Thursday, November 23, 2017

Vox Popoli: Thanksgiving and the Indian traitor

There is an important Thanksgiving lesson here for Americans, who have repeated, and repeated again, Massasoit's fatal mistake:

Massasoit was the sachem, or political and military leader, of the Wampanoag confederation, a loose combination of villages in southeastern Massachusetts. About five years before the Pilgrims arrived, Massasoit’s people had been decimated by diseases brought by earlier European traders. Entire villages had been depopulated—including a Patuxet village that the newly arrived Pilgrims settled into and named New Plymouth.

As Mann explains, Massasoit was in a bind. The epidemic that had hit the Wampanoag hadn’t touched their longtime enemies to the west, the Narragansett. Massasoit feared his weakened people would be overrun, so he decided to gamble and let the Pilgrims stay. European traders had been visiting New England for at least a century, but Indian leaders always forbid them from establishing permanent settlements. The relationship was strictly transactional. Far from seeing the Europeans as superior, writes Mann, the Indians had good reason to take advantage of these strange newcomers:

Shorter than the natives, oddly dressed, and often unbearably dirty, the pallid foreigners had peculiar blue eyes that peeped out of the masks of bristly, animal-like hair that encased their faces. They were irritatingly garrulous, prone to fits of chicanery, and often surprisingly incompetent at what seemed to Indians like basic tasks. But they also made useful and beautiful goods—copper kettles, glittering colored glass, and steel knives and hatchets—unlike anything else in New England. Moreover they would exchange these valuable items for cheap furs of a sort used by Indians as blankets. It was like happening upon a dingy kiosk that would swap fancy electronic goods for customers’ used socks—almost anyone would be willing to overlook the shopkeeper’s peculiarities.

Massasoit’s plan was to allow the Pilgrims to stay—as long as they allied with the Wampanoag against the Narragansett.

"We'll bring in the foreigners as allies to defeat our domestic enemies." This  was neither the first time nor the last time someone has made that mistake. See: the British Labour Party, the U.S. Democratic Party. And in the case of the Wampanoag, the strategy turned out as history reliably dictates. The natives never seem to grasp the possibility that one day they will be outnumbered by the newcomers.

As for Massasoit and the Wampanoag, their peace with the Pilgrims lasted more than 50 years, until 1675, when one of Massasoit’s sons launched an attack and triggered a conflict that would encompass all of New England. The Europeans won, in large part, according to Mann, because by then they outnumbered the natives.

50 years. Interesting. Why, it was just 52 years ago that the Naturalization Act of 1965 was enacted....