Walter Donway defends Columbus Day (If anything, I’d say conceding too much to the misrepresentations and false charges of the slanderers of the great Navigator).
[T]hose who agitate for the replacement of Columbus Day with [Indigenous Peoples Day] … assert that the arrival of Columbus and European civilization launched the exploitation, enslavement, and genocide of what Columbus dubbed the â€œIndians.â€ The charge of â€œgenocideâ€ is grotesquely distorted by some of the worst scholarship in recent history.
Historians set the stage for this by means of a vigorous bidding war. Best estimates made before the allegation of genocide arose were that at its population peak there were a million or so Native Americans north of Mexico. As â€œgenocideâ€ became the issue, the estimates soared to five million, 12 million, 18 millionâ€¦ This laid the foundation for labeling what happened to the natives as the worst genocide ever committed and a â€œholocaustâ€ to dwarf Nazi Germany.
Whatever size the population, at least 70 percent and up to 90 percent of deaths resulted from diseases brought by Europeans, above all, smallpox. Genocide? The argument, apart from citing one poorly documented alleged attempt to infect hostile tribes by spiking blankets with smallpox, is simply that all deaths the Europeans caused were genocidal.
Without doubt, arrival of Europeans in North America, upon which I will focus, here, began a long process of conflict and cooperation, treaty agreements and wars, unstoppable European expansion and bitter armed resistance of tribes, technological dominance of the advanced European culture over primitive tribal culture, and, most tragically and devastatingly, the introduction of new diseases from Europe to which the native population had no immunity and succumbed in virulent epidemics.
It is established that by 1900 there were fewer than 250,000 Native Americans in United States territory. If we take as our estimate of the original native population one made in 1928, long before the genocide craze, then that population declined from 1,152,950 at the time the Europeans arrived to 250,000 some 400 years laterâ€”a loss of 850,000.
That was the cost of the European settlement of North America and it was borne by natives. So what was the benefit? To put the matter most boldlyâ€”but, I think, to identify its pivotal historical essenceâ€”there is this statement by Dr. Michael Berliner, who is quoted as saying that Europeans brought to the New World
â€¦reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition, and productive achievementâ€ where there was â€œprimitivism, mysticism, and collectivismâ€ in economic arrangementsâ€¦
And cannibalism, torture as routine for dealing with those outside the tribe, incessant wars of conquest over other tribes, slavery, and human sacrifice. Also, zero progress in science, including medicine, and near zero progress in technology.
Does that matter? No. Not when we are discussing recommendations for mandated national holidays and that one replace another. We can celebrate native American tribal culture as the first to settle the huge North American continent and create a spectrum of variations from the agriculturalâ€”to the splendid if murderous light cavalry of the Comancheâ€”to the elaborate structures and settled ways of the Pueblos. We can celebrate all that, even recognizing the â€œsadistic cannibalismâ€ of the Caribs, the routine infliction of torture, and the murderous conquest of tribe by tribe.
Similarly, we can celebrate Columbus Day as marking the opening of the New World to the Old, altering history in unimaginably far-reaching ways for the human race. Even if Columbus combined brilliant navigation and courage with behavior condemned as atrocious by his peers.
In conclusion, it makes no sense to replace Columbus Day with IPD unless you are promoting the view that European settlement should be viewed as evil, not celebrated, and that tribal culture should be valorized. And that is dead wrong, I think, and worse than wrong. In the perspective of history, unfailingly harsh when one culture and society are displacing others, the European settlement of the Americas represented an enormously beneficial, decisive stride for the human race. Just contrast the Carib culture with the U.S. Constitution.