Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ever Hear of this Guy?

For many years Chris tried to convince his government leaders they should fund his crazy idea. He knew there would be significant scientific, economic and social benefits from that kind of exploration he wanted to do, not just for his country but for the whole world. Completing successful missions would raise the standing of his country in the world view, which of course would benefit the government. He had a few points to prove but he needed his country’s help to accomplish his goals.

His country wasn’t interested, however, so he pursued other governments, some established, some emerging. One of those countries, an emerging one, understood his vision and agreed to fund it. They knew that his mission would result in a shorter path to prosperity and there could be many side benefits from things he and his crew would ‘invent’ to make their mission possible.

Chris was a bit of a daredevil and wasn’t afraid to explore new places, even very distant ones that others said couldn’t be reached with existing technology. He grew up in a middle class family and had a thirst for knowledge, especially astronomy, geography and religion. He had always looked to the stars for inspiration and knew if he landed alive, he would pray out loud and probably leave a bible there with other pieces of evidence to prove he had made it (just in case he didn’t make it back).

So in the early 90s he began his mission. The launch was successful; he reached his destination (more or less), gathered a few items that he found there and returned safely. Government leaders were happy at first and funded three more missions. Eventually he fell out of favor and was forced to retire from that career. He wrote a few books and died fairly young (around age 54). His heirs filed suit to recover money he and they said the government owed him but were mostly unsuccessful, despite the world-wide impact of his adventures.

Did you ever hear about this guy?

Although he is quite controversial in some circles, the impact of his missions is unmistakable. Towns and countries are named for him, thousands of books have been written about him and there is even a holiday in the USA commemorating his first mission.

Yes, you definitely have heard of this guy. Chris was born in what is now Italy back in the mid 50s … the 1450s. His birth name is Cristoforo Colombo, but we know him better as Christopher Columbus. His four missions were funded by what is now Spain. He is credited with ‘discovering’ America, which sadly ignores the obvious fact that people were already living everywhere he stopped. He even captured some of them and brought them back with him to Spain. And he wasn’t really looking for a “New World” when he first set out … he was looking for Japan; Europeans didn’t know there was another continent in the way (damn GPS).

We now have Columbus, Ohio, Columbia, Maryland and Washington DC (District of Columbia), to name a few. Monday we celebrate Columbus Day. There is no question that back in the 1500s Spain’s standing in the world was elevated because of Chris’s missions and many new countries were formed over the centuries, including the United States of America. But don’t forget that the price was high. Entire civilizations and societies were destroyed, wars were fought and atrocities occurred; all of that is part of our history. On the positive side we turned out to be a great country and we fight to make things right in the world.

I can say Happy Columbus Day with pride but also with mixed feelings. I guess that complexity is part of what makes out country unique.

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