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Write on...Trying to be thankful

【明報專訊】First it was the Native Americans, whose misfortune, of course, was that God had placed them on this continent thousands of years before the Puritans pulled their boats ashore and waded in bearing muskets and shot. Divinely convinced that it was the natives who were the foreigners, the newcomers trekked inland. In very little time they had reached the farthermost coasts, having pushed the indigenous peoples into reservations and stockades. Or they had slaughtered them, every last man, woman and child of them. The Battle of Tippecanoe. Sand Creek. Little Big Horn. Nez Perce...

Then came the decision to annex the Southwest for the sake of the few landowners with cattle and those who were putting down track to build a railway that would one day unite the coast on the East to the coast on the West: Stephen Austin's colonising of Texas and the Land Grant Act which was to give away someone else's land to the owners of the railways...

As before, it was the foreigners who got in the way. This time it was the Spanish-speaking people who were scratching life from the parched soil of vast regions of northern Mexico. Their misfortune was that God had placed them where they were. At Guadalupe Hidalgo they were forced to surrender Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

In the South, huge trading ships from England and The Netherlands continued disgorging newcomers to this land of independence: black men and black women and black children. Human beings to be sold like corn or cotton. Merchandise. And the slave owners in the south bred the slaves as they had bred cows or sheep or horses, selling them for the girth of their chests, the shape of their heads, the expectations of their child-bearing loins. Southern slave breeders.

Then came the war which pitted Northern brothers against their counterparts from the South. Harper's Ferry. Bull Run. Gettysburg. And finally Appomattox... On both sides, their shooting skills had been refined and their prejudices sharpened, talents which would soon to be put to good advantage in Cuba and The Philippines. Remember The Maine? Remember San Juan Hill?

In the lulls that followed these events, there were triumphant celebrations with thanks to God. Thanksgiving. With their vast numbers of young and restless men, they had gone forth to meet the challenge: One nation. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all. And in the end, they decimated the native American populations; they threw out the Spanish in this hemisphere; they subjugated the rebels in Asia; and they prostrated the Mexican peons. With God on their side, they had moved in and made the land of others their own. With Malice toward none.

I think of that when I am reading today's news. As I sit down this Thanksgiving, I am faced with a dilemma: to which God am I to offer my thanks? While I am trying to figure that out, I am worried whose prayers are going to be answered?

(C) John Bell Smithback

■By John Bell Smithback

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