I’ve read several articles thanks to links from bloggers and news pages which claim that the ‘first’ Thanksgiving was nothing but the orgies of Europeans occupying the homes and tilling the fields of the deceased tribes of Native Americans killed by disease brought by previous settlers.
I do not dispute the fact that lack of understanding regarding disease and its transmission and the dangers of introducing societies to new bacteria and germs without proper inoculation contributed to great sickness and death of the Native Americans. But do we judge history for what we know or for what they knew?
Are we to be judged for our lack of understanding about something which lead, through that ignorance, to some loss, or for the fact that we attempt to mitigate the loss and mend the ill where we encounter it?
But beyond that.
I’ve read the entirety of the journal of William Bradford, governor of the colony at Plymouth. In the evidence fields that is called a primary source. There are few sources indeed which would countermand his testimony and then only with a preponderence of testimony sharply contradictory to his own.
And yet even the stories I read in the enlightened media were stretches and extentions of certain facts to the exclusion of others and themselves did not contradict the crux of the history laid down by Bradford.
Yes, many of the Native Americans in the area of Plymouth were wiped out by disease just prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims. Yes, the Plymouth settlers used the fallow-lying fields and empty shelters of the deceased Native Americans to aid them in their survival. I think from our posh couches and deep cushions we are unable to relate to the deep fear of the complete unknown and the pain of true hunger experienced by those brave adventurers and we judge them be a standard we, even with our comforts and conveniences would not judge ourselves by given a situation not half so bad as they experienced.
What were they to do with the empty and waiting fields and shelters? Out of principle were they to dig fresh fields beside the fallow ones and out of misguided respect leave the tents of the Natives standing as empty monuments to a culture they had little to do directly with damaging?
I think not.
And moving to a different tack: In the face of the socialist pushes of our government, is it not telling that even with such paltry feed at a few kernels of corn and with the ethics of a strong religious faith, the early pilgrims, laboring undering a falsly hopeful system of common holdings and cooperative farming were falling prey to the exact same lethargy which would so cripple the vastly wealthy Russion communist experiment.
The reasons were there: doing right and acute starvation. The resources were there: a fertile land and skilled and willing workers. And yet, when they did not directly control the resources of production nor own the fruits of their own labors these men and women worked without will or vigor and many lives were lost.
If we cannot accept the facts of history when the controvert our own closely held presuppositions regarding the nature of the world, is there any hope for us to learn from the mistakes of our forebearers?
When the truth is not accepted, do we have a chance?