On Sept. 6, 1492, when Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, with the smaller vessels Niña and Pinta in its wake, set sail from the Canary Islands in search of new lands, he embarked on a mission of discovery that the historian George Bancroft declared “the most memorable maritime enterprise in the history of the world.” In this and his three subsequent expeditions over the course of a decade, he relentlessly explored and charted the Caribbean islands and on his final and, in many ways most daring, voyage in 1502, the mainland isthmus of Central America — setting the stage for the world-changing discoveries of Balboa and Magellan, who would soon follow his path. The importance of Columbus’ expeditions is not that he was “the first” European to set foot in the New World. Scholars agree that title most likely goes to the Norwegian explorer Leif Erikson who, while en route to Greenland from his home in Iceland sometime around A.D. 1001-1002, strayed off-course and instead landed on modern-day Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, where evidence of Viking settlements have been found. But the Norse, whatever their prowess as sailors, did not last as colonists and thus North America, and the Pacific Ocean beyond, remained unknown to Europeans for the next five hundred years. It would take the hazardous voyages of the Italian seaman Columbus and his crew, backed by the treasure of the Spanish court, to open up the New World and launch a decisive age, the effects of which are still shaping the modern world.
This image of the intrepid captain courageously braving the great unknown is, of course, not the way Columbus is often portrayed today. Instead, we see his statues being torn down by mobs for whom any moral purity begins with today’s sensibilities, as if this is some American version of Pol Pot’s Year Zero. Columbus’ memorials have been vandalized, beheaded, and burned, much as superstitious villagers in the 13th century might have treated their local witch after a nasty wave of the smallpox. The ignorance on display is the same. One wonders how many of the masked nihilists in their obnoxious self-righteousness that only the unlearned can possess could even tell you the name of one of Columbus’ vessels, let alone the year in which he first set sail. (Something any first grader in my class could have told you.)
This is not to place Columbus on a pedestal higher than the height of the statue in the eponymous New York City circle. Clearly, the man was no saint and it does a service to history to humanize him…but he was no demon either. But that has not stopped our education system from utterly gutting this man’s reputation and presenting the entrails for ritual immolation upon the altar of P.C. wokeness. In my lifetime, just over a half-of-a-century, Columbus, the man for whom an entire country is named, has gone from being viewed as a noble explorer to a personification of the destruction of the indigenous Americans by Europeans bent on conquest, plunder, ecocide, and genocide. Now, he may not have been the most talented administrator as his brief stint running Hispaniola shows. But the picture that has been redrawn of him as a lascivious plunderer and murderer, one worthy of beheading in effigy, is off-sides. Russell Means, the late Native American activist, went so far as to attach the dreaded “H” word to him. “Columbus,” he seethed, “makes Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent.” Ouch! But such criminally ignorant histrionics bespeak more of emotional revisionism than they do a grounding in the historical record.
I’ve often wondered what is at the heart of this assault on Christopher Columbus’ memory for this was truly a man whose impact makes him one of the most important figures in history. I have a hunch that the drive to reshape him in an ugly light has to do as much with the context of his voyage as with its aftermath. And yet it is this very context that makes his voyages so immeasurably important to the very survival of the West itself. The oft-told story is that Columbus was seeking an all-water trade route to Asia. And that is true. But this prompts the question: why was an all-water route so vitally important in the first place? What forces were at work in the world to prompt this man to risk his reputation and even his life to sail into uncharted seas again and again in search of something that may or may not have existed?
In 1453, when Columbus was still a toddler, the Ottoman Turk armies under Mohammed II conquered the city-fortress of Constantinople, and extinguished the last vestiges of a Byzantine Empire that had lasted for a millennium. Despite – or perhaps because of – the courage of the last Emperor Constantine XI, who died in the breach of his city’s walls, the behavior of the Turks in the city was savage, even by the standards of the time. But more than just the calamitous loss of a city as the last expression of the West in Asia Minor, the closing of this gateway effectively cut Europe off from any direct access to Asia. Muslims now controlled all overland trade routes to the East, threatening all what was then called Christendom. Thus a new direct route was needed by necessity in order for trade to Asia to be safe from the Mohammedans who were busy washing the blood of thousands of innocents from their swords with the water of the Marmara Sea.
And so, in 1492, Columbus was on a mission to re-establish the West’s place as a global trader around the world. The Spanish Court, themselves having just defeated the last of the Muslim invaders at Granada that same year, were eager to do an end-run around their Eastern rivals. One wonders how much different the world would be today if the explorers from across the Atlantic who discovered the New World flew the crescent of Mohammed rather than the cross of Jesus, and with it carried the Western values that would shape the two continents. One certainly can guess that the protesters we see today in the streets of our cities, protected (to a point) by our Bill of Rights, courtesy of a Western legal and cultural inheritance, would not be so free to be so vocal — most certainly not the women — had a different brand of conquistadors who prostrated themselves before a different god laid claim to the New World.
