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"Thanksgiving guilt trip: How warlike were Native Americans" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Nov 2021 10:00 p.m. PST

…before Europeans showed up?

"The approach of Thanksgiving, that quintessential American holiday, has me brooding over recent scientific portrayals of Native Americans as bellicose brutes. When I was in grade school, my classmates and I wore paper Indian headdresses and Pilgrim hats and reenacted the "first Thanksgiving," in which supposedly friendly Native Americans joined Pilgrims for a fall feast of turkey, venison, squash and corn. This episode seemed to support the view—often (apparently erroneously) attributed to the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau—of Native Americans and other pre-state people as peaceful "noble savages".

As I've pointed out previously, prominent scientists now deride depictions of pre-state people as peaceful. "Contra leftist anthropologists who celebrate the noble savage," the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote in 2007, "quantitative body counts—such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with ax marks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men—suggest that pre-state societies were far more violent than our own." According to Pinker, the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes "got it right" when he called pre-state life a "war of all against all."…"
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Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Nov 2021 11:18 p.m. PST

The "noble any man" is a myth.
Also, any evils done by one group to another, if the roles had been reversed would have had the same or similar outcomes I believe.

Russ Dunaway

BobGrognard16 Nov 2021 11:57 p.m. PST

Always good to see an article that quotes Wikipedia as a source.

What really strikes me about this piece (and also the fact that it's been posted here) is that it seems to clearly be an attempt to cause an argument. There are currently threads elsewhere which refer to the (overly?) political nature of some of the content on TMP and how it is only tenuously related to wargaming. I think it's a shame that this kind of stuff gets posted as the worst kind of click bait.

How would you wargame this? What rules do you have for settlers stealing corn or planting crops? What motivates you to denigrate the whole national narrative of the Pilgrim Fathers and the birth of America? How is that going to end well?

Oddball17 Nov 2021 6:10 a.m. PST

On recent trip to Nashville (Sept) visited the Tennessee State Museum. It is free and well worth your time if you are in Music City.

It follows the time line from "the beginning" with the formation of the Earth to modern times (seeing stuff you played with as a child in a museum is disturbing).

At the time line of approx. 1000 AD, there was a ground radar layout of a hill top fort. It was laid out just like an English hill top fort. It had traverses, blocking positions, trenches and gates.

As the guy I was with said "I thought the Indians were suppose to be peaceful with each other. Fort must have been to keep snakes out".

500 years before Europeans showed up, Indians in at least Tennessee were building extensive fortifications. No the 500 nations were not peace loving environmentalists before the corruption of Europeans. They killed each other off for resources, land and possessions just like other humans all over the world at the time.

Russ is completely correct on roles reversed and both sides doing really bad things to the other.

Bob, the information on the hill fort ties into the wargaming thing, if you want to game inter-tribal warfare before Columbus. I never knew Indians built forts of this size.

Also, living in the area of said "First Thanksgiving" that happy time did not last long. King Philip (Metacomet) who lead the Indians on the bloodiest war fought in North America (percentage of killed to population) in 1670, was the son of the chief that had that "First Thanksgiving".

Within a generation, both sides were trying to exterminate each other. No joke, King Philips wanted to wipe out all Europeans (man, woman or child) in the region.

Didn't stop then, there is a grave marker 1 mile from my house for Mary Goodnow. She was lame and could not run from an Indian attack in 1707. The Indians tortured her for hours trying to get others to come out of the garrison (fortification) house to rescue her. They wouldn't budge, so after many hours of her screams they got bored and tomahawked her.

Indians fought hard and ruthlessly for their culture, people and beliefs, but they lost. One culture losing to another is not a new story in the lines of human progression.

14th NJ Vol17 Nov 2021 7:20 a.m. PST

The native people are the same as all people who have walked on this world, capable of great acts of kindness and great acts of depravity, they are absolutely the same as all the rest of us non-natives. To suggest otherwise is ignorant.

SBminisguy17 Nov 2021 8:53 a.m. PST

After the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1620 on the Mayflower, they almost starved to death. Members of a local tribe, the Wampanoag, helped the newcomers, showing them how to plant corn and other local foods. In the fall of 1621 the Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest with a three-day feast with the Wampanoag. The event my classmates and I reenacted in grade school really happened! The friendliness of the Wampanoag was extraordinary, because they had recently been ravaged by diseases caught from previous European explorers. .. The Arawak and Wampanoag were kind to us—and by us I mean people of European descent. We showed our thanks by sickening, subjugating and slaughtering them. And we have the gall to call them more savage than us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Revisionist carp! The primary tribe the Pilgrims encountered were the Wampanaog tribe. The Wampanaog had been devastated by disease and war with other tribes, particularly with the Narragansett tribe. The Narragansett were an enemy tribe that hadn't been devastated by disease, and were basically getting ready to conquer the Wampanaog and had already taken their best lands. When the Pilgrims showed up, amazingly an English speaking native american (Squanto) who was held as a slave by the Wampanaog enabled the two peoples to communicate.

