Columbus undeserving of holiday

October 11, 2012

Columbus Day passed, and we were forced to celebrate a half-truth. As a 10th grader, I appreciate honoring extraordinary individuals to look up to, and it's undeniable that Christopher Columbus connected the Old World with a new one. However, society accepts this apocryphal narration without learning the frequently omitted facts, namely, the horrifying acts of bigotry and villainy Columbus executed and oversaw. Even before he reached San Salvador, Columbus committed his first offense, pocketing the money he had promised to the first man able to discern land. Immediately after disembarking, Columbus recorded that the Taino Indians present were sweet and naive, and would therefore make proficient servants. Months after he abducted them and crashed into Hispaniola, Columbus attempted to govern the natives until revolt stirred. He then left his brother Diego to handle the situation and withdrew to explore. During this time, conditions in Hispaniola became chaotic, and complaints of tyranny eventually led to his arrest. Before granting him a fourth mission, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella shipped Columbus back to Spain in chains.

These monarchs had ordered Columbus to treat the Indians favorably; however, needing income to maintain their support, he instead began utilizing the slave trade. His crew marketed thousands of Carib Indians overseas, causing hundreds of deaths. Those who avoided exportation were enslaved, raped, tortured, and forced into hard labor. If these Native Americans failed to bring Columbus the gold he desired, Columbus severed their hands and hanged their chiefs in rows of thirteen or burned them alive as an example. He indiscriminately murdered adults, children, and babies alike. When hunger spread, Spaniards fed Arawak babies to their dogs, the same dogs occasionally used to attack and control the Tainos. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison asserts that, "The whole history of the Americas stems from the four voyages of Columbus," which may be true. However, it's also true that, as historian David E. Stannard declares, Columbus led one of the "worst human holocausts the world had ever witnessed."

Cruelty blackens his four journeys, so why do we worship Columbus as a hero? Simple. We want to remember his achievements more than his crimes against humanity. Former President George W. Bush proclaimed that on Columbus Day, "the flag of the United States [should] be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of Christopher Columbus." There are thousands of heroes who deserve this commemoration (Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Harriet Tubman), but instead, America chooses to remain ignorant and celebrate a man whose death would be better celebrated than his birth.

Anna Levy-Balfanz, Baltimore

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