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We Need a New Columbus

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On this Columbus Day I have been thinking about what Christopher Columbus did, and sometimes I have wondered what would have happened if he didn’t do it. Obviously, at some point someone would have strayed too far, and a European would have found the Americas. Perhaps it would have been a hundred or more years later, and that would have changed history in many ways.

Some people have blamed Columbus for things that came after his discovery. We talk about pre-Columbian Art, how the Americas were a paradise before the white man corrupted and ruined it, and so on. These perspectives are necessary in the conversation about Columbus, and there is no argument here because many of the changes that followed his arrival on San Salvador in the Bahamas were not favorable to the Native Americans who lived here, but there is no changing the past.

No matter how you may feel about him, there is also no disputing that what Columbus did changed the world forever. As I think about him, I believe that we need a new Columbus – now more than ever. We need someone to light a fire, to inspire us to make exploration of space by humans not just a far away possibility, not something seen in movies or on TV; we need a new Columbus and we need him now.

Can you imagine some daring explorer with a dream appearing before President Obama and Mrs. Obama at a White House dinner? Just as Columbus once wooed King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain with his vision, this explorer would hold up some handheld device and shoot a projection of his planned voyage on the wall. He or she would explain how the trip to Mars would go, that there would be indeed be a wealth of reasons to fund the expedition, and that it should happen within Mr. Obama’s presidency, not some future time when his children’s children might witness it.

Maybe I am wrong, but I think the technology is out there. I think we need the torch to be lit by someone with a passion, just as Columbus had, to search and explore and take a risk. Yes, a mission to Mars would be risky for humans, but that has never stopped us before. Humans have climbed the highest mountains, gone down deep under the blue sea, and have walked on the moon. Risk has not stopped us before and should not stop us now.

What would a trip to Mars do for us, you might ask? Well, there is a need for a game plan for humans down the road. We need a place to which we can take ourselves when earth becomes more inhospitable. Humans also require space to roam and wander, and think of Mars as not only a place to live someday but also as the ultimate tourist destination. Also, now that we know how to live responsibly and not ruin an environment, we can view Mars as the pristine place where we can put into action all we have learned from our mistakes.

Right now we need someone to step up and be willing to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before. We need a president who will listen and take the chance, and we need private funding to get the spaceship built as soon as possible. Most of all, we need a new Columbus to come forward and lead us into a new tomorrow.

Photo Credit: cathdal.org

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His books 'A Death in Prague' (2002), 'Move' (2003), 'The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories' (2005), and 'Like a Passing Shadow' (2009) are available in print, online, and as e-books. His latest books 'If the Fates Allow: New York Christmas Stories,' 'Garden of Ghosts,' and 'Flashes in the Pan' are available exclusively on Amazon. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated on writing mostly fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as a faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with 'Blogcritics Magazine' since July 2005 and has written well over 500 articles; previously co-head sports editor, he now is a Culture and Society editor. Having traveled extensively, Victor has visited six continents and intends to get to Antarctica someday where he figures a few ideas for new stories await him.
  • We do need to explore new worlds!

  • Victor,

    You seem like a nice person. I assume you have not discovered the actual history of Columbus. He enslaved and murdered. Not much to look up to.

  • Well, yes, Cindy, there is that. But Columbus actually had people available to be enslaved and murdered when he got there. In fact, that was one of the major selling points as far as Ferdinand and Isabella were concerned.

    It’s more the pioneering spirit and imagination Columbus embodies that Victor is appealing to, I think. Mars is going to be a much harder sell, not because there are (it seems overwhelmingly likely) no Martians to oppress, but because getting there and surviving there promises to be so utterly tough and expensive, not to mention economically unrewarding. I personally find Mars highly interesting, but to the non-geek there frankly isn’t much there.

  • Cindy, Dr. D. and Dr. M. realized where I am coming from here: I mean we need a pioneer willing to take the risk like Columbus did.

