by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action
I taught English as a Second Language to adults at LA Unified for many years, and for each of the many martial holidays the US celebrates, I had a lesson about how many major wars the US has fought.
Back to the so-called French & Indian Wars in colonial days, when George Washington made his bones, the US has fought big wars on average every 18 years, and of course is now engaged in “endless war.” Many of these wars are the focus of holidays — Veterans’ Day on the anniversary of the armistice ending World War I; the 4th of July marking the Revolutionary War; Memorial Day, dating to the decoration of soldiers’ graves after the Civil War. Presidents Day basically marks the birthdays of our Revolutionary and Civil War presidents.
One we don’t usually associate with war is Thanksgiving. But a little historical digging reveals a foundation myth holiday as rooted in war as the rest. There are lies within lies in this holiday. Neither its origin, nor its tradition, is real or true.
Thanksgiving hasn’t been celebrated since the Pilgrims invited their Native neighbors to a feast to thank them for their assistance in teaching the Europeans how to survive. The colonists in fact regarded the Native people as uncivilized heathens whose land was undeveloped and so could be taken for deforestation and cultivation.
Peace between settlers and indigenous ended in a massacre in what’s now Mystic CT, where the Pequot were celebrating the green corn festival. Before dawn, settlers– Puritans, not the Pilgrims– descended on the Pequot village and killed over 700 native men, woman and children. This slaughter, according to University of Texas-Austin Prof. Robert Jensen, was the real origin of Thanksgiving– as proclaimed in 1637 by Massachusetts Bay Gov. Winthrop in gratitude for God’s destruction of the defenseless “savages.”
But the commemoration didn’t continue from that day to this — rather, it took the Civil War and the schism between slave-owning and so-called “free” states to bring Lincoln to proclaim the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving, designed to try to heal the breach by creating a “national unity” holiday. So Thanksgiving is based on a double lie, both lies linked to war.
If we are indeed “Addicted to War,” the first step in breaking the addiction is taking back our power to make history, which requires an unflinching honest look at reality, so that we can make amends for the blood-soaked crimes of this society.
Time to say “No, Thanks!” to racism, genocide and self-serving mythology by embracing self-criticism and solidarity.