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Viewing Plymouth Rock Objectively
Can We View History Objectively?
History viewed objectively. Is there such a thing, really? So many of us say that we can get into a discussion about something historical with no bias on our part. I cannot seem to believe that. In all the conversations I have been in and listened to I see very little objectivity.
Since we are coming close to Thanksgiving, I figured that the first topic to discuss in what I hope is a series of articles should be the settlement of the New World (especially the North American area) by Europeans.
Earlier in the 20th century you were taught in the schools that the poor Pilgrims were being badly abused in Europe and sought escape to practice their religion freely. So they set sail and landed in the New World. After a few tense meetings and near death experiences by the Indians, they struck up an agreement with the savages that lived in the land and the beginning of one of the greatest nations took root.
Fast forward to the late 20th and early 21st century and read the textbooks and other media outlets in regard to the Plymouth Rock landing. You will find the exact opposite viewpoint. The Europeans saw the mother load and immediately dispatched some undesirables to begin stripping the land of all its wealth. In the process they saw a chance to rid the earth of the despicable creatures that were already on the land and made sure that they contacted every European disease that could be thought of and then a few extra.
Whoa! Take a closer look at each of these viewpoints. What do you see in common in both them? They both are completely, blatantly biased. The earlier viewpoint paints the Europeans as completely innocent and implies that the hostility came from the “savages”. The later viewpoint paints the natives as completely innocent and the Europeans more evil than Satan in their attempts to rape the land and its people. The reality…… is that the truth is a mixture of both and the entire truth is much more complicated than you could ever explain.
Here is my humble attempt to look at the European settlement of America objectively.
When first looking at an historical period with the aim to be objective, you need to look at all the influences that played a part in the event. That would include: economics, politics, religion, science, and environment. The periods before the event should also be explored because what happens today in reality began years and sometimes centuries before.
So, let’s take a look at Europe during 1300 – 1600 since you could call them the “invaders”.
During this time Europe was still experiencing many of the effects of the Renaissance. During this period many of what we consider the greatest minds were trying to pull the continent out of the Dark Ages and into an era of discovery. We have to understand what was going on during the Dark Ages that prompted all this. This was during a time in which the religious orders of the day had tasted the sweet nectar of power. With power usually comes suppression. And suppression it was – of individual thought, of scientific development, of anything out of the “ordinary”. Now, do not be too harsh on them (I know I want to be), but when the unknown is before you the normal reaction is to grab hold of what you are sure of and cling to it as though there is no tomorrow. And that is what Europe did. It knew its religious foundation and it clung to it harder than it ever had before. The negative results of this was the suppression and the fear of the unknown. When some of the great thinkers began to step into the unknown, fear swept Europe. That is the way it is anywhere, even today, when a ripple of change, whether good or bad, is developing. We like it the way it is and the Europeans were NO different.
So with the ripples came massive changes within and without the church. It was during this time that Christians began to question some of their traditions and beliefs. [Now, at this point I want to point out that this is another subject on historical objectivity that we can discuss in detail another time – but to keep the bias out of this let me state that questioning any of this does not make anything wrong. By questioning we are making sure that we are on the right path (even the Christian Paul stated that in the Bible in 2 Corinthians 13:5)]. The human reaction of fear to change caused persecution (a black eye on true Christianity) and a split in the church (another future topic, maybe).
As the years progressed, struggles continued. Just like in a family when a child grows into a teenager and begins to challenge the rules and limits set before them, it becomes a growing on both sides as parents learn where they need to improve and make changes and the child learns the wisdom of growing up. Thus it was with new thinkers and the old way of Europe. The results of this conflict produced a varied array of new Christian sects. They ranged from ones still very similar to the Roman Catholic, which was the only formal organized Christian group until that time, to ones that tried to make themselves the exact opposite. There were violent ones and there were ones who would not even lift a finger to defend themselves and, of course, all the others in between. As it usually is, whoever is in control of the government has all the power. And in those days it was no exception. Whenever a ruler ascended to the throne that cloaked themselves under one branch of the religion, the people who believed likewise took it upon themselves (and sometimes on the command of their rulers) to persecute the ones who did not believe likewise (similar to what we do via the press today instead of the sword). The end result, chaos and blood.
The “discovery” of the New World brought many opportunities to all of Europe for a myriad of reasons. Too some, they are like all entrepreneurs, and saw the riches that this land offered. Some saw the riches as gold and other minerals that were found, but others also saw resources that would benefit mankind. Here is where a lot of the biasness sets in. Was it wrong to look at the abundance and think that? Your first reaction would probably be “Yes”. But let’s step back and look at it from that timeframe and not the 21st century. Today we know the perils and we have a different needs and we have knowledge than they did not have back then (hindsight is 20/20). So, let us take a trip back in time to see what the first explorers saw and felt.
