The District of Columbia council last week joined 130 other municipalities in renaming Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.
Six states have renamed Columbus Day (no word on whether the District of Columbia will change its name, as Columbia is a poetic reference to the famed explorer), and memorials to Columbus are under attack by iconoclastic vandals. Commemorations are at an all-time low, and favorable public opinion on Columbus Day is down to 56 percent per the most recent nationwide poll we could find, and a poll of college students released last week has nearly 80% in favor of axing the holiday.
Columbus Day, though Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 527 years ago, has only been a holiday since 1934. But its roots go deep. And the reasons for resistance to a holiday so deeply ingrained in our American cultural tapestry are not as pure as they may seem.
Below are five reasons why Columbus Day celebrants can hold their head high in 2019 rather than kowtow to guilt-based politics.
1. Italian heritage. Even perpetually leftward NPR admitted today that Columbus Day is still a celebration of triumph for America’s Italian-descendant population. At one point it was a multicultural rallying point. Interviewed over the weekend was Joseph Sciorra, an Italian-American studies professor at Queens College in New York who said:
“There’s an emotional bond to Columbus. I’ve read poetry which has – says, you know, when I look at the figure of Columbus on a statue, I don’t see Columbus. I see my grandfather. I see the sort of worker’s hands in his hands. I see the visage, his visage. And I see that of my grandfather. So there’s a really emotional bond there.”
2. ‘Flawed heroes.’ Americans once revered men of uncommon tenacity such as Christopher Columbus as “flawed heroes,” according to Catholic historian Warren H. Carroll, a 2013 post by the Acton Institute recalled. Columbus’s daring, along with his resourcefulness in using very rudimentary ocean navigation methods and information to find a reliable route to North America (even though he was intending on finding Asia) is still worthy of admiration. Had he not found land, his crew would have certainly died. We honor him for his vision as we honor Amelia Earhart, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and Marie Curie. According to Carroll:
“Columbus was a flawed hero — as all men are flawed, including heroes — and his flaws are of a kind particularly offensive to today’s culture. … But heroes and the inspiration they give are essential to uplift men and women; without them, faceless mediocrity will soon descend into apathy and degradation. Heroes need not be perfect; indeed, given the fallen nature of man, none can be perfect. It is right to criticize their failings, but wrong to deny their greatness and the inspiration they can give.”
3. Iconoclasts won’t stop at Columbus. Or Confederate memorials, for that matter. Or George Washington murals. Or … you get the drift. Before Civil War monument removal fever began, it was becoming fashionable to remove any and all mentions of Columbus in the public sphere. Just today, the Columbus statue near San Francisco’s famed Coit Tower was splashed with paint. Per the Acton Institute post above, this hatred for heroes with whom we may disagree is most certainly based in a disdain for heroes in general. If we don’t put our foot down with Columbus we will soon find ourselves with few statue-worthy heroes, if any at all, that are not under constant threat of vandalism or official removal.
4. Indigenous Peoples Day isn’t any better, by and large. Google “Columbus Day” and you won’t see much about it without the aforementioned Indigenous People’s Day far behind. It’s not that a more prominent day celebrating Indians/Native Americans wouldn’t be a cause worth commemorating. It would, in many, many ways (see item No. 5 below). But as a 2017 article in The Federalist noted, Columbus-hating revisionists turn a blind eye toward the “slavery, torture, and cannibalism” practiced by no small number of native tribes.
“When thinking of pre-Columbian America, forget what you’ve seen in the Disney movies. Think ‘slavery, cannibalism and mass human sacrifice.’ From the Aztecs to the Iroquois, that was life among the indigenous peoples before Columbus arrived. For all the talk from the angry and indigenous about European slavery, it turns out that pre-Columbian America was virtually one huge slave camp.”
5. What about the Vikings? Columbus was a conquistador by our modern standards. It may not be fair to compare the civility of Columbus and Vikings, who discovered America half a millennia apart. However, it may be worth noting that Columbus Day as a federal holiday and the first Lief Erikson Day proclamations started around the same time — and they found a way to co-exist on different days (Erikson’s day is Oct. 9). It’s perhaps ironic that those who decry the displacement of Indian tribes by white settlers are being themselves cultural displacers. We can take a cue from Lief Erickson supporters here and find a way to weave together perhaps a month-long celebration of American cultural roots.
According to a White House proclamation of this year’s Lief Erikson Day:
Nordic Americans contribute each day to the rich tapestry of our country by their self-reliance, drive, spirit of adventure, and cultural traditions. On this day, we pay tribute to the remarkable achievements of Leif Erikson, and we celebrate the daring dreams, big vision, and passion for discovery of all people of Scandinavian heritage.
That’s how we do it in America.