By Mitchel Cohen, Why I Hate Thanksgiving, November 14, 2011
The following is the introduction to Mitchel Cohen's essay "Why I Hate Thanksgiving." To read the entire essay click the link above or the link at the end of the introduction.
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On Thanksgiving morning 2003, George W. Bush showed up in Iraq before sunrise for a photo-op, wearing an Army workout jacket and surrounded by soldiers. He cradled a platter with what appeared to be a golden-brown turkey. Washington Post reporter Mike Allen wrote that “the bird looks perfect, with bunches of grapes and other trimmings completing a Norman Rockwell image that evokes bounty and security in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.”
As the world was soon to learn (but quickly forgot), the turkey platter was a phony, a plastic decoration that Bush posed with for the cameras. Bush shook a few hands, said a few “God Bless Americas,” and scurried back to his plane as quickly as he had arrived.
Thus, in one fell swoop, the new Conquistador had tied to history’s bloody bough the 511-year-old conquest of the “New World” — whose legions smote the indigenous population in the name of Christ — with the U.S. government’s bombardment and invasion of Iraq and the torture-detentions of prisoners of war at U.S. military bases.
Under the presidencies of Bush 1, Clinton, Bush Jr. and now Obama, U.S. policy blanketed the Iraqi and Afghan landscapes with so-called “depleted” uranium armaments and poisoned the agriculture and water supply for the next several billion years.
As I wrote in the first reprinting of this pamphlet in 2004, U.S. troops at the time were blasting their way through the town of Fallujah, and hundreds of dead civilians lay in the streets everywhere. The military called them “corpses” and “collateral damage” — and so too did the corporate media. U.S. and British journalists fled the carnage and returned only as “embeds” — reporters planted in the safety of large army squadrons. They embellished slightly on military press releases and faxed their reports to their editors as “eyewitness news”. It was mainly through the photos taken by Arab journalists and independent media that we learned of the actual horror, of the children’s bodies lying in the street alongside the tanks as American soldiers surveyed the scene.
The NY Post ran a picture of one of those soldiers and captioned him the “Marlboro Man,” the generic embodiment of what it means to be a “man,” rugged, oil-smeared face dragging on a U.S. cigarette. It’s not the individual grunt’s fault that the corporate media needs to invent its heroes in such caricatures, but forgive me if I look elsewhere — perhaps to the Zapatistas, to the hundreds of military resisters, to the immigrants rounded up for simply existing, to the Wall Street Occupyers and to political prisoners like Lynne Stewart, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and Bradley Manning for reclaiming what it means to be human in an era of robots and banksters.
The corporate media in the U.S. “covers” Palestine similarly, rarely questioning the huge wall the Israeli colonists are building — basically, a concentration camp — around and through Palestine, paid for by U.S. tax dollars. The Palestinians are to Israel what the Navajo are to the U.S.
The mindset that created the first Thanksgiving in the 17th century on the bodies of murdered Pequot Indians runs through the same veins today four centuries later, over the corpses of murdered Vietnamese, Salvadorans, Chileans, Somalians, South Africans, Iraqis, Afghanis, and Palestinians.
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In November 2003, as George Bush’s plane was landing in the pre-dawn hours for his faux-dinner in Iraq, I wrote “Why I Hate Thanksgiving,” and it ended up being published all over the place under various titles, such as Counterpunch’s “Genocide? Pass the Turkey.” Much has transpired since then — two national elections were stolen, Fallujah invaded, tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed for Big Oil and Empire, and ignorant armies clash everywhere by night. At the same time, enormous antiwar protests and now the occupations by the 99 percent rise up to deliver blows against the empire, and they are shaking the world. The manufactured and false history of Thanksgiving re-emerges this week in the Shopping Malls of suburbia, and – all the way through Christmas – it becomes one perpetual Shop till You Drop Night of the Living Dead. America’s true religion resurfaces, even in these economically depressed times.
