Today is Columbus Day and I would like to take a moment to add my voice to the throng....though my ideas are hardly original here.
Why in the world do we even celebrate this holiday? Lets run with the cons first:
First of all he stumbled upon the continent rather than discovering it. He also wasn't the first to find Northern America since Leif Ericson hit Canada a good 492 years earlier (Leif was given his own holiday "Leif Ericson Day" on Oct 9th back in the 1960's but we have yet to see that become a National Holiday though he certainly fits the bill much better than good ol' Chris).
Columbus also had no idea about how far he'd have to travel to reach his actual destination in the first place (not reading known maps properly). His first response upon meeting the current occupants was "Hey look, natives! Lets turn them into slaves!" He then went on a bit of a rampage killing those who stood before him, torturing both the natives and his men in order to uphold "order" and, in essense, becoming quite the tyrant. He threatened death to the natives if they did not supply him regularly with gold (another threat was chopping off the natives' hands) and he essentially caused the extinction of several native tribes. He actually managed 4 trips to the new world, erroniously believing until he died that he was actually sailing time and again to the unknown side of Asia. He was eventually removed as governor of said colonies for being too much of a dictator....oh, and the spread of syphilis across Europe is now being accredited to Colombus and his men.
Pros: well, in spite of his lack of understanding about how far he'd actually have to sail (and some say his serious lack of sailing experience in general), somehow Columbus stumbled upon the trade winds and realized how they could facilitate a long journey...not only speeding the time to cross the ocean blue but how to effectively ride them back. He also was apparently pretty persuasive and willing to stay the course because he had to appeal the Spanish court for a few years before he finally received his royal patronage and was allowed to set sail. He also managed to (after a few failed starts) establish lasting colonies whereas the Norse abandoned Newfoundland. I chalk it up to greed rather than indominable spirit.
So why post this? Because I believe we have a false belief in heroes in this country. I remember in grade school hearing the praises of Columbus sung (that false story of everyone but Columbus believing the Earth was flat was still prominent back then) and thinking how brave he must have been, sailing towards the unknown. We have this tendancy to glorify the wrong people for all the wrong reasons because we want to believe that heroism still exists.
Real heroes build, and its not upon the blood, sweat and tears of oppression.