Why don't we have a Michael Vick Day? Or a Brittany Spears Day? Because it would be ridiculous, that's why. Some of today's heroes aren't worthy. Still, there are still people who give O. J. Simpson the thumbs-up sign when he passes by. Even he is a hero to some. But, thankfully, not to very many. We all want our heroes to be real heroes - someone we can respect and look up to. Not some nefarious human being whose wealth leads them spiraling downward into a live of decadence and shame. We all need to be careful of who our heroes are and be certain the represent the best, not the worst, in us.
So has our present-day world gone crazy? Are the heroes of today really that much worse than the heroes of the past? Or are the heroes of the past just more worthy because they lived at a time when their lives weren't subject to the scrutiny that those who aspire to be heroes in today's world are? Many heroes of days gone by are probably fortunate there was no television, radio or Internet when they roamed the earth, or they might not the heroes that history has made them.
Soon, Americans will celebrate Columbus Day. I don't know about you, but I don't work for the local, state, or federal government. I don't teach school and I'm not a student. So, I've got nothing to celebrate. Columbus Day is just another workday for me and probably you as well. Perhaps we should celebrate the man who "discovered" America. Maybe we should bake a Columbus Day cake with "Thank You Christopher Columbus" written on it in lovely green-mint icing. Then invite our friends and family to a party where we could all drink, frolic, eat cake and really celebrate and honor this notorious Spaniard.
Who is this man that we honor? Who is Christopher Columbus? Why is he only one of two private citizens we honor with a federal holiday? If you said he's the man who discovered America you'd be dead wrong. If you said he was a great explorer you'd be even more wrong. If you think he was even a great man, you be as wrong as you could be.
Many of you, like me, went to public elementary school in the United States during the 50's, 60's or 70's, (I have no idea what they've been teaching since the 70's in elementary school) and your first impression of Christopher Columbus, like mine, probably came from those cute little textbook pictures showing a smiling, elegantly-dressed, Christopher Columbus, looking aristocratic as he was welcomed ashore by an eager but backward bunch of child-like natives wearing little more than banana leaves and seashell necklaces.
Good old Christopher Columbus, standing triumphantly on the shores of this brave new world, handing out all manner European goodies to poor, uneducated, natives, who danced around him in giddy thankfulness. These poor savages, so happy that Columbus happened to stumble upon their pitiful, uncivilized world to save them. You can almost hear the beat of Tainos' beating their rudimentary drums in delighted frenzy. Finally, someone had come to civilize them and rescues this pathetic race from their own ignorance.
Until recently, history had been very kind to Christopher Columbus. Now we know that Columbus was no more the discoverer of the Americas than Neil Armstrong was the discoverer of the moon. All those memories and history lessons we were taught in grade school strewn about us now in tiny shards of broken bits of truth.
So, what's the truth about our hero, a man we've honored with a federal holiday? What kind of man was Christopher Columbus. Does he deserve the federal holiday we've given him? Should he be revered as the discoverer of America? Should he be revered at all?
To picture Columbus as a brave explorer setting sail into the unknown with discovery and exploration as his reward is dead wrong. Columbus sought power and wealth at the expense of others. Sounds a bit like today's money and power oriented world doesn't it?
It sure flies in the face of those happy little pictures we saw of Columbus in grade school.
"...Columbus did not sally forth upon the Atlantic for reasons of "neutral science" or altruism. He went, as his own diaries, reports, and letters make clear, fully expecting to encounter wealth belonging to others. It was his stated purpose to seize this wealth, by whatever means necessary and available, in order to enrich both his sponsors and himself. Plainly, he pre-figured, both in design and by intent, what came next. To this extent, he not only symbolizes the process of conquest and genocide which eventually consumed the indigenous peoples of America, but bears the personal responsibility of having participated in it. Still, if this were all there was to it, the defendants would be inclined to dismiss him as a mere thug along the lines of Al Capone rather than viewing him as a counterpart to Himmler...." (from http://mit.edu/thistle/www/v9/9.11/1columbus.html )
Did our hero even discover North America? No so much.
"...Columbus' voyage has
even less meaning for North Americans than for South Americans because
Columbus never set foot on our continent, nor did he open it to European
trade. Scandinavian Vikings already had settlements here in the eleventh
century, and British fisherman probably fished the shores of Canada for
decades before Columbus. The first European explorer to thoroughly
document his visit to North America was the Italian explorer Giovanni
Caboto, who sailed for England's King Henry VII and became known by his
anglicized name, John Cabot. Caboto arrived in 1497 and claimed North
America for the English sovereign while Columbus was still searching for
India in the Caribbean. After three voyages to America and more than a
decade of study, Columbus still believed that Cuba was a part of Asia,
South America was only an island, and the coast of Central America was
near the Ganges River.
What is Columbus' legacy besides being a
bumbling explorer who happened to land in the Caribbean thinking he was
in India? Well, he was a slave trader and a brutal man who played a role
in the near extermination of an entire race of human beings. Raping,
pillaging, enslaving and murdering as he forced his European values on a
pacifist race of human being known as the Taino . Columbus mistakenly
referred to the Taino as Indians because, after all, he thought he had
found a short route to India. "...Columbus decided to pay for his voyage
in the one important commodity he had found in ample supply — human
lives. He seized 1,200 Taino Indians from the island of Hispaniola,
crammed as many onto his ships as would fit, and sent them to Spain,
where they were paraded naked through the streets of Seville and sold as
slaves in 1495. Columbus tore children from their parents, husbands from
wives. On board Columbus' slave ships, hundreds died; the sailors tossed
the Indian bodies into the Atlantic.
There are only two private citizens who have earned the honor of a federal holiday: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Christopher Columbus. Martin Luther King, Jr. worked for equality and justice. Christopher Columbus opened the Atlantic slave trade, pillaged, plundered, and raped the pacifist Taino -while leading one of the most tragic campaigns of genocide in human history.
Columbus Day is Monday. It is a federal holiday in the U.S.A. It is day honoring Christopher Columbus. And who was he? Columbus was an adventurous, bumbling and cruel man; there can be no doubt of that. Columbus caused enormous suffering and nearly wiped out an entire race of people; but discovered nothing.
Why don't we have a George Washington Carver Day? Or a Thomas Edison Day? Maybe some of our heroes today aren't what they should be. But many heroes and famous people of recent times are a whole lot more deserving of honor than the mass murderer and enslaver, Christopher Columbus. And, on Monday, the United States again honors his memory by celebrating Columbus Day.
I wonder what that tells the rest of the world about us?
After reading much about this "hero" of the past, I've made a little "discovery" of my own. And, it's good news! Our world today isn't nearly as bad as I thought it was. Even the worst of our modern day so-called heroes has to be a whole lot better than Christopher Columbus.
I wonder how many other men and women of the past, that we revere as heroes, are not worthy of our honor? But maybe we'll never learn the truth about them. Maybe that's a good thing too. We might not have very many heroes left if we did.
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