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Why we can't go back to the version of 'Christopher Columbus' that we learned in school

Today is Columbus Day, in the states that still observe Columbus Day. (Minnesota does not.)

I remember when it was a noncontroversial celebration of the good ol’ USA and Christopher Columbus, who “discovered” it. And we got it off from school when I was a kid.

In 1992 (during my Strib days) the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ (sic) discovery (sic) of the USA (sic), I had time to read deeply in the literature debunking the incredibly racist and biased phantasmagorical version I had learned in childhood, and I’ve never been able to get the old feeling back. In fact, I view Columbus (sic) as pretty much a criminal (except that in those days there were no laws against what he did). I ransacked my files yesterday but couldn’t find a copy of my 1992 debunkeroo, so, from memory plus what’s readily Google-able, I’ll just mention:

The reason I keep putting “sic” around the name “Columbus” is that he never called himself Christopher Columbus, nor did anyone else. He went by Cristóbal Colón (which is the Spanish version of his name, and he sailed for Spain) although he was Italian (Cristoforo Colombo). And he wasn’t the first to know that the earth was round. And he never saw any part of the United States. And, upon making contact with the natives of what we now call “America” (although not North America), he enslaved them.

The first landfall in the “New World” (which was, of course, not new to the people living there) was an island in the Bahamas, where he was greeted by the native Arawak, who were excited and hospitable. From Columbus/Colón’s journal, he described the fateful meeting thus (taken from the list, “Top 5 atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus):”

“They (the Arawak natives) brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things. ... They willingly traded everything they owned. ... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features .... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. ... They would make fine servants. ... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Columbus would add: “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”

Columbus made four crossings back and forth from Europe to the Americas. He set up some sort of colonies and ran them but had a hard time figuring out how to squeeze wealth out of them. Eventually he decided to force the natives to bring him gold (of which there wasn’t much in the places he visited). But this led to the worst atrocity I recall from my 1992 reading. You may want to try to find a way to admire Columbus, but you’ll have to get past this (also from the Top Five Atrocities):

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by
Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519.

“Columbus and his crew believed there were gold fields in the province of Cicao on [what came to be called] Haiti. He and his men ordered all natives 14 years or older to collect a certain amount of gold every three months. Natives who didn’t collect enough gold had their hands cut off. But it was an impossible task. There was virtually no gold around; only a little dust in streams. Many natives fled and were consequently hunted down and killed by the Spaniards.”

I hope you can believe me that it gives me no pleasure nor schadenfreude to go over horrible stuff like this. And it’s not just about Columbus. It’s about crimes by the Europeans against the native populations of this hemisphere that we are somehow, still, asked by some to look at as excusable, or necessary or progress or something. And perhaps about humans' ability to justify, morally, what is in their own interests and then treat it as glory.

I do notice that we don’t make nearly as big a deal about Columbus Day as we did when I was a kid, and the kids mostly don’t get it off from school. It is not a national holiday and how it is acknowledged is on a state-by-by-state and even city-by-city basis.  This map breaks it down. Some states still call it Columbus Day. Some now call it “Indigenous Peoples’ Day. As I mentioned at the top, Minnesota is among those that do not observe it statewide, but Minneapolis, St. Paul and Grand Rapids recognize it as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” 

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Comments (63)

Point of Order Mr. Chairman!

If the federal government observes a holiday, does that not make it a national holiday?

I'm well into middle age, and I know I never got Columbus Day off from school. Where and when was that done? Considering weather alone, I'd trade the February President's Day for a holiday in October in a heart beat.How about we move the holiday for MLK (the greatest American ever) to the second Monday in October?

Last, I always get a kick when I hear about Italian-American groups getting up in arms over changing Columbus Day to something else. The Italian culture is a fine one, with much to be proud of. And why they want to associate with that guy is a mystery to me.

Che cosa è lo succiacatori do polli?

"The Italian culture is a fine one, with much to be proud of. And why they want to associate with that guy is a mystery to me." Columbus himself would not have identified as "Italian," nor did he speak the Italian language.

He was Genoese, and would have spoken Ligurian.

