How the Greatest Nation of All Time was Discovered by a Jerk with a Power Complex

Columbus Day means several things to Americans of today.

To high school students like myself, it means one day off from the excruciatingly painful wonderful privilege of compulsory education. To others, it means fabulous sales and a time to get your shopping craze on. And most people are aware that some guy named Christopher Columbus found our beautiful and lush continent of North America (not true, by the way, he never reached North America), planting the seeds of the most wonderful country that the world has ever seen. It’s not wrong to think that the so-called discoverer of the New World would be a pretty cool dude if you knew nothing about Columbus.

Nowadays, it’s quite easy to hop on a computer and look up reliable information on the Internet, given that you look around the right places. So the fact that Christopher Columbus was, contrary to what’s taught in elementary education, a pretty big jerk and not that great of a guy shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone. Thankfully, a lot of people are now aware of that, and it’s not hard to find a person who will cheerfully destroy your romanticized visions of Columbus.

But let’s be real. You have two options. Both of which take a minimal amount of effort, but hey, in America, a minute of work makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

Option 1 is to look him up on Google or Wikipedia and trawl through sources or articles to figure out what made Columbus tick. Well, that’s too much work.

Or you could go with Option 2: you read this nice, brief, concise blog post that takes around a minute less of effort to accomplish than option 1.

So, to celebrate Columbus Day (at the time of writing), let’s talk about a man who, 2 days and 521 years ago, landed on an island in the Bahamas, ready to dominate some natives.

“Finders keepers, losers weepers! I declare this land for Spain!”

Columbus was described as a skilled Italian seafarer who (in)famously set off from Europe with three ships, trying to find the path to the Indies that practically every other adventurer at the time was trying to find. Unfortunately, because the big annoyance that is America was in the way, Columbus ran into an island on the Bahamas. It had already six weeks at sea, and the sailors are, at this point, in a bit of a pickle. Christopher Minster, in his synopsis of his namesake’s voyages, notes that while Rodrigo de Triana, one of the sailors, claimed to see the land first, Columbus overrode him and claimed the prize that was promised for whomever spotted land first.

The kicker of that part of the story is that Columbus offered the reward himself. But we can’t judge a man based on one action. Let’s keep going.

Columbus immediately assumed that he just missed the outskirts of the “Indies,” and in a display of astonishing cultural sensitivity for the time, he dubbed the natives as Indians, a name that stuck for a very long time.

Columbus didn’t really treat the natives that nicely, nor was he a fun guy to hang out with. Perhaps foreshadowed by the island sighting incident, he was a terrible captain, and Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post notes that “he committed atrocities against native peoples on the islands and decimated their populations.” Many Native Americans died by his hand, and when he left the island for the last time, he certainly did not leave it as nicely as it was before. My chemistry teacher would beat the Italian out of him.

To be fair, he did usher in the age of exploration of the New World, speeding up the process of America being number 1 by quite a bit. But by doing so, he brought a whole bunch of Spanish explorers who then proceeded on to the actual American continent and did their thing, destroying great civilizations like the Aztecs and making sure everybody had a hard time except for them.

People died, some wars happened, time passed, and now here we are today, celebrating a man who was wrong about what he had discovered, didn’t even discover what we credit him for discovering, and displayed rather tyrannical behavior against his peers and the natives.

Christopher Columbus is undeniably a catalyst of the eventual foundation of America, and he deserves the credit. But whenever Columbus Day comes around, you should keep in mind just what kind of guy he was. I certainly enjoyed my day off, thinking about how Columbus essentially destroyed the native population to allow me a 24 hour long respite from education. Totally worth it.

Works Cited

Bailey, Thomas Andrew, David M. Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

Currier, N. The landing of Columbus Oct. 11th 1492.

