-- by Dave
Heather has already talked about the right's revisionist history around Thanksgiving that cropped up this year, but the story isn't complete without discussing Rush Limbaugh's sneering attack on President Obama's Thanksgiving proclamation:
Every cliche that is wrong about Thanksgiving shows up in his proclamation. The Pilgrims show up at Plymouth. The Indians had been there for thousands of years. We get off the boats. We don't know how to feed ourselves. The Indians show us how. They shared their skill in agriculture, which helped the early colonists survive and whose rich culture continues to add to our nation's Heritage. Is it possible he believes it? I don't doubt that he believes it, and even if he doesn't believe it, he wants everybody else to believe it. Obama believes that this nation is fatally flawed since its founding, even before its founding, so it stands to reason -- you know, a lot of people did not hear the true story of Thanksgiving until I wrote it in my book in the early nineties. I can remember Snerdley and H.R. were stunned when they heard the first story of Thanksgiving, the real story, because we'd all been taught a variation of the Indians saved us. We had to draw pictures of it in school, that's exactly right, art projects of the Indians saving us.
Well, that would be because they actually did save us -- largely through teaching white settlers agricultural techniques:
Time and familiarity has reduced to quaint memory the crucial nature of Indian agriculture for white settlers on the Atlantic coast early in the seventeenth century. Every American school child can recite the story of Squanto and his service to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. It is a charming incident in our historical texts culminating in a grand feast of thanksgiving. The harsh reality of the time, as William Bradford well knew and recorded, inscribed a bleaker circumstance. Without the seed corn and beans Bradford's fellow adventurers unearthed in November 1620, survival of the colony was doubtful. Without Squanto to teach them the arts of New World agriculture the Pilgrims' future was likely to be short indeed. The settlers' failure to master Squanto's teaching forced the colony to rely on food supplies purchased from successful Indian farmers. Not until the second year did the Pilgrims' own fields produce in sufficient abundance to assure survival.
To the south, in Virginia, the Jamestown settlement had already benefited from Indian agriculture. On at least two occasions the imperial chieftain, Powhatan, provided Jamestown with sufficient food to stave off disaster. The Jamestown settlers and later commentators seldom understood Powhatan's motivation and apparent inconstancy toward the settlement. A broader view of the chief's effort to establish an empire in the Chesapeake area might shed some light on the seeming enigma, but for the Englishmen at Jamestown the fact that lie came and with food was enough.
To the good fortune of Plymouth and Jamestown the coastal Indians produced food in quantity. The coastal tribes' ability to feed themselves and the white settlements belied the popular conception of Indian agriculture in that region as bare subsistence. Indeed, where investigators have explored the question a different picture emerged. In southern New England at least, Indian agriculture accounted for over 65 percent of the native population's diet and surplus production for trade and storage was common. In any event, it did not take the Plymouth colony long to discover that their gift from the Indians had a value beyond feeding the settlement.
Within four years after their arrival at Plymouth settlers profited from Indian agriculture and entered into relationships that dominated Indian-white contacts for the next two hundred years and more. In the fall of 1625 Governor William Bradford sent a boatload of corn up the Kennebec River to trade with the interior tribes for furs. His men returned with a store of beaver and other furs that financed the colony's needs for the next year. In later years Massachusetts further developed its fur trade, raised its own corn for export, and purchased corn from the Indians for resale.
You can also read William Bradford's eyewitness account for more.
Now it is true that Bradford's account also details how the Pilgrims discovered that communal farming was a distinctly inferior scheme to private farming, which is where Stossel and Limbaugh obtain their claim that the first Thanksgiving was about the failure of socialism -- which, as Brian at RightWingWatch has detailed already, is a load of bollocks and a deliberate misreading of the history.
As Digby says:
At this point it's clear that according to Rush, there's literally nothing good you can say about a racial minority in America (unless they are dutifully serving as right wing poster children.)
Of course not. Because in Rushtopia, white people are the cream of creation, and any suggestion that their inferiors might actually have helped them survive and thrive is an outrageous slander upon the race.
Karen Famigheti at Media Matters has more.
[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]