Not a state holiday

The employees of the State of Minnesota don't get the day off.

Bashing caucasians and all

Bashing caucasians and all things Western is all the rage among leftists, I know. But folks that value truth will always dig behind the hyperbole.

Yes, indigineous people of the Americas were conquered, killed and enslaved. But it was nothing they, themselves did not engage in themselves.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_among_Native_Americans_in_the_Un...

One must take history in the context of the times. Europeans that came into contact with primitive people saw absolutely nothing wrong with exploiting them. But then, no one was above exploiting their neighbors for their own survival.

Our modern society has given us the luxury of compassion, but make no mistake, the history of man is a lesson in survival of the fittest. Ever has it been, and ever shall it be.

I'm thankful for and celebrate the courage of men who risked their lives to venture into the unknown. As the future unfolds, we will depend on such fearless men and women to take us to new planets. May they have fair celestial winds at their backs.

Wrong

This is the truth. What you were taught, and apparently still believe about Columbus, was lies.

Columbus was a murderous coward. His legacy belongs in the trashbin of history.

So, is Your Point

That we should add a holiday for the natives that inhabited the islands? Maybe make it a 4 day weekend?

Sure, why not. The less

Sure, why not. The less government is open for business, the better.

Although we'd have to come up with something they plausibly did to progress the American success.

I'm Not Sure

What it means to "progress the American success", but I'm not conversant with that sort of touchy-feely thing. But I do wonder if American slave owners "progressed the American success", and if so should we have a Slave Owners holiday?

And was Columbus the only person who "progressed the American success" without setting foot on what would become the American mainland?

Well, if we're going to look

Well, if we're going to look at historical fact dispassionately, the main export of the American colonies was cotton and tobacco. Most was planted, harvested and transported for shipping by slave labor, but the financing and business management was done by slave owners.

That commerce built early America, so yeah, slave owners did progress our success, as did the slaves.

The difference is, that even in their own time, slavery was widely acknowledged to be a sinful, brutal practice. Slave owners knew they evil they did was wrong.

In the 15th Century, very little thought was put into the morality of what explorers and conquerors were doing. It was a game being played world wide, by most everyone. The world was a brutal place.

"Europeans that came into

"Europeans that came into contact with primitive people saw absolutely nothing wrong with exploiting them."

I'm pretty sure that even in 1492, many Europeans did in fact recognize cruelty, savagery and exploitation when they saw it. And I hope that, if and when humans do reach other inhabited planets, some of us still will.

"I'm pretty sure that even in

"I'm pretty sure that even in 1492, many Europeans did in fact recognize cruelty, savagery and exploitation when they saw it."

And they saw it...everywhere. It was the status quo of Earth in 1492...that's my point.

And my point is that it's

And my point is that it's disingenuous to claim that Europeans of the day "saw nothing wrong" with the atrocities that people like Columbus inflicted on indigenous people. I'm confident that many people would have seen quite a bit wrong with it, to the extent they ever found out.

Columbus secured a contract to connect Spain with the far East for trade purposes. He failed in that mission, due to the limited geographic knowledge of the day, and tried to salvage the project by forcibly extracting wealth from the less advanced people he encountered.

I doubt that extorting wealth from people by cutting off their hands was legal, or met with general approval, in 15th century Spain - it would be considered crime. But in the "New World", in the absence of law enforcement or peer pressure, Columbus felt he could use cruelty and brutality to prey on people without consequence.

The opening up of the Americas to European exploitation was certainly a major historical event. But in my opinion, lionizing Columbus - in light of today's knowledge - is no longer appropriate.

"I doubt that extorting

"I doubt that extorting wealth from people by cutting off their hands was legal, or met with general approval, in 15th century Spain - "

Ever heard of the Spanish Inquisition? Morality was as fluid in the 15th century as it is for some today. Depends on who is in power, who you ask, and under what circumstances.

