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Pequot War–Officially Approved Conservative Version

[ 64 ] September 17, 2012 |

Somewhat to my surprise this morning, I discovered that Conservapedia actually has an entry on the Pequot War. For you non-colonialists out there, the Pequot War was a war of extermination waged by the Puritans in Massachusetts and Connecticut against the Pequots in 1637. Unlike traditional indigenous warfare, the Puritans sought to maximize enemy casualties and destroy Pequot society completely. Essentially, they took the brutal practices of 17th century European religious warfare and applied it to Native Americans. This shocked even the Puritans’ Narragansett allies, who had certainly never seen anything like it before. The war culminated in the Puritan burning of the Pequot settlement at Mystic, Connecticut, killing 500 men, women, and children. As William Bradford said, “It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire.” Most of the survivors were enslaved and sent to the death traps of the Caribbean sugar plantations.

Turns out the people behind Conservapedia see historians calling this genocide, which it certainly was, as part of the broader “revisionist” academic attack upon good white people who were just defending their homes or something even though they were part of a conquering force who introduced total warfare to the….oh why bother. A choice quote, based upon their (mis)interpretation of a Steven Katz 1991 article:

Such a view, founded on presentist notions of outrage and moral sanctimony, obfuscates the fact that native tribes fought on the side of the English, both sides were mutually responsible for the onset of hostilities, and the colonists were rightfully concerned with threats to their survival. Historians holding to the thesis of genocide overinterpret and occasionally misinterpret their sources to advance their argument.

This is what happens when historiography gets enslaved to the desires of conservatives to shut up criticism of historical white people. While it is possible that using terms like “genocide” may apply modern ideas to the past, it is absolutely certain that conservatives absolving the Puritans because, hey everybody does it!, is also applying modern ideas to the past. If “revisionism” is an actual thing, no one can do it like the modern conservative, whether to the Pequot War or Ronald Reagan.

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  1. Fighting Words says:

    Isn’t there an old saying about “Indian Wars” – “When the white people battle indians and win, they call it a great victory. When the white people lose, they call it a massacre.”

  2. Note the tone of disappointment here:

    “A remnant of Pequots did, however, survive, and in the late 20th century they acquired federal recognition and built one of the largest casinos in the world, in southern Connecticut.”

    If only the Puritans had done their job better, good, Christian white people would today control that slot money! The guy who wrote the article sounds like a real peach, too:

    http://www.conservapedia.com/User:RJJensen

    “Since 2000 he has edited the email-based discussion group “Conservativenet”, which caters to conservative scholars.”

  3. rea says:

    The Mystic Massacre bears a certain resemblance to the Sack of Magdeburg 6 years before . . .

  4. Colin says:

    Historians holding to the thesis of genocide overinterpret and occasionally misinterpret their sources

    I should know better, but…..what, pray tell, are Conservapedia’s sources?

    • Bill Murray says:

      their own, individual ass

    • Major Kong says:

      Sources have a liberal bias.

    • DrDick says:

      As a Native Americanist, let me just say that this is one of the clearest examples of clear cut, deliberate genocide by whites against the Indians in what is now the US. I do not casually toss that term around in this context, for instance US Indian policy was not explicitly genocidal, but the evidence here is totally uncontroversial. The Puritan leadership explicitly (and in writing) set out to exterminate the Pequots. There are relatively few such unambiguous examples, mostly in the colonial era. The Powhatan War in Virginia and the Yamassee War in South Carolina on the English side and the Fox War in the Upper Midwest and the Natchez War in Louisiana (mostly in modern Mississippi) by the French are the ones that come to mind.

  5. Aaron Baker says:

    “Presentism” is a complete red herring. Many 16th and 17th-century Europeans were shocked by such intra-European atrocities as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and the plunder of Magdeburg. De las Casas denounced Spanish atrocities against the Indians. Was De las Casas a 21st-century Liberal?

    In addition to which, genocide has a pretty clear-cut meaning, quite independent of whether one uses it to express a moral judgment. Has seeking to wipe out an ethnic group ever NOT been genocide? If not, the word must mean something very different from what most of us have always understood it to have.

