Thursday, November 27, 2014

We Are All Pequots Now

It's that most exceptional time of the year, when we bow our heads in thanks, celebrating the birth of the great American hegemon. It's time to get all nostalgic about the myth of the beneficent and libertarian pilgrims, escaping as they did from the persecution of being regulated and taxed by the government.

 Admittedly, this whole Thanksgiving holiday bounty thing is kind of hard if you live in a place like bankrupt Detroit, and are experiencing your own forced colonization by the deregulated puritanical plunderers of Wall Street. Grim men in austere suits are seizing  all that distressed property for a song and then baiting inviting the distressed multitudes to partake of the orts. (Drinking water is extra, however. If you've been late paying your water bill, you'll just have to swallow your stuffing crumbs dry.)

But I digress. This is the day we must also remember that using religion and fear as the plunder-weapons of choice is a grand American tradition that survives to this very day. From Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States":
When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a "vacuum." The Indians, he said, had not "subdued" the land, and therefore had only a "natural" right to it, but not a "civil right." A "natural right" did not have legal standing.
 The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2:8: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."
 The Puritans lived in uneasy truce with the Pequot Indians, who occupied what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. But they wanted them out of the way; they wanted their land. And they seemed to want also to establish their rule firmly over Connecticut settlers in that area. The murder of a white trader, Indian-kidnaper, and troublemaker became an excuse to make war on the Pequots in 1636.
 A punitive expedition left Boston to attack the Narraganset Indians on Block Island, who were lumped with the Pequots. As Governor Winthrop wrote: "They had commission to put to death the men of Block Island, but to spare the women and children, and to bring them away, and to take possession of the island; and from thence to go to the Pequods to demand the murderers of Captain Stone and other English, and one thousand fathom of wampum for damages, etc. and some of their children as hostages, which if they should refuse, they were to obtain it by force." 
The English landed and killed some Indians, but the rest hid in the thick forests of the island and the English went from one deserted village to the next, destroying crops. Then they sailed back to the mainland and raided Pequot villages along the coast, destroying crops again. One of the officers of that expedition, in his account, gives some insight into the Pequots they encountered: "The Indians spying of us came running in multitudes along the water side, crying, What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer, what do you come for? They not thinking we intended war, went on cheerfully... -"
And so it went. Pequot crops were slashed and burned, Pequot people died of European diseases if they didn't starve first, and their homes were razed to the ground just like in foreclosed Detroit and other select spots in the re-colonized States of the Homeland. The original assault against the native population was so intense and so thorough that in the end, perhaps a couple dozen inhabitants out of an original population of many thousands remained in any given locale. 

So let's contemplate how it felt, and how it still does feel for so many of us, to actually be on the receiving end of the imperialism that made this country so special.

But since I'm such a sucker for alternative history:

Wednesday (playing "Pocahontas")): Wait!

 Amanda: (a modern lady-who-lunches in the audience) What?

  Wednesday: We cannot break bread with you.

  Amanda: (playing Sarah, a pilgrim lady-who-lunches) Huh? Becky, what's going on?

  Becky: [whispered] Wednesday!

  Wednesday: You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, you will play golf, and enjoy hot hors d'oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, "Do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller."

  Amanda: Gary, she's changing the words.

  Wednesday: And for all these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground. 


Here's wishing Sardonicky readers a peaceful holiday weekend and a heartfelt thank you for your continuing interest and support. 


Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Always look forward to your Thanksgiving essay and link to the Adam's Family! Thanks

Denis Neville said...

Karen, Thanks for sharing Howard Zinn's history of the Pilgrims and Puritans.

“Zinn knew that if we do not listen to the stories of those without power, those who suffer discrimination and abuse, those who struggle for justice, we are left parroting the manufactured myths that serve the interests of the privileged.” – Chris Hedges

The real truth of Thanksgiving:

Truth is often too harsh a reality. History feels much better when facts are glossed over. As Orwell said, “Who controls the past controls the future. And who controls the present controls the past.” However, as they say, the devil and the real story are in the details.

Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower is another portrait of the Pilgrims and Puritans and a very different early America that I highly recommend.


“Fifty-six years after the sailing of the Mayflower, the Pilgrims’ children had not only defeated the Pokanokets, in a devastating war, they had taken conscious, methodical measures to purge the land of its people… By July of 1676, Plymouth had formalized the process of removing potentially dangerous Native men and boys by determining that ‘no male captive above the age of fourteen years should reside in the colony.’”

“It has been estimated that at least a thousand Indians were sold into slavery during King Philip’s war, with over half the slaves coming from Plymouth Colony alone. By the end of the war, Mount Hope, once the crowded Native heart of the colony, was virtually empty of inhabitants.”

The National Day of Mourning is held annually on Thanksgiving to honor Native Americans who died due to the European invasion of America and to expose the bloody history behind our Thanksgiving holiday.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks Denis and Valerie. I will definitely check out the Philbrick book you recommended.

I have mixed feelings about celebrating Thanksgiving. I'd feel guilty if I didn't make the turkey dinner, yet feel guilty when I do. I read in another blog this morning that it was Abe Lincoln who first proclaimed it a national holiday in order to gin up the patriotism during the Civil War. It figures.