The indigenous people that Columbus enslaved

were all conquering each other, it was how land was taken back in the 1400's. To put 2017 standards to the 1400's is plain silly. The most powerful tribes constantly pushed the weaker tribes out of territory they wanted. It was the same everywhere in the world. I'm not saying it was right, but that was the way it was. To pick out Columbus and disregard the fact that the entire world was in the conquest/capture of people and land in 1400's is just plain disingenuous. I see this all the time lately, putting 2017 thinking on 1400-1800 thinking and times. Seems like a feeble attempt to rewrite history for those who don't understand that people, times and cultures constantly are changing.

Pure ignorance

I shudder to think where you picked up your knowledge of Native American history, but they "were all conquering each other" is a gross oversimplification of the fighting that did occur, and in many cases just outright false.

The fact that Native Americans were not 100 percent peaceful does not justify Columbus's atrocities.
Columbus was a coward and a monster even by 1400-1800 standards. To claim otherwise is to rewrite history.

What Did Columbus Think?

Here is Columbus's impression of the Taino people:

They traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will ... they took great delight in pleasing us ... They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal...Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people ... They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.

Later, he cut off the hands of the natives who didn't meet the quota of gold they were supposed to bring him.

"They love their neighbors as themselves . . ." I've heard that talked up as a virtue before, somewhere.

It's no surprise that the

It's no surprise that the Taino and Ciboney people were not indigenous to Cuba or surrounding islands.

Those were the Guanajatabey, who had inhabited Cuba for centuries, and who were driven to the far west of the island by the arrival of waves of migrants, including the Taíno and Ciboney.

Conquest. To the victors go the spoils.

Change

"Seems like a feeble attempt to rewrite history for those who don't understand that people, times and cultures constantly are changing."
Indeed. Seems like a perfect indictment for those that believe in the "originalism" of the Constitution.
You should let the rest of your party know.

Columbus

In retrospect and in a light vein, Columbus was, by default, the first "identity thief" of U.S. He stole my identity (I am an Indian from India) , whether it was by design or default, the result is the same. i.e. I have to identity myself as "East Indian" to distinguish me from the "native Americans, native Canadians, native Bolivians, etc.".

The argument "they did it too" is no justification at all

for honoring a man (with a national holiday!) who committed atrocities and never set foot in this country. Times have indeed changed and it is past time for this myth to be called out.

Nice work, Eric.

I don't think it's "bashing Caucasians" to speak the truth. No doubt our history books are full of stories that we adults learned as children that were "versions of the truth" as told by the "victors", and not what actually occurred.

It doesn't hurt to "open" one's mind to all the possibilities of events that we ourselves were not there to experience first-hand. I believe we need to explore all the versions of history, and then decide for ourselves what we, ourselves, are going to believe. This version seems very historical indeed, since it was actually taken from the journal of the man himself.

And to reduce mankind to the "survival of the fittest" rather reduces us to the intellectual instinct of animals, doesn't it (not to say that certain animals aren't capable of kindness, as much evidence has shown that they can be, including dogs, elephants, primates, etc.) Human beings have remarkable minds, capable of great accomplishments and acts, including those of kindness and empathy. We don't need to be animalistic in order to survive.

It is bashing caucasians to

It is bashing caucasians to focus on the acts of whites, and not only ignore the fact that *everyone* *everywhere* engaged in brutality of some sort to better their situations, but deny the fact it's true. It does not dimish the brutality of one to acknowledge the brutality of the other, but that doesn't serve the purpose of the left.

It is also disingenuous to put forward the idea that but for Columbus, and other European conquerors the Americas would be some sort of unspoiled utopia, filled with happy people, living in harmony.

It was only through the wealth accumulated by commerce, and yes, colonization & exploitation of lands that civilization was able to rise to the point we can afford to sit comfortably and tut-tut at the actions of our historical ancestors.

It's a stupid holiday, but in the hands of the left, trashing Columbus becomes just another tort against Western civilization. It's getting very old.

Not as old

as listening to conservatives bash "leftists" for pointing out truths that make them uncomfortable.

Racism should make everyone

Racism should make everyone uncomfortable, Ian. Unfortunately, it's become a prized tool for many on the left.

Sad, really.

Indeed.

