After five centuries, Christopher Columbus remains a mysterious and controversial figure. He has been described as one of the greatest mariners in history, a visionary genius, a mystic, a national hero, a failed administrator, a naпve entrepreneur, a symbol of slavery and genocide, and a ruthless and greedy imperialist.
The question becomes “Who is Christopher Columbus?” Is he really the man that some Americans describe as a hero, whose journey was the first step in a long process that eventually produced the United States? Or is Columbus’ character flawed as others have suggested.
To fully understand the motives behind Columbus and his idea of sailing westward, you have to look at the time period in which he lived. He lived during a time when Europe was in great turmoil caused by disease, famine, and religious persecution. It was also the beginning of an era when finding a direct trade route to the Indies was important. The misconception behind the goal of Columbus’ voyages is that he was not out to achieve wealth alone, but to begin the final expansion of the Gospel that would bring in the end of time. Columbus believed in the Bible and that it was his duty to spread Christianity to the Indians.
Young American school age children are taught that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety two. Also he is given fame as the man who brought Europeans to new lands known as the Caribbean Islands. For this reason there are numerous towns, cities, and street named in his honor.
Columbus called himself the “Admiral of the Ocean Seas”. In many school books, he is describes as the model of bravery and perseverance, the all wise navigator, the “Father of American Progress” whose discovery of the New World allowed for a great many changes in progress of enterprise, science, and commerce. It is no wonder that children grow up with the idea that Christopher Columbus was a great man who discovered new lands and was met with open arms by the peaceful natives. Columbus described the natives in his journal entries as the best people in the world, the most peaceable. He couldn’t believe that a man has ever seen people so good hearted. It was Columbus himself that conveyed the image that his intentions were good and for the benefit of all human kind. However, Columbus continually contradicts himself in his writings referring to the Indians as subhuman.
Many believe Columbus was the greatest benefactor of all time because when he brought the agriculture of the Old and New Worlds into contact with each other. He added many useful plants to each culture and greatly increased the number of kinds of foods and quantity of food from both plant and animal sources.
However, many individuals believe Christopher Columbus was a villain. They say he destroyed all that was beautiful in the New World with his thirst for greed and fame, that he raped the lands and the women, and disrupted a civilization that lived for hundreds of years. Environmentalists argue that with the introduction of animals came the destruction of the countryside and its many natural plants. They also feel he brought along diseases in which the natives had no immunity against. Furthermore, others consider the discovery of the Western Hemisphere to be an invasion rather than an opportunity for great things.
Moreover, Columbus and his men felt that it was their right to steal from the Indians and take whatever they felt they needed. The Indians began to see this as a new custom brought over by Columbus. They in turn would steal from the Spanish. However, Columbus felt it was necessary to punish the Indians when they were found to have stolen something by cutting off their noses and ears. Furthermore, one of Columbus’ objectives was to attain wealth through gold and spices. In his quest for gold, he set up a three-month quota in gold for every Indian, man and woman over the age of fourteen. If the quota was not met, Columbus then order their arms to be chopped off with axes and allowed them to bleed to death. This was to set an example for the other Indians. Columbus justified his actions by sending heathens to Spain in chains not Christians. It was for this reason Columbus was returned to Spain after his third voyage in chains.
When Columbus’ ships were about to return to Spain with its riches, Columbus realized the amount of goods was rather low. So, Columbus had a massive slave raid as a means for filling up the ships. Thus began the great Trans-Atlantic slave route between the New World and Spain with Columbus as the leader.
Why is none of this negative information ever taught to children in school? Could it be that it is too brutal and gruesome and contains images that would resemble those from an R-rated movie? Or is it that it could ruin the image of this great American hero who we have placed upon a pedestal that could never do anything wrong? So how should history view Christopher Columbus, Hero or Villain?
I feel Christopher Columbus should still be viewed as a hero. It’s true that Columbus was not the flawless hero that history has traditionally presented him as. His human failings and weaknesses should be recognized, being just as valuable to history as his accomplishments. In the same tone, I don’t believe that because he did possess certain character defects, he should be condemned as a villain. His discovery of the New World was indeed one of the most significant events of this planet’s history. Because of his arrival in the Caribbean and South America, more important changes, both advantageous and detrimental, have come to define the modern world. For example, ranging from the introduction of the tomato into the realm of Italian cuisine, to the existence of wheat in America’s heartland. Without Columbus’ actions, the world as we know it today would simply not exist.
I also feel his vision to spread Christianity to the Indians and baptize them in the name of the Lord was understandable for the time period in which he lived. It may not be seemed justified in the eyes of Native Americans, or the descendants of the Arawaks or Tianos Indians, but I believe Columbus was a man that brought forth a great may changes to better the way of life for people today.
Furthermore, I feel Christopher Columbus should by no means be glorified as a great and perfect man, but we should certainly not let his failings completely overshadow the lasting significance his actions have for the world we live in. There is no reason why we cannot both learn from his mistakes and acknowledge the effects his discovery has had on our world.
In conclusion, no matter how Christopher Columbus and his Legacy are perceived, there is no question of the significance of his encounter with the New World. The voyages of Columbus began the transformation from a planet with two distinct Old Worlds to one New World. The new global consciousness created by the interaction, both good and bad, between the people of Europe and America changed the world as it was known forever. Furthermore, Columbus’ towering stature as a seaman and navigator, the sheer power of his religious convictions, his personal magnetism, his courage, his endurance, his determination, and above all, his achievements as an explorer, should continue to be recognized by today’s society.