Goodbye Columbus (with apologies to Phillip Roth)

Goodbye Columbus (with apologies to Phillip Roth)

By Patrick F. Cannon

Poor Christopher Columbus. Statues of the intrepid explorer are being hauled down across this great land. Residents of the many cities and town named after him – including the state capital of Ohio – are agonizing of whether they might want to change their names. (May I suggest Rogersville? So far anyway, Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood have remained unblemished.)

            As a young lad, I was taught that Chris had discovered “America.” I probably assumed that by “America,” they actually meant our dear United States. Eventually, of course, I found out that he had never actually set foot on the mainland of North America, and had instead blundered into what we now call the Bahamas, thinking (hoping?) that he has reached the East Indies.

            (Let me digress for an interesting story. A friend of mine told me years ago that he had gotten a summer job at a union office in Chicago. On the wall was a large painting of Columbus and his crew landing on the shore of what he would call San Salvador. You have probably seen similar views: Columbus at the front of the group proudly holding the Spanish flag; behind him his elegantly-dressed crew holding various standards, including crosses. According to my friend, the title on the frame proclaimed: “Christopher Columbus Dedicating the United States to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”)

            In actuality, Chris was out to make a buck and maybe convert the heathens to Roman Catholicism. That’s pretty much what the so-called Age of Discovery was all about.  In our rush to judge Columbus by our own standards (none too perfect, if we’re honest), we ignore the realities of the times the explorer lived in. And we should not minimize the sheer courage it took to brave the Atlantic in a ship just a bit more than 100 feet long. As a kid, I boarded the hulk of the replica that sailed to Chicago for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It lay rotting in the Jackson Park Yacht Harbor; it’s gone now, but I remember being disappointed at how small it was.

            The profit motive, of course, is timeless. In those days, the spice trade was king. Once folks who could afford them discovered that their heretofore bland food could be greatly improved with spices like pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and sage, they couldn’t get enough of the stuff (they never got to Ireland, but that’s another story). 

            When Columbus sailed in 1492, the Roman Catholic church was dominant in Europe (the beginning of the Reformation was about 30 years in the future), and Columbus would have believed that so-called heathens – anyone not a Catholic – would be eternally damned unless they embraced the true faith. In Europe, heretics were routinely tortured and burned at the stake. After the Reformation, things got even worse. No one knows for certain, but at least 20 to 30 million people died during the wars of religion that devastated much of Europe until late in the 17th Century.

            It’s true that the Europeans brought diseases along with them for which the natives had no immunity. Still happens, doesn’t it? And unless they embraced the true faith, staunch Catholics would have had no compunction in enslaving and otherwise mistreating them. Actually, they did similar things at home to their own people who strayed from orthodoxy, and were applauded for doing so.

            Columbus was, of course, an Italian, and it’s the Italian community that’s most up in arms at his “cancellation.” As for the man himself, he’s been dead for 516 years. Despite what many now consider his sins and transgressions, he may well be in heaven. After all, it was a different world then, with a different God.

Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon

5 thoughts on “Goodbye Columbus (with apologies to Phillip Roth)

  1. Pat, you keep ooutdoing yourself – expellent post Thanks

    How are you doing? how is Mary & Gerry? Love ya

    Judy, Riley and MiMi *Happy Trails and **”May the Good Lord take a likin to ya” * sent from my Chromebook Duet

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If only our woke social activists, self-promoting virtue signalers and academic polemicists had discovered America before Columbus got here, we could then be tearing down their statues instead of his!

    Columbus hardly can be blamed for not installing trans-gendered bathrooms on his ships or not using the proper pronouns. The litany of accusations against my Genovese compatriot — his brutality against indigenous tribes, his cluelessness in thinking Santo Domingo was China (couldn’t he read the signs???!), his motives of greed and religious fanaticism– derive from Marxist propagandists like Howard Zinn and Nikole Hannah-Jones.

    The actual historical record, primary sources, notably his logbook, legal documents contained in the “Book of Privileges,” and contemporary accounts, especially those written by Friar Bartolome` de las Casas, say otherwise These contain nothing to suggest Columbus engaged in brutality let alone genocide (that came later with the Spaniards). In fact, De las Casas, who was a tireless advocate of indigenous tribes against the Spanish, writes that Columbus actually defended the Indians from the depredations of his crew.

    The plundering and destruction that came later were very real. But one has to wonder if the native cultures would have fared any better if Arab or Asian explorers had arrived first. So, yes, let’s give the Italian, working for the Spanish Queen, some credit. He may not have been the first to discover “America” (the name was applied later). Doh, there already were people there. And what he found may have been wildly different from what he was seeking. But unlike the Vikings and god knows who else, because of his voyages, the Western Hemisphere was opened to Europe and stayed open.

    In our melodramatic age of victims and oppressors (thanks, Karl), it might be helpful to take a calmer and cheerful look at what Columbus did:

    https://www.best-poems.net/ogden_nash/look_what_you_did_christopher.html

    Liked by 1 person

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