And dismissing those concerns by labeling facts as "tools," makes the sadness even more acute.

No doubt, it took courage

Sure, it took courage to sail on a voyage with tiny ships (cutting off hands of poorly armed natives - not so much).

But is that the sole criteria we use for an honor such as this? Shouldn't it be courage applied to an honorable goal? Accomplished by honorable means?

Just tell the truth....

Columbus was a bold, courageous, and a man of great vision. He changed history!

I know there is a race to see who can be the most offended by his offensive and abominable actions - and ignore his virtues , but this too is a trend.

We also need to tell the truth about the native people. I will not tell the truth about some their virtues because of space. But I will not share the truth about some of their abominations - lest I will be branded as a racist.

The most dangerous thing is dishonest historians, politicians and journalist with a political agenda writing history. The truth suffers.

Revsionism

With a very little effort, one could change your post to make the same argument about Che Guevara and the policies towards Latin America he was fighting.

Uh, no.Che Guevara was a

Uh, no.

Che Guevara was a dedicated Marxist. The policy he was fighting was Democracy. His legacy survives in the prison island of Cuba.

Although I have certianly read and heard leftists tout how swell things are in Cuba, that dog won't hunt with me.

no....

Unless you received a recent public school education in history.

First, It Wasn't All That Recent

I suppose it's too much to expect more details from you.

If you are going to ignore or overlook Columbus's crimes against humanity, and look only at his historic achievements, why do you not want to apply that same standard to any historic figure guilty of brutal crimes? It's easy to sit in the US and demonize foreign revolutionaries, but have you ever considered their point of view? Guevara (who was part Irish, and therefore logically white) fought what he considered to be a great evil: imperialism, the legacy of Columbus's voyages.

There is more ambivalence about Guevara and his like in Latin America than you may care to appreciate. Quite a few years ago, when I was getting that public school education in history, some large corporation (I forget which one now) ran a two-page ad in one of the wonkier weekly magazines. It had a picture of Karl Marx on one page, with a caption that said something like "If Latin America and Africa go Communist, Don't Blame Him." The copy of the ad asked questions about the way foreign businesses operate in third-world countries, and if those practices aren't breeding understandable resentment on the part of the people who live there. Now, Americans can sit smugly behind their keyboards and make condescending comments about the virtues of capitalism. Never once do we have to ask how we would feel if we were in their shoes, without the benefit of our superior worldview.

Che Guevara day!

So you are campaigning for a new holiday? Good luck....

Don't laugh. There are plenty

Don't laugh. There are plenty of public school grads that would definately go for that.

Not Me

I'm merely pointing out the incongruity of saying that we should ignore the crimes of Columbus while demonizing every college student who wears a Che t-shirt.

I promise not to get bent out of shape if you wear a Columbus t-shirt.

I haven't seen anyone

I haven't seen anyone suggesting we ignore Columbus' abuses, RB. They are a matter of historical fact.

What we suggest is it is important to put his actions in the context of the time he lived in, and to celebrate the good things he did. There is no need to distort his legacy; he was a courageous adventurer, with all the flaws men of his age had.

It's true, that if Columbus hadn't made his voyages of discovery, someone else would have done so eventually. And it undoubtedly would have been someone from Europe since most of the rest of the world was still cooking beasts they killed with stone tools, over dung fires.

Characters like Che Guevera have zero redeeming qualities. He was a butcher intent on installing Communist dictatorships throughout South America. College kids who wear his likeness are advertising their ignorance.

Oh dear god

Yes the rest of the world was an unenlightened pit but for the wonders of great white race. Ok there Jeff Davis, but you might want to check your history lessons again, apparently your private school left out a few.

Oh dear god, indeed...

When I read the above comment I thought he was going to start quoting a certain verse by Rudyard Kipling.

" In fact, I view Columbus

" In fact, I view Columbus (sic) as pretty much a criminal (except that in those days there were no laws against what he did). "

Well, 500 years ago a lot of people did, by our 21st Century standards, a lot of outrageous things - especially killing and torturing people. In fact, Columbus was a veritable pussy cat compared to the Spanish conquistadors who followed him.

