Exploring Christopher Columbus

Tom Purcell
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Posted: Oct 13, 2014 12:01 AM
Exploring Christopher Columbus
Editor's note: This column is an excerpt from Tom Purcell’s new book, “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” available at amazon.com.

"Dad, why does America celebrate Columbus Day?"

"Well, Billy, in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed from Europe to America and founded the very first European settlement in the New World. His arrival marks the beginning of America as we know it."

"But didn't he discover America by accident, dad?"

"Columbus believed the Earth was a sphere. He thought he could reach the Far East by setting off on a westward course. Though he stumbled upon what is now the Bahamas by accident, he was still a successful explorer, Billy."

"Successful, dad, or a racist oppressor?"

"Pardon me, son?"

"When Columbus came to America, he brought with him the greed of the white European males who subsequently colonized America for the dough. They fought and killed the Indigenous Peoples who were already here and took their land and their gold. Columbus eventually died a very rich man."

"Well, Billy, an unfortunate part of human history involves countries invading their neighbors to take control. This has happened in many parts of the world, including Europe, which has a long history of war. But remember that Indigenous Peoples were also prone to war and fighting to expand their control well before Europeans arrived."

"Well, Columbus is also responsible for many germs and diseases that Europeans brought to America, causing untold suffering and death among the people who were here before us."

"Have you been drinking too much caffeine lately, Billy?"

"America's history of environmental destruction can also be laid at Columbus' feet, dad. As soon as the Europeans colonized America's pristine lands, they cut down the trees and plowed up the fields. Can you say soil erosion, dad?"

"Son, did I ever tell you that you take after your mother's side?"

"And what about slavery? It was the Europeans who created a flourishing slave trade in America. They did it to develop the land cheaply, so they could make giant profits. Columbus even made slaves out of some of the Indigenous Peoples who attacked him and his men."

"Son, do you remember where your mother hid the bourbon?"

"I'll tell you another thing, dad. Some people believe the only reason we even celebrate Columbus Day is because he was Italian, and the day is also a celebration of Italian heritage. Some believe that when FDR made Columbus Day official in 1934, he did so not just because Columbus discovered the New World, but because Italian immigrants in America represented millions of votes."

"Look, Billy, there are a lot of ways to look at what Christopher Columbus symbolizes. When you look through history through a modern-day lense, some of the things you see will not be pretty. You can focus on the negative attributes, and they are there, but you can also focus on the positive.”

"Positive, dad?"

"Sure, Billy. Columbus represents the spirit of exploration, the spirit of pushing forward into the great unknown to find greater and better things. This has always been the spirit of America, the land of innovation and new ideas."

"What kind of ideas, dad?"

"How about the ideas of freedom and self-government, Billy? After Columbus opened a gateway to the New World, other European countries established colonies here, too. Eventually, some amazing historical figures would evolve in North America. They would create and fight for a way of life that has proved to be extremely successful — their ideas are still spreading and changing the world for the better."

"Really, dad?"

"Yes, son. The concept of freedom has taken root so solidly in America that people are free to criticize or praise anything, including whether or not Christopher Columbus was a good man or an ogre, or whether or not Columbus Day should still be celebrated in America. Now, do you have any other questions about history?"

"Yes, dad. Was Benjamin Franklin really a predatory male chauvinist womanizer?"