Some Thanksgiving Thoughts for America

Some reading material for you this Thanksgiving. Feel free to read excerpts around the table tonight:

A powerful meditation on lost opportunity by journalist Robert Scheer, writing in Truthdig:

How many folks from my generation are honestly sanguine about the economic future of their children and grandchildren? What I have heard constantly, and just this week from a former top investment banker addressing a college class I teach, is that our offspring probably will face a decade of lost opportunity. I thought back to my college days and how shocked any of us, even those from the most impoverished of circumstances, would have been to hear such a prediction.

As The New York Times editorialized this Thanksgiving, “One in three Americans—100 million people—is either poor or perilously close to it.”

A bummer of a message, I know, until I think of those pepper-sprayed college students linking arms, and of all the Americans, young, old and between, who have occupied their minds with a challenge—that it doesn’t have to be this way. For their brave spirit of resistance we should be most grateful this Thanksgiving.

Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel William J. Astore expresses some Thanksgiving gratitude for our nation’s public servants:

As we sit down to our Thanksgiving dinners, we should reflect on the true roots of our national greatness: Our enshrinement of individual freedoms and liberties exercised within communal settings that are consistent with principles of human dignity and decency. True public servants support such ideals, to include our troops, our police – and our protesters, who dare to confront us with reminders of democratic ideals that we as a country are failing to meet.

Yes, protesters are public servants too, deserving of a fair hearing and a measure of respect. Yet the more we deploy armed forces to suppress such protesters, the more our democracy withers from within, even as we claim to be spreading it from without.

A nation simply cannot sow the seeds of democracy in other lands while poisoning the seedlings of democracy in its own land.

This Thanksgiving, let us reflect on the dangers of using one group of public servants (the police) to suppress another group of public servants (the protesters).  Let us ponder the dangers of putting armed forces empowered by noble oaths to ignoble purposes. And let us ponder as well what suffers most when our public servants are turned against one another – and who profits most.

And finally, Aisha Ali’s excellent and important survey of the real history of Thanksgiving:

Americans should know the history behind Thanksgiving. The images of Pilgrims continually celebrating Thanksgiving, and Native Americans being invited out of goodwill is false. As tension mounted, and wars erupted between Native Americans and Pilgrims, there were no future Thanksgivings.  Native American history involves successive colonization, intrusion of colonists’ beliefs, sacrilege of lands and sacred burial sites, and the unjust force of Native Americans further west. However, this was not always the story of Native Americans.  Native Americans used to live in a harmonious society.  “Earth Mother” or “Mother Earth” was respected and she in return, blessed Native Americans with bountiful crops, peace, and health. Since then, America has become a place of corruption, racism, segregation, and capitalism– all due to the foundation on which America was built.  As Abigail Adams once questioned how could any good come from a White House that was built by half-hungry slaves, how can America be a place of good will, liberty, and welfare without acknowledging the bloodshed and tragedy of its native peoples?

What many of us eat today, including our Thanksgiving menu, comes from the harvest crop initially cultivated by Natives, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of all crops, including corn, potatoes, and tomatoes.  It is important that we teach our children the truth on which America was founded.  The images, the story, the history of Native Americans must be changed.  What we have all learned is based on both truth and myth.  It is our duty as parents to educate our children and teach them the real story of not only Thanksgiving, but also America, wholly.  How can races/ethnicities ever heal unless we are able to address the problems and move on together to face them?

Yet, the true theme existing behind Thanksgiving should not be ignored, as everyone should be thankful for his or her blessings and this is something we must instill in all children: the acknowledgment of your blessings and being grateful for them.   But most importantly, we must instill in them, the truth.

7 thoughts on “Some Thanksgiving Thoughts for America

  1. Anne Ryan

    I agree that the real history of the US has to come to light. I also believe that we should have a day of gratefulness and a Harvest Feast is one good way to do that. Each of our many cultures could revisit those ideas and leave the distorted history of “The first Thanksgiving” out entirely.Recent years have shown a huge lack of gratitude in the US culture when it comes to the the gifts of natural bounty . Our native friends would help us with that -especially if we stopped lying.

  2. Josh Mark

    I love the expanded narrative around thankfulness and gratitude…what a beautiful idea to use the title of Public Servants to desribe the Occupy Movement demonstrators. I embrace it, with…thankfulness

  3. Lesley W.

    While I agree with Aisha Ali that children need to learn a more complex warts-and-all version of American history, her sentimental description of a “harmonious” Native American society “blessed with bountiful crops, peace, and health” is equally silly and misleading. Like all societies composed of human beings, Indian (the word most indigenous North Americans actually prefer) societies were never uniformly peaceful or harmonious, but experienced warfare, deprivation, cruelty and illness long before Europeans arrived to mess things up. That does not lessen the enormity of the genocide waged against them, but it is insulting and demeaning to describe Indians as childlike, homogeneous nature worshipers, rather than recognizing the diversity and complexity of that history.

    1. i_like_ike52

      Interesting point. The Aztecs and other cultures or Meso-America practiced human sacrifices. The Aztecs controlled a large empire that oppressed conquered peoples who were quite happy when Cortes and his 500 or-so Castilians showed up and they joined forces with him to overthrow the hated Azted overlords.
      The Plains Indians in what is now the US hunted, on foot, the Buffalo which was an exhausting, time-consuming process, leaving them with little more than a subsistence existence. Only after the Spanish arrived, bringing horses with them, some of whom escaped and were captured by the Indians, who learned how to ride them, did the Indians begin to hunt the Buffalo on horseback which did not require nearly as much manpower, allowing them to develop their culture and religion. Of course, this didn’t last but to claim that these Indians had a “healthy, prosperous” existence before the White Man came is nonsense.

      1. i_like_ike52

        I took the comment about the taming of the Spanish horse by the American Indians directly from an American Indian historian who spoke on the 1992 television series “Columbus and the Age of Discovery”.. He specificallly mentioned how their culture and religion developed greatly due to this

      1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

        I don’t think Lesley was in any way trying to imply, as you do, that native Americans should be grateful to Spanish colonialists for helping them “develop their culture and religion.”

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