Declaring war on Christopher Columbus will do nothing to eradicate racism, sexism, hate crimes or income inequality in America. The ugly events in Charlottesville, Virginia, exposed deep racial fissures in our body politic. But demolishing what New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito terms “symbols of hate” is counterproductive.
Indeed, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio may rue the day he appointed a commission to decide which statues and sculptures are “oppressive.” Such historical revisionism by government fiat smacks of the Orwellian. And it can only lead to more divisiveness, alienating middle-class voters who might otherwise turn away from the GOP’s robber-baron economics.
Democrats who fail to heed commentator Paul Begala’s admonition regarding President Donald Trump’s diversionary tactics in this matter are making a monumental mistake. So when Hizzoner contemplates expunging the 76-foot Columbus Circle statue of Columbus – thereby disfiguring Gotham’s iconic cityscape – he is “driving straight into a trap Trump has set.” In truth, the condemnation of Columbus is a war on history.
The leader of the perilous trek across the wine-dark Atlantic represents the triumph of humanism writ large. It marked the rebirth of the classical vigor of antiquity that we know as the Italian Renaissance. And this Rinascimento sparked a sea change in the tide of human events, leading to our complex modernity.
Like Amerigo Vespucci, Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) and Giovanni da Verrazzano, Cristoforo Colombo hailed from the land John Milton called “the seat of civilization and the hospitable domicile of every species of erudition.” Indeed, Italy was the epicenter of the Renaissance.
This epochal intellectual revolution gave rise to modern science, art, architecture, accounting, good governance, capitalism and, yes, the Age of Exploration.
Absent the Columbian Exchange, there would be no American Republic – a polity dedicated to the notion that “All men are created equal.” (Filippo Mazzei bequeathed this foundational credo to Thomas Jefferson.)
Moreover, absent Columbus (and his fellow Italian explorers), our more perfect union – with its tripartite government, Constitution and separation of powers – might never have emerged. For the founders based their nascent republic of laws on the ancient Roman model.
And absent the Great Navigator – and the scientific discoveries of Galileo Galilei and Leonardo da Vinci – President John F. Kennedy could never have said to his fellow Americans: “We choose to go to the moon.”
Like the founding fathers, Abraham Lincoln and FDR, Columbus was a complex figure. Vainglorious and authoritarian, he nonetheless altered the fate of humankind – for the better.
For as Paolo Emilio Taviani, author of “Columbus: The Great Adventure,” explained: “The Columbian discovery was of greater magnitude than any other discovery or invention in human history. It was after Columbus’s voyages that the task of integrating the American continents into Greco-Roman-Christian-European culture was carried out. Notwithstanding errors, egoism, and unheard-of violence, the discovery was an essential, in many ways the determining, factor in ushering in the modern age.”
Repudiating the “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” is rank revisionism that calls to mind George Orwell: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
Rosario A. Iaconis is an adjunct professor in the Social Sciences Department of Suffolk County Community College.