Why the GPS is Magellan and not Columbus
By Michael R. Shannon
web posted October 11, 2010
1492 was a big year for Christendom. The fortress of Granada fell to the combined forces of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. Driving the last of the invading Islamic horde out of Spain and returning the peninsula to its original owners.
And oh yes, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World.
I could see becoming enthusiastic about the reconquest of Spain, but instead Monday I will be observing Columbus Day.
Not being Italian, or employed by a major university ethnic studies department, I simply don't have strong feelings regarding Columbus. He's just been another guy suffering from a glaring inability to accurately judge distance.
Neutrality regarding the Admiral of the Ocean Sea is not an opinion shared in most of academia, where supporting Columbus Day ranks right up there with attending a John Wayne Film Festival as a celebration of everything that's wrong with America.
"Socially conscious" professors blame Columbus for the "genocide" of the Indian population, the advent of African slavery, the despoliation of the environment and most of the big box Wal–Marts.
How you can blame Columbus for infecting Indians with European diseases — when he was blissfully unaware of the existence of germs — has always seemed like a stretch to me, but it's all part and parcel of judging a 15th Century man by 21st Century standards.
It's not like Columbus beat Oprah or Bono to the New World and if it hadn't been for his butting in history would have been all different and all better.
Columbus was actually much like a modern Washington, DC progressive. He had this "shovel–ready" project that relied on government funding, because it couldn't attract private investors. He lobbied Queen Isabella and promised his route to the spices of Asia would be faster than the old–fashioned overland route. All in all, a typical government project comprising a combination of wild promises followed by failure to deliver.
The only thing he lacked was a PowerPoint presentation.
As for the voyage itself, Columbus' crew was never afraid of falling off the edge of the world. Even then any blue–water mariner knew the earth was round. Sailors say a ship on the horizon is "hull down". That means all they can see are the masts, which is only possible if the earth is round and the curvature of the ocean obscures the hull. On a flat earth you would see everything, only smaller.
The real crisis for Columbus and his crew came when half the rations and half the water was gone with no prospect of finding land. From then on each day they sailed into the unknown meant another day without food or water if they were unsuccessful and had to turn back.
But, much to the regret of faculty lounges across America, Columbus did find land.
Disorienting as it may be, lets follow the logic of the Columbus haters and imagine what the idyllic New World would have been like had it not been despoiled by Dead White Men.
Here we see, the Karankawas enjoying their high–protein cannibal diet (sort of an Atkins program with Atkins on the menu), the Lakotas hunting buffalo on foot, the Hurons killing their neighbors and the Aztecs continuing to employ obsidian knives to rip open the chests of their human sacrifice and lift the dripping, beating heart skyward as an offering to their sun god.
Not exactly a folk–singing festival, Columbus or not.
Columbus is in fact blamed for many offenses that were present when he arrived. The Aztec empire was chock full of slaves and you can make a case, microbes aside, that the Spanish improved the lot of the native since Queen Isabella explicitly forbade the enslavement of Indians.
The elites in Spanish–speaking lands often lived much like affluent Democrats do in liberal enclaves today: they occupied large, opulent houses and had a lot of brown people outside working on the lawn.
Columbus was also an advocate of sustainable technology. He used renewable wind power to travel, obtained his heat from biomass and because Europeans believed bathing caused disease, his water usage was at an all–time low.
And don't get me started on his no–flush toilets.
What's more, Columbus even drank funky little craft beers, just like "edgy" liberals do today.
Columbus' popularity may have peaked in 1934 when his achievement became a federal holiday. Organized opposition struck back in 1992 when the Berserkly, CA city council replaced Columbus Day with "Indigenous People's Day." Which is confusing, since I thought an "indigenous" was an Australian musical instrument.
Monday where I live in Virginia we can enjoy a two–for–one holiday: own Yorktown Victory Day and the federal government's Columbus Day (a Washington directive to which, for obvious reasons, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has no objection).
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He's a dynamic and entertaining speaker and can be reached at michael–firstname.lastname@example.org.
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