Does your family celebrate Columbus Day? Or did it slip by without notice? Columbus Day is usually noted in school classes (well before college) and after that it is all but forgotten. But the four voyages of Columbus represent an incredibly important “first” in world history, in the history of the Western Hemisphere, and in the USA, that we should not forget.
There is a yearly nationwide essay contest for high-school students. A recent topic was “How did the four voyages of Columbus change our perception of geography and alter world economics?” Materials have been sent to school principals and history departments. (Not to worry – I’m not eligible to enter. Besides that, I’ll bet there’s a high school student somewhere out there who can rip off a better essay than the one that follows.) So get on with it. Click on this link for excellent reference material (which you can download as a pdf file, or buy cheap), knock off a good essay, bust my chops, win a nice cash prize for your writing, and enhance your profile for college admission.
You may already realize that some of the “firsts” for which Christopher Columbus has received credit should not be attributed to him. But you may not be cognizant of the most significant accomplishments of Columbus, and which ARE legitimate “firsts”, and which most assuredly did then, and continue today to “alter world economics”. First lets examine “our perception of geography”.
Columbus did not discover the “New World” – except in the sense that you personally “discovered” Disneyland or New York City. People were already long established and thriving virtually everywhere on the planet that Europeans eventually “discovered”. This includes the most remote and distant ocean islands, and the most difficult deserts and arctic regions on the planet, with the notable exception of Antarctica. The first school lesson about Columbus that should be continually taught until the myth disappears is simply that Columbus did NOT discover America. Many millions of people had been living here for many thousands of years in highly organized, proficient societies by the time Columbus arrived.
Columbus was not even the first European to discover the Western Hemisphere. The first Europeans to come here were fishermen from various lands and ports, who had come often and centuries before Columbus came. Columbus followed the trace of reports of fishing voyages and their logs that long preceded his first trans-Atlantic trip.
Columbus did not discover or prove that the world is round. That fact was long known around the world. Even in Europe. The diameter of the Earth was accurately calculated a millennium or two before Columbus by, for example, both north African and south European mathematician/scientists. Competent courageous practical distant water navigators, everywhere in the world, have never feared that they would “fall off the edge of the world”, no matter how far they sailed.
Columbus did not become famous because his trip was the first. He became famous because his trip was on behalf of, and authorized by a sitting monarch of the European aristocracy, and by the institutionalized religious hierarchy. The true identities of both the first persons, and of the first Europeans, to land on Western Hemisphere shores, have been forgotten or lost due to subsequent events and vested interests. (That is also not a first for historical records.)
So how was Columbus legitimately the “first” in history? The simple pre-eminent truth is that Columbus was the first trans-Atlantic agent of genocide and the slave trade. And for that he justly deserves fame. During the decades he and his immediate successors were the appointed Governors of the Caribbean, the native population there was almost entirely exterminated, by systematic violence, mass murder, and incidental disease, and by a deadly unbridled greed that enriched, and was commanded and blessed by, both the ruling aristocracy and heads of the dominant organized religious institution of Europe. Columbus slaughtered and enslaved Native-Americans, and transported slaves from the Western Hemisphere to Europe and from Africa to the Western Hemisphere. But as monstrously cruel and devastating as Columbus was in that regard, that was only the tentative, relatively inept beginning.
Christopher Columbus has the distinction of being the first European vassal that set the precedent for intercontinental genocide, planetary colonial imperialism, and the most brutal forms of enslavement. This became the subsequent dominant history of the world, the consequences of which have overtaken and immersed our planet for the last 5 centuries. Columbus commanded the first wave of a disastrous flood that swept the earth and all her people. Columbus shall never be forgotten for what he actually did to the people who met him when he landed in the “New World” and proceeded to follow his royal and mercantile and ecclesiastical orders, and to seek high status while feathering his own nest.
Christopher Columbus was, in the 15th century, filled with personal ambition and crass pretensions, willing to exploit religiosity, and to sacrifice other human beings, without a thought, to slake his ambition. Columbus was a highly competent, successful, and fortunate navigator, who was reputed to be loyal to those who bestowed power upon him, and who was willing to risk his own life to implement his promotions. But these qualities did not make him unique.
The unique and important historical “first”, which history will long remember, is his pioneering of the murderous trans-Atlantic slave trade and exploitation, and his transporting and commanding the first of the genocidal mercenary European Conquistadores to the Western hemisphere. Never forget that all this was done just to attain exorbitant gold, power, and status.
The first official steps by Europeans in the “New World” (and in the entire planet south of 40 degrees North latitude) laid the decidedly hostile, exploitative foundation and set the course for relations between people of Europe and their descendants, on one hand, and people of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and those native to the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific, on the other. The Conquistadores paved the blood-soaked way followed later by colonial military forces, the U.S. Cavalry, “volunteer militias”, the School of the Americas, and client state-run death squads.
The violent overthrow of democratically elected governments in Guatemala and Iran and Chile and Nicaragua and Grenada (in the last half of the 20th Century), and the unconscionable vindictive and continuing attempt to do the same to the Cuban Revolution, and the catastrophic unjustified armed invasions of Vietnam and Iraq, all follow the bloody path pioneered by Christopher Columbus.
The precedent set by Columbus established a beachhead here for “free market” principles and colonial domination and genocide, buttressed by twisted religious and academic justifications. These were unrestrained by any respect whatsoever for human rights, family values, and principles of equality and love and caring. They have spread and infected the entire world in the succeeding centuries. Columbus’ true legacy is a value system and an economic system that is corrupt to the very marrow of its bones. And the current inhabitants of planet Earth inherit the resulting intractability of the worst real problems the world faces today. Will we pass on that legacy, or will we do our best to alter it?
One constructive path is to enact the Seventh Generation Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. http://www.savethewatersedge.com/seventh-generation.html