This Thanksgiving is different. Home alone? Here’s something to read.
Like the Macy’s parade –except this year– this is my Thanksgiving tradition. I post two articles about the holiday that appeared on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times.
The first, from 2008, is called “A French Connection” and tells the story of the real first Pilgrims in America. They were French. In Florida. Fifty years before the Mayflower sailed. It did not end with a happy meal. In fact, it ended in a religious massacre.
TO commemorate the arrival of the first pilgrims to America’s shores, a June date would be far more appropriate, accompanied perhaps by coq au vin and a nice Bordeaux. After all, the first European arrivals seeking religious freedom in the “New World” were French. And they beat their English counterparts by 50 years. That French settlers bested the Mayflower Pilgrims may surprise Americans raised on our foundational myth, but the record is clear.
The complete story can be found in America’s Hidden History.
The second is “How the Civil War Created Thanksgiving” (2014) and tells the story of the Union League providing Thanksgiving dinners to Union troops.
Of all the bedtime-story versions of American history we teach, the tidy Thanksgiving pageant may be the one stuffed with the heaviest serving of myth. This iconic tale is the main course in our nation’s foundation legend, complete with cardboard cutouts of bow-carrying Native American cherubs and pint-size Pilgrims in black hats with buckles. And legend it largely is.
In fact, what had been a New England seasonal holiday became more of a “national” celebration only during the Civil War, with Lincoln’s proclamation calling for “a day of thanksgiving” in 1863.
Enjoy them both.
This year is the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims to Massachusetts and the signing of the Mayflower Compact. I serve up a helping of Thanksgiving History in my new Don’t Know Much About® AudioMinutes
For more on the history of the holiday, read my article, “How the Civil War Created Thanksgiving” (New York Times, November 25, 2014)
And here is another piece of America’s Hidden History —“A French Connection.” The story of the real first Pilgrims in the future United States. They were French in Florida, fifty years before the Mayflower sailed.
TO commemorate the arrival of the first pilgrims to America’s shores, a June date would be far more appropriate, accompanied perhaps by coq au vin and a nice Bordeaux.
–“A French Connection” (November 25, 2008)
The Nuremberg Trials — A Don’t Know Much About® Audiominute
75 years ago on November 20, 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, the first trials of Nazi war criminals began. This military tribunal, the Nuremberg Trials, as they came to be known, was convened by the four victorious Allies—Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
Listen to this audiominute.
That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.
What makes this inquest significant is that these prisoners represent sinister influences that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. We will show them to be living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power.
-United States Prosecutor Robert Jackson, Opening Statement (11/22/1945)
This is a timeline of the Nuremberg Trails from the Robert H. Jackson Center.
These resources on the Nuremberg Trials are from the Library of Congress.
Yesterday, November 11th, was Veterans Day – a holiday on which we honor service and sacrifice.
Two World War I veterans, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, deserve no such honors. But we must still recognize the consequences of war. Listen to this quick lesson.
You can read and listen to more of my history of Veterans Day here.
And read more about these two men and the impact of World War I in the rise of other dictators in Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy
Publishers Weekly has given Strongman a Starred Review:
This captivating history of five depraved “strongmen” offers a timely warning about the need to protect democracy. Davis (In the Shadow of Liberty) provides absorbing, clearly distilled biographies of Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Mao Zedong, Benito Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin, as well as profiles of their respective dictatorships and atrocities.
Read the full Publishers Weekly Starred review here.
During World War I, the poem “In Flanders Fields” inspired the use of the poppy as the symbol of loss and remembrance on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Read these posts for more about Veterans Day and about the poem “In Flanders Fields.”
What symbol, what icon, should we use to mark the tragic losses in the Covid pandemic — losses more deadly than war?
One of the most famous symbols of the sacrifice and loss we mark on Memorial Day and Veterans Day is the Poppy, inspired by this World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields,” written by John McCrae.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
“Soon after writing “In Flanders Field,” McCrae was transferred to a hospital in France, where he was named the chief of medical services. Saddened and disillusioned by the war, McCrae found respite in writing letters and poetry, and wrote his final poem, “The Anxious Dead.”
In the summer of 1917, McCrae’s health took a turn, and he began suffering from severe asthma attacks and bronchitis. McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis on January 28, 1918.” (Poets.org)
Inspired by McCrae’s poem, an American woman, Moina Michael originated the idea of wearing red poppies to honor the war dead. She sold poppies with the money going to benefit servicemen, and the movement caught on, spreading to Europe as well. In 1948, Moina Michael was honored for founding the Poppy Movement with a red 3 cent postage stamp.
“The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”
(This is a revised version of a post originally written for Veterans Day in 2011. The meaning still applies.)
On Veterans Day, a reminder of what the day once meant and what it should still mean.
That was the moment at which World War I –then called THE GREAT WAR– largely came to end in 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
One of the most tragically senseless and destructive periods in all history came to a close in Western Europe with the Armistice –or end of hostilities between Germany and the Allied nations — that began at that moment. Some 20 million people had died in the fighting that raged for more than four years since August 1914. The formal end of the war came with the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.
Today, it is important to recognize the role of that treaty and the war in the rise of some of the most murderous dictators in history. That history is told in my new book, Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy.
Besides the war casualties, an estimated 100 million people died during the war of the Spanish flu, a worldwide pandemic that was completely linked to the war and had an impact on its outcome. That is the subject of my recent book, More Deadly Than War:The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War.
The date of November 11th became a national holiday of remembrance in many of the victorious allied nations –a day to commemorate the loss of so many lives in the war. And in the United States, President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day on November 11, 1919. A few years later, in 1926, Congress passed a resolution calling on the President to observe each November 11th as a day of remembrance:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and
Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and
Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
Of course, the hopes that “the war to end all wars” would bring peace were short-lived. By 1939, Europe was again at war and what was once called “the Great War” would become World War I. With the end of World War II, there was a movement in America to rename Armistice Day and create a holiday that recognized the veterans of all of America’s conflicts. President Eisenhower signed that law in 1954. (In 1971, Veterans Day began to be marked as a Monday holiday on the third Monday in November, but in 1978, the holiday was returned to the traditional November 11th date).
Today, Veterans Day honors the duty, sacrifice and service of America’s nearly 25 million veterans of all wars, unlike Memorial Day, which specifically honors those who died fighting in America’s wars.
We should remember and celebrate all those men and women. But lost in that worthy goal is the forgotten meaning of this day in history –the meaning which Congress gave to Armistice Day in 1926:
to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations …
inviting the people of the United States to observe the day … with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
The Library of Congress offers an extensive Veterans History Project.
Read more about World War I and all of America’s conflicts in Don’t Know Much About History and Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents.
I discuss the role of Americans in battle in more than 240 years of American history in THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah (Hachette Books and Random House Audio).
MORE DEADLY THAN WAR: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War was published in May 2018.
On November 9th and 10th in 1938, an outburst of anti-Semitic violence swept across Hitler’s Germany.
An audio lesson on “Kristallnacht.”
Read more about Hitler’s Germany in Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy
What keeps an incumbent president from winning a second-term?
This audioclip offers four reasons from history. For more details on this piece of presidential history, read this post.