Thanksgiving is often thought of as a joyous celebration for many Americans to feast amongst friends, family and loved ones. While we all have reasons to be grateful that are personal to us, we also have much to celebrate as a nation. The earth and soil this country inhabits is bountiful in beauty and resources, but I think what makes the United States unique and exceptional are the people and the ideas upon which it was founded! In many ways the origins of Thanksgiving gave birth to these ideas and way of life.
In my exuberance for the holiday I have been asking people about their plans, and to my consternation many relayed their disdain for the holiday lamenting how poorly “the evil white man treated the poor Indians”. I was appalled to hear so many intelligent, erudite, individuals some of whom have graduate degrees and work in academia, perpetuate this biased myth about the glorious holiday! How is it that on the day Americans should be feeling most grateful many are feeling guilty and shameful?
For most the story begins with the elementary school tale of the grand meal shared with the Native American Indians. To recap a little history of the synergistic relationship between the Native Americans and the new settlers, the Indians were instrumental in teaching the Pilgrims to use dried fish as fertilizer to yield corn and how to fish for cod. Squanto, a Native American Indian, served as a translator enabling the Plymouth Bay Colony (currently known as Plymouth Massachusetts) to establish a treaty of alliance with Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoags, which stated that in exchange for defense against the Narragansett tribe, they would supply the Pilgrims with food.
Here are some links for further information on this history:
Contrary to the fallacy that has been indoctrinated via some schools, media sources and pop-culture, the initial feast we have come to celebrate the fourth Thursday of November, was actually a result of the failure of socialism (long before Karl Marx was born) and the birth of capitalism and supply side economics.
This country was settled by people who fled religious persecution and economic constraints. They braved unchartered territory in the pursuit of liberties. For the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, it was the journey towards religious freedom known as the “Great Puritan Migration” that led to the discovery of free markets and laissez-faire economics that we enjoy today. In alignment with their faith the people aspired to run their community like Plato’s republic, but found that the communal system resulted in starvation and scarcity of food supply because there weren’t enough producers to accommodate those dependent upon their crops. Governor William Bradford stepped in reciting the story of Joseph and Pharaoh in Genesis 41 as grounds for declaring a new law that each family must tend to their own land, be responsible for procuring their own resources, and were free to trade, but could no longer rely on others for a guaranteed food supply. This resulted in the abundant repast that is often referred to as the first Thanksgiving in 1621.
What would be the motive in portraying Thanksgiving as anything other than a magnificent celebration of the success of principles that made this country exemplary? Perhaps spinning history to elucidate a victim story is a more useful tool? When attempting to influence people it is advantageous to appeal to base human emotions. Emotions are powerful tools of persuasion because people are often unaware they are being hit with a message and yet they “feel” affected and “moved”. Guilt is a basic human emotion that often leads to shame, the antithesis of thankfulness. In a land built on the freedom to pursue dreams and reap the fruits of one’s labor, it would seem paradoxical to be shameful of ambition or achievement in favor of redistribution, especially when we have seen its failures repeatedly.
I have seen a pervasive trend in education, media and pop-culture employing guilt and shame as tools to manipulate people into betraying their own values. The conversion of the triumphant tale of American capitalism giving birth to Thanksgiving, into the misconstrued victim story of the Native American Indians is yet another example of this. In lieu of current events domestically with pending fiscal cliff, global unrest in the middle-east and a collapsing world economy, perhaps we should recapture the tenets that have proven themselves fortuitous and be grateful for the brave people who came before us to pave the way for the free land we now call the United States of America.