Thursday, November 26, 2015

Let's Talk Turkey

As long as Woodrow Wilson is finally getting blowback for his racist pathologies, what's to prevent the nation going full Howard Zinn on this special day? We are long overdue for a factual correction to the entirety of our pathological revisionist history. We need a giant group nudge into some pretty harsh realities, if we have any hope of overcoming the hideous dogma of American exceptionalism and endless war. Our very lives depend upon owning up to the sordid past

Thanksgiving, which has evolved over the past century into our great national feast day of holy obligation and gluttony, gets its current inspiration from the myth of the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims going all post-racial multicultural and stuffing their faces before living happily ever after in peace, love and understanding. (It was just a temporary treaty.) We've been taught to view the aboriginals as uncultured primitives, and the Pilgrims as upright austere folk in funny hats fleeing from religious persecution to start life anew in the Land of the Free. We're falsely taught that this land was very sparsely populated, that there were plenty of wide open spaces just there for the sharing.

We've been taught wrong. Before the arrival of the Pilgrims, there were numerous Indian nations with millions of people prospering up and down the East Coast, later to be beatified as the Thirteen Original Colonies. Aboriginal people were never considered by either the colonial settlers or the later "Founders" to have been endowed with certain inalienable rights. They were considered aliens in their own land, which they had populated for thousands or even tens of thousands of years before Miles Standish and Cotton Mather arrived on the scene to scatter their imperialistic brimstone.

As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in An Indigenous People's History of the United States, 
 In the founding myth of the United States, the colonists acquired a vast expanse of land from a scattering of benighted peoples who were hardly using it -- an unforgivable offense to the Puritan work ethic. The historical record is clear, however, that European colonists shoved aside a large network of small and large nations whose governments, commerce, arts and sciences agricultures, technologies, theologies, philosophies and institutions were intricately developed, nations that maintained sophisticated relations with one another and with the environments that supported them.
Racism came to America long before the importation of African people for purposes of enslavement. According to Dunbar-Ortiz, Britons were enticed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the usual ploy: a marketing campaign. In 1630, the Mayflower conquerors developed their own seal. "The central image depicts a near-naked native holding a harmless, flimsy-looking bow and arrow and inscribed with the plea, 'Come over and help us.'"

The doctrine of "liberal interventionism" dies hard, as evidenced by the USA's recent adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and the presence of at least a thousand military bases encircling the globe.
  Thanksgiving might be more properly marked as Native Genocide Remembrance Day -- or, if you want to be euphemistic, National Colonial Settlement Day. The tradition of using religion as an excuse to invade, occupy, rape, plunder, terrorize and exterminate is nothing new. Now most publicized by ISIS, it was also the casus belli of the European settlers who landed on Plymouth Rock in the 17th century.

When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, there were 40,000 Wampanoags living in 67 separate villages in the territory. Today, only 4,000 of their direct descendants remain in New England.

  There were plenty of other victims of Puritan religious fundamentalism, too. From Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States:
 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... -"
Unfortunately, the current revisionist-in-chief is not only not getting with the Zinn reality program, he's doubling down on the imperialistic propaganda. Barack Obama, from today's Thanksgiving address:
 Hi, everybody. In 1620, a small band of pilgrims came to this continent, refugees who had fled persecution and violence in their native land. Nearly 400 years later, we remember their part in the American story -- and we honor the men and women who helped them in their time of need.
He couldn't even mention the Pequots and Wampanoags by name, could he? It might make his audience ask whatever happened to them all, anyway? There never was, and never will be, a "Je Suis Pequot" rallying cry in the United States.
Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims -- men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families. What makes America America is that we offer that chance. We turn Lady Liberty's light to the world, and widen our circle of concern to say that all God's children are worthy of our compassion and care. That's part of what makes this the greatest country on Earth.
Of course, the indigenous people never made the Pilgrims go through background checks, get fingerprinted, and then wait at least two years before entering the premises, as Obama's America is forcing the Muslim refugees to do. They never locked up mother and child pilgrims fleeing Central American violence in Homeland Security prisons until one humane, outraged judge finally ordered their release. The aboriginal communities did not then put ankle bracelets on the Pilgrims in order to track their every move. They never put the Pilgrims back on the boat and told them to get lost. I think that Obama is getting the plunderers and the plundered all mixed up in his jingoistic pipe dream.  

