On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas and changed the course of world history forever. In honor of this historic event, Columbus Day is observed in the United States, Latin America, Spain, and Italy. In more recent years, however, there’s been increasing opposition to Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. According to the left’s narrative, the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World marked the beginning of one of the largest genocides in human history. But was it really?
It’s true that many American Indians died after the Europeans discovered the Americas. However, the vast majority of the native population, some 75 to 95 percent, were killed by Old World diseases to which they had no immunity. While no less a tragedy, it does not constitute a genocide. A genocide requires a calculated, deliberate intent to exterminate a whole group of people. The Europeans were unaware that the natives didn’t have immunity to Old World diseases, let alone how infectious diseases even worked. Germ theory was not fully developed and accepted until the latter half of the nineteenth century. It should also be noted that in the United States, at least, there was never a government policy for extermination. On the contrary, you don’t set up reservations and inoculate the people you are trying to exterminate.
With the call to abolish Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, there is the implication that American Indians were and are more virtuous, deserving, and noble than their European counterparts. The left tends to romanticize American Indians while vilifying Europeans. It’s true there were atrocities and injustices done to the American Indians, but that’s only one side of the story. Guess what: nothing the Europeans did was at all different from what the natives themselves did. American Indians also conquered other native peoples for their land and to acquire slaves. Slavery was widely practiced in pre-Columbian America, just as it was practiced everywhere at the time. According to the Standard Cross-Cultural Files, at least thirty-nine pre-Columbian societies in North America alone practiced slavery, and it was not at all different from the slavery practiced elsewhere. Indian slave masters had complete control over their slaves, even to kill them if they desired. It’s a little known fact that in the nineteenth century, American Indians began to acquire black slaves. In fact, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Indians took a number of black slaves with them as they were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma “Indian” Territory. In short, American Indians had the same sins and vices as the Europeans, and even some they didn’t have.
Nothing highlights this more than the Aztecs in what is today Mexico. The Aztecs had an unrivaled occult bloodlust. Some historians estimate that the Aztecs ritually sacrificed 50,000 people per year in a population area of four to five million. That equated to sacrificing one percent of their total population annually. Those ritually sacrificed were often captives taken from neighboring tribes. The manner in which they were sacrificed was particularly barbaric. Captives were taken to the top of a temple and laid upon a stone slab. The priest would then take a sharp knife, plunge it into their chests, and rip out their still-beating hearts. The bodies were then dismembered, the torso kicked down the temple steps, and the limbs were eaten. The heads of the sacrificed were placed on a pole and kept as trophies. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who accompanied Hernán Cortés on his conquest of Mexico, witnessed more than one hundred thousand skulls stacked meticulously on top of one another, which Aztec texts, frescoes, and archeology have confirmed. Most of the victims were men, but women and children were also sacrificed. Women would also have their hearts ripped out, but more often they were slowly beheaded and skinned. The priests would often wear these human skins while the sacrifices continued. In one event, during the consecration of a new temple, an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 people were sacrificed over a four-day period. That is the very definition of a genocide.
After the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and ensuing conflicts, the Spanish witnessed some of their own being taken captive by the Aztecs. The Spanish prisoners were stripped naked, brought to the temple, and forced to dance naked for an hour. Afterward, the Aztec high priest sacrificed them alive, ripping out their hearts and dismembering them, as was commonly practiced. When Cortés finally conquered the Aztecs, much of the slaughter that ensued was done by their Indian allies, who hated the Aztecs with a passion. The conquistadors were certainly no saints, but not even the worst among them practiced human sacrifice or ate human flesh. The Aztecs were not alone when it came to human sacrifice and cannibalism. The Mayans, Incas, and other tribes had similar practices, including sacrificing children and infants.
When Columbus discovered the Americas, he encountered friendly natives, but he also encountered hostile natives. Upon his second trip to the Americas, he encountered the Caribs, from which the word “Caribbean” is derived. According to historian Samuel Eliot Morison, Columbus’s search parties on Guadeloupe found a disturbing sight: “They found large cuts and joints of human flesh … caponized Arawak boy captives who were being fattened for the griddle, and girl captives who were mainly used to produce babies, which the Caribs regarded as a particularly toothsome morsel.” The French explorer Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano is said to have been eaten on the beaches of Guadeloupe by Caribs while his companions looked on from their ship in horror.
This is not to say that all American Indians were bloodthirsty man-eaters. Just as in any society, there are good and bad people. It’s in no way intended to vilify all American Indians — only to highlight the left’s one-sided argument against Columbus and Europeans in general. Leftists conveniently ignore atrocities when committed by American Indians. You will never hear them condemn genocides committed by the Aztecs or the barbaric practices of the Incas and Mayans. These facts do not fit their narrative and must be disregarded.
You will also not hear about attacks upon white settlers. During Pontiac’s War, for instance, Indian warriors entered a schoolhouse, killed the schoolmaster, and then tomahawked and scalped eight children. Contrary to popular belief, Europeans did not teach scalping to the American Indians. Archeological evidence indicates that scalping already existed in pre-Columbian America.
Ultimately, the attack on Columbus Day is an attack on Western civilization itself. But whether anyone likes it or not, Columbus discovered America and it changed history irrevocably. Ignoring the past will not change events, nor does it make it any less historic. If Columbus had not discovered America, or rediscovered, if you prefer, it’s naïve to believe it would have remained sealed off from the rest of the world forever. If it were not for Columbus or some other European, it would have been somebody else, possibly the Chinese. Regardless, no matter who discovered the Americas, the outcome would have remained the same. American Indians still would have died by the scores from diseases they had no immunity to, there still would have been a clash of civilizations, and they still would have lost. It’s an unfortunate but predictable outcome. When a technologically advanced civilization comes into contact with a primitive stone-aged civilization, it never fares well for the latter.