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Perspective: Was Columbus Competent?

public domain
Replicas of Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria that sailed from Spain to the Chicago Columbian Exposition

We’ve all seen examples of competence and incompetence. I myself have seen people extremely skilled and other people who were making it up as they went along. But is there such a thing as incompetent competence, or competent incompetence?  


Take Christopher Columbus. He finally got a couple of European monarchs to sponsor a costly search for a sea route to India. By this time Europe had started to crave spices, but you could only find those in what today we call Asia. So Old Chris took off with three big ships and sailed west in order to find the east That alone might have given Ferdinand and Isabella some pause.  


He didn’t really know where he was going and eventually discovered land: what we now call the Americas. But Columbus thought he’d found India, so he brought back a couple of Native Americans and introduced them to Ferdinand and Isabella as “Indians.” The name has stuck.  


Columbus died thinking that he’d found India. He was incompetent. But he also made it possible for Spain to acquire, with ardent brutality, an empire. For the next 150 years Spain was the strongest power in Europe. We should all have such incompetence as Christopher Columbus had. Or should we?  


This is Tom McBride, and that’s my Perspective.  

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