On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, opening a sea route to vast uncharted territories that awaited the spread of Western civilization. Centuries later, the ensuing cultural migration culminated in the birth and explosive growth of the greatest nation in history: the United States of America.
On September 11, 2001, that nation came under attack by Islamic totalitarians who hate the distinctive values of Western civilization that America so proudly embraces — reason, science, individual rights, and capitalism — and who targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as symbols of those values.
These attacks could not be dismissed as aberrant acts by a lone band of zealots, not after it became clear how widely that same festering hatred of Western values is felt in the Muslim world, where Osama bin Laden is embraced as a folk hero, terrorists continue to receive help from sympathetic governments, and the United States is perpetually damned as the Great Satan.
America has responded since Sept. 11 with various military and political maneuvers. Notably missing, however, has been any clear principled statement of what we are defending, and why we deserve to win.
Without moral certainty, America cannot prevail.
We cannot win a war in which Islamic totalitarians loudly proclaim that their way of life is superior — while liberals trot out the cliches of multiculturalism, claiming that there is no objective standard by which to judge a society good or evil, and conservatives downplay the religious motives driving Islamic terrorism, clinging to the notion that religion promotes peace despite blood-soaked centuries of evidence to the contrary.
This moral uncertainty is dividing Americans into two equally ineffectual camps. Liberals, mortified by world opposition, want to demilitarize the conflict in favor of a criminal-justice approach, granting every Muslim killer his day in court. Conservatives, although seemingly willing to address the conflict militarily, wring their hands if a stray bullet chips gold leaf off the dome of a mosque.
Americans can escape this quagmire of moral vacillation only by becoming fully, rationally convinced that our values are objectively worthwhile — that they are worth pursuing, worth upholding, and worth defending, by force if necessary. One way to attain such moral certainty is to understand, with full clarity, why we celebrate Columbus Day.
On one level, Columbus Day honors the explorer himself, for his many virtues. Columbus was a man of independent mind, who steadfastly pursued his bold plan for a westward voyage to the Indies despite powerful opposition — a man of courage, who set sail upon a trackless ocean with no assurance that he would ever reach land — a man of pride, who sought recognition and reward for his achievements.
We need not evade or excuse Columbus’s flaws — his religious zealotry, his enslavement and oppression of natives — to recognize that he made history by finding new territory for a civilization that would soon show mankind how to overcome forever the age-old scourges of slavery, war, and forced religious conversion.
On a deeper level, therefore, Columbus Day celebrates the rational core of Western civilization, which flourished in the New World like a potbound plant liberated from its confining shell, demonstrating to the world what greatness is possible to man at his best.
On Columbus Day, we celebrate the civilization whose philosophers and mathematicians, men such as Aristotle, Archimedes, and Euclid, displaced otherworldly mysticism by discovering the laws of logic and mathematical relationships, demonstrating to mankind that the universe is knowable and predictable.
On Columbus Day, we celebrate the civilization whose scientists, men such as Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, banished primitive superstitions by discovering natural laws through the scientific method, expanding the reach of man’s scrutiny to the farthest galaxy and the tiniest atom.
On Columbus Day, we celebrate the civilization whose political geniuses, men such as John Locke and the Founding Fathers, showed how bloody tribal warfare and religious strife can be supplanted by constitutional republics devoted to protecting life, liberty, property, and the selfish pursuit of individual happiness.
On Columbus Day, we celebrate the civilization whose entrepreneurs, men such as Rockefeller, Ford, and Gates, transformed an inhospitable wilderness populated by frightened savages into a wealthy nation of self-confident producers served by highways, power plants, computers, and thousands of other life-enhancing products.
On Columbus Day, in sum, we celebrate Western civilization with the utter certainty that it is good according to an objective standard: man’s life. America therefore deserves to prevail against the religious totalitarians who would destroy industrial civilization and return mankind to the Stone Age.