CC as hero?

Not even by contemporary European standards. He was a man out to make his fortune, a task he failed to accomplish. He dressed his avarice in religion, claiming the spreading of Christianity as his principal accomplishment.

Was he brave or desperate? I leave that to others to debate.

He was no genius. In fact, he substantially underestimated the distance he would have to travel to reach the East, despite the fact that the circumference of the Earth had been fairly accurately estimated long before he set sail. But for the existence of the Western Hemisphere, of which he knew nothing beforehand, he and his crew likely would have died at sea. In fact, there is considerable debate as to whether he knew he'd landed somewhere other than Asia. He wrote both that he had and that he hadn't.

So, what is left to celebrate? That he was a murderous slaver? His ineptitude?

Read beyond what your indoctrination and make up your own minds.

A simple question?

If we recognize someone for a specific accomplishment, why does it matter if he was a good guy or a bad guy? We're honoring the accomplishment, not character of the man.

Not everything has to be political. Some people can't even keep their politics hidden...."The fact that Native Americans were not 100 percent peaceful does not justify Columbus's atrocities." Translation? My Guy = not 100% peaceful. Your Guy = atrocities. Ya can't make it up.

Good vs. Atrocities

The atrocities committed by Columbus are intimately tied up with his specific accomplishments. He did not simply land in the West Indies and go back to Europe to tell everyone about it. Instead, he was personally involved in directing the atrocities committed during his expeditions (cutting off the hands of those who did not meet their impossible to reach gold-mining quotas was his idea). Killing natives seems to have been a kind of sport for him.

His glorification in this country has little to do with his actual history. He was largely ignored as a minor figure in the age of exploration until the newly independent United States needed a heritage independent of the British colonizers. It was widely understood he was not the first European to reach North America. His atrocities were not commonly known, as the accounts of them were unavailable in English.

Now, we know better.

No longer a need to hang ....

onto Columbus Day. He is something akin to Gen George Armstrong Custer. A self promoter looking to fill his own pockets. There is a lot wrong with looking at life that way. People get hurt. Unless you are someone that holds that standard on inflicting injury on others in high regard you best watch how you pick your heros. And I do not hear something like everybody does it excuse. It is what is aspired to In the way someone is living or has lived their life that is worth emulating. I would not want my children to live as the figured being discussed nor anyone else who acts or has acted in that manner. I would hope that is the point that we need to be focusing. And not the distraction of who’s worst or who’s best. If someone lives or is living life in a hurtful way I do not need to hear of them wether they be a potential historical figure or one who is. They way to approach these characters is forensically. Because things were that way only minimizes inexcusable behavior. Stardards of best human behavioral practices are nothing new to the species. Use them or loose them.

Oh, progress, how one defines

Oh, progress, how one defines it? Was Columbus progress? Was communism progress? Is Cuba more progressive than the US? They certainly think so…

I also wonder what we should do with all those ancient Greeks and Romans – all cruel slave owners…

I'm Sorry

On which holiday do we celebrate all those ancient Greeks & Romans?

We talk about Columbus

We talk about Columbus probably a couple days a year but we refer (respectfully) to ancient Greeks and Romans all the time in practically all classes: Math, Science, Political Science, History, Philosophy, Medicine, Literature, etc. We use Latin expressions all the time… Should we stop?

By the way, it is irrelevant that someone landed in America before Columbus – it did not change the course of history…

It seems that, according to

It seems that, according to some people, Europe was a cruel and expansionist place while Africa and Americas were peaceful and nature loving…

History history history

Columbus was not an American, he was European. Columbus did not reach what is now America. We don't celebrate his whole life but we used to recognize that he first sailed over the ocean from Europe. (Yes, he wasn't the first ) Why is this so difficult to understand?

The whole world was violent and cruel during that time period not just an Italian guy sailing for Spain. (There was no America then so how can you blame them?)

Was Columbus the first to ever own slaves? No.
Even the natives conquered other tribes and took slaves. Read about the Aztec people at that time.

