There has been no lack of criticism of our ongoing celebration of Columbus Day as a Federal Holiday since it became one . . . during happy end times of the Nixon administration . . . at the beginning of the very end in Vietnam . . . on the eve of both the election of Nixon to his second term . . . and Watergate . . . in 1971.
Some of the critiques of “Columbus Day,” are funny, or meant to be. Humor is perhaps the only way some can handle the catalog of horrors that followed the Genoan’s 1492 landing in the “new world.”
Check out John Oliver’s October 2014 contribution to the genre on YouTube, “Columbus Day: Why is This Still a Thing” . . . and then read the cascade of editorial comment that followed.
Then check out some of the original accounts of Columbus and his men in action . . . or read any modern history of Columbus’s voyages and the Spanish “conquest” that followed
Funded by a “Christian” monarchy in the midst of forcibly converting, killing, or driving out every professing Jewish family in Spain, Columbus was of course neither “Italian” nor the “discoverer” of anything.
As for that tale about the egg or his noticing sails disappearing over the horizon, educated people had known the earth was round well before there was a Roman Empire, much less a Spanish, Portuguese, British, Dutch,or French variation on the theme.
Columbus (the true father of the transatlantic slave trade) and his men exterminated the native population of Hispaniola the old fashioned way: by waging war with “modern” 16th weaponry against a people just emerging from the stone age, using their violent opposition to how they were being treated as an excuse.
Those Columbus and his boys didn’t kill, they enslaved, primarily to support their search for gold.
What they did to women and boys is inappropriate to discuss in a family newspaper.
The effects of the diseases introduced by Columbus and his men are well documented: an unintentional holocaust. (Unintentional of course, because Columbus needed the slave labor; a holocaust, nevertheless, because it virtually eliminated the native populations of every region touched by the Admiral of the Ocean Sea and his merry band murderous men.)
Sub-Saharan Africa provided the “replacements” for the Native Americans Columbus had wiped out, thereby introducing an economically and religiously sanctioned “peculiar institution” to the western hemisphere that, here in the United States gave us our Civil War as one of the arguably least harmful of its effects.
But, what the hell? All that constituted “acceptable collateral damage,” some argue. Just look, they say, at all the “good” that came out of it in the end.
Celebrating Columbus for his contributions to those “good things” is the moral equivalent of celebrating Hitler as the “father of the Interstate Highway System.” It’s arguably true, but obscene . . . as is Columbus Day from the perspective of those to whom he did irreparable and unforgivable harm.
So, how do we avoid putting a perfectly good Federal Holiday, beloved by all of us with ties of blood or emotion to what eventually, in the late 19th century, became Italy?
I’d say change the name and celebrate a better man.
There are tens of thousands of thousands of great Italians to choose from.
If he or she has to be an early 16th century “hero” make it Las Casas Day: after Bartolome’ de las Casas, a Dominican Priest, who arrived with the early Spanish conquerors, and later became known as “Protector of the Indians.”
Bartolome las Casas, a 16th century chaplain with the army that devastated Cuba, had the conscience to be appalled by what he saw, and the heart to fight slavery and abuse of the native Americans for half a century, both in the “new world” and in the courts of Spain and his church.
He is seen, by many, as one of the earliest European Christian proponents of what would be termed today, “universal human rights.” He was (and is) also hated by many of those his writing and ethics embarrassed.
Now there’s a man, and a tradition, however flawed, worth celebrating.
Happy Las Casas Day.