By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah
To be clear, the following article is not to bash Indigenous Peoples Day, rather to argue why Columbus Day should be celebrated. The article shows why the two holidays should be kept separate from the argument of celebrating Columbus Day, so my argument mostly concerns Columbus Day and not Indigenous Peoples Day.
Of course, the methods that Columbus used were despicable. He looked at Native Americans as obstacles rather than people, leading to acts of abuse and subjugation for his own gain. It is also true that his expeditions led to the enslavement and killing of Natives to advance conquest of the Americas. However, such truths about Columbus should not ruin the meaning of Columbus Day, for the meaning is and should not be about Columbus the person.
For one, we have very different moral standards from people in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. At the time, conquest was the law of the land. In the case of the Europeans, conquest was the only way to settle the dispute between them and the Native Americans. Little knowledge about the land, combined with a lack of tradition of peaceful relations between different cultures meant that conquest and war was inevitable. It was not until 1948 that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared that all people are equal regardless of culture or skin color. By our standards today, it wasn’t morally justified for Europeans to overtake the land of the Native Americans. However, the standards of yesterday change the context in which the events took place.
At the time, much of Europe was based on feudalism, an economic system of acquiring more land to gain wealth. Many wars and conflicts took place over land as a result. The economic system spread into the culture, making Europeans value conquest more than we do today. Such standards and historical context must be accounted for when judging the morality of Columbus’ discovery to explain why he subjugated the Native population. It gives us a better understanding of the 15th and 16th century and what was acceptable. We don’t derail the past culture of Native Americans because they performed human sacrifices. Why? Because the remaining tribes have evolved their moral standards, and their early culture had a much different standard.
The bravery to go into a largely unknown land must be great to begin with. Nowadays, we have the Internet, and can learn anything about a culture if we put effort into it. Our situation was not even close to Columbus’ situation in the early 16th century. He had no idea what the Natives could have done to him, how long they had been there, or their motives. It made sense that he acted with as much precaution as possible. Again, it was not right by our advanced standards, but anyone from the culture of Columbus who made such a journey would have done the same.
Secondly, I will address the legitimacy of Columbus’ discovery and the eventual conquest of the Americas by the Europeans. It is obvious that Columbus was not the first to discover America, as Native Americans had established civilizations long before. However, the discovery is still legitimate, as he had discovered it for the Old World, a world who did not about the New World.
Conquest in and of itself is a legitimate form of procuring new lands, especially in the modern world. The most important part of a country is protecting it from invaders. All other services like education, economic policy, and healthcare do not matter if the country is overtaken by outsiders. While the Europeans had the advantage of technology and disease, the natives had the advantage of knowing the land, and should’ve viewed the new settlers with a lot of skepticism to appropriately defend themselves when the Europeans started to tread on the land.
Many other civilizations have had to advance through conquest and intimidation, including the Islamic caliphates in Europe and the Middle East, the Incan empire in South America, and the Iroquois tribe in North America. None of the cultures at the core of these civilizations should have to deeply apologize for their conquest not only because of historical context behind the conquests, but because those points in history are part of a larger story.
The history of Western civilization is a rich one, filled with innovations in architecture, government, and social cohesion. Western philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu proposed the ideas of liberties like the freedom of expression and association, the separation of religion and state, a respect for human rights, individualism— the privileges we have today have come with the development of Western culture. The spirit of Western culture is to go where no one else has gone and optimize creativity with our liberties. This, I believe, is what Christopher Columbus’ discovery was a symbol.
Before the Renaissance and Age of Exploration, Europe was in ruins after the Black Plague. Even before that, it had depended on trade with China and the Islamic caliphates for innovation. After the Renaissance, a renewed sense of ingenuity revitalized the continent and would sow the seeds for its dominance of today.
The point of Columbus Day is to represent a turning point in Western civilization. From being conquered to becoming the conquerors, Columbus Day not only marked the spirit of the West, but the beginning of the dominance of the West. Even as we made advancements in creating peaceful relations with different cultures, we shouldn’t try to forget our history. We can admit the wrongs of our past, but we should also look at the natural progress in our moral standards and continue to progress our story