    And I wonder, Dr. D, if we won’t discover riches beneath the surface of Mars that will make it worthwhile – maybe even covered up resources like abundant frozen oceans of water.

  • Victor, there’s certainly water on Mars now and obviously there was a lot more of it in the past. The big question is how much remains, and finding an answer is one of the principal reasons the Opportunity rover is there.

    If there turns out to be one heck of a lot of it, and it’s at a depth and in a form which would make it not too difficult to mine, then it might be worth expending the resources and effort of getting down and back up Mars’s gravity well. If not, there are many trillions of tons of the stuff in asteroids and comets which would be far easier to get at – and transport.

  • Victor,

    I do understand where you’re coming from. Let me ask you this, would you think it okay to write a piece called, “We Need Another Hitler”, if you were only addressing his leadership skills and ability to persuade?

  • Dr Dreadful

    Cindy, as horrible as it might sound, our perception of the more loathsome deeds of a historical figure tend to fade with time.

    For instance, Roman rulers like Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar and Hadrian oversaw an empire replete with atrocity and cruelty, yet they’re remembered today principally for their prowess as political leaders.

    Same goes for Napoleon, who was, to his enemies, pretty much the Hitler of his time. But when he’s talked about today, it’s more likely to be in the context of his accomplishments as a general.

    Hitler himself, I grant you, might be a different kettle of fish, because if you take away the megalomania and genocide you’re not left with much that redeems the man.

  • I don’t think your ‘fading with time’ theory fills in the best explanation here, Dr.D. With all due respect, Columbus Day is a holiday of celebration, and reverence. American school children are only just learning the truth about Columbus. And the ‘we’ you speak of, does that include Native Americans? If not, why not?

    Hitler probably loved his dog. Who says there’s anything better about Columbus. I’ve read he was a sadistic bastard. His actions led to the destruction of peoples too.

    (As you can hopefully see by now, I am trying to prompt some questioning of the values and assumptions of the dominant culture here.)

  • What I’m curious about — was Columbus the necessary piece of the puzzle? If not Christopho, surely another adventurer would have taken his place/ It was, after all, “The Age of Exploration.”

    On the same note. if our is the age of mediocrity, why blame it on, say, Romney, if there are hundreds like him to take his place?

  • I am not sure if if the death of up to 5 million peaceful peoples can be attributed to any actions of Romney’s. Did Romney ever cut off anyone’s hands and leave them to bleed to death when they failed to bring him gold. Did Romney give the women of the people who saved his life to be raped or worse by soldiers? Did Romney wage a genocidal torture, terror, and enslavement campaign against a people so fiercely that they would kill their own children and then hang themselves to avoid being caught by him?

    I don’t know, Roger. Shall we just say that Columbus had his admirable qualities and leave it that anyone else with a spirit of exploration at the time would likely do the same, so that it need not be remarkable?

    It does not seem to me that anybody in this thread is freshly familiar with Columbus’ genocide. Don’t you think it is important for the sake of Native Americans to take a different attitude? Or as human beings to remind each other what we have been taught to praise and ask why?

  • Igor

    Colombus was a swindler and con-man. He sold a gullible queen by lying and saying the earth was only about 6000 miles in circumference so he could sail directly to India and China (to tap their trade), whereas people had known since Aristotles time that the earth was round and (Aristotle) the circumference was about 24,000 miles by measurements of shadows cast at various times in various places. Only the ignorant believed the earth was flat. Columbus lied that he knew a shortcut to the East.

    Meanwhile, portugese navigators, who knew the right answer, sailed around the cape and got to the orient and setup trade. They continued to be the best navigators for years. In San Francisco if you drive up 19th from the southern end of the city to the GG bride you will cross many streets with strange Portugese names, which are the names of great Portugese navigators.

    Columbus was skunked when he didn’t get to China, so he made up glamorous stories about the simple natives he’d found to avoid being thrown in prison.

  • I wasn’t trying to whitewash Columbus, Cindy. only saying that he was a product of his age.

