Well, what young boy wouldn't love this tale? It is filled with danger and excitement. Thinking that my ancestor was no doubt hoisting a sail as Columbus stood at the wheel of his ship, I was filled with pride and thoughts of how I could match this in the future. What worlds would I discover? Then along came Star Trek and I had my new passion: my eyes turned up to the stars and I listened to the voice over by William Shatner as Captain Kirk saying, "To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before." Whew!
This is why Columbus still matters. Besides giving us a nice three-day weekend in early October, one that inspires retail sales and parades, Columbus started something: Something big; something really big. He opened the door as did Marco Polo, inspiring all those who came after him to shake the dust off their boots and breeches and leave the isolation of Europe to explore the world.
Yes, we have those who wish to denigrate his memory, and I understand their sentiments. Native Americans can look harshly at the man with good reason: he opened a door that they could only hope remained closed. They lived here in the Americas with relative peace and stability, and Europeans brought many things they didn't need: greed, violence, and disease. Blacks can also rightly question why we celebrate the day for a man who brought slavery to this land.
There are others who will contend that he discovered nothing. The Vikings were here way before him, as were probably Phoenician, Roman, and Polynesian explorers. All of this is without a doubt a way of saying that Columbus didn't come first, but it in no way lessens the biggest contribution he made to history: he changed the world forever by proving something everyone else said couldn't be done. It doesn't matter that others did it first; what matters is that when he did it, the world took note and followed him.
In his time Columbus became famous and wealthy. His fame spread across Europe, and he started what would be a juggernaut of expansion, travel, and discovery. Yes, bad things happened in the course of these events, but it's not as if these same terrible things had not always happened before. Greed was always there, so was violence and slavery and everything else. The truth is that Columbus is being judged in 2010 by standards that were unknown in 1492. Wrong is wrong no matter when it happens, but at the time Columbus thought he was doing the right thing, and what he did changed the world. There is no disputing that fact.