Thanksgiving is coming -- a time to participate in the great American tradition of maligning and abusing our ancestors. Last year, Seattle public school administrators warned teachers that "Thanksgiving can be a particularly difficult time for many of our Native students." Accordingly, teachers were advised to consult a list of 11 Thanksgiving "myths." No. 11 read as follows: "Myth: Thanksgiving is a happy time. Fact: For many Indian people, 'Thanksgiving' is a time of mourning, of remembering how a gift of generosity was rewarded by theft of land and seed corn, extermination of many from disease and gun, and near total destruction of many more from forced assimilation. As currently celebrated in this country, 'Thanksgiving' is a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship."
In his new book, The 10 Big Lies About America film critic and radio talk show host Michael Medved recalls the Seattle episode, as well as many other examples of self-flagellation that now characterize many of our national observances. Columbus Day? The start of a vicious subjugation. A Denver Columbus Day parade was marred last year by protesters who threw fake blood and dismembered dolls along the parade route. Plymouth Rock? Weren't the Native Americans here first after all? The 400th anniversary of the landing at Jamestown was renamed from celebration to "commemoration" in 2007 because "so many facets of Jamestown's history are not cause for celebration."
Medved, a passionate but not blind patriot, argues that our kids and the rest of us are being fed a tendentious history that wildly exaggerates the offenses of European settlers. The notion that "America Was Founded on Genocide Against Native Americans" cannot withstand scrutiny.
Like racism, genocide is a word that has lost its meaning through promiscuous overuse. Medved reminds us that the international "Genocide Convention" defines genocide as an act or acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such." In the clash of civilizations between European settlers and Native Americans, millions died. But the overwhelming majority of those deaths were attributable to diseases carried involuntarily by Europeans and spread to natives who had no natural immunities to these pathogens. That is a tragedy, but not a crime.
What of those smallpox-infested blankets that have received so much press? Medved examines the evidence and concludes "The endlessly recycled charges of biological warfare rest solely on controversial interpretations of two unconnected and inconclusive incidents 74 years apart." The first was in response to Pontiac's Rebellion (1763), a ferocious small war undertaken by the Great Lakes Indians (who had been allied with the defeated French in the French and Indian War) against British settlements. The Ottawa leader Pontiac told his followers to "exterminate" the whites. They did their best. Hundreds of settlers were tortured, scalped, cannibalized, dismembered, or burned at the stake. As the Indians were besieging Fort Pitt, Field Marshal Lord Jeffery Amherst wrote to a subordinate, "Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians?" But nothing seems to have come from this correspondence. The other episode is alleged by fired professor Ward Churchill (yes, the one who invented his Creek and Muscogee heritage and fabricated his academic research), and concerns an outbreak of smallpox among the Mandan tribe in 1837. There is no evidence that the whites intentionally infected the Indians in that case, and considerable evidence that the settlers attempted to prevent the outbreak.
There were terrible injustices and massacres committed by Europeans against Native Americans and some running the other way as well. The more technologically advanced civilization prevailed -- which is the usual course in human affairs. But the current fashion to distort that history into something like a war crime is, to say the least, overstated.
The Thanksgiving story is a strange one to protest. It is recalled, every year, as a time when newly arrived Europeans and Native Americans cooperated and learned from one another and then joined together for a festive meal to celebrate their joint harvest. This week, millions of schoolchildren will don tall paper hats and Indian fringes and feathers. They will recall the peaceful start of the not always peaceful history of the greatest nation on earth. And so they should -- without guilt or shame.
Thanksgiving - A Violation of Church and State separation?
Is the government's observance of Thanksgiving a violation of the separation of church and state? This past week, a Newsweek/Washington Post editorial labeled presidential Thanksgiving Day proclamations as "cracks in the wall of separation." The author explained, "The problem with these proclamations, it seems to me, is that they pave the way for public acceptance of gross violations of the constitutional separation of church and state." What?!
Forget for a moment that nearly every president since George Washington (and the Continental Congress before him) has given Judeo-Christian proclamations for Thanksgiving (except between 1816 and 1861) and also has declared other national days of fasting and prayer. Secularists, such as the author of the editorial, get almost giddy every time they highlight that Thomas Jefferson rejected the notion of proclaiming Thanksgiving spirituals and prayers. But the truth is Jefferson was far from the modern-day secularist they make him out to be.
Sure, Jefferson was adamant (as we all should be) that there should be no federal subscription to any one form of religious sectarianism. That is largely what the First Amendment is all about -- establishing the free exercise of religion and restricting sectarian supremacy in government, as well as government intrusion in churches.
But secularists make two grave mistakes when it comes to Jefferson and the First Amendment. First, they misconstrue his understanding of separation. Second, they overlook how Jefferson himself endorsed and intermingled religion and politics, even during his two terms as president. Let me explain, as I believe it is a timely reminder, given that we are experiencing a new round of battles in our Christmas culture war, too.
