Ask Matt Labash: A defense of Christopher Columbus, and a Nancy Grace referral

Matt Labash | Columnist

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Matt, how would you feel about a holiday change? With the enlightenment I’ve received from the Occupy Wall Street crowd, I’m hoping The People can change Columbus Day to Vespucci Day. I think it’s much more appropriate to celebrate our namesake, Amerigo Vespucci, a truly successful explorer, as opposed to a butcher like Chris Columbus, who was literally the original Gold Digger, wiping out entire races of people from the genetic landscape for his own selfish purposes. Perhaps I should make a few signs, steal some dirty hippie’s hash pipe and head to the city?  – Chad E.

Let your conscience be your guide, Chad. But I have to say that I wouldn’t be so quick to throw Christopher Columbus overboard. We close students of history know that not only did Columbus ride through town on horseback, ringin’ those bells to warn the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ our arms away. But without him, we also very well might not have a Columbus, Ohio, or a Columbus Elementary School in Thornwood, N.Y., which — and I’m quoting here from their website —  is “committed to building self-esteem, enhancing creativity and individuality, and developing healthy lifestyles.”

Was Christopher Columbus perfect? No. Very few people are besides Jesus, and He had God on His side. Maybe Columbus was guilty of bringing slavery and genocide to indigenous peoples of the future Americas (in fairness to him, he thought that he was bringing slavery and genocide to the Asian continent — he really could’ve used OnStar, in addition to a moral compass.) And never mind that his many present-day detractors never want to talk about atrocities committed by indigenous peoples, such as “Indian giving.” Perhaps Columbus could have benignly accepted more kindnesses from them, if he’d had any assurance that they weren’t going to ask for them back.

But the positive side of the Columbus ledger is too often given short shrift these days. For he remains, even in death, a jobs creator. If it weren’t for Columbus, think of the tens of thousands of American studies professors who would be on food stamps if they didn’t have his atrocities to write revisionist histories of. You try writing your doctoral dissertation on “Air Supply and Demand: The Business of Rocking Softly in a Recession,” an actual title from ismythesishotornot.com.

As fellow Italians, Christopher Columbus and I have nothing against Amerigo Vespucci. Columbus even wrote of him, “He is a man of good will; fortune has been unkind to him as to others; his labors have not brought him the rewards he in justice should have.” But according to my extensive scholarly research (Wikipedia), Vespucci is all wrong to become an Occupy Wall Street cause celebre. Yes, he was an accomplished explorer, navigator, and cartographer. Though — and here’s the deal breaker — he was also a financier. In 1492, Vespucci was sent to work in the Seville, Spain branch of the Medici bank — the Medici family once ranking as the wealthiest in Europe. Meaning Vespucci was technically a One Percenter. A member of the Goldman Sachs of his time. The kind of guy you’d decry in song to bongo accompaniment in Zuccotti Park, while demanding that the CEO of Medici Bank cut his bonus, as if by doing so, the additional money would miraculously ride in your pocket, the country would right itself, and there’d be a vegan lasagna in every pot.

So let’s let Columbus be. Yes, he did some bad things. Who hasn’t? History is lousy with criminals and murderers. Our entire country, beacon of light and freedom that it is today, was basically one unjust eminent domain case — whereby Conquering Whitey got whatever he wanted, and the Indians got a few casinos and the Washington Redskins as their (racist) namesake. (Next time, Indians, don’t go in for the handful of beads, suggest instead that your colonizers pay off in Goldline shares. Tell them Glenn Beck sent you.)

As Lord Acton said, “Great men are almost always bad men.” Which is true. As a great man, I can assure you that I’m a complete monster. But judge a man not just by his moral failings, but by the totality of his deeds. And contemplate, just for a second, the void that would be left if there had never been a Christopher Columbus. For starters, we’d all feel completely preposterous attending a Columbus Day Parade.

One of the pictures on the screen showing baby Lisa Irwin (missing since Oct. 4) was that of a computer and keyboard. My question is this: Has anyone searched the computer hard drive for porn sites and interviewed the 8 year old boy IN THE HOUSE at the time of disappearance … and also who would know of the two cell phones owned by the family. Is anyone connecting the dots here? – Jeanne M. Clay

Your points may very well be material. And maybe they should also check whether Professor Plum was in the library with the candlestick. In short, I have no idea. I’m not snapping at you, gentle reader, but you should know that until your question, I didn’t even know of the Baby Lisa Irwin case. I have trained myself to tune out such discussion, since every time a white person goes missing, the world is supposed to stand still until they are found, or until all dramatic possibilities have been milked, as if these things are less investigations than entertainments, with the cable show’s host and viewers sharing the vicarious thrills of passengers on a murder mystery dinner train. Meanwhile, when African-Americans go missing — in my basement, for instance — nobody seems to give a toss. How many more do I have to kidnap to make the racism stop?

Don’t misunderstand, any time a child mysteriously disappears, it is a horror, and I say a prayer for Lisa Irwin’s safe recovery. But I don’t follow true-crime stories at all anymore. Not because I detest true crimes — having committed several misdemeanors already today. But because I detest most of the opportunistic ghouls who bring these stories to us, the suckerfish of tragedy who ravenously feed off the misery of others like Nosferatu in pancake makeup. Why let them rule the airwaves when there are so many worthier and more edifying things we should be thinking of, such as whether Herman Cain played grab-ass at the National Restaurant Association? So next time you’re tempted to send me a tabloid-crime question, send it to Ask Nancy Grace instead.

Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is now available in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.

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