  6. J. Otto Pohl says:

    It is not a misinterpretation of Katz. He has argued that the Holocaust was the only case of genocide in world history and has explicitly and repeatedly sought to counter the use of the term for what happened to the US native Americans. His Holocaust in Historical Context is his longest expose on the subject. But, he has specifically written on the Pequot War in two articles in The New England Quarterly and why it is not a case of genocide. The first from 1991 and the second from 1995. He also has a chapter in Is the Holocaust Unique? on why he thinks that there was no genocide against Native Americans in the US. In the early 1990s Katz and people who shared his views such as Deborah Lipstadt were the dominant orthodox view on the Holocaust and genocide. People like David Stannard were a minority in the field. I hear things have since changed considerably.

    • Leeds man says:

      If this is Katz’s definition, he seems to claim the power of reading centuries-dead minds (my emphasis);

      [Genocide is] the actualization of the intent, however successfully carried out, to murder in its totality any national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, social, gender or economic group, as these groups are defined by the perpetrator, by whatever means.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        Well his claim is that only in the case of the Nazi extermination of the Jews is there an actualized intent to “murder” a group in its totality. In the case of the Pequot’s he explicitly points to the fact that the Puritan’s spared a few women and children from death as evidence that there was no genocide. Katz’s position while extreme is not unusual. There is still a systematic denial of Soviet genocide under Stalin by orthodox scholars using similar logic.

        • DrDick says:

          As I note upthread, he is completely wrong.

          • J. Otto Pohl says:

            Yes, he is wrong, but people like him Deborah Lipstadt, and Guenter Lewy managed to dominate Holocaust and Genocide studies in the early 1990s. At that time the official orthodox position of most academics dealing with Genocide and the Holocaust was that the Holocaust was unique and that there was no genocide against Native Americans. David Stannard and Ward Churchill were completely marginalized figures with minority positions. Indeed Churchill became even more marginalized later. After the publication of her book, Denying the Holocaust which claims that talking about other genocides such as the Armenian genocide was equivalent to Holocaust denial Lipstadt became a minor deity in certain circles.

            • DrDick says:

              Frankly, I have never seen anything like that anywhere.

              • J. Otto Pohl says:

                For the positions of David Stannard see his chapter in Is the Holocaust Unique?. For Churchill see A Little Matter of Genocide. Lipstadt’s position on how comparativists are like ‘David Duke without his robes’ see of course Denying the Holocaust. For a good analysis of the entire debate which took up most of the 1990s see David McDonald Identity Politics in the Age of Genocide. Frankly I am surprised that any Native Americanist would not be familiar with the Stannard and Churchill vs. Lipstadt debate. Is David Stannard now too marginalized in Native American studies?

              • spud says:

                Otto is full of crap.

                Lipstadt is very much against the notion of Genocide denial for events other than the Holocaust.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  She changed her tune on Armenia. But, in Denying the Holocaust she explicitly states on p. 212, “No citizen of the Soviet Union assumed that deportation and death were inevitable consequences of his or her ethnic origins.” That is clearly a denial of Stalin’s deportations from 1941-1944. On pp. 215 she writes about the Armenian genocide stating “it was not part of a process of total annihilation of an entire people.”

                • Malaclypse says:

                  So, when you said she reserved the term for the Holocaust, you knew you were bullshitting? Because that link spud has also has links to discussions of genocide in Rwanda and Yugoslavia as well.

                  Hard to believe that your “consensus of liberal academics” turned out to be “idiosyncratic misreadings by Otto.”

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  Mal:

                  Go look at her original work in Denying the Holocaust. She changed her tune on Armenia and other cases after the Armenian lobby and others gave her grief. Not to mention the literature by Native American scholars like David Stannard. But, in 1993 when her book came out her position was that what happened in Armenia was not genocide. She has a whole discussion trivilizing every atrocity in the world other than the Holocaust on pp. 212-216. You should read the original source not her revised position since we are talking about the early 1990s not 2007 when the linked editorial was written. Here is her full quotation on the Armenian Genocide from 1993.

                  “The historians’ attempt to create such immoral equivalencies ignored the dramatic differences between these events and the Holocaust. The brutal Armenian tragedy, which the perpetrators still refuse to acknowledge adequately, was conducted within the context of a ruthless Turkish policy of expulsion and resettlement. It was terrible and caused horrendous suffering but it was not part of a process of total annihilation of an entire people.”