The phrase "separation of church and state" actually comes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists. He told them that no particular Christian denomination was going to have a monopoly in government. His words, "a wall of separation between Church & State," were not written to remove all religious practice from government or civic settings, but to prohibit the domination and even legislation of religious sectarianism.
Proof that Jefferson was not trying to rid government of religious (specifically Christian) influence comes from the fact that he endorsed the use of government buildings for church meetings and services, signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians that allotted federal money to support the building of a Catholic church and to pay the salaries of the church's priests, and repeatedly renewed legislation that gave land to the United Brethren to help their missionary activities among the American Indians.
Some might be completely surprised to discover that just two days after Jefferson wrote his famous letter citing the "wall of separation between Church & State," he attended church in the place where he always had as president: the U.S. Capitol. The very seat of our nation's government was used for sacred purposes. As the Library of Congress' Web site notes, "It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church." Does that sound like someone who was trying to create an impenetrable wall of separation between church and state?
Let's face the present Thanksgiving facts. President Bush likely will give the last explicit Judeo-Christian Thanksgiving proclamation that Americans will hear for the next four to eight years, as President-elect Obama likely will coddle a form of godliness in his Thanksgiving addresses (if he indeed gives them) that appeases the masses with a deity that fits every politically correct dress.
But I'm an optimist. And because so much attention is being given right now by the media and the president-elect himself regarding his parallels to and lessons learned from President Abraham Lincoln, I recommend Obama heed Lincoln's Thanksgiving wisdom. Don't mince or water down the God of the Pilgrims, as is being done in public schools across this land through the retelling of the first Thanksgiving.
Obama doesn't even need a speechwriter for Thanksgiving 2009. He simply can recite Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, in which Lincoln thanked the Almighty for America's bountiful blessings and providential care despite enduring a war and grave economic hardships. The content seems divinely timed for even such a wintry season as our own:
"No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. . I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father, who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union."Whatever your religious persuasion, don't hesitate this Thanksgiving to bow your head, give thanks to God, and follow Lincoln's advice. And when you do, don't forget to say a prayer for our troops and their families. While they serve us so we can serve our Thanksgiving feasts safely, the least we can do is serve them a little honor and remembrance.
Big Lies that Poison Thanksgiving and Subvert Our Sense of Honor
For some of Barack Obama's most ardent supporters, his resounding victory represented the first sign of redemption for a wretched, guilty nation with a 400-year history of oppression. Filmmaker Michael Moore, for instance, considered election night "a stunning, whopping landslide of hope in a time of deep despair. In a nation that was founded on genocide and then built on the backs of slaves, it was an unexpected moment, shocking in its simplicity." Actually, Mr. Moore's summary of America's origins is a wholly expected distortion, shocking in its mendacity. Like so many other revered figures in the worlds of entertainment and academia, the portly provocateur thoughtlessly recycles the darkest assumptions about the generous nation that provides his privileged, prosperous life.
My new book, "The 10 Big Lies About America," represents an aggressive effort to correct the ugly smears that play an increasingly prominent (and often unchallenged) role in our public discourse. Big Lie No. 1, for instance, concerns the ubiquitous notion that the nation's founders and builders followed a policy of "genocide" toward Native Americans. In truth, disease caused 95% of the deaths that ravaged native populations of North America following European contact. Despite lurid (but historically baseless) claims of massive infection brought about by "smallpox blankets," even the deadliest germs displayed no consciously hostile agenda.
In fact, intermarriage (including frequent intermarriage with African-Americans, slaves and free) and assimilation caused more Indian "losses" than all occasional massacres by governmental and irregular forces - incidents invariably condemned by federal authorities, never sponsored by them.
My book's Lie No. 2 precisely anticipates Moore's claim that America was "built on the backs of slaves," suggesting that our wealth and prosperity came chiefly through the stolen labor of kidnapped Africans. While slavery represented an undeniable horror in our nation's early history, the slave population never exceeded 20% of the national total (amounting to 12% at the time of the Civil War). This means that at least 80% of the work force remained free laborers.
The claim that our forefathers built America "on the backs of slaves" rests on the idiotic idea that involuntary servitude proved vastly more productive than free labor. In fact, the states dominated by the slave economy counted as the poorest, least developed in the union - providing the North with crushing economic superiority that brought victory in the War Between the States.
Of more than 20 million Africans taken from their homes in chains, at most 3% ever made their way to the territory of the United States (or the British colonies preceding our nation). Americans played no part in establishing the once-universal institution of slavery but played a leading, outsize role in bringing about its abolition.
Other lies about America's past badly distort current debates over public policy. It's not true, for instance, that governmental activism provides a necessary remedy for periodic economic downturns (Big Lie No. 6). In fact, leaders who courageously resisted the temptation of major federal initiatives at times of crisis presided over shorter, less painful recessions, while the ambitious innovations of Hoover and FDR worsened and prolonged the Great Depression. (Even liberal historians admit that the New Deal never worked as "a recovery program.")
