Christopher Columbus: A Globally Transforming Figure

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— Scott Allison and George Goethals

10 thoughts on “Christopher Columbus: A Globally Transforming Figure

  1. The interesting thing about Columbus is that he seems to have become this medium that people project their ideals and/or fears on. Some project the romantic ideals of exploration and courage. Others use him to decry all wrongs committed since. Neither view is really correct. The flesh and blood person seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the lines.

  2. Do we judge a hero based on his intentions? Do we judge a hero based on character traits, such as courage or perseverence? Do we judge him based on the consequences and ultimate outcomes of his actions (both intended and unintended)? Do we judge him on his motivations?

    Ultimately Columbus did not achieve what he originally intended. So no heroism in ignorance, at least in my opinion.

    Did Columbus possess courage or perseverence? I don’t know, nor does it matter, because in my opinion, any “good” or “desireable” character trait when taken to an extreme becomes a glaring character defect. Was perseverence actually stubborness? Was his courage actually foolishness? Maybe. So no heroism in character traits. They were just the makeup of the man, just as they reside to greater or lesser extreme in all of us.

    What about ultimate outcomes? We can’t really judge them, because “good” and “bad” is all a matter of perspective and attitude. Perhaps it was a good thing that so many of the native peoples in America were wiped out . . . what was so great about cultures that believed in human sacrifice, anyway? As for the enslavement of the native peoples, most reasonable people will agree that it was wrong, but that can’t be attributed to Columbus. If he hadn’t come to America, some other explorer would have. To lay that mantle squarely on the shoulders of Columbus would be a grave injustice, both to him and the countless numbers of people who participated through the centuries. Ultimately Columbus had no more control over the outcomes of his journey than we do more than 500 years later. So I can’t label him a hero or a villian based on outcomes.

    What about motivations? I don’t know what personally motivated Columbus to set out on his journey. But I suspect that is where the real answer to his heroism lies. Did he do it for money? Did he do it for fame? Did he do it to serve his country? Did he do it to prove something to his father, or to himself?

    We hear that Europe was looking for a new way to the east because muslims had impacted the stability of the old trade routes. So the motivation behind a new route to the east was to avoid inflaming conflict. In my opinion this was probably a solid, healthy motivation, and a better choice than the alternative — a bloody war with the muslims. Maybe even an example of non-violence. I think it was a heroic effort to find a way to continue the stability of european trade without having to fight a war. And Columbus found himself at the helm of this effort, whatever his personal motivations were.

  3. Columbus shouldn’t be cast as either hero or villain, but as a great explorer of extreme historical significance. Evidence would suggest that he wasn’t the nicest guy ever, but he was certainly not the genocidal maniac of current fashion; and while he was the discoverer of the Americas from the perspective of his culture, he certainly did not go where no man had gone before.

    Blaming Columbus for various atrocities committed in the Western Hemisphere is foolish. Human history is a series of encroachments, conflicts, enslavements and plagues; it happened throughout Europe both before and after Columbus’s time. It happened in the Americas both before and after Columbus’s time. There was war and slavery among the Aztecs and Incas. The Anasazi were the victims of genocide. These are the dark remnants of Humanity’s animal origins– we need to strive to overcome them, not create imaginary grudges from past centuries.

    Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it; those who misunderstand history are equally doomed.

  4. I do not really see Columbus as a hero. He may be credited with finding America, which many of us learned in gradeschool only to find that it is not true, but that was never his intention. Honestly, I think he just got lucky and he did not find America, I think it is safe to say someone else would have. Columbus was ignorant and died thinking that he found something other than what it actually was; that is not a hero. We may say he is a hero because of how great living in America turned out to be, but that is not because of Columbus.

  5. I think people are completely failing to recognize what an amazing and heroic feet Columbus undertook when he set out on his journey. While he might not have intended to discover America he still had the courage to set out into the unknown under extremely dangerous circumstances. I think uncertainty and fortunate accident is a part of any heroes story and certainly not a discredit to their accomplishment. I think its important that society has to decided to see the exploration of the Americas as a two sided venture and now recognizes the unfortunate perspective of the Native Americans. Nevertheless, sympathy can be felt without denying what was truly a heroic act.

  6. i dont think christopher columbus is a hero at all in fact i thought he was a very inteligent idiot. the fact that he thought he could sail his ship around the world, and come through the back like that is so unreal, and understanding the technological disadvantage they had that was still not at smart idea. Also whats fustrating is that many people say he sailed the ocean blue in 1492, and dicovered America that is completely false, but people still try and believe that he did not giving the native americans any acknowledgment.

  7. I like that you brought up the idea that every hero is another person’s villain. I agree with this statement, it seems that all choices one makes in this world will have different consequences for different people, and reminds us that heroism is truly in the eye of the beholder.

  8. I agree that Columbus plays the role of both hero and villain. While I’m certainly glad that he “discovered” the Americas, because now I”m here as a result, for the indigenous people of the time he was most certainly a villain, and he set a precedent for their treatment many years into the future.

  9. I believe that Columbus’s role as a villain is much more prominent than that as a hero. This is simply because the only “heroic” thing that it appears that he did was find and begin to populate the Americas. However, this is not really heroic because as the blog notes, it had already been discovered by Europeans 500 years prior, which means that it would have inevitably been discovered by somebody else at some point later on in history, and perhaps that person would have had more noble intentions.
    Columbus started what became a vicious cycle of taking what they wanted from the Native Americans and in return giving them nothing but disease. They forced the natives to leave their homes and took over their land, treating them not as people, but as animals. What Columbus and later conquistadors subjected the natives to was completely inhumane, and thus he is quite undeserving of being called a hero.

  10. growing up and learning about Christopher Columbus in school I was always taught about how heroic he was for braving the ocean and finding America. However, I was never aware until recently of all of the harm that he caused when he landed here all those years ago. I had no idea that he caused the spread of disease that wiped out so many of the natives. This dark side to the story makes it more difficult to see him as a true hero. I still believe that he was a hero though and without him we might not exist as the country we are today.

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