Ol’ Robbo can never think of this holiday without recalling to mind a song that the musick teacher at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method used to teach the younglings. The chorus ran as follows:
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
It was a courageous thing to do,
But someone was already there.
The verses were made up of the names of various indian tribes, most if not all of them North American and none of them having had any actual contact with Columbus. This used to bother me – historickally speaking – as much as the song’s implication that the Americas were a pristine Eden where the lion lay down with the lamb and all was peace and fellowship among the natives before those nasty Europeans came across and spoiled it all.
Lord knows that ol’ Robbo holds no brief for the way the Spanish treated their conquests in the New World, but that doesn’t excuse pushing a false narrative of the noble savage.
Anyhoo, we mark the day as a historickal milestone, not a matter of triumphalism. Had it not been Columbus, it would have been somebody else. Had it not been October, 1492, it would have been some other time. And we, of course, honor the man himself for his bravery and skill as a navigator, not for his miserable attempts at administering his new-found colonies.
I have written here before that one of the best, most balanced biographies of Columbus is still Samuel Eliot Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus.
UPDATE: Well, I see that I already wrote about all of this somewhat more expansively a few years ago.