Obama also didn't mention that Pilgrims sold many of the native people into slavery on sugar plantations, and that descendants of the Wampanoag nation have recently been discovered living on Caribbean islands. Globalized capitalism is nothing new.

Still, there's nothing wrong with traveling to holiday Fantasy Land, as long as the fiction satirizes and pummels the plunderers. The following retelling of the Thanksgiving legend is getting to be an annual Sardonicky tradition. It turns the Calvinist "origin myth" of the first Thanksgiving and the unholy birth of American Exceptionalism right on its head:

Wednesday (playing "Pocahontas")): Wait!
 Amanda:  What?

  Wednesday: We cannot break bread with you.

  Amanda: 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. 


Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!


Jay–Ottawa said...

Talk Turkey? Naaaah. DO something!

Don't get into a political argument over turkey this Thanksgiving. Try not to upset everybody, the way you did last year. Stay mum about the ripples out of Damascus, don't bring up Kunduz, forget ISIS. Go ahead, tag along with the rest of the family with your mouth shut to the bargains on Black Friday. At least you overeaters are working off calories from the day before. But do volunteer to take the gang downtown on Green Sunday in the fresh air––Hey, kids, the Christmas lights are up!––where they'll get sucked into a Climate Change March near you on the eve of the Paris talks. You'll hear such wonderful things along the way, like, "Mommy, look at the sign that bearded old man is holding. What does the word 'extinction' mean?

Pearl said...

Alan Grayson wants to call your Conservative family members on Thanksgiving via @franktorresnet

Will said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Karen and Sardonickists all around the world! As your self-appointed not-so-intrepid Twitter correspondent, here's the funniest tweet I've run across so far today:

Meredith NYC said...

The Times pieces on Woodrow Wilson are particularly interesting, at this point in our history. I wrote to the Times, see below, plus another reader comment.

See comments to these Times pieces:
Editorial ----Removing Wilson’s Name From Princeton.
What Woodrow Wilson Cost My Grandfather.
Readers Weigh In Woodrow Wilson Cost My Grandfather Too.

Some comments excuse and rationalize Wilson. But those to the ‘cost my grandfather too’ piece mostly tell the truth.
One article quote says:
“As the historian Eric S. Yellin documents in his powerful book “Racism in the Nation’s Service,” my grandfather’s demotion was part of a systematic purge of the federal government; with Wilson’s approval, in a few short years virtually all blacks had been removed from management responsibilities, moved to menial jobs or simply dismissed.
Wilson put his racism into action with public policy.”

I wrote to the Times:

A lot of comments disagree with your Nov 25 editorial for removing Wilson’s name from Princeton’s institution. But their excuse that all our leaders have flaws and don't judge by today's standards isn't valid.

Admired presidents like Wilson and then the great and revered FDR shaped the views of the nation on the race issue. This is not to insult FDR, or denigrate his saving of our country, but, our greatest 20th C president did not touch the race issue. What impression did that leave on public opinion? This is how racism gets respectable. Not until Truman were US forces who’d fought the Nazis allowed to integrate at least, but still segregated in schools.


You could call unprosecuted white violence against blacks in the 20th century an example of terrorism. Blacks lived in a dictatorship existing within an advanced democracy. The Klan and later murderers had a fervent moral crusade like dictators like today's Assad and ISIS. Our history has been misrepresented, using the Constitution as an excuse.


