Sunday, October 12, 2008

Christopher Columbus Sails the Ocean Blue

Sailing for the New World

On October 12, 1492 Christopher Columbus, having sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with three small ships from Spain, found himself off the coast of a "New World". Returning to Spain with news of his discovery, Columbus was able to convince his benefactors King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to pay for an even larger fleet of ships to further explore what he believed was China and the Far East. In all Columbus led four expeditions to the New World. Each trip was less successful than the last and at one point Columbus returned to Spain in chains.

The former "Admiral of the Oceans" died believing that he had found a route to Cathay, rather than his actual discovery of the islands of the Caribbean. Columbus, who was actually an excellent navigator, grossly underestimated the size and circumference of the globe. (It is a myth that geographers of the time thought that the world was flat and were unaware that the Earth is a sphere).

For many years Christopher Columbus was hailed as a great explorer and the "Discoverer of America". Columbus Day was declared a national holiday and Italian-Americans took pride in his common nationality. But in recent years his reputation has suffered greatly. He has been blamed for all of the ills that fell upon the people native to the America's with the coming of Europeans to the New World. He has also been blamed for introducing the slave trade to the Western Hemisphere, with all of the pain and death that caused.

To blame Christopher Columbus for the sins committed after his death by others is unfair I believe. It was only a matter of time until the New World was re-discovered and came to the attention of the European powers. Instead of the intrepid navigator from Genoa, Italy sailing with a Spanish fleet , it might have been an Englishman or a Frenchman who found himself off the coast of "Newfoundland" or "Florida" and who then claimed the land for his sovereign. From there what course history might have taken no one knows. (At least one of the great "sins" that the Europeans are blamed for - the introduction of foreign diseases - would have taken place at some point in time no matter what else happened).

Just as we acknowledge and give credit to the other European adventurers for the trips of exploration that they made, we can at least give Christopher Columbus credit for one of the most historic events of the last 500+ years - the re-discovery of the New World by an explorer from the Old World.

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