This month, the final season of the TV dramatization of Philip K. Dick’s seminal science fiction novel The Man in the High Castle was released on Amazon Prime. And having watched the entire series, I can say that the thought of Nazi Germany conquering about two-thirds of the US—with the West Coast controlled by Imperial Japan and a narrow Neutral Zone acting as a buffer between the two superpowers of the alternate history—remains as shocking today as it was when I first read the book in the 1980s.
But with Thanksgiving swift upon us, I will remind everyone that the scenario in question shouldn’t be shocking at all. Because Americans today live in a very real universe where the functional equivalent of Nazis—European colonists—committed genocide against Native American peoples and enslaved African people between 1492 when Columbus landed on Caribbean islands off the coast of our continent and the end of the “Indian Wars” in 1924 when the Apache Nation finally laid down its arms.
Before moving on, however, I want to review the definition of the term genocide as understood in international law. To deflect racists’ predictable cries of, “There was no genocide of Indians, they weren’t all killed!” According to Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
To continue, it naturally goes without saying that Native Americans never gave up their fight for justice any more than African Americans did… as has been seen most recently in the grassroots native-led fight against the Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline that would transport global warming-inducing oil through the Standing Rock Reservation—controlled by some of the surviving bands of the Great Sioux Nation—and in the many protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Both The Man in the High Castle book and TV series show us an America where blacks, Jews, and presumably Native Americans have been efficiently exterminated in concentration camps in the areas under Nazi control in the 15 years between the 1947 Axis victory and the start of their narrative in 1962—some survivors only managing to hang on in the Neutral Zone and the Japanese-controlled West Coast.
But there are significant differences between the two works. Both expect to terrify their audiences with this depiction of events. Yet Dick’s original book is the more subversive of the two in that the people in the America he portrays have largely accepted their situation and go about their daily lives as if tremendously horrific massacres have not just taken place.
And that is also true in our world. Our America. Horrendous acts of repression have been committed against Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Amercians, Latinos/as and others over the last 500-plus years—including concentration camps, biological warfare, mass executions, and racial exclusion laws eventually copied and refined by the Nazi Reich in WWII as the Empire of Japan (ironically) committed the same acts based on the edicts of its royal and military leadership of the time—but most people are completely unaware of that history. A history that in some respects is ongoing.
This is a world where, here in the Hub, a supposedly enlightened institution like Boston University spent a considerable sum to host a speaker—Ben Shapiro—several days back who denies the US was built on genocide and slavery in the face of massive evidence to the contrary (instead making the glass-half-full argument that the US was built on freedom and paying lip service to the idea that genocide and slavery are indeed bad). Even after that worthy released a video two years ago (which he later called “bad satire” after being heavily criticized) listing “Native American achievements” like “dreamcatchers, tomahawks, and cannibalism,” according to the Hill.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans eat turkey dinners year in year out to celebrate the myth that European colonists like the Pilgrims ever looked upon the small percentage of surviving native peoples (who didn’t succumb to the communicable diseases the former inadvertently, and later intentionally, transmitted to the latter) as anything but obstacles to their dreams of building a “Christian nation.” True, a nation where the different factions of Christians fought each other from the moment they landed here, according to Smithsonian magazine. But the one point upon which most of the major Christian sects agreed was their God-given right to take the land from its original inhabitants by force. And take it they did.
So that’s our history. And our present. And that’s what Thanksgiving celebrates.
And while I’m certainly not going to argue against the idea of having a national holiday at the end of November in an era when most working people no longer get regular vacations from their ever-more-greedy and capricious corporate bosses, I do think it’s incumbent upon Americans to take some small but important actions every T-Day to help set the record straight.
First, we need to recognize that the day of thanks celebrated by descendants of the European colonists is also a National Day of Mourning commemorated by the descendants of the Massachusetts tribes who suffered greatly at the hands of the Pilgrims and the Puritans. This year marks the 50th time the event has been held in Plymouth since 1970. So readers should certainly try to attend this time out (information at the bottom of this column). But one thing that families who can’t make it to Plymouth on Nov 28 can do before sitting down to eat and watch football is to read the text of the plaque that Day of Mourning organizers installed near Plymouth Rock aloud. Here it is:
NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING
Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them,
Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their cultures. Participants in [the] National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.
Erected by the Town of Plymouth on behalf of the United American Indians of New England.
Second, people can take a look at some of the new scholarship on Native American history that’s come out in recent years—a good deal of it written by Native American researchers—and discuss it with their families on Thanksgiving. Two books that cover a brutal war of extermination against local native nations by the very Pilgrims and Puritans who ultimately conquered Massachusetts and surrounding states are Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks and Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast by Christine De Lucia. A more general book about the Native American experience is An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
Third, readers can follow a suggestion I made last year and make it a point to serve others in need every Thanksgiving. Because it’s a good thing to do. It’s a better way to honor the memory of the people that the official holiday ignores than just having a party. And if enough people do it, a strong case could be made for turning the holiday into a national day of service.
Finally, everyone should definitely check out The Man in the High Castle series—particularly the last season with its focus on the necessity of popular resistance to unjust regimes—and similar productions with your families. But do so critically. With America’s ugly racist and genocidal history, and dangerous present, in mind. The better to ensure that we never see another genocide committed on these shores again. Or help perpetrate one. As some current and incipient political leaders would be more than happy to do, if their public pronouncements are to be taken seriously. And they certainly should be.
The 50th National Day of Mourning is being commemorated on Thursday, 11.28, on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, at noon. Cole’s Hill is above Plymouth Rock in the Plymouth historic waterfront area. facebook.com/events/2124624237639022/. Official event organized by United American Indians of New England every year since 1970. Donate: gf.me/u/vumxka/.
Executive editor and associate publisher, DigBoston. Executive director of Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Former founder and editor/publisher of Open Media Boston. 2018 & 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Award Winner.