Being thankful for Thanksgiving
By Al Fonzi
It’s that time of year again when local media reinforce the negative aspects of popular culture and unwittingly contribute to the general debasement of national traditions and in particular, American history. I allude to the almost now universal referral to “Thanksgiving” as “Turkey Day.”
Popular culture has worked hard over the last generation to take down almost every significant national icon with even George Washington, hero of the American Revolution and our first president under the current Constitution, under attack.
However, the debasement of present-day culture is more of result of intellectual laziness, the time constraints imposed by electronic media, and a dismal knowledge of or interest in our history by public opinion makers, such as nightly newscasters or even those who present the nightly weather report. It’s a casual, outreaching environment that attempts to connect with the public they serve, but their flippancy reinforces national ignorance of our traditions that are based upon commemorations of the hardships and accomplishments of those who went before us.
Negative stereotypes of the political refugees who landed in New England in December 1620 have been perpetuated for decades in caricature. The 20th century was quite adept at taking down “the great” and reducing it to “the common,” which has yet to reach an as yet not defined “cultural bottom.” This is further compounded by historical revisionists who now further misinform students with flat-out propaganda that rewrites proven historical facts with politically motivated bilge.
One such example is that some middle school history curriculums now teach that the Pilgrims did not come to America seeking religious freedom while in flight from religious persecution and that the first “Thanksgiving” was to thank the Indians who had helped them survive and not God.
For the record, the “Puritans” who became the “Pilgrims” fled England in the years prior to their perilous voyage to America, first to Holland as they were pursued by an English King determined to force them to conform to the religious dictates of the Church of England. Failure to conform to the Church of England dictates ensured penalties ranging from forfeiture of property, to imprisonment, torture, and execution. These people experienced very real fear for their families and underwent extreme danger and hardship in their flight from England to Holland and ultimately, their journey to America.
Holland was a tolerant trading-nation but pressure from England just across the English Channel was too great to bear to continue to provide refuge to the Puritan fugitives, forcing their further flight to America. After numerous delays and frustrations caused by damage to their ship, they finally arrived in America, not at their pre-determined location but at a windswept, barren Cape Cod. It was late December during a time when the “Little Ice Age” was in full form, bitterly cold, hostile (including the first Native Americans they encountered) with depleted rations and many ill on board. When they finally established a location for their settlement on the mainland, it was Christmas, a holiday they didn’t celebrate, considering it frivolous and contrary to their beliefs. They worked all day to erect shelters against the elements and provide some protection against unknown indigenous marauders. Within three months, half of their number would be dead from disease, starvation, and exposure to one of the bitterest winters New England was capable of producing.
The end of the year 1621, thanks to local tribes that demonstrated friendship toward the Pilgrims, provided a small harvest to keep the survivors fed through the next winter. Unexpectedly, a group of about 90 local tribesmen showed up for dinner, bringing several types of wildfowl, fish, and venison to share with the Pilgrim survivors. The Pilgrims, a deeply religious people, gave thanks to God and shared what they had with their Native American benefactors. Contrary to revisionist historians, the exact date of the first “Thanksgiving Dinner,” other than being around the harvest time, is unknown. Furthermore, the Pilgrims did not exploit the local peoples but enjoyed peaceful, favorable relations and friendship with them for the next 50 years. It was not until the “Pilgrim generation” largely passed and their Massachusetts outpost’s population expanded over the years by commercial immigrants that relations began to deteriorate, resulting in the bloody war of King Philip, which killed about 10 percent of the European colonists. The brutal legacy of this war permanently established enmity between the European and Native American populations which continued for the next 200 years, until the last battle fought in 1890 ended the American-Indian Wars.
Back to my original point: Thanksgiving is about giving thanks to God, not gluttony. The term “Turkey Day” reinforces the basest aspects of our culture and robs our children of the knowledge of their heritage. If you’re not sure what to be thankful about, open a newspaper and read: By the end of the first few paragraphs you should have more than enough information to make you thankful for the privilege of living in the most privileged, free, and prosperous nation in world history. Happy Thanksgiving! Δ
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.