Daily Revolt

November 22, 2007

Missing the Point on Thanksgiving

We are free to celebrate Thanksgiving day the way we want, but some miss the point. It is a day to be thankful, not hateful. It is also a day of peace. It began when native peoples and Pilgrims came together to enjoy a meal together. It is tragic that level of cooperation did not continue. Thanksgiving is not a day of recriminations. The argument about who took who's land will never be resolved. It is that mentality that has led to decades of conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. We need more days of peaceful retrospection, where political rhetoric is put aside. The author of the Alternet article below should put away his hostility for one day. Tomorrow you can go back to dispute and criticism. Even on the news programs today, all the talk is about being thankful:
After years of being constantly annoyed and often angry about the historical denial built into Thanksgiving Day, I published an essay in November 2005 suggesting we replace the feasting with fasting and create a National Day of Atonement to acknowledge the genocide of indigenous people that is central to the creation of the United States.

I expected criticism from right-wing and centrist people, given their common commitment to this country's distorted self-image that supports the triumphalist/supremacist notions about the United States so common in conventional politics, and I got plenty of such critique. But I was surprised by the resistance from liberals, including a considerable number of my friends.

The most common argument went something like this: OK, it's true that the Thanksgiving Day mythology is rooted in a fraudulent story -- about the European invaders coming in peace to the "New World," eager to cooperate with indigenous people -- which conveniently ignores the reality of European barbarism in the conquest of the continent. But we can reject the culture's self-congratulatory attempts to rewrite history, I have been told, and come together on Thanksgiving to celebrate the love and connections among family and friends.

Here is Lincoln's thinking when he declared the Thanksgiving Day holiday during the midst of the Civil War:
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

Mr.Jensen, Lincoln acknowledges injustice while calling for forgiveness. That is exactly what you are calling for. It does not ignore the evil that was done to the native peoples but seeks to ask for forgiveness from a higher power. Maybe that's your problem--the belief in a higher authority.
I like Right Wing Nuthouse's explanation. They give a good rebuttal to Mr.Jensen, and others like him:
[...]it didn’t matter who came, the clash of civilizations was inevitable. Failing to understand our early history in the context of the history of migrating peoples from the time that Homo Sapiens first moved out of Africa is shallow, stupid, and these days, politically motivated. It doesn’t absolve white people of murder nor does it lessen the tragedy of the destruction of native American culture. But thinking in these terms should animate our total understanding of the history of our continent and our country – something the modern day left, whose guilt-ridden diatribes against our ancestors always sounds such a discordant note on this, the most unique of American holidays, deliberately ignores in order to prove their solidarity with the oppressed.

All of that was in the future when the Pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621 in recognition of the help given to them by the Cape Cod Indian tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag. By that time, the Pilgrim’s numbers had been dramatically reduced by disease, losing more than half the number that landed at Plymouth Rock. The Indians had no doubt contributed to the survival of the remainder by showing them how and where to fish as well as introducing them to some native American crops like Maize and beans.

[...]The Mayflower stuck around until April, 1621, supplying the colonists with whatever food they couldn’t beg, trade for, or steal from the Indians. They were poor hunters, had few firelocks, and were not familiar with the local fauna so were unable to procure food through the gathering of nuts and berries as the native Americans did. The Indians worked diligently to remedy this and by the summer of 1621, the Pilgrims were nearly self-sufficient.

Thanks to Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags who had signed a peace treaty with the Pilgrims earlier in the Spring, the new Americans were able to plant, tend, and harvest their first crop with little trouble. It wasn’t much. A peck of corn meal for each family a week (a peck is 8 dry quarts) during the winter along with some salt fish. They supplemented this with wild fowl they hunted and trapped. All in all, barely enough to survive on. But considering their hardships suffered during the previous year, it seemed bountiful enough that they were able to entertain and feed 90 Wampanoags and the entire colony for a week of feasting.

These were hardy, determined people who put up with difficulties almost all of us today would never survive. We tend to forget that these first Pilgrims made something out of absolutely nothing with just a few tools and the sweat of their brow. And a nice assist from the Wampanoags who had their own selfish reasons for helping. A devastating plague – probably an extremely virulent form of smallpox that the Wampanoags caught from French traders – reduced their numbers dramatically leaving them vulnerable to their enemies, the Narragansett tribe. No doubt Massasoit eyed the Pilgrim flintlocks with more than a little envy.

I realize that many native Americans are not celebrating today. More the pity for them. Recognizing the achievement of the Pilgrims, taken by itself as an admirable effort by people regardless of their color to survive and prosper in a hostile and unfamiliar world, should elicit the praise of all who can appreciate their extraordinary accomplishments. What followed may have been a tragedy. But don’t take it out on the original Pilgrims. They lived in peace with the Indians for 50 years, long after the last Mayflower survivor died.

Perhaps we could leave this tiny corner of American history alone this year by allowing us the pleasure of remembering the Pilgrims for what they were; brave souls who conquered their fears and with an indomitable spirit, created a settlement of Godly men and women who were able to express their religious beliefs freely as an example to all.

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