Another statue has been beheaded; this time in Yonkers.
It was Christopher Columbus who lost his crown Tuesday — presumably for the crime of thinking and acting like a 15th Century explorer.
The gall of it.
More galling still is the modern American who thinks he would act differently should he stumble across the manifest treasures of the 1492 Americas today.
A rent-stabilized one-bedroom in Williamsburg will drive a progressive to larceny — that or a good iPhone 9 pre-sale. Clean air and a few hectares of virgin soil in the days of Queen Isabella and King George III must have been irresistible to the huddled masses of disease-ravaged Europe.
Yet we insist on measuring those who lived before us by today’s ideal, an ideal that wouldn’t last an hour should our circumstances go south.
There’s no disputing that American Indians got a raw deal when Europeans, including Columbus, arrived on their shores. But they displaced the indigenous people living here before them, too. Once across the Bering Strait, today’s Native Americans drove away the native Americans of the time. (Many of the latters’ ancestors are now returning north after a millennium in Central and South America.) That doesn’t make them monsters, it makes them human.
Similar migratory patterns are seen throughout history, with many, if not all, involving copious bloodshed and profound unfairnessness. When children need food and a roof over their heads, we, as a species, will get it for them, even if that means taking it from someone else.
That’s not to say civilizations don’t improve or shouldn’t try to. Over the centuries mankind has passed a progressive series of laws and constitutions — think Magna Carta — to protect us from ourselves, with varying degrees of effectiveness. But no one should mistake what people and governments are capable of rationalizing when they really want something. The colonizing of America and displacement of the American Indian began 400 years after Magna Carta was signed.
One can think of a laundry list of offenses that future generations could hold against those of us alive today. We keep stolen treasures in our museums and animals in cages. Will statues of our great art and zoological philanthropists one day be graffitied as easily as the Columbus statue in Queens was following the Yonkers decapitation?
How did 21st Century Americans allow boxing, mixed martial arts and other violence-glorifying sports? We abort unborn children by the thousands each day. Who’s to say what the consensus will be on that a century hence?
Liberal Democratic politicians including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton opposed same-sex marriage less than a decade ago. Those who hold that view now are accused of bigotry and hatred.
Did Plato speak out on gay marriage? Why not? Off with his head!
People of good will aren’t wrong for lamenting awful crimes of history. But none of us should be so sanctimonious as to think that we aren’t captive creatures of the prevailing views of our time, just as those before us were.
There is a solution, though, for those who believe in today’s faddish Columbus bashing: Give back what you have — your home, your property, your resources — to the native tribe who held the land in 1492.
Not willing to part with your share of the spoils? Why not?
Off with your head.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.