After a brutal winter that left both peoples in dire need, both were desperate enough to make an alliance. The Wampanaog would help the Pilgrims with knowledge of local farming and survival technique, and gifts of food and items, and the Pilgrims would use their superior technology (guns and metal armor) to help protect the Wampanaog from the Narragansett. Both sides benefited from the deal, which enabled both to survive. And that's what they gave thanks for in the first ever large celebration between Europeans and Native Americans. Squanto won his freedom as a result and when Chief Massasoit fell ill, the Pilgrims helped save his life. Nine years later the Pilgrims would help the Wampanaog defeat the Narragansett tribe's attempt to capture their main village and conquer the Wampanaog.

The Wampanoag weren't happy nature hippies. They were tribal peoples, little different from tribal people's the world over across history. Nobody had a crystal ball. Nobody knew what the future would bring, the later conquest of North America was not inevitable or even really planned. At that time, the survival of both peoples was precarious, and their mutually beneficial alliance save them. And that's worth thanks.

So yes, Happy Thanksgiving!

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP17 Nov 2021 9:41 a.m. PST

Pre-industrial peoples pretty much everywhere had frequent conflicts – plenty of archeological evidence for that

Andrew Walters17 Nov 2021 10:18 a.m. PST

The only thing I would add is that it's a mistake to talk of all the native Americans as a monolithic, homogenous group. There were many tribes and nations, all ethnically, linguistically, and culturally distinct. Some were really, really warlike, with Bronze Age levels of heinous organized violence. Others less warlike, with Stone Age levels of violence.

But be circumspect about contradicting the popular "narrative".

SBminisguy17 Nov 2021 11:25 a.m. PST

Some were really, really warlike, with Bronze Age levels of heinous organized violence. Others less warlike, with Stone Age levels of violence.

First, like most tribal peoples they considered anyone from outside their Tribe and Clan to be not really human. Most native american tribal names translate to something like "the real people." This is totally common to all tribal cultures, and depending on their proximity to other tribes could also develop an "Honor Warrior" culture code as well. We see this with peoples as diverse as the Scots and the Maori.

And conflict is situational. Where is the tribe located, what resources do they need compete for? In very harsh climates like the Arctic, Inuit peoples may have had minor skirmishes but generally just surviving was hard enough without fighting over things. But linguistically related peoples down the Alaskan and Canadian coastline who lived in less harsh climates would clash over resources, and many of these tribes invented bark and hide armor, and non-hunting weapons.

And other peoples, like the Great Lakes tribes often competed for resources, as did most central american tribes. They also developed warrior cultures and combat was constant as tribes tested each other's strength. If a tribe became weak, it would be wiped out by its neighbors -- as was happening to the Wamapanoag before the Pilgrims arrived.

chrisminiaturefigs17 Nov 2021 12:02 p.m. PST

As a Brit, i find this all really fascinating.
I did read a book many years ago called Scalp dance,many of you may know it, covering the final years of conflict between the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, American settlers and US army . My memory is it was a shockingly gruesome but apparently accurate read.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP17 Nov 2021 3:01 p.m. PST



rvandusen Supporting Member of TMP17 Nov 2021 9:33 p.m. PST

For an interesting scholarly account of pre-contact and immediate post-contact warfare read North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence edited by Chacon and Mendoza, University of Arizona Press, 2013.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP18 Nov 2021 3:53 p.m. PST

Thanks also…


Thresher0118 Nov 2021 9:23 p.m. PST

From what I've read and heard, they ran the full gammut, from peaceful and friendly, to warlike, and perhaps willing to eat you, or at least parts of you (your heart), after killing you, so…….

JimSelzer19 Nov 2021 3:10 a.m. PST

Aztec Mayan and Incan were quite brutal

Augustus19 Nov 2021 7:20 p.m. PST

Being hit with a tomahawk does not sound like a love tap.

Yeah..those things were just for show. They only hacked down sick animals and used only old trees.

Oddball22 Nov 2021 9:43 a.m. PST

Tomahawks is the name of our local school sports teams.

A person with too much time on their hands protested at a town meeting that it was "wrong" to have a school sports team named after a weapon of war.

It was countered that a tomahawk had many purposes outside of warfare.

The person then asked why the name wasn't changed to another implement?

The comment was made that yelling out "Go Tomahawks!" at a school sports game was better than yelling "Let's Go Hoes!".

The name stayed as Tomahawks.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP29 Nov 2021 10:02 p.m. PST

The Truth About Thanksgiving Is that the Debunkers Are Wrong



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