President Barack Obama released a statement celebrating Columbus Day by mourning the pain and destruction Columbus brought to Native American peoples.
"Though these early travels expanded the realm of European exploration, to many they also marked a time that forever changed the world for the indigenous peoples of North America," Obama said. "Previously unseen disease, devastation, and violence were introduced to their lives — and as we pay tribute to the ways in which Columbus pursued ambitious goals — we also recognize the suffering inflicted upon Native Americans and we recommit to strengthening tribal sovereignty and maintaining our strong ties."
Obama did, however, refer to Columbus as a "historic navigator" who had an "insatiable thirst for exploration that continues to drive us as a people."
While it is true that the indigenous peoples of America did suffer from Columbus's actions, there is, of course, more to the story.
"While the first Indians that Columbus encountered were hospitable and friendly, other tribes enjoyed fully justified reputations for brutality and inhumanity."
When left-wing academics criticize Columbus, they act as if the indigenous people in the Americas were a peaceful, harmonious people. This could not be further from the truth, as many of them were cannibals. According to the UK Guardian, the Acolhuas - allies of the major Aztec city Tetzcoco - sacrificed and ate their captives, including Spanish conquistadors, women, children and even horses. The Mayans and Aztecs also engaged in brutal sacrifices, including having their "hearts cut out or were decapitated, shot full of arrows, clawed, sliced, stoned, crushed, skinned, buried alive or tossed from the tops of temples" as well as burning victims and sealing them in caves. The Aztecs were also cannibals.
Filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza noted in an essay that Columbus and other European settlers loved the indigenous peoples of the Americas, as Columbus referred to them as "the handsomest men and the most beautiful women" and said they had a "high natural intelligence." What caused Columbus et al. to turn on the indigenous peoples were their barbaric practices, according to D'Souza.
"While the first Indians that Columbus encountered were hospitable and friendly, other tribes enjoyed fully justified reputations for brutality and inhumanity," D'Souza wrote. "On his second voyage Columbus was horrified to discover that a number of the sailors he left behind had been killed and possibly eaten by the cannibalistic Arawaks."
Liberal academics point out the fact that the indigenous people of the Americas saw their population decline from 15-20 million to a fraction of that in 150 years. But, D'Souza argues, this was mainly due to disease passed from the Europeans, including syphilis and smallpox. By comparison, 25 million Europeans died from the bubonic plague passed on from the Mongolians, and yet that is not considered genocide. Also the culture, technology and sophistication of the indigenous peoples could not compete with the more modern European settlers.
This is not to excuse all of Columbus's actions—he did enslave and treat cruelly many of indigenous peoples, after all — but it does provide context for what has occurred in history. As Ian Tuttle at National Review writes, "We should not ignore the genuine good that has come down to us as a result of the course of human events—namely, the space for a unique idea to grow and flourish: the self-government of a free people, with an ever-expanding idea of who can partake of that promise."