Pitt Professor Explains Controversy Of Columbus Day

Is it time to stop celebrating the life of Christopher Columbus?

Statue of Christopher Columbus

Dreamstime

PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - Christopher Columbus Day has become a controversial holiday in the United States.

Some people do not think the second Monday of October should recognize Columbus and some of the decisions that he made in the past.

Molly Warsh, history professor at the University of Pittsburgh, joined KDKA Radio on Monday to talk about why this celebration is now in question.

What is it that Christopher Columbus did, that has so many people upset today?​

“It was a momentous occasion, his voyages, but it certainly opened the door to many centuries of suffering and death to a lot of people,” Warsh said.

 “I think that's at the root of the controversy.” 

When you come to a new place, what gives you the right to enslave the people that are already there?

“You have to look at the history and concept of just war. Ideas about who could be enslaved, the idea of crusading Christianity that informed his sponsors and Columbus’ belief that perhaps he could gain funding to win back Jerusalem,” Warsh explains.

“These ideas informed what they thought was possible, legal and just regarding their treatment of native people and their ideas that we don’t necessarily agree with today.” 

Why did Columbus kill and argue with others?

“There was a lot of terrible behavior by early European arrivals in the Caribbean. It was an extraordinary violent period and an extremely disorganized period,” Warsh tells KDKA Radio.

“Columbus ended up falling out with his fellow ship mates, having big disagreements and ending up in real trouble with the monarchs who originally sponsored him. It was a very messy period and everyone’s authority was being disputed.”

What does Columbus Day mean to you?

“I think that Columbus’ voyages inaugurated a transformational period in world history. To blame all of the hardship that came in the wake of the voyages on him himself, just doesn’t make sense” Warsh added.

“His voyages unleashed a world of tremendous complexity of global importance.”

How were 250,000 Native Taino “Indians” wiped out?

“It was a really powerful and damaging combination of effects,” said Warsh.

“There was the unimaginably catastrophic effect of diseases that indigenous Americans didn’t have any immunities against, and the combination of violence, disease and despair.”

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