This week celebrates Columbus Day. This means parades and plenty of sales at department stores intended to recognize the hero that is Christopher Columbus, the first man to discover what is now North America.
Christopher Columbus did not discover North America, nor did he step foot on what is now the United States. And he is certainly not a hero. He was a ruthless explorer out for gold who slaughtered natives that had set foot on the islands he explored first.
According to EnchantedLearning.com, Christopher Columbus set out on his first voyage in 1492 with a fleet of three ships comprised of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria and explored the Caribbean islands that are now the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
The website says he and his men looked for gold and took natives hostage to be sold as slaves.
I have to hand it to EnchantedLearning. They do a good job without mentioning that he and his men went to the present-day Caribbean for gold and that they captured natives as slaves.
But I don’t remember learning about that in first grade. I only remember learning he had three ships and discovered America and that was it. He made three more trips to the Caribbean until his death in 1504.
Columbus was not the first to discover the islands of the Caribbean. They were already inhabited with Native Americans. These people built cities and civilizations that were more advanced than we could even imagine today. In “American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World,” author David Stannard describes the Aztec city of Tenochititlán.
“It stood, majestic and radiant, in the crisp, clean air, 7,200 feet above sea level, connected to the surrounding mainland by three wide causeways that had been built across miles of open water. To view Tenochititlán from a distance, all who had the opportunity to do so agreed, was breathtaking.”
In a matter of years, Tenochititlán would fall to the Spanish conquistadors and the people would be entirely killed off. This is what people need to remember about Columbus Day: the Native Americans that really discovered America first, who are too often ignored by history.
“American Holocaust” says on at least one occasion, Columbus sent ashore a raiding party to capture some women and their children to keep his captive males company. His past experience in abducting African slaves had taught him that “the Indian men would behave better in Spain with women of their country than without them.”
It is recorded that only a half-dozen of those captured natives survived the journey to Spain.
On Columbus’s second journey, the crew of one of his ships caught a mysterious disease. It spread among them and eventually to the natives of Hispanola, who were not prepared for it. It is estimated 20,000,000 natives perished from this disease. This was the first of several diseases, the most devastating being smallpox and measles, that plagued the native peoples of Hispanola.
The Spanish didn’t care. Instead the soldiers sought gold or information on where to find it from the natives. They didn’t care about these natives that were dead and dying from such a horrific disease epidemic.
Stannard described Columbus’s men as “marauding, diseased, and heavily armed Spanish forces.” They preyed on the local communities, forcing them to supply food, women and slaves, and whatever else the soldiers might desire.
At virtually every previous landing on this trip, Columbus’s troops had gone ashore and killed indiscriminately, as though for sport, whatever animals and birds and natives they encountered, ‘looting and destroying all they found,’ according to one admiral’s son.”
The book goes on to describe that once on Hispanola, Columbus fell ill and the little restraint he had on his men disappeared as he went through a lengthy period of recuperation. It was during this time that his troops “went wild, stealing, killing, raping, and torturing natives, trying to force them to divulge the whereabouts of the imagined treasure-houses of gold.”
Stannard later goes on to describe that the killing force of the Spanish and the diseases they brought was so great to the natives that their crops were left to rot and most of them starved to death. Many fled to other islands nearby.
The book goes in great detail about Columbus’s encounters with the native peoples of the Caribbean, even comparing his actions to the My Lai Massacre at the village of Son My during the Vietnam War.
So as these pieces of evidence suggest, Columbus is no hero. He was a ruthless conqueror only interested in gold.
Then why is Columbus Day even celebrated? The only thing I can say to this is when you think of Columbus Day, don’t think of the man. Think of the thousands of innocent natives he ruthlessly slaughtered. They are the ones that deserve the credit for discovering the New World.