To me Columbus Day is always really Thanksgiving given where I grew up. The harvest there was quite a bit earlier than in the states. By making it Thanksgiving rather than Columbus Day, Canada largely avoids all the political debate that rages in the United States. As I’ve read the stories about vandalism of Columbus statues along with defenses and attacks on the holiday, I had a few brief thoughts.
1. In terms of the main places the Spanish went, the defenders against the Conquistadors weren’t exactly much more sympathetic. I recognize that doesn’t describe all those who fell victim to conquest or disease due to the Spanish. But by the same token not all Spanish immigrants were conquerers. Still people raise the understandable specter of Spanish invasion while downplaying the human sacrifice and conquests of the Aztecs. As bad as the Spanish were, imperial vizier Tlacaelel seemed much worse. That is not to justify Spanish excesses in the least. It ought suggest a bit more nuance and complexity to the discussion.
2. While I think many of the “white and delightsome” passages in the Book of Mormon can be explained away, 1 Nephi 13:15 sure is hard to read. Ignoring what appears racist at first glance in that verse, I do worry that people tend to read that chapter in terms of 19th century views of manifest destiny. Typically the “wrath of God” in the scriptures doesn’t mean that God justifies the people in question. We should remember Mormon’s words, “the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished;” (Mormon 4:5)
3. The question of Columbus is ultimately a question raging at the moment regarding most statues. To what degree can we honor someone for the good they do without engaging with the evil they did? Pretty much nearly any major figure of history will hold views we consider egregious today. Can we honor Plato or Socrates without acknowledging the distinctly unsavory aspects of their life and the dialog The Symposium? Can we honor Jefferson and Washington for what they created with our country while recognizing their treatment of slaves went completely against their stated values? Can we acknowledge Columbus discovering America and letting our ancestors come without celebrating the many evil things the Spanish did as conquerers? It seems that much of the debate today is that a little leaven leavens the whole loaf.
4. I’d definitely favor a broader more inclusive holiday than one that seemed oriented around past political expediency towards Italian voters. However no matter what we do will inject controversy, especially in these deeply divided times. I wish Americans just had today be Thanksgiving honestly.
5. Rather than making this such a divisive issue it’s worth asking people what (if anything) they are celebrating.