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Should Christopher Columbus be celebrated for Western Civilization or not - Essay Example

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COLUMBUS Few men have proven to be as historically controversial as the Spaniard Christopher Columbus. Columbus made his name by discovering the New World in 1492. What followed after this discovery was a concerted effort by the Spanish and eventually other European power to colonize the Americas…
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Should Christopher Columbus be celebrated for Western Civilization or not
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Download file to see previous pages Elsewhere in the Americas, living standards are high and are improving. Nevertheless, these successes, which can be traced directly from Columbus' first voyage, were also dearly bought. Millions of native lives were lost, through disease and intentional mistreatment. Several civilizations were effectively destroyed so that a new civilization based on settlers' stock could grow. As such, Columbus clearly has a mixed reputation. These two views of Christopher Columbus are both espoused by different historical schools. The argument in a sense boils down to one of politics. Those who are more inclined to be anti-establishment and romantic would suggest that Columbus' legacy is one of bloodshed and misery. Those who are more realist suggest that civilizations with better technology and organization will always supersede those who lack these qualities. In a sense it was the destiny of the advanced European nations to take over the Americas and build their own colonies there. The other civilizations such as the Aztecs and the various tribes of North America were simply unable to compete. There are two main historians who support each of these views. The former view is espoused by Kirkpatrick Sale; the latter by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. The latter view is more sensible. Kirkpatrick Sale makes a powerful argument about Columbus, but it is all too political and too based on hyperbole. Motives are ascribed to Columbus which he simply never held. The years of colonization were years of “subjugation and violence” according to Sale (Sale, 152). Nothing good ever came of them. The Spanish were rapacious and built nothing and simply destroyed the environment. This is too simplistic a view of the world. According to Sale, the natives were vastly superior to the Europeans who came to the Americas. He describes how their technology was much better, but sounds quite foolish doing so: “'Indian societies had a variety of technologies, some quite sophisticated and many well beyond anything comparable in Europe at the time . . . and certainly could have developed others if they felt any need to do so, particularly in regard to food supply. If they did not, there was likely to be a good reason: if they did not anywhere use the plow, for instance, that may have been because their methods of breaking the soil with a planting stick worked just as well with a tenth of the effort, or because they had learned that opening up and turning over whole fields would only decrease nutrients and increase erosion, or because their thought-world would not have allowed such disregardful violence” (Sale, 322). This is an incredibly idealized view and one that is not unlike those who believe in the noble savage. A critic of the book rightly points out that “Mr. Sale treats the varied ways of life that actually prevailed in the Americas as if all Indians were the same, and confuses time as well by quoting late-20th-century Indian spokesmen as though their words applied universally to every tribe and people” (McNeil). Fernandez-Armesto's perspective is more sensible. He looks to historical context. He also sees contemporary political correctness for what it is: In the opinion of one self-styled Native American spokesman, 'he makes Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent'. This sort of hype is doubly unhelpful: demonstrably false, it makes the horrors of the holocaust seem precedented and gives comfort to Nazi apologists by making ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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