There’s nothing wrong with exploration, or with daring the unknown, or with intercultural exchange. Those are great, they’re inspiring, they’re one of the best, most exciting things that human beings do. It’s a wonderful tale, for those who survive to tell it.
But there is something wrong with wiping out entire cultures, enslaving and murdering millions of people. Which is what Christopher Columbus did, among other things, as governor of
Hispaniola. He recorded in his own diaries how he enslaved indigenous people and sent them to early deaths in the mines; he sold young girls into sexual slavery for his men; when indigenous Caribbeans fought back against his aggression he massacred them and paraded the rebels’ dismembered corpses through the streets as a demonstration. He inaugurated the most amazing and important intercultural exchange in the history of the planet Earth on terms that perverted everything about it into a centuries-long march of domination, slavery, conquest, genocide and death.
It’s not that he was
a man of his time. That’s not an excuse for anything. But even if it were,
men of his time, both American and Spanish, denounced what he was doing. A Spanish Catholic friar wrote a few decades after Columbus’s regime began in the Caribbean that
Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.
It is the shame of the human race that there exist countries where this man’s deeds are still promoted as an inspiring example to schoolchildren or celebrated as a national holiday. His name ought to be remembered in infamy alongside those of Heinrich Himmler, Josef Stalin, and Genghis Khan.