Minster, C. The First New World Voyage of Christopher Columbus (1492). http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/latinamericatheconquest/p/Columbusfirst.htm

Strauss, V. Christopher Columbus: 3 things you think he did that he didn’t. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/14/christopher-columbus-3-things-you-think-he-did-that-he-didnt/

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9 thoughts on “How the Greatest Nation of All Time was Discovered by a Jerk with a Power Complex

  1. +1000 for such a timely and readable post about Cristobo himself. I especially liked the point about all the sales, too. Fifty-percent-off sales are an odd way to memorialize supposed discovery. Special brownie points for explaining your research process!

  2. (Why do we get sales on Columbus Day anyways?) I’m not really that surprised that Columbus was a jerk since like 80-90% of all other Europeans that came later were jerks to the Native Americans. Isn’t it nice when you de-glorify history? I’m sure there are plenty of other, if not all of them, famous historical figures that can be de-glorified. I just wonder who they are and for what. It’s also so sad that in elementary school we only learned about the great things people like Columbus do. It’s only later in life that maybe half of those were glorified packs of lies. Ahhhh, unrealistic, glorified, history. You gotta love it.

  3. While I wouldn’t say that Columbus had a power complex, since he was just funded by the king of Spain, I really enjoyed your at times satirical approach to retelling the story of the foundation of America. Great job!

  4. I really had a great time reading your rendition of the story of America. It made me laugh and actually educated me a lot. I completely agree with a lot of your points, especially the point about having sales on Columbus Day, haha! However, I don’t really agree with your point that Columbus had a power complex, as he was funded by the king of Spain, as Michal said.

  5. I really like how this post is funny and fun to read. I definitely agree that Columbus was in some ways a jerk and I’ve always been a bit annoyed by the fact that we are taught that Columbus discovered America when he most absolutely did NOT. Not only were the Native Americans there way before him, but he was not even the first European to discover America! The Norse seafarers from Scandinavia came first.

  6. Wow, first of all, nice job for making such an attention-grabbing title! I was drawn to it. The article was also so well-written! The tone was sarcastic and funny.. all of which I like.
    Whether Columbus was a good guy or a bad guy is one of the greatest controversies in history, so I enjoyed reading about your point of view. The points you brought up all supported your opinion very effectively. I also learned new things, like about how he claimed he actually first saw America when he actually didn’t.
    Anyone who was unsure about Columbus would definitely agree with you after reading this article.

  7. This was such a fun read! Yay, sarcasm! (No irony intended.) It’s certainly true that what Columbus did was not particularly admirable. The question is: can we truly analyze his actions in an unbiased way if we apply a twenty-first century perspective? The reality of the situation is that ignorance was endemic during Columbus’s time (some people might argue that it still is…) and that he wasn’t unassisted in his subjugation and destruction of an entire race of people. However, that’s not to say that humankind went a long time without a functioning moral compass – anyone can see that killing another person is horrible. Cultural insensitivity is one thing, but genocide is entirely another.

  8. Your blog post was actually so much fun to read. I really enjoyed the writing style. And A+ for the title, I was kind of obligated to click because I had no idea what you were talking about (I was just like, “a jerk with a power complex? What?”) I really enjoyed the points that you mentioned in this post (who doesn’t love shopping sales created for a guy who was a huge jerk and a terrible captain?). Good job on supporting all of your claims and mixing in humor at the same time.

    Personally, I agreed with a lot of what you had to say. However, yes, Columbus did kill a bunch of Native Americans, but Columbus was just going with what everybody else during his time believed in, and we can’t really blame him for that. However, we can’t really call him an American hero, either – he didn’t even set foot in America, and, well, he killed a bunch of Native Americans.

  9. First off: love the title. I really appreciate good sarcasm and humor, and I think you did those quite nicely. Not only was your post entertaining, but it had a lot of good information. I like how you told both portrayals of Columbus. That is, you didn’t just call him a jerk (even though that is exactly what you title says) or just praise him and his accomplishments. All in all, I thought your post was great: both on the history side and the entertaining side.

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