The Politics of Thanksgiving Day 2014


Thanksgiving remains the most treasured holiday in the United States, honored by Presidents since Abraham Lincoln initiated the Holiday to rouse patriotism in a war that was not going well.

Thanksgiving has often served political ends. In our own age of Middle East invasions, in 2003, President George Bush flew to Bagdad, Iraq to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with U.S. troops and rally the public behind an invasion based on lies. Bush brought a host of news photographers to snap him carrying a glazed turkey to the troops. In three hours he flew home, and TV brought his act of solidarity and generosity to US living rooms. But the turkey the President carried to Bagdad was never eaten. It was cardboard, a stage prop.

Thanksgiving 2003 had a lot in common with the first Thanksgiving Day. In 1620 149 English Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower landed at Plymouth and survived their first New England winter when Wampanoug people brought them corn, meat and other gifts, and taught them survival skills. In 1621 Governor William Bradford of Plymouth proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving – not for his Wampanoug saviors but his brave Pilgrims. Through resourcefulness and devotion to God his Christians had defeated hunger.

We are still asked to see Thanksgiving through the eyes of Governor Bradford. But Bradford’s fable is an early example of “Euro think” -- an arrogant distortion that casts the European conquest as glorious and heroic.

Bradford claims Native Americans were invited to the dinner. Really? Since Pilgrims classified their nonwhite  saviors as inferiors and “infidels”, if invited at all, they would be asked to provide and serve and not share the food.

After 1621 Pilgrim armies pushed westward. In 1637 Governor Bradford, without provocation, sent his troops in a raid against their Pequot neighbors. As devout Christians locked in mortal combat with heathens, Pilgrims destroyed a village of sleeping men, women and children. Bradford rejoiced:

“It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same and horrible was the stink and stench thereof. But the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice and they [the militia] gave praise thereof to God.”

Years later Pilgrim Reverend Increase Mather asked his congregation to commemorate the “victory” and thank God “that on this day we have sent six hundred heathen souls to hell.”

School and scholarly texts still honor Bradford. The 1993 edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia [P. 351] states of Bradford, “He maintained friendly relations with the Native Americans.” The scholarly Dictionary of American History [P. 77] said, “He was a firm, determined man and an excellent leader; kept relations with the Indians on friendly terms; tolerant toward newcomers and new religions…”

The Mayflower, renamed the Meijbloom (Dutch for Mayflower), continued to make history. It became one of the first ships to carry enslaved Africans to the Americas.

Our Thanksgiving Day celebrates not justice or equality but aggression and enslavement. It affirms the genocidal racial beliefs that destroyed millions of Native American people and their cultures.

Since Americans count themselves among the earliest to fight for freedom and independence, on Thanksgiving we could honor the first freedom fighters of the Americas – those who resisted foreign invasion.

During the century before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth thousands of enslaved Africans and Native Americans united to fight the Europe’s invaders and slavers. In the age of Columbus and the Spanish invasion they were led by Taino leaders such as woman named Anacoana and and a man named Hatuey. In 1511Hatuey led his 400 followers from Hispaniola to Cuba to warn of the foreigners. Before the Mayflower, runaway Africans and Indians in northeast Brazil had united in the Republic of Palmaris, a maroon fortress that defeated Dutch and Portuguese efforts to storm its three walls and lasted until 1694, almost a hundred years.

Early freedom fighters kept no written records. But  some of their beliefs and ideas about freedom, justice and equality were written into a sacred 1776 parchment Americans celebrate on July 4th.                   
WILLIAM LOREN KATZ is the author of BLACK INDIANS; A HIDDEN HERITAGE and forty other books. His website is;