Meanwhile, the popular assumption that our founders determined to create a secular, not a Christian, nation (Big Lie No. 3) has produced widespread hysteria over the program of "the Christian right." In fact, the constitutional framers insisted on a combination of a secular government and a deeply Christian society. Even Jefferson, an unconventional religious thinker, believed that fervent faith represented a necessary element in the security and growth of the republic; he personally attended and authorized weekly Christian services in the Capitol building itself.
Secular militants, not Christian conservatives, currently strive to transform America in a way our founders would neither recognize nor approve.
Unfortunately, some of the same religious conservatives who get it right about the place of organized faith in the American fabric get it terribly wrong by signing on to Big Lie No. 10: that the United States has entered into a steep - and irreversible - moral decline. In fact, a wealth of statistics concerning marriage, teenage sexuality, drug addiction, crime, alcohol abuse and other signs of social breakdown show a recent, decisive turnaround that may represent one of the nation's periodic "awakenings." Moralists have proclaimed permanent ethical collapse ever since 1645, yet no one could claim that our path has been straight downhill for 350 years.
The big lies about America all work to undermine the sense of honor and gratitude that ought to inspire every citizen, particularly in this Thanksgiving season. They also destroy the essential sense of perspective required in significant debates as a new government comes to power in Washington, D.C. While Sen. Obama's supporters rightly rejoice at his election to the nation's highest office, they will disorient his presidency and damage society if they embrace destructive distortions about our past, and view his elevation as a rare (or exclusive) basis for pride.
CA: Traditional kindergarten Thanksgiving celebration nixed because it's ...? "racist"
Some say having students dress up as pilgrims and Native Americans is 'demeaning.' Their opponents say they are elitists injecting politics into a simple children's celebration.
For decades, Claremont kindergartners have celebrated Thanksgiving by dressing up as pilgrims and Native Americans and sharing a feast. But on Tuesday, when the youngsters meet for their turkey and songs, they won't be wearing their hand-made bonnets, headdresses and fringed vests. Parents in this quiet university town are sharply divided over what these construction-paper symbols represent: A simple child's depiction of the traditional (if not wholly accurate) tale of two factions setting aside their differences to give thanks over a shared meal? Or a cartoonish stereotype that would never be allowed of other racial, ethnic or religious groups?
"It's demeaning," Michelle Raheja, the mother of a kindergartner at Condit Elementary School, wrote to her daughter's teacher. "I'm sure you can appreciate the inappropriateness of asking children to dress up like slaves (and kind slave masters), or Jews (and friendly Nazis), or members of any other racial minority group who has struggled in our nation's history."
Raheja, whose mother is a Seneca, wrote the letter upon hearing of a four-decade district tradition, where kindergartners at Condit and Mountain View elementary schools take annual turns dressing up and visiting the other school for a Thanksgiving feast. This year, the Mountain View children would have dressed as Native Americans and walked to Condit, whose students would have dressed as Pilgrims.
Raheja, an English professor at UC Riverside who specializes in Native American literature, said she met with teachers and administrators in hopes that the district could hold a public forum to discuss alternatives that celebrate thankfulness without "dehumanizing" her daughter's ancestry. "There is nothing to be served by dressing up as a racist stereotype," she said.
Last week, rumors began to circulate on both campuses that the district was planning to cancel the event, and infuriated parents argued over the matter at a heated school board meeting Thursday. District Supt. David Cash announced at the end of the meeting that the two schools had tentatively decided to hold the event without the costumes, and sent a memo to parents Friday confirming the decision.
Cash and the principals of Condit and Mountain View did not respond to interview requests. But many parents, who are convinced the decision was made before the board meeting, accused administrators of bowing to political correctness. Kathleen Lucas, a Condit parent who is of Choctaw heritage, said her son -- now a first-grader -- still wears the vest and feathered headband he made last year to celebrate the holiday. "My son was so proud," she said. "In his eyes, he thinks that's what it looks like to be Indian."
Among the costume supporters, there is a vein of suspicion that casts Raheja and others opposed to the costumes as agenda-driven elitists. Of the handful of others who spoke with Raheja against the costumes at the board meeting, one teaches at the University of Redlands, one is an instructor at Riverside Community College, and one is a former Pitzer College professor.
Raheja is "using those children as a political platform for herself and her ideas," Constance Garabedian said as her 5-year-old Mountain View kindergartner happily practiced a song about Native Americans in the background. "I'm not a professor and I'm not a historian, but I can put the dots together."
The debate is far from over. Some parents plan to send their children to school in costume Tuesday -- doubting that administrators will force them to take them off. The following day, some plan to keep their children home, costing the district attendance funds to punish them for modifying the event. "She's not going to tell us what we can and cannot wear," said Dena Murphy, whose 5-year-old son attends Mountain View. "We're tired of [district officials] cowing down to people. It's not right."
But others hoped that tempers would calm over the long holiday weekend, and the community could come together to have a fruitful discussion about Thanksgiving and its meaning. "Its always a good thing to think about, critically, how we teach kids, even from very young ages, the message we want them to learn, and the respect for the diversity of the American experiences," said Jennifer Tilton, an assistant professor of race and ethnic studies at the University of Redlands and a Claremont parent who opposes the costumes.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.