Happy holiday, everyone
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Sure, the founders were pirates, but even that's a little bit funny
Thanksgiving Day is here, and as is the fashion, it's taking a beating. "What is Thanksgiving to Indigenous People? 'A Day of Mourning,'" writes the onetime daily Bible of American mass culture, USA Today. The Washington Post fused a clickhole headline format with white guilt to create, "This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later." Even the pundits who didn't rummage in the past in search of reasons for Americans to flog themselves this week found some in the future, a la the Post's climate-change take on Turkey Day menus:"What's on the Thanksgiving table in a hotter, drier world?"
MSNBC meanwhile kept us all festive by reminding us, with regard to the now-infamous Pilgrims, that "Instead of bringing stuffing and biscuits, those settlers brought genocide and violence":
"Instead of bringing stuffing and biscuits, those settlers brought genocide and violence," Gyasi Ross says about the history of American Thanksgiving. "That genocide and violence is still on the menu."
Where's all this headed? In the space of a generation America has gone from being a country brimming with undeserved over-confidence, to one whose intellectual culture has turned into an agonizing, apparently interminable run of performative self-flagellation.
Whether or not to enjoy Thanksgiving is not the hard part of the American citizen's test. Thanksgiving is awesome. Everything about it, from the mashed potatoes to the demented relatives to the pumpkin pies to the farts, is top-drawer holiday enjoyment. The only logical complaint about modern Thanksgiving involves forcing the poor Detroit Lions to play a marquee role every year. I think we can all agree that whole situation is a net minus, especially for them, no matter how funny the first fifteen minutes of those games usually are.
But the historical self-mortification has gotten out of hand. American exceptionalism used to mean 300 million yahoos being so convinced they were a unique force for good in the world that history before 1776 was irrelevant. We're now living through the moronic inverse: America is such a unique evil, we're told, so much the standard-bearer for the oppression of innocent peoples everywhere, that human suffering before 1776 is hardly worth mentioning. Or before 1492, as it were, since a lot of the current fashion stems from our pseudo-intellectual class being unable suddenly to handle the revelations of one decades-old book.
In the opening pages of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, we read the log of Christopher Columbus, who recounts the first meeting of Europeans with the native Arawaks of the Bahamas:
They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it and cut themselves out of ignorance" With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
Zinn's Columbus is a genocidal monster who not only massacred natives from Hispaniola to Haiti, and sold women and children by the thousands for "sex and labor," but was so personally petty that he stole the reward of the poor sailor on his own ship who spotted land first, by claiming the feat himself. It's hard to read Zinn's account, which includes horrifying details like Indians murdering their own children to spare them the tortures of life under Spaniards, and not have a second thought or ten about the legend of the "discovery of America."
I found A People's History a fascinating and enjoyable read when I first read it in college, but that was when it was a ballsy, quasi-forbidden counterfactual to official narrative, not anyone's idea of the actual "History of the United States." The national idea of historical reflection back then was Forrest Gump, literally a two-hour shrug. Because of that, the book made sense then. Decades later, in the middle of a reverse cultural mania that devours it as gospel, Zinn's book reads like the rantings of a mental patient.
After he finishes his tale of Columbus's rampage through sinless indigenous cultures, Zinn contrasts it with the fables Americans of the time were all taught in school, in which "there is no bloodshed" upon the his arrival. He goes on to torch as an example the work of Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morrison, whose Christopher Columbus, Mariner contains only a passing reference to the "cruel policy initiated by Columbus" [that] resulted in complete genocide."
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