If Germany began celebrating Hitler Day every year to commemorate the rise to power of the murderous Nazi regime, the world would quite rightly be outraged. It would be unthinkable. And yet, every year, millions of citizens across the United States celebrate Columbus Day, commemorating the beginning of the greatest genocide ever witnessed in human history.
Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1492 led to centuries of appalling crimes against humanity throughout the two continents of North and South America. In most regions, 95% of the original population was decimated within the first few generations. The majority of the hundreds of millions who died were most likely wiped out from the diseases brought by the Europeans to which the indigenous people of the Americas had no resistance, but that doesn’t discount the atrocious and continuous acts of murder, enslavement and brutality carried out by the Europeans against the inhabitants of the New World.
Columbus himself knew just what he wanted from his expedition: conquest and domination. Here’s an excerpt from his journal about the indigenous people he discovered when he first landed in Hispaniola:
They have no iron or steel, nor any weapons….They have no other weapons than the stems of reeds…on the end of which they fix little sharpened stakes. Even these they dare not use….they are incurably timid…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
Our global values have come a long way since that fateful day in 1492. Nowadays we at least pay lip-service to notions of liberty and self-determination. While genocides still tragically occur, most of the civilized world reacts with horror, even if we generally do very little to stop them. So why do we still insist on glorifying a brutally ambitious murderer each year, and celebrate the beginning of unimaginable suffering for hundreds of millions of native Americans?
In my novel, Requiem of the Human Soul, there’s a terrorist group called Citizens Seeking Global Justice which detonates a nuclear bomb in Columbus, Ohio on Columbus Day in 2063, incinerating downtown Columbus and killing over a hundred thousand citizens. For this group, the symbolism of Columbus is irresistible. His day represented the continued domination of the rich world over the impoverished and disenfranchised masses who continued to be trashed by the sweep of globalization and progress. The nuclear devastation of Columbus sets off an extreme reactionary movement in the United States, leading eventually to constitutional amendments restricting individual liberties and the rise to power of the ominous Department of Homeland Security.
While I personally vehemently oppose any violence against innocent people for any reason, I think we owe it to the countless millions who died in the New World from European genocide and disease to question the premise of Columbus Day. Why do we celebrate such horrors? Why not turn the day into a celebration of the very cultures that were devastated? Why not observe the day in honor of those who suffered and died as a result of European aggression? For starters, let’s call it something else. How about First Nations Day? Or Native Americans Day? Anything, just not Columbus Day. And for that matter, not Hitler Day, either.