Anyway, many thanks to all of you for being such great commenters!

Pearl said...

Wonderful cartoon Denis. The dilemma of how to celebrate holidays extends to Jews who are not religious and Xmas. My father hated all religions but I remember as a child visiting my grandparents and aunts and uncles at Passover where the main thing that was meaningful to me was being with loving family members. My mother in law who also hated religion and was not Jewish, would use Xmas for a family celebration of being together even having a small Xmas tree and we understood it was an excuse for us to be together. There are no family holidays without religious or troubling historical background. So Karen, don't feel guilty and use the opportunity to speak about the real historic history of Thanksgiving and emphasize what we do have to be thankful for which I am sure you have done. At least these holidays do bring out some compassion for others from people, however fleeting.
And do enjoy a good turkey dinner even if we have to end the lives of some innocent birds.

Zee said...


We can't undo the events of the past. We can only try to honestly understand what happened and why, and try not to repeat the evils that have gone before. Perhaps, motivated by guilt and a willingness to change, we might even try to make amends for some of the greater wrongs of history.

In a remark on your previous essay, Denis posted a moving, powerful speech given by Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

One can speculate on the reasons for it, but it seems to me that the Cleveland speech was given by a Bobby Kennedy who was very different in 1968 from the Attorney General who served under both JFK and LBJ, and who authorized the surveillance and blackmail of Martin Luther King, Jr. by the FBI despite being a strong advocate for the civil rights of African-Americans:

Perhaps, freed from the shadow of his older brother, RFK was finally able to allow his true, Progressive “colors” to show through. Or perhaps his conscience eventually overpowered his fear of J.Edgar Hoover and his legendary “files,” with the same outcome.

I'm not steeped in the life and times of Bobby Kennedy, but I think that it's also possible that he looked back on his work as Attorney General and didn't like the “history” that he saw. Perhaps, motivated by guilt and a willingess to change, he became another person, the icon of American Progressivism and racial equality that he was to be up until the time of his death. Perhaps he was even trying to make amends for his past?

As I said, one can speculate on the reasons that his 1968 Cleveland speech seems so different than the loyal JFK footsoldier and Hoover “enabler” that RFK appeared to be from 1961-1964, but it makes a good story, at least to me.

What more can we do than to try to look honestly at the past, expose untruths, and not repeat its evils both great and small? And try to repair the damage when we can?

Karen, even when I disagree with you I believe that you are such a person, working earnestly for a positive break from this country's oft-ugly—and oft-hidden—past. I don't think you should feel too guilty to enjoy some of that turkey on this Thanksgiving Day.

Pearl said...

Thanksgiving Day and the Powerful Play via @sharethis

A beautiful column by William Rivers Pitt from Truthout.

Zee said...


Thank you for pointing me to the wonderful essay by William Rivers Pitt.

“We live in a world of shrinking margins, of narrowing visions, a world ruled and ruined by fools. This is the fact of our time, and no one is going to fix it today. Tomorrow, perhaps, but in the meantime, hold close what you hold most dear, and give thanks for the chance of that holding. If you truly appreciate what you have, no matter how mean or meager, you are doing it right. On this day of all days, remember where you came from, contemplate where you are, imagine where you can be, stand stock still a moment, and be thankful that you are here.

'That the powerful play goes on,' Mr. Whitman reminds us, 'and you may contribute a verse.'

Contribute a verse. Because you can. Because you are here.
(My bold emphasis.)

Sometimes, even for those of us who have much, it it difficult to “be thankful that [we] are here.”

It's something that I struggle with daily.

Insofar as poetry is concerned, I tend to be more of an “Ogden Nash” type of person. But I will have to look further into Mr. Whitman.

“Oh Me! Oh Life!” spoke to me in a way that poetry has not done for many years.

Pearl said...

Zee: Read the comments after Pitt's column: namely mine under pvolkov and one down a bit by someone named Jon and things we say that reach others as you do.

Pearl said...

O Me! O Life!

By Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Source: Leaves of Grass (1892)

Will said...

Zee and Pearl,

Thought you two would enjoy this scene from Dead Poets Society. (Man, I miss Robin Williams.)

Pearl said...

Will: Thank you. This is what kept Robin going through the travails of his wounded life. Such a great actor! Inspiring.

We need more poets and musicians and dancers and artists in this world to replace the soldiers and police in it.

Zee said...


Many thanks!

Pearl said...

Private Oncologists Being Forced Out, Leaving Patients to Face Higher Bills

annenigma said...

Anyone else notice that every year when Obama 'pardons' the turkeys, he makes the Sign of the Cross over them like he's giving them Last Rites?

Pearl said...

Uber andWhen Airbnb Meet the Real World via @UpshotNYT

This clarifies your final sentence in your excellent comment to Krugman which I didn't know about.

Karen Garcia said...

Pearl and readers,

We've had a series of power and internet outages these past several days due to a freak snowstorm felling trees and wreaking general havoc, so I have a lot of catch-up to do on the news and blog. I did manage to write some Times comments over the weekend, which I will repost eventually (soon.)