What is it about Thanksgiving that makes normally reasonable and loving people join in the slaughter of tens of millions of turkeys on that day? Why do we buy turkeys on cue? Yes, I fondly remember the results of Aunt Dora’s secret recipe for her delicious turkey stuffing that I enjoyed so much as a kid. But, stop and think: Aren’t you as revolted as I am by the nationwide ritual of blood and slaughter that binds this country together? Americans fetishize football and feast on turkey. The networks broadcast sanitized images of blown-up Iraqi and Afghan children.
Towards the end of his life, William Kunstler, bless his soul — now whirling in his grave furiously to generate the energy needed to power all the indymedia websites worldwide — began to make the links between the mass slaughter of animals, capital punishment and the history of colonization … and, what we’d need to do to begin to change things. Kunstler wrote that “Marjorie Spiegel, a neighbor of mine in Greenwich Village, has written a most compelling book — The Dreaded Comparison — in which she details the devastating similarities between animal and human slavery.” He continues:
Alice Walker, in her most eloquent foreword, states that ‘The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.’ …
We owe it to ourselves and the animal world as well to create, not merely a body of rules and regulations to govern our conduct but a level of sensibility that makes us care, deeply and constructively, about the entire planet and all of its varied inhabitants. If we can accomplish this, then, perhaps, in some far-off day, those who follow us down the track of the generations will be able to dwell in relative harmony with all the creatures of the earth, human and nonhuman.
The ritual slaughter of turkeys; the fact that each American’s average Thanksgiving dinner is 2000 calories, and that we live in a country with 5% of the world’s people consuming 27% of the world’s natural resources, while making 50% of its garbage — these present us with strong arguments against factory farming. With its subjugation of animals (and plants) to severe abuse, genetic engineering, pesticides, and a sewer of antibiotics, the warm family ties that we long for on Thanksgiving too often drowns out consideration of the torture and mass slaughter of animals and the decline of human health. In fact, Americans are getting sicker in the U.S. physically, as well as mentally. The two are related.
Speaking truth to power is not enough. Justice will not necessarily prevail – not even “eventually,”despite idealistic claims that “eventually” things have to change. How long is eventually? How many people must be tortured and killed in the meantime? How can we stop it? What do we need to do, NOW?
After reading the first printing of “Why I Hate Thanksgiving,” one writer wrote: “Good Lord, I’m so depressed! I hope he doesn’t write ‘Why I Hate Christmas’! His family must really look forward to his arrival on Thanksgiving Day. For my sanity’s sake I think I’ll cling to the revisionist version!”
Another writer asked me: “I’ve been reading your posts for years and I wonder, is there anything you celebrate and take joy in? We never hear about those things, but only about what you find wrong with the world. What do you find right?”
I can answer in one word: “Resistance.” Celebrate Resistance. That is what I take joy in, Resistance in its political, artistic, social, economic, and sexual forms.
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This Thanksgiving Day, like most people in the U.S., I’ll get together with my family, friends and comrades. But it will be with those who believe in and practice resistance. A few years ago I’d decided to fast for the holiday in front of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer’s apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to protest his and the Democrats’ support and funding for the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. financing of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and the detention and torture of immigrants and prisoners of war by the U.S. government.
I was joined that year by 4 or 5 others. During the fast, we meditated upon the threads that bind U.S. policy today to its colonial genocide of the Native people of Turtle Island.
We fasted for Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and all political prisoners in the United States.
We fasted against the USA Patriot Act, repression of immigrants, and the decimation of the Bill of Rights.
We fasted against global ecological destruction, and to better contemplate what new forms the resistance will take.
This year, our resistance reclaims and gives new and much-improved meaning to the word “Occupation.” We have begun to turn the despair that permeates this country into resistance. We are CREATING the alternative. BE the alternative.
Don’t allow yourself to experience this holiday, its rituals and warfare, in the ways that this system tries to impose on us. Resist! Please join me on Thanksgiving in collectively meditating over the ways we are manipulated to actually yearn for the petty nationalisms and trappings of empire that fill the hollowed shells we’ve become better than any turkey stuffing, while capitalism goes about destroying the planet. For the new and vastly creative energies that have been released this year, I give thanks!
Resistance keeps you young, forever!
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