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Columbus IS a Hero

Columbus Day approaches, but some people say this is no cause for celebration. On the contrary, they view the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 as an occasion to be mourned.

The politically correct view is that Columbus did not discover America, because people had lived here for thousands of years. Worse yet, it's claimed, the main legacy of Columbus is death and destruction. Columbus is routinely vilified as a symbol of slavery and genocide, and the celebration of his arrival likened to a celebration of Hitler. The attacks on Columbus are evil, because the actual target is Western civilization.

Did Columbus "discover" America? Yes--in every important respect. This does not mean that no human eye had been cast on America before Columbus arrived. It does mean that Columbus brought America to the attention of the civilized world (the growing, scientific civilizations of Western Europe). The result, ultimately, was the United States of America. It was Columbus' discovery for Western Europe that led to the influx of ideas and people on which the US was founded--and on which it still rests. The opening of America brought the ideas and achievements of Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and the thousands of thinkers, writers, and inventors who followed.

Prior to 1492, what is now the United States was sparsely inhabited, unused, and undeveloped. The inhabitants were primarily hunter-gatherers, wandering across the land, living from hand-to-mouth and from day-to-day. There was virtually no change, no growth for thousands of years. With rare exception, life was nasty, ugly, and short: there was no wheel, no written language, no division of labor, little agriculture and scant permanent settlement; but there were endless, bloody wars. Whatever the problems it brought, the vilified Western culture also brought enormous, undreamed-of benefits, without which most of today's Indians would be infinitely poorer or not even alive.

Columbus was a very talented sailor, navigator and ship captain. He bravely went west without a map, trusting his instincts and calculations. He was very loyal to his patrons, the King and Queen of Spain, and they rewarded him by sending him to the New World a total of four times. He took slaves from those tribes that fought him and his men: he seems to have dealt relatively fairly with those tribes that he befriended, such as that of Chief Guacanagari.

***Task: Write a MEL-Con with at least 2 pieces of evidence (and thus two links) on the following prompt: Explain how Columbus was a hero to the world.

Columbus is NOT a Hero

The Myth of Christopher Columbus

Schoolchildren are taught that Christopher Columbus wanted to find America, or in some cases that he wanted to prove that the world was round. He convinced Queen Isabela of Spain to finance the journey, and she sold her personal jewelry to do so. He bravely headed west and found the Americas and Caribbean, making friends with natives along the way. He returned to Spain in glory, having discovered the New World.

What's wrong with this story? Quite a bit, actually.

Myth #1: Columbus wanted to prove the world was not flat.

Columbus, basing his calculations on incorrect assumptions about the size of the earth, assumed that it would be possible to reach the rich markets of eastern Asia by sailing west. Had he succeeded in finding a new trade route, it would have made him a very wealthy man. Instead he found the Caribbean, then inhabited by cultures with little in the way of gold, silver or trade goods. Unwilling to completely abandon his calculations, Columbus made a laughingstock of himself back in Europe by claiming that the Earth was not round, but shaped like a pear. He had not found Asia, he said, because of the bulging part of the pear near the stalk.

Myth #2: He made friends with the natives he met.

Columbus captured other natives for use as slaves. The practice of slavery was common and legal in Europe at the time, and the slave trade was very lucrative. Columbus never forgot that his voyage was not one of exploration, but of money! His financing came from the hope that he would find a lucrative new trade route. He did nothing of the sort: the people he met had little to trade. An opportunist, he captured some natives to show that they would make good slaves. Years later, he would be devastated to learn that Queen Isabela had decided to declare the New World off-limits to slavers.

Other Cases Against Columbus…

If one must hate Columbus, it is far more reasonable to do so for other reasons. He was a slave trader who heartlessly took men and women away from their families in order to lessen his failure to find a new trade route. His contemporaries despised him. As governor of Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, he was a despot who kept all profits for himself and his brothers, and was loathed by the colonists whose lives he controlled. Attempts were made on his life and he was actually sent back to Spain in chains at one point after his third voyage. During his fourth voyage, he and his men were stranded on Jamaica for a year when his ships rotted: no one wanted to travel there from Hispaniola to save him. He was also a cheapskate: after promising a reward to whomever spotted land first on his 1492 voyage, he refused to pay when another sailor did so, giving the reward to himself instead because he had seen a “glow” first.

***Task: Write a MEL-Con with at least 2 pieces of evidence (and thus two links) on the following prompt: Explain how Columbus was NOT a hero.

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