"History is written by the victors." ~Winston Churchill
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In 1637, in the peaceful Mystic River valley, in what is now Connecticut, a Native American tribe known as the Pequots lived rather peacefully and powerfully. They exerted some control over the neighboring tribes and enjoyed a high level of prestige. They traded with a strange new people, who had come over the sea some years before and had made their home there. They were odd in their manner of dress and speech, but they were friendly. Today, we know these strange people as the Pilgrims.
Eventually, however, tensions arose. Tensions had always arisen, but this was taken to a new level. Disputes over property, attacks against cattle (which to the Pilgrims, was an act of savagery only a beast could perform), that soon the Pilgrims knew that the Pequots had to go.
Gathering allies from other Native American tribes (among them the Mohicans and the Narragansetts, who were themselves against the Pequots), the colonists pledged to wage war on the Pequots. These tribes agreed on the condition that the women and children be spared. It didn't seem a strange request to them - that was how wars were always fought, to them, it was normal. The wily colonists agreed. But that was never their intention.
One night in June, 1637, the attack happened: secretly stealing into the enclosed palisade the Pequots called home, the Europeans and their Native American allies attacked. It was slaughter. Muskets shot many. The Pequots fought hard and fierce. Many tried to escape, but the exits had been sealed by brush, or else guarded by armed men. For those that did manage to escape, a line of Mohicans waited outside, ready to shoot anyone who tried to run off. Eventually, however, the bloodlust reached a crescendo.
"Burn them all!" John Underhill, the leader of this "expedition", cried out. The original intention was merely to kill, and plunder. But that would not work. Total destruction was needed.
More than 1500 Pequots were killed, the rest, sold into slavery. The Pequots were utterly destroyed.
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I bring this story up to illustrate the fickle nature of history. This war is relatively little-known. Oh, yes, people may know of it, but yet many, many more are ignorant to the darker side of the beginnings of our nation. This battle happened only 16 years after the first Thanksgiving: a communal celebration between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans, giving thanks and blessings to true friendship, commending all to God. Yet, less than two decades later, these same people commended God for a decisive victory, a true "victory of Christianity", in the words of one church leader.
This is not to bash Christianity or even the beginnings of the nation in any way. This is to illustrate that there are two sides to every story: yes, there was goodwill and peace, but there was also bloodshed and death. The Native Americans were not wholly innocent, however: they later retaliated with "King Philip's War" in 1675-6, led by the son of Massasoit, the chief who had feasted and communed with the Pilgrims back in that first Thanksgiving of 1621: Metacom, better known by the British as "King Philip". Metacom led a fierce battalion of many Native American tribes in coordinated attacks against many New England towns and colonists. It nearly destroyed the English presence in New England.
"There is an underside to every age about which history does not often speak, because history is written from records left by the privileged." ~Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn was a historian who believed in the revision of history. To him, history was a lie, due to the influence of the elite and the privileged in all records. In a way, he was right. He took it to a new level, though: the level of the underdog. His "People's History of the United States", a paean to the underrepresented groups in American history: women, Native Americans, African Americans, the Irish, Mexicans - was also very derisive. It criticized the makers of this country in countless ways, denouncing the hypocrisy of religious freedom; the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; slavery, and much more. Zinn was rather too extreme, however: yes, people have done bad, horrific things in history, but there were also many good things. All events in history have led up to where we are now in history, which is not a very bad place to be. A happy medium is what history needs.
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There are many approaches to history: the conventional approach, the extreme revisionist approach, and the distanced, balanced approach. I will illustrate examples below.
Conventional: Pilgrims were very friendly and preached religious freedom. They formed friendly relations with the Indians in the first Thanksgiving.
Extreme Revisionist: The Pilgrims were hypocritical, murderous people that waged all-out genocide and persecuted other groups, all in the name of Christianity.
Balanced: The Pilgrims had cordial, friendly ties with Native American tribes, but due to need of expansion and cultural misunderstandings that result from two completely separate groups meeting and coexisting, they launched murderous, barbarous attacks.
The balanced approach is the most correct. However, it is also the most difficult to achieve: there are too many lies, myths, misconceptions, fabrications and confabulations to sever and untangle from the web of history. What we can do, however, is become informed.
Don't take what you know from middle-school history class to be correct. Read Howard Zinn's diatribe against most of U.S. history. But also read other sources! Read about the illustriousness of America, the shining beacon of hope it was, and is, and will continue to be, for many around the world. Get both sides of the story. The side one knows is always the mythical side. Deconstruct history, and learn the truth.
Don't only take America for an example: learn about the world! Europe is not world history: the British and French, the Romans and Greeks are not the sum of history. Learn about the marvelous innovations of the Chinese and the Islamics, the great works of the Egyptians and the Incas, the great societies of the Hawaiians, the Polynesians, the Aztecs.
You will become more informed. The truth will reveal itself to you. And then, perhaps, we can shed the various hatreds and prejudices of the past, and become more united, as humanity. It can happen. But it will only happen with a communal effort: everyone should become informed. Atrocities must be exposed, innovations must be celebrated. And then, with equality and balance, perhaps we can achieve some semblance of peace and unity in this weary world.