Recently, Joy Reid, the host of MSNBC’s “The Reid Out,” stated the United States of America is a nation founded on violence. She said “we are a country that chooses violence over and over again”; and that the GOP (Republican Party) uses the Thanksgiving “fairy tale” to erase genocide. I must say at the outset that I abhor murder, and have an increased loathing when it comes to genocide. I believe there will be special punishment in Hell for those who commit murder and/or genocide. That being said, I would like to examine Mrs. Reid’s comments.
In one sense Mrs. Reid is correct. We are indeed a violent country, and our citizens seem to choose violence “over and over again.” We see repeated examples of this almost on a daily basis. From the thousands of shootings and stabbings, assaults and murders that happen each and every week nation-wide, to the verbal and psychological violence we experience each and every day from those around us, and those we expose ourselves to. However, while some of what Mrs. Reid says is unfortunately true, most of what she says is both false and misleading.
Was there a genocide taking place at the founding of America? Not necessarily. Now, it is certain that there were some people among the early settlers, as well as those who came later, who felt nothing but hatred and disdain toward the indigenous people – the North American Indians. They derided them, mocked them, abused them, and quite often killed them. But the Pilgrims who arrived in 1620 were a peaceful group, who quickly established a peaceful relationship with the Wampanoag Tribe, a relationship that lasted for more than 50 years, when the actions of a few individuals exploded into the King Phillip’s War (1675-1678).
Once the actual history is known, it becomes clear that what Mrs. Reid calls a “fairy tale” was actually true. Again, this does not mean that other people who were not part of the Pilgrim settlers were not hostile to the North American Indians. To be sure, there were people like that, but not the Pilgrims. In order to keep the history of America accurate here (something Mrs. Reid failed to do), the Pilgrims arrived in 1620. The actual first English colony, however, began in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. But they were far from the first “White Men” to set foot in America. The Spanish arrived in 1565, and Leif Erickson, the Viking explorer from Iceland, arrived here in about 1000AD. Hundreds of years before Leif Erickson, however, an Irish explorer monk by the name of Brendan arrived in North America sometime between 512AD and 530AD. Of course there are those who believe Leif Erickson was the absolute first to arrive in North America, but they are unable to explain how in his explorations of North America he came across an Irish settlement. Maybe descendants of Brendan and his crew? But some scholars believe that even before Brendan, long before Brendan, there were Roman, Phoenician, Egyptian, and Arab traders and explorers that made it to North America.
Back to the Pilgrims and the North American Indians and the myth embraced by Mrs. Reid that the Pilgrims came to colonize North America and committed genocide against the indigenous peoples here. For many, many years, the popular teaching was that the Pilgrims killed off the Wampanoag’s by introducing them to smallpox. The problem with this theory is that there is no evidence to support it. There is, in fact, evidence that it had nothing to do with smallpox, and nothing to do with the Pilgrims.
The Wampanoag Tribe did indeed suffer a terrible disease, but it wasn’t smallpox, rather, it was a bacterial infection known as leptospirosis. The tribe suffered greatly as a result. This epidemic, however, began in 1615 and ended in 1619, all before the Pilgrims arrived in North America. While this is what the evidence shows to be true, far too many people today choose to ignore the truth and replace it with the myth of the “White Man” (naturally – for these people, to identify the alleged perpetrators by their racial and ethnic heritage, thus promoting racism and ethnic discrimination against this group), and laying the blame completely at his feet.
Again, this is not to say the North American Indians were not horribly abused and taken advantage of, and not to say they were not the victims of genocide. It is beyond question that they were. But for generations it was committed by individuals and sometimes groups of individuals; and sadly, very sadly, the eradication of the North American Indian became the policy of the United States Government. Not necessarily the people of the United States, but certainly its government. I will note briefly here that smallpox was introduced to South, Central, and North America by Spanish Explorers. In 1520 a group of Spanish explorers arrived in Vera Cruz, Mexico. Along with them was an African slave who was infected with smallpox. Before long the group, along with the slave, began exploring the North American continent, spreading the disease as they went.
Clearly then, it was not the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims also did not come to colonize North America. They were known as Separatists in their home country of England, and they were persecuted cruelly there. Many of them were thrown out of their churches, they were burdened by exorbitant fines, they were imprisoned in the most inhumane conditions imaginable, and they were executed. All for their faith, and nothing but their faith. By definition they were the victims of genocide, and they did not simply travel to America, but rather they escaped to America. The very ones that Mrs. Reid points to and accuses of genocide were actually the victims of genocide desperately trying to save their lives and the lives of their family. Would Mrs. Reid support the genocide of people for their religious belief? Does she pick and choose which genocide to condemn and which genocide to accept as good?
Again, as I have already pointed out, this is not that the North American Indians were not victims of genocide. Clearly they were. It must be understood, however, that not only were the North American Indians victims of genocide, they were also perpetrators of genocide, and they were not the first people in North America. The North American Indians are by and large descended from the Clovis People who migrated up from South America. Before they ever reached North America, however, the inhabitants of an area known as Berengia (sometimes known as the Bering Land Bridge, but far larger than you might imagine) began their migration to North America. These people initially came from what we now consider to be Siberia. They migrated to North America, along with animals such as the Woolly Mammoth and the Giant Ground Sloth and other creatures.
[Be sure to read Part Two here]