                  If we substituted Jews for Armenians and Germans for Turkish it would clearly be Holocaust denial. Her statement in 1993 was no less denial of the Armenian Genocide. The fact that she later changed her position does not change the fact that in the early 1990s she did in fact deny there was a genocide against the Armenians. She in fact called comparing the Armenian Genocide to the Holocaust an “immoral equivalency” in 1993.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Interestingly, Wikipedia makes no mention all all of this. Now, I do get that Wikipedia has gaps, so perhaps you could enlighten us with a quote illustrating your point?

  7. Major Kong says:

    We had to destroy the tribe in order to save it….

  8. Josh G. says:

    I was actually going to post about the same thing that J. Otto Pohl did above. Katz is not a disinterested scholar; he’s an ethnocentric axe-grinder. I first became aware of Katz’s views from Peter Novick’s The Holocaust in American Life (p. 196, at least according to Google’s eBook reader) Novick points out (p. 206-207) how Katz basically used circular reasoning and gerrymandering to rule out other mass murders so that only the Holocaust counted as “genocide.”

    (I just looked at the Wikipedia article on Katz and it does accurately note his views on this subject – but cites them to an article on the Holocaust-denier website CODOH! I’ll have to go and fix that.)

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      Is the Holocaust Unique? has both a chapter by Katz and chapter by David Stannard criticizing Katz, Lipstadt, and other advocates of Holocaust uniqueness. Stannard uses the example of the various native peoples of the Americas as his chief examples. In the early 1990s Katz’s position was the orthodox one in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. I am told things are a lot better now.

  9. Derelict says:

    I’m wondering about the “fought on the side of the English” bit. I seem to recall the American Revolution happening about 240 years after the events recounted. But maybe the Puritans were prescient and could foresee the day when the Pequot would ally with the English.

    • JosephW says:

      Just a nitpick, but the Pequot War took place in 1637. The American Revolution started (more or less) in 1775. That’s not quite “240 years.”

    • Leeds man says:

      I think “Puritan” would be a subset of “English” in this case.

    • rea says:

      The Puritans were English, so when other local tribes (including, oddly, the Mohecans led by Uncas) sided with them, those tribes were allying with the English.

      • DrDick says:

        There is actually an article in Ethnohistory from several years ago demonstrating that both Uncas and many of his followers were actually Pequots who switched sides to avoid extermination.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Wow.

          What did you think about that argument? Might have to look that article up.

          • DrDick says:

            I thought they made a convincing argument. I heartily recommend reading it. Much of it is a discussion of the nature of New England Algonquian political organization and the fact that what we today think of as tribes were not in fact as clearly bounded and stable as we often assume today.

        • witless chum says:

          Wasn’t Uncas there in the English army for the Mystic attack to be shocked by its brutality? Seems like he must have already been on the English side previous to that and couldn’t really have switched sides that way.

          The history I remember reading made it seem that who was part of what group in native New England was fairly fluid and villages and groups of villages would switch what overgroup they claimed to be part of as the winds of politics blew one way or the other. Like Uncas and Mohegun had accepted the Pequot as overlords, but wanted to break away.

          Uncas seems to have used the English as a way for his group to advance at the expense of the Pequot and later the Narragansett.

          • DrDick says:

            Relations between the Pequot (and other Native groups) and the English were fluid throughout the colonial era. Sometimes they were allies and other times they were at odds.

    • Karen says:

      I was going to note that 148 year discrepancy. In 1637, every colonist in Massachusetts was on the side of the English. This is the kind of easy-to-catch error that conservatives love to inflict on liberals, but apparently they have a Yule-sized log in their own eyes for mistakes.

  10. markg says:

    The allegation that “native tribes fought on the side of the English” doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for a 1637 attack, since there is no historical evidence of any such fighting between England and the Puritan colonies before that date. Perhaps the writer is suggesting that the 1637 attack was justified as a preemptive measure against the subsequent participation of some tribes when the English finally did go to war against the colonies 140 years later.

  11. JosephW says:

    Well, I’m not surprised that the conservatives would side with the Puritans and try to “reform” their history. Most conservatives don’t know the Puritans’ TRUE story or they choose to ignore it.

