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.
“We are drifting towards a catastrophe beyond comparison,” said President Obama on Tuesday, quoting Albert Einstein to a session of 47 heads of state and other dignitaries convened for the first time in history to combat nuclear terrorism. Obama has identified the possibility of nuclear terror as the greatest threat to the security of the United States, and my novel, Requiem of the Human Soul, describes a scenario showing how this awful catastrophe could actually play out.
In Requiem, by the middle of the 21st century, the threat of Al-Qaeda has long been forgotten. But that doesn’t mean that the threat of nuclear terror has evaporated. Instead, by mid-century, the world is embroiled in an escalating battle between the haves and the have-nots of the globalized world community, as the effects of climate change put the kabosh on global stability and squelch the expectation of rising prosperity for the billions of middle-class consumers in developing countries.
The Class Action to Rectify Global Injustice, or CARGI, filed in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, becomes the central rallying cry for those who have been left out of the global bargain as access to natural resources begins to deteriorate. A rash of lawsuits is filed against the United States and European nations for allowing their multinational corporations to commit crimes against the less developed people of the world. The oil industry is sued for leaving lakes of black oil where there had once been arable land. The bottled water industry is sued for buying up all the fresh water rights, drying up reservoirs and leaving local people without water to drink.
Meanwhile, the United States will have none of it. They threaten to pull out of the United Nations, the World Bank and just about every other global institution unless all charges against their multinationals are dismissed. Americans can no longer travel to developing countries without armed guards. The Europeans try to broker a middle ground but fail.
That’s when disaster strikes. In October 2063, as Columbus Day is being celebrated and the people of Columbus, Ohio enjoy their long weekend, digging into their brunch or settling down to watch the sports on TV, a nuclear bomb explodes in their downtown.
Over fifty thousand people are instantly killed. A hundred thousand others wounded and devastated by radiation sickness. The shining towers and proud skyscrapers of downtown Columbus are incinerated into a red-hot, radioactive crater containing two square miles of melted steel and pulverized concrete.
The Citizens Seeking Global Justice, a group nobody had heard of before or since, claims responsibility along with an awful threat: if the United States don’t recognize and participate in the CARGI lawsuit, an even bigger nuclear explosion will take place in a major city exactly one year later.
The Department of Homeland Security does everything imaginable to find the perpetrators. Everyone in the U.S. has to register with the Department and wear a tag so they can be monitored by satellite wherever they go. Every financial transaction, no matter how small, is registered and analyzed. But they are never found.
In solidarity with the United States, the International Court of Justice suspends all CARGI hearings for a year. Terror grips the people of the United States as the anniversary of Columbus draws near.
A week before the year is up, the United States announces they will no longer boycott the International Court of Justice. They have re-joined the global community. The United States has blinked. They never hold the same power in the world from that day on.