Look. Walter Russell Mead is correct to note that Columbus Day, at its origins, owes almost nothing to Christopher Columbus himself (though I’m modestly surprised that Mead didn’t use the occasion to show us how Columbus Day has everything to do with Al Gore being a fat hypocrite, or something.) Here, for example, is an interesting piece from 1913 that makes more or less the same point that Mead endorses, which is that Columbus Day was really intended to highlight the contributions of immigrants to the development of the United States. Among other things, we learn that Lithuanians are “born paraders” and that Bostonians were somehow able to overcome their hatred for the Chinese by awarding them the prize for best float in the 1912 pageant. So fine.
However, so long as dingbats like Glenn Reynolds continue citing Samuel Eliot Morison to defend Columbus against the suggestion that he was anything but an enlightened rationalist, it will continue to be worth pointing out that everyone hated Columbus. The men who worked for him wanted his head on a pike; his peers loathed him, his sponsors lost their trust in him, and his political superiors eventually arrested him and his two idiot brothers for being incompetent brutes. And that’s not even considering his reputation among the locals. He was a terrible geographer, picked a shitty location for the first Spanish town in Hispanola and watched as hurricanes leveled it twice by 1495 — which was just as well, since the soil in the area was completely unsuited to food production, and the farmers under Columbus’ harsh direction were unable to produce enough to keep their inhabitants from losing their minds with hunger. Always a religious zealot, Columbus grew increasingly so as Reiter’s syndrome enfeebled him at a relatively young age, wracking his body with arthritic pain and causing his genitals to howl with agony every time he had to take a leak. In the frothingly weird book of prophecies he published a few years before his death, he aimed to show how his efforts in the West Indies had set into motion three of the four essential preconditions for Christ’s return. And amid all of this, he spent his last days yammering to anyone who would listen that the Spanish crown had never really paid him appropriately for all his troubles — an argument that his family would carry on, to great public annoyance, for decades after he improved the world by taking leave of it.
Columbus wasn’t a misunderstood hero whose reputation needed a few centuries to season. He was properly regarded as a towering douchebag by the people who knew him best. So the hell with him. Immigrants everywhere — born paraders or not — should be embarrassed by the association.