Let’s pierce the smokescreen. It’s directly related to the fact that juries today won’t convict police when they slay blacks. And the Eric Garner grand jury record will be kept secret, though the video proved murder by 6 cops of 1 unarmed man. What formed the attitudes that allow this outrage?


Re context of time----Wilson’s racist actions didn’t happen in the early 19th century when slavery was accepted. They happened generations after the Civil War, Emancipation, the 14th amendment, equal protection of the laws, and Reconstruction, with blacks holding office for the 1st time. This directly contradicted progress so hard won, hypocritically trashing democracy, while his post WW1 Nobel prize winning League of Nations promoted democracy abroad.


Since it was respectable to keep the races apart in govt jobs, it wasn’t seen as hypocritical for FDR to piously proclaim his 4 Freedoms, and the Atlantic Charter’s rights of self determination for British colonial subjects, while ignoring American racial castes maintained for white advantage. Colonialism within the US.


It wasn’t seen as outrageous that many blacks were left out of New Deal and post war benefits that pushed whites ahead in socio economic class---with social security, the GI Bill for education, and federal home mortgage programs.
The inference is that if the admired leaders of the country most renowned for individual rights approve racial apartheid, then blacks must really be innately inferior, and whites superior.

Meredith NYC said...


Gregory New York 5 hours ago

Yes we know, racism was rife among US historical giants. But critics here miss the point:

1. This is about whether a university should rescind a rare, high honor by renaming a particular school of government. It is not about erasing Wilson from American history.

2. Wilson did NOT simply reflect the mores of his time. He went far beyond that, by using his presidential powers to aggressively reverse progress, imposing his KKK-identified personal views on the federal government and impoverishing thousands as a direct result. He set back US racial justice many decades as a result.

Incredibly, Wilson's extreme racism and ultra-retrograde policies are so absent from U.S. history teaching that one could graduate from a top high school and then Princeton itself as an American History major and know nothing of it.

That is an extreme circumstance, and critics on this comment page and elsewhere shouldn't whine about the well-deserved backlash that has now, finally arisen. We should all be more concerned instead with the immense damage that 100 years of whitewashing has done to our country.

Pearl said...

Sent by
Bernie Sanders Gets Immigration Policy Right
The senator’s plan starts with the right premise: that immigrants should be welcomed and assimilated, not criminalized and exploited.

Or, copy and paste this URL into your browser:
To get unlimited access to all New York Times articles, subscribe today. See Subscription Options.

Pearl said...


Jay–Ottawa said...

4th stanza of W. S. Merwin's "Thanks":

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

Meredith NYC said...

The Nov 26 Times editorial: “Bernie Sanders Gets Immigration Policy Right” may be the 1st NY Times piece that seriously discusses a Sanders idea. It asks is his policy so radical? But could ask are any of his policies radical, or were they once quite centrist in the past.

The Times says Reagan and both Bushes welcomed immigrants as assets. This was centrist.

The editorial says Gop candidates are “playing reality-TV versions of themselves, filling the air with lies and irrational promises, while the Democrats — Mr. Sanders especially — are depicted by TV comics as cranks and loons....Sanders’ immigration plan is a powerful counterpoint to that’s reality-based, moderate, practical and hopeful.”

Those words describe Sanders platform. Actually it’s the Times reporters that have been using that stereotype, depicting him as a crank and a loon, or anyway hopelessly idealistic. To the point that hundreds of readers complained to the public editor and she responded in her blog.

Seems proper attention cannot be paid to non corporate fundraisers. Thus the Times helps to shape our politics by ignoring those. Let’s ask why. Is the mainstream so alarmed at Sanders’ ideas which frankly defy power of corporate elites and their armies of lobbyists directing lawmaking? Is that now too “left wing’ for our times and for the Times?

Carol S. said...

I found this new Ric Burns American Experience piece, "The Pilgrims", tremendously good. What did others think about it?

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks Carol. I will watch it and let you know. (I was looking for something to watch besides CNN!)