This year marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Plymouth Colony by the Pilgrims in 1620. Plymouth was the first English settlement to establish itself successfully in the New World. You might think that the four-century mark of that event would be cause for big commemorations. Instead, there has been barely a peep.
Today, the trendy thing is to feel nothing but guilt and shame for the expansion of European civilization, particularly the English version, into North America. After all, there were indigenous people here when the first settlers arrived. What right did the English or other European settlers have to occupy this territory? To demonstrate its politically-correct bona fides, Google affiliate YouTube (among many others) took the occasion of Thanksgiving Day to celebrate instead something they call “Unthanksgiving,” a day of “Indigenous history, activism and resistance”:
Unthanksgiving is about acknowledging, educating, and honoring centuries of Indigenous resistance. Coinciding with New England’s National Day of Mourning,.. Native Americans and Indigenous persons have shared their experiences, using Unthanksgiving as an opportunity for intergenerational and intercultural dialogue,
Perhaps you may have the idea that prior to the Pilgrims North America was inhabited by Noble Savages living in peace and harmony with nature and each other. Then the evil Europeans arrived to commit plunder and rape and genocide. This is certainly the view pushed by much of trendy academia today, following the lead of America-hating Howard Zinn. But if you want a more full picture of the reality of the Native Americans at the time of early settlement, there are plenty of decent sources to look to. Two that I can recommend are Charles Mann’s “1491,” and Francis Parkman’s “France and England in North America.”
“1491” came out in 2005, and definitely has a more native-admiring perspective than Parkman’s opus, which was published over many years in the late 19th century. Nevertheless, an overriding issue permeates both books in their descriptions of native life pre- and shortly post-Columbus: the Indian tribes were engaged in constant, endless, brutal, murderous warfare against each other. Mann’s book has particularly harrowing accounts of the wars conducted by the Aztecs against their predecessors in the region that is today Mexico City.
Over in Parkman’s work, the portion relating to the French settlement of Canada derives mostly from first-person accounts written by Jesuit missionaries who inserted themselves among the tribes along and north of the St. Lawrence River in the early 1600s. The largest of the tribes where the Jesuits had some success in their efforts was known as the Hurons. That tribe inhabited an area south and east of the lake by that name. At the time, the Hurons were engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the Iroquois confederacy, which inhabited a broad swath of what is now upstate New York. From pages 634-35 of the 1983 New American Library edition of Parkman’s book:
How the quarrel began between the Iroquois and their Huron kindred no man can tell, and it is not worth while to conjecture… The first meeting of white men with the Hurons found them at blows with the Iroquois, and from that time forward, the war raged with increasing fury. Small scalping parties infested the Huron forests, killing squaws in the cornfields, or entering villages at midnight to tomahawk their sleeping inhabitants. Often, too, invasions were made in force. Sometimes towns were set upon and burned, and sometimes there were deadly conflicts in the depths of the forests and the passes of the hills.
Parkman’s account is filled with detail of battles, tortures and executions. Here is an example from page 635:
[In the year 1645] Fortune smiled on the Hurons; and they took, in all, more than a hundred prisoners, who were distributed among their various towns, to be burned. These scenes, with them, occurred always in the night; and it was held to be of the last importance that the torture should be protracted from sunset till dawn… Ononkwaya was among the victims… On the scaffold where he was burned, he wrought himself into a fury which seemed to render him insensible to pain. Thinking him nearly spent, his tormentors scalped him, when, to their amazement, he leaped up, snatched the brands that had been the instruments of his torture, drove the screeching crowd from the scaffold, and held them all at bay, while they pelted him from below with sticks, stones, and showers of live coals. At length he made a false step and fell to the ground, when they seized him and threw him into the fire…
But the wars continued, year after endless year. In 1649-50, the Iroquois got the upper hand, and essentially wiped out the Hurons. One example of the fighting in that year, from page 664-65:
Late in the autumn, a thousand Iroquois, chiefly Senecas and Mohawks, had taken the war-path for the Hurons. They had been all winter in the forests, hunting for subsistence, and moving at their leisure towards their prey… It was just before dawn, when a yell, as of a legion of devils, startled the wretched inhabitants [of a Huron town the French called St. Ignace] from their sleep; and the Iroquois, bursting in upon them, cut them down with knives and hatchets, killing many, and reserving the rest for a worse fate…
There is much, much more of the same and indeed far worse. Given the endless and brutal warfare that characterized Native American existence, it is not surprising that many native groups, upon encountering Europeans, sought to enlist the newcomers as allies against their perpetual enemies in neighboring tribes. Indeed, in Mann’s account, that is exactly what Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoags was about in befriending the Pilgrims and assisting them through their first difficult winter. The Wampanoags had just suffered a major population decline — probably the result of diseases brought by Europeans — and they needed help against their perpetual enemies the Narragansetts, who lived immediately to the West. The newcomers had things that the Wampanoags badly needed in that struggle, like knives, hatchets, and even guns.
As Parkman said, the origins of the particular dispute in the 1600s between the Hurons and the Iroquois are beyond knowing. But what we do know is that groups of humans in hunter-gatherer existence are always engaged in warfare against their neighbors. Specific slights or jealousies may have something to do with any given dispute, but on a more fundamental level, hunter-gatherers exist at all times on the brink of starvation, and there is never enough territory to go around.
In contrast, over the past several centuries, beginning in Europe and then spreading through the world, mankind has created an economic system that is capable of providing plentifully for multiple billions of people without need for warfare over control of resources. The system goes by the misnomer of “capitalism.” I prefer calling it the “freedom-based economic order.” Under this economic system, it is entirely possible for all people to live in peace and prosperity, without any need for the warfare that has plagued human existence from the beginning.
Of course, all of our “smartest” people in academia and government have little or no idea how or why the freedom-based economic order works. What they think they know is that they hate what they call “capitalism,” because it does not create perfect equality and justice between and among all people. So they are completely ready to get rid of this “capitalism” and go back to a world of desperate scarcity and endless conflict.