Save Western Civilization: Defend Christopher Columbus
I am a Montessori educator and work with children of two and a half to six years of age. Every October, my students learn the story of Christopher Columbus.
We start with learning about what the world was like when Columbus was alive. At that time, the Atlantic Ocean was called the Sea of Darkness, because many people still believed that huge, dangerous sea-dragons lived there. In addition, many people thought the ocean flowed downhill so that even if you could get past the dragons, your ship would eventually slide so far down that it couldn't get back up. The sea was a dangerous and terrifying place.
Columbus was a sailor looking for a shorter way to travel to Asia. He was scientifically oriented and was convinced that the world was really round, like other men were speculating, and that he should be able to find his shortcut. He eventually convinced Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand to fund and support his mission. He acquired three ships and sailed west with his crew in order to reach the Indies -- but of course, that's not what he found.
The students learn that Columbus's discovery of America led to the age of exploration. Columbus facilitated the colonization of far-off lands and, ultimately, the creation of the United States of America. Later the students learn that the United States was the first country to recognize individual rights, and therefore people of all races could live in harmony. Recognition of rights also gave man, for the first time, the freedom to pursue his own interests. For the first time, enormous happiness was possible to a majority of the population. This also made the creation of widespread wealth possible.
It is important that children know this story. Why? Because it is their story -- a story about Western civilization, which is their heritage. They need to know the events that led up to the establishment of their country. They need to know that the United States didn't always have cars, televisions, computers, stores, and enough food to eat, and then further learn how it came to be that we have all these things. They also need to understand human virtues such as courage, reason, and strength of character and what can happen when someone exercises his own judgment in the face of opposition.
Unfortunately, multiculturalism has made a huge dent in the Columbus story. Most people think that multiculturalism is just about learning interesting things about other cultures, such as that the Japanese wear kimonos and that the Mexicans eat tacos, but multiculturalism goes much deeper than that. It holds that all cultures, no matter what their nature, are morally equal.
I disagree. Traveling by automobile or airplane is better than drifting on rafts; creating medical cures is better than chanting and prancing around a fire; warm, cozy homes during the winter are better than shivering and suffering in the frigid forest. All cultures are not the same. And since multiculturalism denies that fact, it seeks to obliterate the story of Columbus because he is an integral part of the history of Western civilization. (There are even movements that do away with Columbus Day altogether and condemn industrial civilization outright.)
Let's examine a few of the attacks that have been flung against Columbus.
- "Columbus didn't really discover America since people already lived here." He certainly did discover the North American continent for Europe, and his discovery affected Europeans' perception of the world and the discoveries that happened thereafter.
- "Columbus inaugurated an era of slavery." No, he didn't. Slavery was common throughout the world at that time.
- "Columbus and the Europeans took away land that belonged to the Indians." The Native Americans never stayed in any one place to develop and own any land. They were constantly roaming all over the country.
- "The Indians were just peaceful people." While there were some exceptions, most Native American tribes were killing and slaughtering each other years before the white man came. They pretty much lived in a constant state of war.
- "Columbus himself took personal leadership in acts that would today be called genocide." We cannot judge people in history by the standards that we have at present. Just as we cannot criticize the Native Americans for failing to understand that there were no spirits that lived in human hair (which is why they scalped people), we cannot criticize the Europeans for failing to understand individual rights. The concept of individual rights did not exist at that period in history. Nonetheless, it is true that gruesome incidents took place and cannot be condoned, but this was no different from how Europeans treated other Europeans, nor from the way Native Americans treated other Native Americans at that point in time.
- "The Indians lived in harmony with the earth." Multiculturalists would have us believe that the Native Americans were always happy and carefree, tiptoeing through the forest and throwing tulip petals along the way. The truth is that because, at that time, they did not understand science and natural law, it was very difficult for them to survive. They suffered through famine, disease, drought, floods, and malnutrition. They weren't as happy as we are led to believe -- they often felt afraid and helpless. Besides, running herds of buffalo off cliffs only to use a few of them and leaving the rest to rot is not "living in harmony with the earth."
- "Columbus and the Europeans are to blame for introducing diseases such as smallpox which killed many Indians." Using that same line of reasoning, perhaps we should blame the Native Americans for introducing the Europeans to tobacco because people have died of lung cancer.
Christopher Columbus is under attack because he symbolizes the beginning of America, which is a shining product of Western civilization. But if no culture is supposed to be morally superior to any other, then why is Western civilization under assault? Which culture is attacking it, and from what moral platform? And why is it that an American child is supposed to learn about every culture except his own? Those are contradictions that multiculturalists don't account for.
When Columbus is viciously condemned, it is the dominant ideas of our culture that are threatened. Reason, science, individualism, and progress are morally superior to collectivism and stagnation. The ideas of Western civilization have led to our survival, well-being, and happiness. Let's not return to the Sea of Darkness. It is time to stand up and defend Christopher Columbus.
Charlotte Cushman is a Montessori educator at Minnesota Renaissance School, Anoka, Minnesota. She has been involved in the study of Ayn Rand's philosophy since 1970.
"The Enemies of Christopher Columbus," Thomas A. Bowden, 2007.
John Ridpath, "This Hallowed Ground" (paper presented at Objectivist conference, Williamsburg, Virginia, July 1-7, 1992).