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Another Voice: Crimes of others don't excuse Columbus' actions

By Brandon Absher

As he refers to me by name several times, I thought I might take a moment to evaluate Michael Giallombardo’s recent defense of the Columbus statue in the Another Voice column, “Ruthlessness predated the arrival of Columbus,” and explain my own argument for why it should be taken down.

According to Giallombardo, like Columbus, the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere engaged in conquering and enslaving others.

In fact, he tells us, raids of conquest stretch all the way back to the “cave men.” At the time of the arrival of Columbus, he suggests, brutal rulers were sacrificing thousands. Giallombardo even explains that the indigenous people ate one another! Finally, he points out that there are many, many monuments, parks, streets, companies, cities and even whole countries named after Columbus. If so many people saw fit to name such things after Christopher Columbus, he can’t have been that bad of a guy. (As we all know, the majority is rarely wrong.)

To see what’s wrong with Giallombardo’s argument, consider this analogous line of reasoning: “Your honor, my client is innocent. People have been stealing from others since time immemorial and there are many other car thieves besides my client. Moreover, the victim in this case is known to have once taken her mother’s car without asking. Also, as you may have heard, she is quite the partyer. My client is also well-liked by many people. Clearly, he did not steal the victim’s car.”

Perhaps it belabors the point to say so, but nothing said here is relevant to the issue of whether the accused stole the car in question. Similarly, nothing written by Giallombardo is relevant to the issue of whether Christopher Columbus initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade, sought to exterminate and enslave indigenous people in the Caribbean, or himself directly ordered murder, rape, pillage and torture.

Personally, I believe that public statues should honor people who deserve to be remembered for their positive accomplishments. Likewise, parks should be named for people who have earned such an honor. Columbus is not such a person.

While they may differ in the details, historians and scholars are widely agreed that Columbus was an incredibly brutal and rapacious colonizer, who instituted policies of slavery and genocide.

So widely acknowledged is this fact that the slaughter of the Taino people who were raped, murdered and enslaved by Columbus is listed by the Yale Genocide Studies Program as a case study on its website. The lands Columbus “discovered” were already inhabited, and he had no idea where he was.

As for what the majority believes, it’s worth mentioning that the Greeks knew the Earth to be spherical and estimated its size with astonishing accuracy as early as the 3rd century BCE.

Brandon Absher is an assistant professor of philosophy and coordinator of the Radical Philosophy Association at D’Youville College.

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