Thus ridiculous bashing of America is done by people who just learned a bit of history but not enough about history to put it into any real context.

There were two sides in the American Civil War. Why cant we celebrate those who died to end slavery ?
If there is a better country go there.

They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand

Lots of interesting ideas expressed on this topic, but sometimes (they say) it's good to dig for all the key information we can before coming to conclusions. In a effort to do that I searched (and searched, like an intrepid explorer) for what MAY be The Root of this Article of Long-Accepted American History.

This is the abbreviated version of the Official Real Story as taught to millions and millions of highly impressionable six, seven and eight year-old people in public and private schools throughout America every October for more generations than anyone knows. (If the first sentence doesn't pop into your mind every time you hear, "It's Columbus Day," chances are you were born and raised in a different country).

But what was the rest of the story? Here it is. Unfortunately or otherwise, one of the big impacts of getting rid of the holiday is America's school children will no longer have this explanation of one of the basic elements of Core American History drilled into their memories:

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.

A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.

Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.

Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.

Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.

October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!

"Indians! Indians!" Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.

But "India" the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.

The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.

Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he'd been told.

He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.

The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

www.teachingheart.net/columbus.htm

(P.S. Only 75 Shopping Days until Christmas! www.xmasclock.com)

Getting Rid of the Holiday

If a side effect of getting rid of Columbus Day means this verse will no longer be taught, I'm all for it. Generations grew up thinking this represents "poetry."

If Columbus wasn't American

How is acknowledging his brutality bashing America?

This is always funny and revealing

Articles and discussions like this always reveal the basic essence of white male privilege. History is by and large documented events supported by factual and verified observations. So here Eric simply presents some documented and verified facts regarding an historical figure, one "Christopher Columbus" who lived and died over 500 years ago. 500 years later white males interpret simple "history" as a personal insult. Think about that. Simply presenting history is "bashing" white males, Europeans, America, etc. and that history is illegitimate because it doesn't glorify a white male 500 year ago historical figure, and that failure is personal affront to all white males today?

The notion that white male myth is more valuable than historical accuracy turns the very notion of "reason" inside out. It tells us that lies are more valuable than truth, and that white males are naturally empowered to decide what lies to we tell, and what everyone believes. THAT sense of entitlement IS the essence of white male privilege.

A fact: Columbus thought of

A fact: Columbus thought of this idea (travelling across the globe to reach India), convinces Spanish monarchs of its merit, organized the expedition, and actually sailed across the ocean and came back. All of this made him better than his contemporaries. But all people are the product of their times so in everything else he was the same as all people then: cruel and religious but what difference does it make? As I said before, we judge people by how much they are ahead of their times, no how much they are a part of it. Otherwise, we would not have any monuments – no one is perfect. Judging historical figures on the basis of our current views is anti-historical and illogical.

So please, let’s not bring “white privilege” into this. Mr. Black presented historical facts very selectively and ignored WHAT Columbus is honored for. In fact, he (and of course, many others) just try to create another myth instead of the one they think is not worth maintaining.

White privilege...

White privilege is the notion that YOU get to tell us what part of Columbus's legacy we are required to "honor". I thought I made that pretty clear? What basis other than privilege do you claim a right to tell us all what aspects of history we mush honor Ilya?

In a free country, we get too look at historical events and people and interpret re-interpret them as we see fit. Sure there was a time when Nazi SS soldiers went around murdering people all over Europe. We're not required to dismiss that as normal behavior of the era because it was "normal" for them.

The idea that our judgments are bound by some imaginary historical reference is simply another expression of moral vacancy. In any given historical era there are those who recognize and condemn atrocities. The idea that everyone was doing it at the time provides some kind of moral shield for mass murder and other atrocities is morally absurd. A partial list of Columbus contemporaries includes: Gutenberg (and his printing press), Copernicus (the astronomer), Leonardo Da Vinci, and Joan of Arc. These people and many more did "great" things without unleashing genocide anywhere. By the way, has everyone noticed that biggest champions of moral relativity based on historical comparison are the very people who condemn... moral relativism! Whatever.