I imagine that the progressive Left, with its unfriendly, often suicidally hostile view of Western culture, values, and traditions, would prefer we not be reminded by Columbus’ voyage that out of the undeniable violence and cruelties in his wake, as with the birth of so many great nations, a freer and more just world did, in fact, emerge over time; one that saw unprecedented advancements not just of technological and economic growth, but advancements in human dignity and civil rights. Especially courtesy of the most consequential nation to emerge as a direct result of Columbus’ voyages: the United States. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that “all men are created equal.” The Emancipation Proclamation declared North America’s slaves were “henceforth and forever free.” And the Civil Rights movement a century later would see that real attempts to live out those lofty and morally superior ideals to any other potential colonizers’ should be matters of fact and law and not just noble aspirations. No, for the nihilists attempting to justify their rampage, better to paint the unwashed Western bearded fiend in armor as the aggressor, the destroyer of the fantasy Eden that was pre-European America. This keeps the focus squarely where it belongs: on the sins of the West as represented in this preying man.
Actually, Columbus was not so much a preying man, as a praying man. And thus do we have another motivation for Columbus’ voyage that the education system has all but erased from the story. That is that Columbus was deeply religious, and he saw the New World as a place where more than just fortunes could be made. In describing his discovery to King Ferdinand of Spain, Columbus portrayed himself as a devout and sincere Christian who rejoiced in the souls that would be saved in this new land: “Let Christ rejoice on earth, as he rejoices in heaven, when he foresees coming to salvation so many souls of people hitherto lost.” Many of the islands Columbus discovered he named in homage to his Christian faith such as Trinidad (trinity), San Salvador (holy savior), Dominica (Sunday/“The Lord’s Day”), La Navidad (nativity/Christmas), Santa Cruz/St. Croix (holy cross), San Pedro (Saint Peter) and a host of others.
His sense of religious duty was very much apparent and so from its absolute beginning our nation’s narrative is one of a religiously rooted foundation. This is an uncomfortable idea for those whose religion seems to be secular wokeness, and thus must be stamped out. George Orwell said who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past, and thus is it imperative for progressives to try and play down or even eliminate any reference to the role of religion in the genesis of this American “city upon a hill.” Again, this is part of the new Year Zero in America.
From academia, to pop culture, to media, the flow of information, the gateways to knowledge, are often manned by those who view our civilization in an unfavorable light and are blatantly contentious towards many expressions of our Judeo-Christian heritage. I do not deny their sincere empathy toward the indigenous people, many of whom suffered terribly at the hands of the conquistadors and colonists who followed in Columbus’ wake. But this tells only half the tale. As renowned author and law professor Dr. John Edsmoe points out, I do not lament the spread of Western civilization as reflected in “contributions to art, music, architecture, ethics, liberty, law, government, a Constitution that has served as a model across the world, an economic system that has produced the greatest good for the greatest number and the highest level of prosperity the world has ever known, and a spirit of ingenuity and achievement that led to unparalleled medical and technological advances.”
Still, if one wishes to see the memory of this incredibly brave and dedicated explorer and his world-changing voyage torn down, there are ways within the system of discourse and laws brought to the New World by Columbus’ descendants to achieve this. But the roving gangs prefer the Stalinist/Maoist approach: erase the man, like a one-time party insider now out-of-favor and deleted from old group photos. And if they in the process wish to demean Columbus in such a way as to unfairly paint him with the crimes of the conquistadors who followed and as a profiteer and racist, well, it’s a free country, isn’t it? I guess the reaction to this viewpoint will tell me.
As for me, I will continue to honor this man, warts and all, who braved the uncharted realm not just for profit alone, but to spread the Gospel he fervently believed in as Truth, and Western traditions that have served us so well in the five-and-a-quarter centuries since he first set sail into the true unknown. To me, Columbus represents capitalism, Western exceptionalism, and faith in a higher power than ourselves. Indeed, he represents the best of us in some ways. Conversely, this man represents the worst of several worlds to certain segments of the nihilist, atheist mindset that have wormed their insidious way into the ranks of those who tell the story of who we were, and who we are, in the hopes of changing us into the secular grievance-driven and tribalist society that they believe we ought to be. They say to judge a man by his enemies as well as his friends. Given what I have seen of those who violently and with no regard for the law or even decency take Columbus to task without any sense of historical context, as well as their disdainful view of the values and traditions I hold dear, I will side with the man from Genoa and take on all comers.
Brad Schaeffer is a commodities trader and writer whose articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, National Review, Celeb Magazine, Zerohedge, Frumforum, and other news outlets. He is the author of the acclaimed World War II novel Of Another Time And Place (Post Hill/Simon & Schuster, 2018).
More from Brad Schaeffer: The United States IS Exceptional. Ask The Japanese.
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