Columbus changed to world forever, and for the better

Adam Smith is called the “father of modern economics.” His book, The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, is one of history’s most influential books. In Chapter 1, Smith said that the discovery of the Americas was one of the “most important events recorded in the history of mankind.” Was he correct? Let’s review some history. 

Today it’s unpopular to support Columbus or to even recognize the significance of his achievements. Statutes of Columbus are being destroyed all over the Americas.

Columbus statue pulled down on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol

YouTube screengrab

Was he the vile, murderous conquistador that “woke” 21st century, anti-history millennials portray him to be? Some of the atrocities that Columbus is accused of committing include: 

  • He/Europeans enslaved indigenous peoples;
  • He/Europeans tried to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity;
  • He/Europeans established brutal tribute systems; and
  • He failed to control subordinates who pillaged, plundered, and killed the Natives.

So, was Columbus as evil as he’s accused, or was he a “man of his time” who was doing what any other explorer would have done in his position?

In 1500, no European considered Native Americans to be their equal. Why? Because the Indians didn’t have the “one true religion.” That thinking is proven in Hernando Cortès’s 1519 Letter sent back to the Spanish Crown in which he described Aztec human sacrifice, and stated that God had sent the Spaniards to bring the Gospel to “these barbaric people.” This inequality among peoples and races was the accepted thinking the world over, by all people and all societies until recently. Name the time and era, and various peoples considered themselves to be the “chosen” or superior race, often because of religion. The Jews, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Vikings, Muslims, and Christians all thought of themselves as being better than their neighbors, whom they conquered, oftentimes slaughtered, and enslaved. Even today in 2021, many races and cultures still see themselves as such. Simply look at China for proof. Many Chinese openly are anti-Black, anti-Muslim, and anti-anyone not Chinese.

Brutality between peoples has been present since the beginning of recorded history. In the Bible, God commanded the Israelites to kill the Canaanites who occupied the Promised Land (Book of Joshua). Cruelty between tribes and nations has been the norm and continues to this day -- think of the horrors inflicted by the Nazis and by the Japanese during WWII (concentration camps, the Rape of Nanking, and the brutality toward Koreans). Soviet communists starved millions and sent millions to Siberian gulags. Today, Chinese communists put ethnic Kazaks in concentration camps and are conducting genocide against the Uyghurs.  

Columbus did not invent the “spoils system.” Choose a period in history and the story of conquered peoples is the same – to the victor go the spoils. The spoils include killing the men, raping the women, pillaging, and then destroying the conquered cities and culture. If the conquerors allowed anyone to live, they did so only to exact harsh tribute that insured the conquered peoples spent most of their time, energy, and capital working for the conquerors.

A problem with current academia is that they judge past societies against today’s “woke”, 21st century standards. Woke academia projects the current Western mindset onto past societies and demands that those previous civilizations should have known our 21st century standards and behaved accordingly. Such thinking proves the hubris and failure of our education system. Educators have failed to teach students to understand that societies evolve; leading to today’s “educated” people who fail to comprehend that thinking changes over the centuries. 

If Columbus had been “kind and gentle” to the Indians, would it have made a difference? Would later explorers have treated the Natives any differently? The answer is NO. How do we know? Because everywhere that Europeans explored -- Africa, Asia, North and South America, Australia, and the Pacific Islands – they treated the indigenous peoples pretty much the same. In reality, the morals and standards of conduct by European explorers were no different than any other pre-20th century society anywhere in the world. For centuries, Arabs were extremely brutal as they conquered their way across Africa and pushed into Europe; same with the Mongols when they swept across Asia. The same goes for tribes in Africa and the indigenous tribes in the Americas.

So then, why did Adam Smith consider the European discovery of the Americas such a transformative event in human history? Look at pre-Columbian history and post-Columbian history. Consider how people lived, and their thinking, in Columbus’s time. If someone alive in the year 1500 BC, the time of Christ, or the year 500 AD could time travel to the year 1500, they would find themselves in a technologically familiar world - sailing ships, foot travel on muddy roads, animal power, candles used for lighting, slavery practiced in all parts of the world, people almost universally poor, rule by kings and monarchs, powerful clergy, very few books, etc. In 3,000 years, life and mindsets had not changed very much. The world of 1500 would have been recognizable to people from 1500BC.

On the other hand, if someone from the year 1500 could time travel 500+ years to the year 2021, they would find themselves in a world so different they would think they’ve landed on another planet – huge machines replaced animal/human power, electricity lights up the night, large objects flying through the air, people actually living in outer space, submarines that travel underwater, vehicles traveling at 80 mph on superhighways, mega-cities that dwarf anything from the past, communication devices held in your hand, music blaring from a box, the ability to remove the heart from a dead person and put it into another, wealth beyond imagination, etc., etc.

Columbus’s voyages to the New World began a long chain of events that transformed the world and mankind’s thinking more than anyone could ever have imagined. Western Civilization’s focus changed from a narrow, Mediterranean-centric world to a global mindset using waterways to connect all parts of the planet. That was true in Adam Smith’s time and even truer today.

Columbus is perhaps the greatest navigator and explorer – ever. His idea, to sail west to reach the Orient, forever changed the world. To put Columbus’s achievement in perspective, the rise of modern agriculture and the Industrial Revolution were seminal events in world history. However, after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, nothing has changed world history as much as Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. He discovered a new world and began the process of opening minds. 

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