  • I know what you meant, Roger. Just my way of saying, ‘yes’, it is important to specifically address Columbus’s atrocities, especially if we respect and value Native American peoples.

  • Dr Dreadful

    I don’t think your ‘fading with time’ theory fills in the best explanation here, Dr.D. With all due respect, Columbus Day is a holiday of celebration, and reverence.

    Perhaps that used to be the case and still is in some quarters, but I didn’t have Monday off and neither did anyone else of my acquaintance. The “revisionist” view of Columbus seems to be gaining a lot of traction – either that, or it’s the recognition that he frankly had bugger all to do with the origins of the United States itself!

    In time, I think we tend to judge historical figures in terms of their overall impact on the course of human events – and Columbus’s, berk that he was (yes, I have read Zinn), was huge. Not that it excuses them, but it’s prudent to assess their more atrocious deeds in the context of the times. You’re absolutely right in your response to Roger that anyone else in Columbus’s position at that time would probably have acted in more or less the same way. Columbus could justify his oppression of the native peoples of the Caribbean and Central America in terms of propagating the Christian faith, and we all know the kinds of things that were done in the name of the Church at that time, even in Europe. He could do basically anything as long as he could sell it as furthering that goal. AFAIK he didn’t even bother with the concept of a “manifest destiny” or similar nonsense.

    (Although ironically, some of the strongest condemnations of his behaviour came from members of the clergy who accompanied him on his expeditions.)

    And the ‘we’ you speak of, does that include Native Americans? If not, why not?

    It might. I was speaking in general terms, although I acknowledge that particular peoples who were adversely affected by the actions of a specific historical figure might have a dimmer view of him or her. I can’t imagine the Jews ever forgiving Hitler, for example, even if future generations forget about all the bloodshed and come to view him primarily as the guy who conquered half of Europe and brought Germany out of depression. (Again, I view this as a highly unlikely outcome in his case – I’m just positing it as a hypothetical.)

    Anyway, this is all moot if we’re invoking Columbus to talk about the exploration of Mars. Since there are no Martians to come into collision with, we’re looking at an open playing field there.

  • Igor

    The real Columbuses of our age are the scientists.

    Scientists have made it possible for every person, even the most deprived and handicapped person in a miserable isolated hovel in a remote region, to travel everywhere that man has been able to go, and see and experience the wonders of those places, whether it is the Jungles Of Amazon or the Marvels Of Mars.

    That is the result of science, the most powerful, liberating and wonderful achievement of man.

    It’s not necessary to send a human meat-puppet to mars. It serves no purpose.

    Ice under the Martian surface is useless to us, except for it’s scientific content.

  • Igor

    If you want to participate in the thrill of exploration, then go to Nobel prize, I especiaaly recommend the Medicine prize.

    And watch every episode of “NOVA science” on PBS.

  • Victor, I understand what you mean. You are not glorifying Columbus’ evil side, you’re bemoaning the fact that modern men (seemingly) have lost the thrill of adventure.

  • Igor

    Adventure? Again, look to the explorers in science. They risk as much as any adventurer. I was reading an article by a recent Nobel science winner, and he said that the science he was interested in was so difficult and unpromising that he was afraid that he would fail and wash out of science and have to go back to Insurance Adjuster, or something.

    Do not take your ideas of science from stupid sources like “Big Bang Theory”.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    If anyone has any questions about the risks taken by scientists, ask Galileo. Or ask the Curies, for that matter.

  • Igor

    Very likely we are killing scientific adventure with our societal policies. If things continue this way, in a few years we, in the USA, will be out of the science business. The scientists themselves will flee to Europe and Japan for refuge, much like many scientists fled to USA and England under the excesses of Hitler and Stalin.

    The USA will sink into scientific irrelevance. At the same time that we sink into economic irrelevance. And for the same reason: stifling innovation and exploration in favor of money, prestige and inherited privilege.