A sensible, fair and just approach
Columbus was a complex man of a distant age, an age which–on both sides of the Atlantic–had many different values from those we hold today, some of which–again, on both sides of the Atlantic–would be very abhorrent to us now. It is only right to try to understand both him and those of his age–again, those on both sides of the Atlantic–in the context of their own time in order to judge their actions.
Beyond that, it is also proper to distinguish between an action and its consequences–for good acts can turn out to have unforeseen or unintended bad consequences, good decisions have bad outcomes; so also, bad acts can have good consequences, and bad decisions good outcomes. That is, bad consequences or bad aspects of an outcome do not imply that the original action was necessarily bad or ill-chosen, for in this complex world many other factors intervene to shape unforeseen or unintended destinies. So, too, good consequences or outcomes do not necessarily imply that all was good in the decisions or actions that led to them.
These simple points seem to have escaped many latter-day critics of Columbus and his ventures. It is most certainly a monstrous injustice to saddle one man with guilt for virtually every negative result of what turned out to be one of the most pivotal and consequential events of history–and, moreover, to act as though such negative results were foreseen and intentional! Had a representative of the “new world” discovered the “old” (which, had it occurred, would similarly have been a true “discovery”), instead of the discovery that actually took place, the results would probably not have been greatly different.
Some admirable virtues
An imperfect man, Christopher Columbus had a number of admirable virtues which played a key role in his accomplishing one of the singularly pivotal feats in history which in fact had a number of good outcomes, as well as some bad ones. It is the outcomes that draw our attention to him; but it is the feat and the virtues that contributed to it for which we honor him. That is why the by laws of the National Columbus Celebration Association state:
“The Association seeks to honor not only the memory of Columbus and his historic achievement in linking the Old World and the New, but also the higher values that motivated and sustained him in his efforts and trials. These virtues–his faith, the courage of his convictions, dedication to purpose, perseverance in effort, professional excellence, and boldness in facing the unknown –are as appropriate today as they were in his time.”