Thanksgiving and the Spin of History

Michael Metzger

Joseph Stalin once remarked, “We can always find another widow for Lenin.” There is no doubt that Joseph Stalin’s threat caught the attention of Vladimir Lenin’s real widow, Krupskaya.  Stalin detested her and had a habit of ‘whiting out’ those he hated. Over 200 people fell from favor with the dictator, as their names and pictures were erased from the public record.  This includes most of those instrumental in getting Russia’s October Revolution off the ground.  To create the myth that Stalin and Lenin were the “true leaders” of the Revolution, he purged three quarters of the people from historical photos and books.

The West used to excoriate the Soviet Union for its revisionist history.  Isn’t it a bit ironic that the United States seems to be engaged in the same practice? “Maryland public school students are free to thank anyone they want while learning about the 17th century celebration of Thanksgiving — as long as it’s not God.” So writes Laurel Lundstrum of the Capital News Service. “And that’s how it should be, administrators say.”  Lundstum reports that students can read about the Pilgrims, the Native Americans, and learn about the “famous meal.” “In elementary school we learned that the Pilgrims came to the Indians and they all had a feast,” said one seventh-grade student. But without the influence of religion, there would have been no feast.

Some 120 Pilgrims landed during a wintry storm at Plymouth Rock on November 11, 1620. There were 94 males — the rest were women and children.  The snow was a half-foot deep.  Within a month, six men were dead. By March of 1621, 13 of the 18 wives had died.  Nearly half the colony had perished by the end of March.  Thanks to the effort of Squanto, a Native American, the Pilgrims learned how to plant maize and beans that summer.  In the autumn, a good harvest prompted a feast as a way to give thanks to God.

One of my favorite Far Side cartoons depicts an elderly and wrinkled Lone Ranger reading a dictionary and coming upon the definition of “Kemosabe” (purportedly referring to a horse’s derriere).  The Masked Man is seen muttering What the hell???  In the 1960s, William F. Buckley forecast that emerging information technology would lead to the downfall of communism. He was right. In 1988 — a year before the Berlin Wall fell — I was in an Estonian hotel watching TV.  A Volvo ad was running.  Out on the streets, you could only purchase a decrepit East German Lata.  Soviet citizens were muttering What the hell???  They knew they had been conned.

With the old Soviet archives now open to the public and ex-Soviet citizens now free to view the unaltered archives typically found in the West, we can see today how extensive, detrimental and eventually futile it is to try to recast reality and “spin” history.  From tales that are passed down through families to the wide availability of the Internet, it is easy for any young person to see the centrality of religion to the whole Pilgrim enterprise.  Adults can also see the risk that public educators are taking by ‘whiting out’ religion.  Between technology and the traditions of story-telling, educators will soon learn the futility of trying to “spin history.”

However you celebrate Thanksgiving, you might take a moment to read the original Mayflower Compact (1620).  No matter how educators may want to spin the origins of Thanksgiving, it will be clear that religious faith and belief in a sovereign God sustained the settlers through those challenging first years.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Mayflower Compact (1620)
“In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth.  Anno Domini, 1620.”

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