Early this morning, an unknown individual smashed apart a monument to Christopher Columbus that has stood unmolested in Baltimore for 225 years. The vandal left a YouTube video explaining that the Genovese sailor is responsible for just about every ill to have existed in the past 500 years, including capitalism, which he seems to regard as the worst of all. The vandalism shows that the war against statues has gone beyond slaveholding Confederates and is targeting just about every historical figure whoever lived. The attack is also a manifestation of how different some people regard the history of the United States.

Christopher Columbus as the discoverer of America

In living memory, Columbus was a hero to most people, the man who discovered America and thus touched off the great wave of immigration across the Atlantic that resulted, in turn, the foundation of the United States. In those days, the United States was regarded as an exceptional nation, a light of freedom, the “shining city on the hill” to use the quote from President Ronald Reagan.

To be sure, a lot of people from Europe were likely in America first, including the Norse explorer Leif Erikson. And Columbus was not searching for new lands, but an ocean route to Asia and its lucrative markets. To his dying day he had not realized that he had discovered an entirely new continent.

He was convinced that the lands he had found were just a short distance away from China. Nevertheless, Columbus’ achievements were celebrated as the prelude to the creation of the United States, the greatest country on Earth in the view of most people.

Christopher Columbus as the evilest man in history

Starting in the 1960s, attitudes toward Columbus had begun to change, at least among the elites.

Some had started to be bothered by the fact that the discovery of America and the creation of the United States had been accomplished at the expense of the indigenous people who were already living in the Americas. In short order, every atrocity that Europeans visited upon native peoples were laid at the feet of Columbus. If he had only stayed home, the theory went, none of that would have happened.

No reliable poll numbers exist as to how many Americans regard Columbus as a villain as opposed to the old version of him as a hero. Nevertheless, the rewriting of history is well underway. Various localities have abolished Columbus Day and have substituted “Indigenous Peoples Day” or some version thereof. The only organized protests to this process have come from Italian Americans who still regard Columbus as a hero. The smashing of the Columbus statue is an extreme act in this front of the culture war.