Hold it, wait...so now, white

Hold it, wait...so now, white people having a discussion among themselves is "white privilege"?

Not only do I not have any idea what that means, I reject the very idea it's worth considering; it's claptrap of the highest order.

Uh huh

What we're seeing isn't white folks having a discussion, what we're seeing is some white folks trying to tell others what they should discuss, and complaining that the "discussion" is bashing someone simply because something is being discussed. That should clear it up for you.

Let me make it clear: I don’t

Let me make it clear: I don’t have any right to tell you who and for what to honor so no privilege is involved here. But I may express my opinion on this topic the same way you may express your opinion on honoring MLK (with which I am sure I would agree, by the way, despite his not being a perfect man) – again, “whiteness” has nothing to do with that.

“In a free country, we get too look at historical events and people and interpret re-interpret them as we see fit.” Actually, it is a feature of a not free country – the events were constantly “re-interpreted” in the Soviet Union – a country with “unpredictable past” as people joked. You complain that people ignore some facts about Columbus but you want to ignore other facts about him – no difference. No one is arguing that he was gentle or kind or that it should not be mentioned but he did change the course of history, didn’t he?

“Sure there was a time when Nazi SS soldiers went around murdering people all over Europe. We're not required to dismiss that as normal behavior of the era because it was "normal" for them.” Actually, by the mid 20th century “murdering people” was not normal in Europe. I didn’t refer to “normalcy” of action for people who did something bad but to “normalcy” of certain behavior in the times; that is a big difference.

“In any given historical era there are those who recognize and condemn atrocities.” I am not aware of any writing by Copernicus or Da Vinci condemning all violence around the world. They were not involved in violence due to their occupations but that’s it. But again, even if it is possible to find a few people in the 15th century who disagreed with violence, there were just a few of them so it does not negate what I said: violence was the way of life in those times. Would Copernicus be able to keep his people under control during multi-month journey across the ocean? You should not compare Columbus to Copernicus but to other explorers of his times.

In fact, condemning people of long past based on our moral value is patronizing and condescending and just one of those “feel good” behaviors that is so prevalent lately (we are good and they are bad). So what do you mean by saying “that biggest champions of moral relativity based on historical comparison are the very people who condemn... moral relativism?’ No one is saying that Columbus behavior was good; just that it was common and normal for his times…

Soooooo

"In fact, condemning people of long past based on our moral value is patronizing and condescending and just one of those “feel good” behaviors that is so prevalent lately (we are good and they are bad)."

This is just an expression of moral vacancy, your saying morality is relative to it's historical era and all moral judgment's can only be made from the perspective of mass murders. We cannot condemn the mass murder of all civilians, innocent men, women, and children by the Greeks in Troy, because those who commit mass murder must provide our only possible moral compass. This is morally incoherent. As moral agents we can and should recognize and condemn historical atrocities. Morality demands that we recognize the atrocities of the past, not make banal excuses for them. You can say the slaughter of innocents was more common among some civilizations in the past, but you can't say the slaughter of innocents was moral just because it was more common. The historical lesson is that some civilizations in the past practiced inhumane and vicious policies, the routine nature of those practices doesn't make them less inhumane or vicious. There are always moral agents at the time who condemned those atrocities, even if those moral agents were in the minority. Minority voices weren't as loud or recorded by chronicles of the era but morality isn't a function of mere majority status and any legitimate moral agent recognizes that simply fact.

And again, I have to point out that those who most frequently want us to ignore or justify the brutalities and atrocities of the past (preferably those brutality's and atrocities committed by white European guys) are the very same people who demand to be recognized as the moral champions of today. It's a toxic irony to be sure.

