It seems you can’t even celebrate Thanksgiving anymore without offending someone. Protests are raised annually to what most people consider a day of turkey, family, and football. Each year around this season, there’s the National Day of Mourning Activities held on Plymouth Rock to protest the perceived racism and oppression that still exists for Native peoples. Campus multicultural resource centers routinely host events such as “Thanks-taking: Thanksgiving through indigenous eyes.” My personal favorite are the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals activists who don turkey costumes to demonstrate the cruelty of turkey eating.
These “pied pipers of political correctness,” as author Thomas Sowell puts it, are not merely eccentric, they are wrong and do historical accuracy a real disservice. The view that Thanksgiving is really a celebration of genocide and oppression of Native Americans is simply false. There are many ways to promote better race relations: Dredging up resentment for grievances that are over 300 years old is not one of them.
It wasn’t imperialism that enabled Europeans to triumph over the Indians, it was technology. Indians didn’t have guns, horses, ships, or in most instances a written language when Christopher Columbus arrived. Europeans won despite being greatly outnumbered (initially) because their civil, mechanical, and naval engineering skills were superior. Competition between cultures is inevitable. The two cultures met and the technologically inferior one lost out.
There is much to admire and that we can learn from the Native American culture, but the belief that all Native Americans were peaceful nature lovers who were getting along just fine until Europeans came along is largely a myth. Cannibalism existed among the Iroquois, Caribs, Aztecs, and Guarani. Both the Incas of South America and the Aztecs of Mexico ritually murdered captives. Inca law dictated that anyone who showed grief during human sacrifices be punished. It is grossly inaccurate to portray the Europeans as vicious imperialists and the Native Americans as peace-loving pacifists.
Nor is it true that most of the Indians had environmentalist like concern for the land and its inhabitants. Running entire herds of buffalo off cliffs and taking only the nose or tongue of the buffalo, while leaving the unused carcass to rot, was just as likely to take place among Indian men as white ones. (Though white hunters preferred to take the buffalo’s hide, not the nose or tongue.) This is well documented in Evan Connell’s anti-Custer biography Sun of the Morning Star. When the Indians did make an exhaustive effort to leave no part of the buffalo unused, it was mainly because they were on the verge of starving to death, not because they were dedicated conservationists.
While it’s true that many Indian lives were lost as a result of contact with Europeans, it is inaccurate to accuse the Europeans of committing genocide. The high death toll was due mainly to (unintentional) exposure to disease. Europeans brought small pox and measles to America, and because the Native Americans had no prior exposure to these diseases, they died in massive numbers. But disease transmission cut both ways. The Native Americans introduced Europeans to syphilis, tobacco, and cocaine. In Plagues and Peoples, William McNeill claims that bubonic plague was brought to Europe by contact with Mongolian traders. One-third of the European population died. Is it fair to charge Asians with committing genocide against Europeans? Hardly.
The multiculturalists overlook the sins of Native Americans culture because their purpose is to elevate all cultures-except of course for Western culture, which more often than not, they vilify. Consider the kinds of activities hosted by the multicultural resource centers that can be found on college campuses across the nation: the tunnel of oppression, the wall of hate, and thanks taking. These themes are all more likely to foster a better sense of victimology than understanding.
As historian and author Rick Shenckmen writes in Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History, “The purpose of history is to understand why people did things, not to reduce the past to a series of moral lessons.” The old myth of white innocence wasn’t accurate. But neither is the new myth of white collective guilt.
The first official Thanksgiving holiday, commissioned by George Washington in1789 was a Christian one, designed to celebrate the providence of an Almighty God. That spirit of gratefulness is what we should remember with this and with every Thanksgiving in our free and profoundly blessed nation. Happy Thanksgiving.