There are some points in which it is quite right not to compare and judge people by standards that did not exist or prevail at the time they lived. On the other hand, they are no longer alive so we can do them no material injustice. At worst we can suppose things about them that are unproven or speculative. But if we do not measure the past in some way according to what we expect "to have learned from it", then we cannot hope to address those who insist that it was those in the past who must be the models for today and the future. Columbus and Augustus are dead, only adherents to certain religions believe they may suffer for what they did. It would be quite useful however to say Cristobal Columbo just went off to discover-- let us say gold and new land. But what if he had decided to go to Toledo or Zaragossa or to Rome for the first time in his life with the ambition to find gold and seize land? We could guess that he would have considerable difficulty defending himself from the gallows or whatever other penalties prevailed at the time. Hence the voyages of discovery had to posit two things: that somewhere in the unknown there was something to be had (as such not a bad approach) and that it was there for the taking (already a problem once they confronted people who were already living there). It is on the second point that Columbo has his problem. He had to justify taking what could be arguably the property of someone else. Now this is where the comparisons should be made: would he be licensed to kill and pillage in Rome or Toledo? Probably not. Some pope or king would find it objectionable.
Based on this comparison Columbo was not "bad" he simple did what he would not be allowed to do in his own country-- except as a mercenary. We cannot debate the conquest as a fact but we can dispute whether it has any positive lessons to emulate. Given that the conquest of America is celebrated year after year, one could begin to ask when European law and custom was abrogated for the Americas. The consequences of that abrogation survive today.
Dr. Patrick Wilkinson
Cognitive Consulting and Language Logistics
Kirchstrasse 32
D-40227 Düsseldorf