Trip in Time
Remember that there was no electricity at this time. Therefore there was no internet, phones, and many of the medical advances that we have today. We would consider how they lived as “roughing it”. They had to live off of the land in ways that we normally do not see today. Where did that warm coat come from that prevented you from freezing to death? It came from the animals that lived in the woods. May people today would be horrified to wear something that once breathed. But there were no synthetic materials or the development of the natural fibers that could protect from the bitter cold. They could find no wrong in using what was before them and given to them to survive. The same goes for their implements and every other aspect of their life. So, seeing the abundance of fur that was available to them in the New World, their hearts raced. Was their reaction wrong? I do not think so. It is what that reaction led to that you could say, caused a lot of problems. When we see an abundance of what we need and it seems bottomless, the human reaction is to gather up as much as we possibly can and then some, because after all there is no end to it. We can see today that stripping the land too much can cause harm to it. Harm that we might not see today but our grandchildren will hurt from it. These people did not see that. That saw a limitless supply which would lead to more product, and, yes, more money. If we really stopped and thought about it and we stripped away all of our knowledge of the effect, we might have done just the same. At the time, it was all they knew. Does it make it right? No, but it gives a better understanding and reasoning behind the actions.
The same could be said about how they viewed the natives in this land. The Europeans (or white man) had an arrogance to them. [Now, let’s stop here and watch the snickers and finger pointing. If you are really honest, most nations and races have an arrogance about them toward others. That arrogance is the reason for most wars and genocide. The attitude that we are smarter and more superior than you. Look at the countries today, who can you say is NOT like that? Very few if any.] The Europeans had guns! They had horses! (Horses are NOT native to the Americas) They had scientific knowledge that these savages did not. They had a religion that made sense while these uncivilized creatures needed to accept it. This is arrogance. And according to the Bible is just one step away from the fall. This was again seeing something of the unknown and clinging to what was known and forcing every aspect of their lives to fit that mold that they had in their heads.
I do want to note before you go down the path that many tend to go down around this point in reference to the religious aspect. We have to again step out of our own culture and into theirs. The religious resources (the Bible and other old writings) were not at all available to anyone. Only the high church authorities had access and even some of them never opened the pages. That is a sad aspect that really hurt how the religion was viewed and how many acted in the name of the religion in complete ignorance. Any student of the Christian Bible will tell you that the actions during this period were not part of the original teachings of the religion. Remember that this was a time in which books were not available. Only the religious monks had them and they were copied painstakingly by hand so that it was not efficient to have them for every house. It was only after the invention of the Gutenberg Press that the Bible and other materials would be at the hands of the average man. So their actions were based on fear, tradition, and the assumption of what seemed “right” to them. They had good arguments, from their perspectives.
When they found the natives of the Americas, they were more different than anything these explorers had ever encountered. Compared to them they were naked. Why would any sensible person not be completely covered up? This baffled them. The language difference and the respect the natives showed toward nature and the curiosity over the newcomers added to the childlike image the Europeans had of this new race. Since their technology was so basic and all their actions were, too, then they needed the guidance and domination of these men to bring them into the age. Once again, we can look back and see what these actions led to: prejudice, death, lies and deceit toward other humans. Even complete annihilation of races. The arrogance of man in general is the downfall of many. They did not realize that not only were they hurting the native tribes of this new land, but they were hurting their descendents who would have to try to repair those rifts and set a new stage.
Another thing that happened that really had a huge impact was an unseen force. Diseases. Remember that at this time no one knew what a germ was. They did not realize how much unsanitary daily living contributed. The only rational explanation at the time with the knowledge that they had was that it had to be an act of a Supreme Being. That was pretty much the beliefs of every culture. So when the Europeans arrived and the natives began to die off from the very diseases that plagued Europe, it had to be an act of God. That is all that made sense to them. This was one of the worst things that happened to the natives. Tribes disappeared. Cultures, that we are still discovering, ceased to exist.
The enslavement of the natives was not the smartest thing the Europeans did, and this was not the case originally at places like Plymouth Rock. These actions were more prevalent with the Spanish explorers. This did help with the relations between the two cultures. It did way more harm than good.
The Plymouth Rock group was basically abandoned by their homeland to gather the resources for their rulers. If they died through the winter, so be it. There were more of those who did not agree with the leaders’ politics and religious beliefs who could be sent to replace them. As long as they were out of the country’s hair and gathering all those beautiful resources it would work out just fine. So the intent of the financiers of the settlement and the rulers might have been capitalism and greed, but the intent of the actual settlers was survival and a new life. It had to have been hard for them to be abandoned, scared, and alone. They were not being too welcomed by the natives but you could not blame them either. It was their home that was being invaded by arrogant people. I personally do not like having anyone come into my house and tell me everything I am doing wrong and taking over. Neither did the Native Americans.
The settlement of the Americas was not as the fairy tale stories used to tell it. It is not as the extremist tell it today. It is somewhere in the middle. A complex truth with no winners and everyone losing something.
Other History Hubs
Here are some other hubs on some interesting historical topics that I'll continually add to as I find these treasures.