Americans Should Continue Celebrating Christopher Columbus

Patrick Korten | October 9, 2017 | 8:35am EDT
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Landing of Columbus (Wikimedia Commons Photo/John Vanderlyn)

Leftist attacks on the explorer are based on bigotry and lies.

Did you know that today is Deface Columbus Day? That’s according to Antifa, the violent group of radical leftists who never met an American tradition they didn’t want to destroy. Some vandals didn’t even wait for the big day, defacing monuments to the explorer in New York City and Baltimore.

Meanwhile, many cities have replaced Columbus Day celebrations with Indigenous People’s Day. Berkeley—where else?—was the first, 25 years ago; many have followed suit over the past several years, including 20 cities this year alone.

But as far as the federal calendar is concerned, October 9 is still Columbus Day—and that’s how most Americans want it. A recent Marist poll found that 57 percent of Americans—about 6 in 10—consider celebrating Columbus Day a "good idea." In contrast, only 29 percent oppose the holiday. As Americans have been doing since the late-eighteenth century, we’ll celebrate the Italian explorer who made our nation possible through his brilliance, bravery, and resourcefulness.

What exactly do groups like Antifa have against Columbus? Their arguments include the false claims that Columbus committed genocide, treated native Americans poorly, and introduced slavery to the Americas. Radicals on the left want to blame Columbus for all of the bad that followed his arrival and ignore all of the progress that he catalyzed by arriving: the thriving cultures that ensued, the new nations and peoples that developed.

The history of anti-Columbian claims is revealing. Karl Marx argued that Columbus’s discovery of the Americas made capitalism possible. (If that seems like a good thing to you, congratulations—you’re not a Marxist!) Anti-Columbian history was perpetuated in the twentieth century by radical intellectuals and professors like Howard Zinn, whose radical account of America is beloved by celebrities but scorned by actual historians; and Ward Churchill, the disgraced professor who taught the radical Weather Underground how to build bombs and compared the victims of 9/11 to Nazi collaborators.

But the most shameful source for the anti-Columbus rhetoric Antifa perpetuates is the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, picking up on centuries-old prejudice against non-Anglo cultures, rallied against celebrations and commemorations of Columbus because he was a Catholic man from Italy who explored on behalf of Spain—not white enough, not Protestant enough.

The Klan’s vision of America didn’t have room for the man who helped create it. Over the course of the 1920s, they tried to eliminate Columbus Day as a state holiday in Oregon, burned a cross to disturb a Columbus Day celebration in Pennsylvania, called the holiday “A Papal Fraud,” and fought the erection of a Columbus statue in Richmond.

That’s what makes the far left’s embrace of Antifa so tragically ironic: in their supposed fight against white supremacy, they reuse the language and ideas of white supremacists. White hoods have been replaced by black masks.

In response, the National Christopher Columbus Association has launched, a website dedicated to pushing back against the misinformation campaign against this major historical figure. We need to resist the narrative that’s slowly infiltrating the American story, one that seeks to destroy our heroes because they were products of their time and not our own.

The crusade against Columbus has become so intense, maybe we need to remind ourselves why he’s worth celebrating in the first place. The Spanish-born poet George Santayana celebrated Columbus’s faith and ingenuity: he “found a world, and had no chart, / Save on that faith deciphered in the skies; / To trust the soul’s invincible surmise / Was all his science and his only art.”

Or as President Reagan put it: “He is justly admired as a brilliant navigator, a fearless man of action, a visionary who opened the eyes of an older world to an entirely new one. Above all, he personifies a view of the world that many see as quintessentially American: not merely optimistic, but scornful of the very notion of despair.”

That is the real Christopher Columbus, the man we celebrate. He is a man worth rediscovering.

Patrick Korten serves on the board of directors of the National Christopher Columbus Association, a civic group that seeks to honor not only the memory of Columbus and his historic achievement but also the higher values that motivated and sustained him in his efforts.

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