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Was Christopher Columbus an Imperialist?

By curstie0523 Nov 03, 2012 1227 Words
A person or group who expresses notions of dominance and superiority to people of other nations is known as an imperialist. Imperialism is the taking over of foreign lands to establish power. 
Christopher Columbus was an Italian Spanish navigator who sailed west across the Atlantic Ocean searching for a route to Asia but instead fell upon this “new land” and it became known as the Americas. On October 12, 1492, Columbus made land fall on a small island in the Caribbean and named in San Salvador. But Columbus was not the founder. There were Vikings from Scandinavia that settled on the North American coast and Indians, (Native Americans) who were the descendants of the first people that migrated from Asia and populated North and South America. Many of the people that already inhabited the Americas were killed from war, forced labor, and disease. Columbus than had it set in his mind that he was the founder and the controller. He took control of the people to gain power, therefore making him eligible to be an imperialist. However, there are two sides of this judgment.

Kirckpatrick Sale, was an editor of The Nation and he characterizes Columbus as an imperialist who was determined to conquer both the land and the people he encountered during his first voyage to the Americas. Sale says that Columbus just sailed by the islands and starting naming them and taking “possession” of them. He states that “the business of naming and “possessing” the foreign islands was by no means casual. The Admiral (Columbus) took it very seriously, pointing out that “it was my wish to bypass no island without taking possession” (October) and that “in all regions I always left no cross standing” (November) as a mark of Christian Dominance.” Which was basically Columbus sailing by any island and then renaming it and taking possession of it as if he really wasn’t worried about whether or not there were already people there. Sale believes that Columbus was the person who brought about birth of American slavery. The Indians were so limited to what they had that made them potential perfect servants. They were said to have no clothes, no arms, no possessions and no religion, which made them easy to take as captive. Columbus had experience as a slave trader in Africa and Sale uses that to support his opinion.

Sale than begins to state that Columbus used his new met “friends,” the Tainos. The Tainos were weak with kindness, they gave everything, were well housed, and well living people. Eventually Columbus seen that and took to it. He used them to set up fortresses on any unoccupied spits of land. Columbus used the kindness of the Tainos and started to treat them like they were slaves just as easily as the Indians. When the “slaves” helped build these fortresses and Columbus claimed more land, he made rules, one in which being that “no foreigner trade or set foot here except Catholic Christians, since this was the end and the beginning of the enterprise, that it was for the enhancement and glory of the Christian religion, nor should anyone who is not good Christian come to these parts.”

Sale believes that the so called “restrictions” were the birth of European colonialism. He says that “what the policy laid out would be adopted by many others. The religious conversion, city settlements, exploitation, international trade, and exclusive domain endowed those countries with the pelf, power, and prestige allowed them to become the nation-states they did.”

Now on the opposing side, is a vice president for research at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Robert Royal. He insists the Columbus should be admired for his courage, his willingness to take a risk, and his success in advancing knowledge about other parts of the world.

Royal says that “if we wish to task Columbus for all asymmetries that ensued, we should credit him as well for this initial attempt, later repeated by many Spanish governors, to fund some route through the thicket of massive cultural difference. He failed and permitted far more wicked practices, but we should not let subsequent events blind us to his authentic concern for justice in the first contacts.” He believes that Columbus did have flaws, who didn’t, but that we shouldn’t let that be what we take from him. That Columbus was way more than that. He tried to find a route to Asia, just like many others who were before him and followed after him.

In the Washington post, Hans Koning says that there is not one recorded moment of awe, joy, love or smile, that there is only anger, cruelty greed, terror, and death. Royal fights that there were records of awe, when he praised the lands beauty, and was so enthusiastic about the sheer loveliness of the Venezuelan coast, which he believed to be the site of the original Garden of Eden, the earthly paradise. There were also recorded smiles, of the Tainos, “they love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the softest and gentlest voices in the world and are always smiling.”

Based on journal logs, Royal knows that, when it came time to leave for Spain, Columbus placed thirty-nine men “under the command of three officers, all of whom are very friendly to the islands chief,” and furthermore ordered that “they should avoid as they would death annoying or tormenting the Indians, bearing in mind how much they owe these people. The Tainos and Indians helped Columbus and his men with everything possible.

Royal believes that Columbus was just like the rest of us, not simply good or bad. He says that Columbus’s virtues and fault appear larger and more vivid than they do in most people. And that his historical influences reflect what he was. Royal also presents bias in his article though. He states that, “though Columbus did kidnap some Indians, he set one of them go, and hoped that the Indian set at liberty would tell the others of Spain’s wonders and of Columbus’s good intentions. This was naïve, crude, and manipulative, but shows some good will.” Here Royal contradicts himself. He’s saying that Columbus was not ignorant or arrogant and wasn’t an imperialist. But here he says that he was manipulative and naïve. Those are not nice signs. He goes against what he says about Columbus not being an imperialist.

I believe that Columbus was not an imperialist. He set out to find a route to Asia. Not conquer all this land, kidnap, and kill others. Even though that is what he ended up doing. While in the beginning you can say he was showing signs of becoming an imperialist because he started naming all these islands and using the Indians as slaves. He built up those islands, and made them what they are. While some people were hurt in the making, he could be held responsible for that. Columbus could be named as an evil man, for killing Indians. He could be named as someone who took advantage of another’s kindness. But that is not what an imperialist is. Columbus had his bad side but he also showed appreciation of what others did for him. But he’s human, and humans have flaws. Why should Columbus’s flaws be used against him?

Was Columbus an Imperialist?

Curstie Miller
9/20/2010

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