November 24, 2011


A war with bad guys on both sides in early America: a review of Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (Bruce Ramsey, 5/12/06, The Seattle Times)

[T]he final third refocuses on King Philip's War.

It is a war of extermination, or of cultural defense, depending on how you look at it. It is started by Philip, son of Massasoit, the Pokasset chief who had attended the first Thanksgiving. Massasoit had made allies of the Pilgrims. Philip aims to kill them. He prepares for the conflict by selling off tribal land to buy muskets. The author compliments the Indians for being quick to learn to use the flintlock musket, but the Indians cannot craft muskets themselves. The tribes who attack the whites -- and Philip is able to enlist only some of them -- are so dependent on farmed corn that they need to win their war in time for spring planting.

Philbrick, who won the National Book Award for "In the Heart of the Sea," vows not to tell a morally simplified story, "either the time-honored tradition of how the Pilgrims came to symbolize all that is good about America" or "the now equally familiar modern tale of how the evil Europeans annihilated the innocent Native Americans." This is a story of individuals, and though Philbrick tends to apply a tougher moral standard to the whites, he finds wisdom and folly on both sides. There is also appalling cruelty by both sides.

Philbrick's hero is a settler, Benjamin Church, who insists that his people not see all Indians as the enemy, as many were violently inclined to do. Church makes a deal with a neighboring tribe to switch sides and support the settlers. He adopts Indian ways of war. He recruits loyal Indians into his force, and is successful. He also opposes an effort to sell captives into slavery, though the white leaders in Boston, who had interned loyal Indians on a barren island, put hundreds of captives on slave ships for the Caribbean.

It is a book with a lesson, which is about not demonizing your opponents, and trying to find the humanity in them, and learning from them.

All American wars are about offering the enemy a choice of decimation or abandonment of their own and adoption of our culture.

[originally posted: 05/12/06]

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Posted by at November 24, 2011 12:41 AM

Another book for our "to be read" list.

An important lesson from King Phillip's War, left out of the otherwise excellent remarks above, was that it began over the savages' repression of the "praying Indians," those who has peacefully accepted European religion and customs.

Christian Indians, including Indian lay ministers, were slaughtered by Wampanoag al-Qaida types. The murderers were apprehended and brought to justice, which touched off a general uprising.

Most of the Indian wars throughout our history followed this paradigm of Indian religious bigotry and fanaticism. This is also the pattern for the present clash of civilizations, wherin adherents of failing atavisms lash out as they see their worlds slipping away.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 12, 2006 8:23 AM

What comes next is rather predictable, isn't it? Some big movie studio buys the rights (probably already has), gets Steven Spielberg (or maybe Ron Howard?) to direct the movie version, signs up George Clooney or that wacko who played Aragorn to star, throws in $75+ million in production costs, opens to rave reviews, tanks at the box office (though eventually makes a sweet profit, of course), cleans up during award season. Yawn.

Posted by: b at May 12, 2006 1:23 PM
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