at least until recent political-correctness unfolded, could recognize not only that fact but the advantageous aspects of Columbus’s discovery at that time.

Nor do the Columbus naysayers recognize that, over decades of history, his name has been honorably attached to so many aspects of American life. Not only cities, towns and counties but monuments (the first in nearby Baltimore in 1792), the circle in New York City that typifies the bustling and successful nature of America’s economic system and the District of Columbia, the very seat of our federal government? Are we to eliminate these hallmarks in the quest for political-correctness?

Certainly, we shouldn't minimize the real depradations, the double dealing, the near-genocidal actions of our ancestors in our relations with Native Americans. But why blame Columbus for all of that? Julius Caesar claimed to have killed a million Gauls in his famous conquest and deserves our disapprobation. But Columbus, who enslaved many Native Americans when he was governor general of Santo Domingo, did not deliberately go out of his way to kill the native population.

Let Columbus alone. Pick some other day to honor indigenous people and allow us to celebrate if not the man, then his startling accomplishments.

The man who made perhaps the most consequential voyage of discovery in human history is being buried in a wave of guilt about exploiting his find.

Christopher Columbus is one of the most unlovely characters in our history books. But whatever his faults - and they were legion - he should be honored for opening an entire continent to settlement and resource exploitation.

What's that you say? There were people here already? That's very true. But the history of humanity has been a history of restless movement since the beginning of our species 125,000 years ago in Africa when homo sapiens spread throughout the world - including Europe, where Neanderthals were well established.. By 30,000 years ago, the Neanderthals were gone - either absorbed by modern humans or wiped out.

Over the milennia, each and every place on earth has seen newcomers come in, and those already established either pushed out or eliminated. It is unreasonable to expect that singular fact of history to have been ignored in the case of the Americas. It is illogical to think that Native Americans would have been immune to the single most powerful force that has driven our species for tens of thousands of years - the need to go to new places and exploit the resources for themselves.

The land bridge over the Bering Sea that appeared about 14,000 years ago spawned several migrations. Each successive migration moved into areas that were already populated by humans. One of the earliest was the Clovis culture, from which about 80% of all current Native Americans are descended. To assume that all interactions between the newcomers and those already established here were friendly is idiotic. Of course, the scale of massacre is far less than what happened when Europeans began to throw their weight around in the Americas. But it seems hypocritical for Native Americans to claim total innocence just because their ancestors have less blood on their hands than white Europeans.

The move to make Columbus Day into "Indigenous People's Day" misses the point. The Americas were going to be "discovered" eventually by someone. And given the enormous riches found in North and South America, the flood of strangers would have been just as great if Chinese had made that voyage, or Englishmen, or Africans, or anyone else.

Columbus made his voyage in the first historical moment that the technology of ship building made it possible to do so. Once that technology spread, the fate of Native Americans was sealed. For not only did the Europeans bring guns to the New World, they unknowingly brought diseases for which Native Americans had absolutely no immunity. It's estiimated that about 75 years after Columbus' landing, 90% of Native Americans had died - most of them without ever seeing a white man. Trade between tribes, which allowed for sea shells from Florida to find their way to Washington State doomed the inhabitants to suffer and die of diseases for which they had no name.

As Jared Diamond points out in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Guns, Germs, and Steel," it has always been that way. The ability of Europeans to organize themselves into nation states with large, lethal armies, their superior technology, and the deadly nature of their diseases, all combined to doom Native Americans to a fate not of their own making.

But how do we judge Columbus and those who followed? Thomas DiBaccio writing in the Washington Times:

Of course, the reason that Columbus is now vilified by some Americans is that he is associated with exploiting Indians, bringing disease to the New World and enslaving peoples in the wake of his discoveries.

The tragedy of such thinking is that it violates one of the sacrosanct standards of the historical method, namely, avoidance of present-mindedness. This standard has been inculcated into American classrooms from earliest times, that is, it’s a lesson to avoid using the values of today to judge a historical event rather than the values that existed at the time of the event.

Teachers test present-mindedness by giving youngsters, for instance, a pictorial rendition of a famous person such as George Washington, the president seated at a desk in appropriate dress for the period, with a quill pen, blotter, and thick writing paper. For a contemporary youngster, there might be, in addition, something that couldn’t have been around in GW’s time, such as a TV. And the student would be asked to determine what is wrong with the portrayal?

Such is the error that contemporary historians make about Columbus by employing today’s values instead of those at the time. Superiority of peoples and harsh treatment of subordinate ones were standard values in Columbus’s time. That these harsh values were mitigated — and at what pace and degree — in favor of more humane ones comprise the relevant historical barometers. And most Americans, at least until recent political-correctness unfolded, could recognize not only that fact but the advantageous aspects of Columbus’s discovery at that time.

Nor do the Columbus naysayers recognize that, over decades of history, his name has been honorably attached to so many aspects of American life. Not only cities, towns and counties but monuments (the first in nearby Baltimore in 1792), the circle in New York City that typifies the bustling and successful nature of America’s economic system and the District of Columbia, the very seat of our federal government? Are we to eliminate these hallmarks in the quest for political-correctness?

Certainly, we shouldn't minimize the real depradations, the double dealing, the near-genocidal actions of our ancestors in our relations with Native Americans. But why blame Columbus for all of that? Julius Caesar claimed to have killed a million Gauls in his famous conquest and deserves our disapprobation. But Columbus, who enslaved many Native Americans when he was governor general of Santo Domingo, did not deliberately go out of his way to kill the native population.

Let Columbus alone. Pick some other day to honor indigenous people and allow us to celebrate if not the man, then his startling accomplishments.