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The Paradoxical Patriot’s American Thanksgiving

Supposing we could defeat American fascism and achieve a new national synthesis, a circle that would include as many of the different Americas as possible. What would Thanksgiving look like then?

Start with the old-fashioned Thanksgiving story, the one many of us learned in school. According to this tale, and never mind its highly dubious historical basis for the moment, friendly and helpful “Indians” saved starving “Pilgrims” by showing them how to plant corn in the Massachusetts wilderness, and the two groups “celebrated the first Thanksgiving together.”

Judged purely as educational myth, it must be said, there are far worse stories that Americans could and do tell. We have here an admission that white Americans were all originally from somewhere else; that the Native Americans belong here and play a crucial part in the American story; and a celebration of the power of community, always a useful counterbalance to American hyper-individualism.

If we wish to displace this myth, on one level, we must be prepared to replace it with historical truth, which means acknowledging how the Massachusetts Bay Colony that swallowed up Plymouth Colony went to war again and again with the Wampanoag and other native tribes, and that it was a savage war with many massacres that ended with the surviving Native Americans displaced from their ancestral homelands.

Yet this cannot be the whole story, because we need to revise or replace the “original” Thanksgiving story with one that will equally well serve the purpose of instructing and improving American society. For this to work, the lesson cannot be limited to telling “white” Americans that their ancestors were land thieves and murderers. Why not? First of all, because shame is not a stable basis for social peace. And second, it isn’t the whole historical truth anyway.

It is an unfortunate truth about the human race that bands or tribes or nations of us have been displacing and slaughtering one another not only throughout five thousand years of recorded history, but throughout the ninety-five thousand or so years before that, before any humans had invented writing. Just recently, paleontologists found unmistakable evidence of a massacre that took place nine thousand years ago in Africa, with a pregnant woman among the victims. The same thing could have and did take place yesterday in Afghanistan. The question is what attitude we choose to take toward this indisputable truth. Do we celebrate the vulgarized idea of “survival of the fittest,” that might makes right and vae victis? Do we accept it fatalistically? Or do we mourn the past and resolve, all together, to work toward a world where such things no longer happen?

Where English-descended and other “white” Americans are concerned, do the rest of us rub their noses constantly and unrelentingly in the blood some of their forebears shed, or do we celebrate their achievements as well? It is inarguably true that when the “Founding Fathers” rebelled against the British Crown, it was to secure their own liberty only, their “rights as Englishmen,” and not those of any other group, including their own mothers, sisters and daughters and the African Americans they held as human chattel. But when you write that “all men are created equal,” the words have a power and an inevitable logic that leads to human liberation, even if that can only be achieved after centuries of struggle. That is the heritage we Americans should be celebrating on Thanksgiving. To atone for the crimes of the past, to celebrate its achievements, to work toward a better future as one people: this is the motto of the paradoxical patriot. Happy Thanksgiving.

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