    Yes, the Puritans came to America for “religious freedom” but they quickly turned around and sought to enforce a rigid religious orthodoxy upon their fellow colonists. (IOW, “religious freedom for me, but not for thee.”) And, most of these conservatives forget that the Puritans banned Christmas for its “popish” history (just imagine Bill O’Reilly and FoxNoise’s reaction to this *real* “war on Christmas”).

    The Puritans were STRICT adherents to the Bible so it’s little wonder they had little problem in massacring the natives and committing genocide–it’s in the Bible, after all. The Puritans sought to establish a “new Jerusalem” in the New World and they saw the Book of Joshua (most especially) as the blueprint for that plan. If you’ll recall, Joshua was commanded by his god to put whole cities to the sword–men, women and even children–and after slaughtering the “heathens” to burn the cities and all their riches as “sacrifices” to that god of war. One story relates how the Israelites were stopped by their god when one “soldier” decided to keep a few tokens. What did the Israelites have to do to get back on the god’s good side? Why, they had to kill the offender AND HIS FAMILY, and destroy all his other property. Considering this level of god-approved bloodthirstiness, is it really any wonder that the Puritans used this as a guide?

    • Usually just lurk says:

      Yes, every November we are told the tale of the poor Pilgrims who migrated to America after suffering religious persecution in England and Holland.

      Holland. Religious persecution. Even in 1620 this should cause the bullshit detector to go off.

      The persecution was on the side of the pilgrims – who harassed the locals that they were all going to hell because they were not worshiping their “true” religion. It’s no surprise that these religious extremists continued to practice their extremism in the new world.

      Not very bright either – aiming for Virginia and hitting Massachusetts, not planning for the first winter so having half their people die. Probably assumed God would provide or something.

  12. witless chum says:

    Such a view, founded on presentist notions of outrage and moral sanctimony, obfuscates the fact that native tribes fought on the side of the English, both sides were mutually responsible for the onset of hostilities, and the colonists were rightfully concerned with threats to their survival. Historians holding to the thesis of genocide overinterpret and occasionally misinterpret their sources to advance their argument.

    Oh, conservatives.

    Perhaps someone with a better understanding of bullshitese than I have can help how the facts that cite:

    1. Natives fought on both sides. (There were Europeons on both sides of the Holocaust. I guess it’s not genocide. David Irving needs to buy me a beer.)
    2. Both sides were equally responsible for beginning hostilities (the Kurds really were rebelling against Saddam’s rule, so I guess conservatives are okay with gassing their villages again.)
    3. The colonists were rightfully concerned with threats to their survival. (Um, okay. Sometimes people are concerned, or say they are, with utterly insane threats that aren’t really threats. Say, balsa wood gliders in Iraq, if anyone had ever been that stupid as to claim that was a threat.)

    ….make it not genocide?

    Seems to me they’re at best arguing that it was genocide, but not so bad. Like aggravated genocide, or something.

    Presentism is certainly a barrier to understanding that people have trouble keeping themselves from erecting, but the natives in 1637 that William Bradford quoted at the time certainly were not fans.

    • Left_Wing_Fox says:

      Seems to me they’re at best arguing that it was genocide, but not so bad. Like aggravated genocide, or something.

      You actually see this a lot.

      X is evil. X describes me. I’m not evil, therefore, I’m not X, I’m Y.

      I’m not a racist, I’m a racial realist.

      I’m not a misogynist, I’m a men’s rights activist.

      I’m not a homophobe, I’m a Christian.

      • Left_Wing_Fox says:

        Or in this case; I’m not advocating genocide, I’m advocating preemptive self defence.

      • witless chum says:

        Actually, now that I reread the thread and post, Loomis is 100 percent wrong. Conservapedia doesn’t have an entry about the Pequot War. It has another of its umpteenth in a series of entries about how liberals suck.

        Colonial New England was a fascinating place and anyone who’d rather bash their political opponents than try to understand it is just sad.

    • Major Kong says:

      This is what happens when you make “good” and “bad” team names instead of moral positions.

  13. Anna in PDX says:

    Since when is “presentism” a word? I am not a historian, but I am fairly well-read, and I’ve really never heard that one before.

  14. Prodigal says:

    Sarah Vowell’s book The Wordy Shipmates has a good section about the Pequot War. Read it just last week, and I recommend it (and for that matter, the rest of the book) very highly.

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