Here I am at work writing about Columbus Day on Columbus Day, which is appropriate because if ever a “holiday” ever deserved to be downgraded it is this one.
Among the older “traditionalist” white crowd, Columbus and his day have defenders such as this essay by Bill O’Reilly (aka “Uncle Bill had a few drinks and is yelling about random shit again”). In the essay, which has all the depth and accuracy of an average middle school English paper (no offense intended to middle schoolers, of course), Uncle Rant decries political correctness (Wow??? Really?) and revisionist history. O’Reilly’s conception of Columbus is so revisionist it swerves into fairy tale territory. Bulbous Bill seems to believe that Washington Irving is a reliable primary source.
But even if we set aside his racist world view and probable murderous ways, was Columbus any kind of hero? Are you kidding me?? Let’s look at a few historical facts.
After several failed screenplays and TV pilot that was never picked up, Columbus was looking for an easy score that would put him on the map. Using a Powerpoint that he copped from an obscure TEDx talk and a little of his own razzle dazzle, Columbus was able to grab a reverse Fullbright (an “Isabella”) to fund his travels.
His pitch to NASA (North Atlantic Sea Association) said that he would find the elusive Northwest Passage or Panama Canal, whichever came first, providing a direct route to India. This would open a pipeline for tea and peppercorns benefiting committee members Lipton and McCormack respectively, which won the day for Columbus’s application.
It only takes one look at a globe (or a map if you are a flat earther) to realize that there is no way in hell to sail west from Europe and NOT “discover the New World.” Columbus’s “discovery” is about as impressive as you “discovering” your own front yard. Point yourself in the right direction and you can’t miss it!
A large part of the reason that almost nobody (other than the Vikings and the Irish, which are pretty much the same thing) sailed west from Europe before Columbus set off in his Fiat, was the mind crushing lack of curiosity of over 1000 years of Church rule. The church avowed that they had all the answers, but nobody had any questions as pretty much everyone was busy either oppressing or being peasants.
This one book reliance by Europeans for over a 1000 years also lead the mapmakers of the day to overestimate the shortcutness of the western route. Even though Eratosthenes had pretty much nailed the actual circumference of the earth some 2000 years earlier mapmakers never seemed to ask what could possibly be missing, even though it was pretty much a third of the actual globe. When you can be burned at the stake for asking questions, you stick with what you know.
In summary then, Columbus was a grant grifter who stumbled over something that he literally could not miss and so is credited with “discovering” a place where 30 million people already lived.
Of course Uncle O’Rantly already knows all that and thinks that Columbus is really a hero for bringing “white, European, Christian values” to our continent. By which he means the idea that if a peoples skin is darker than a Norwegian’s they are obviously potential slaves or exterminees — or both.
But that is more non-revisionist history for another time. Or you could hear Randy Newman tell it.