“As moral agents we can and

“As moral agents we can and should recognize and condemn historical atrocities.” Surely white European guys were not the only bad ones… Do you recognize and condemn cannibalism of Pacific Islanders, human sacrifices by Aztecs and Incas, selling people to slavery by African tribal chiefs, scalping by American Indians, etc.? I personally think that I can’t make a moral judgment about them because they did not know anything different but you seem to feel differently…

Morals evolve over time – the same as technology and art. Why didn’t Ancient Greeks have cars and computers? Because their civilization didn’t get to that point yet. Why didn’t they abandon slavery and switch to more progressive way of life? Same reason – their civilization didn’t get there yet – it took a few millennia…

The myth of universal morality

Ilya, your confusing technology with morality and misconstruing a biological concept (evolution) with history. It's always kind of strange when those who typically try to deny that actual evolution, is more than a theory, declare that EVERYTHING else from economies to cultures and morality "evolves" over time. Evolution's a great idea as long as you don't use it to explain what it's actually supposed to explain.

Technological "progress" is the result of rational intelligence, experimentation and innovations, it's not a "natural" development, this is why different cultures have different technology, it's not a matter of one culture being more "evolved" than another. The idea that European culture was more "evolved" simply circles us back white privilege the Eurocentic mentality it expresses.

The idea that morality "evolves" denies historical reality by once again, pretending that white European cultures are the only culture that matters, as if EVERY other culture on the planet was just a barbaric as Europeans. And again, the idea that morality itself was somehow developmentally delayed by "evolution" ignores the fact that these atrocities were NOT universally endorsed at the time. I'm sure Columbus was aware of the New Testament and a guy by the name of Jesus for instance.

And again, the toxic irony here is that those who refuse to acknowledge the immorality of historical figures are typically those who demand to be recognized as the guardians of our morality today. To the extent that we grant any moral authority so such people we flirt with moral catastrophe.

“The myth of universal

“The myth of universal morality.” But you are the one who is saying that it is universal – now and a thousand years ago.

“those who typically try to deny that actual evolution.” Have you ever read any of my posts that can give you an idea that I deny evolution?

“Technological "progress" is the result of rational intelligence, experimentation and innovations,” Absolutely true. Should we go over technological advances and where they came from? Cars, trains, planes, radio, computers, electricity, medicines… What technological advances in the last 200-300 years did not come from Europe? I do want to know…

“white European cultures are the only culture that matters, as if EVERY other culture on the planet was just a barbaric as Europeans.” No, many were more barbaric, as I pointed out: cannibalism, human sacrifices, genital mutilation…

“ignores the fact that these atrocities were NOT universally endorsed at the time” At the time Columbus landed in America, Aztecs routinely cut peoples’ hearts out on the altars.

“I'm sure Columbus was aware of the New Testament and a guy by the name of Jesus for instance” Absolutely but at that time (inquisition, Crusades) it was not interpreted the way it is right now– another proof that morals evolve.

“the toxic irony here is that those who refuse to acknowledge the immorality of historical figures are typically those who demand to be recognized as the guardians of our morality today” Yes, I refuse to judge people who were the product of their times and societies – it is like saying that a lion killing a gazelle is immoral. But let’s talk about our times: Was Castro immoral? Chavez? Che? Cuban revolution?

Morals are not only relative

Morals are not only relative to times but also to places and cultures. Is it moral to have many wives and concubines? It was at some point in history and it is still moral to have several wives in some cultures. Do you want to tell Muslims that they are immoral because they are allowed to have up to four wives? I sure won't. Is it moral for women to wear bikinis? For us – yes, for Saudis – no…

And, forgive me if someone already pointed this out but...

We are talking about white privilege as long as someone (like Ilya) keeps telling us repeatedly that the only perspective we should recognize is that of the white males of the era. Regardless of the historical accuracy of claiming that Columbus was just a normal European guy doing what guys did, the claim that whatever he did can only be viewed legitimately from HIS perspective clearly expresses privilege. Obviously we know that among the victims of the genocide and brutality people like Columbus unleashed, this was NOT considered normal moral behavior at the time, yet we're told that their perspective is irrelevant, and any attempt to consider their perspective is "bashing" white guys.

History is a compilation of

History is a compilation of facts and events with the explanation of why they occurred. It cannot be done from one perspective or the other (if it is true history, of course, not the fake one). As I said no one disputes that Columbus killed Indians but he also discovered America for Europeans; on the other hand, those Indians killed each other before Columbus. Where is “white privilege" here?