What is the most beautiful fossil in the history of fossils?
I have always been a dinosaur nerd, so I feel compelled to throw my votes behind the Berlin Archaeopteryx (#1) and the Protoceratops-Velociraptor Death Struggle (#2). If I were a better person I might well have the impartiality to go with Hallucigenia.
Seriously, though, Columbus isn’t any more worth celebrating than Torquemada or Vlad the Impaler. In fact he was significantly more lethal as governor of Hispaniola than either of those guys was. If you’d think twice about throwing a party to honor those guys, you should think twice about throwing a party to honor Columbus. #EndColumbusDay #CelebrateIndigenousPeoplesDay
There’s nothing wrong with exploration, or daring the unknown, or intercultural exchange. It’s one of the best, most exciting things human beings do. 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 enslaved indigenous people and sent them to early deaths in the mines; when they 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”; 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.
Historical thesis for the day: classical Greece was a far more pervasively violent culture, on every level, than Viking-era Scandinavian cultures, and especially far more so than Viking-era Iceland. If you want to know why one has the reputation of unremitting berserker bloodlust whereas the other is constantly invoked as one of the fountainheads of enlightenment and culture in “The West,” the answer to that won’t lie in the facts, it will lie in the nature of our sources.