A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Monday, April 26, 2010

The History Games People Play

I could begin this entry with a real cheap, time-worn cliché like, “The Indians are on the warpath again”. It would certainly grab your attention, and it would be ironic since I’m applying it to describe one tribe’s efforts to stop production on a board game which they claim perpetuates the old stereotypes of Native Americans as savages. The makers of the games insist that they are only trying to teach any would-be players about a little known war in American history.

Here are the facts: MultiManPublishing — a company partly owned by retired major league pitcher Curt Schilling — is producing a game about King Phillip’s War (1675-76). The game is the brainchild of John Poniske, a social studies teacher in Hagerstown, Maryland. Poniske’s intention is to teach people about an event that receives very little coverage in America’s history classes. The game’s objectives are (depending on which side the participants are playing) defeat tribal leaders or capture the colonial settlements at Boston or Plymouth Colony.

Native Americans have protested the game sight unseen: it hasn’t been distributed to any markets yet. Still, they feel it is inappropriate, highly offensive, and trivializes a tragedy. Schilling has defended the game's production in an e-mail quoted in an Associated Press article: “If everyone intent on keeping historical events stopped at content that might seem offensive, we’d lose sight of the horrific mistakes this nation, the world, and the human race are capable of, and that would be a horrific thing”.

Believe me, I sympathize wholeheartedly with the intentions of today’s Native Americans who are trying to improve their image in pop culture. However, like it or not, Schilling makes an interesting point — even if he does overuse the word “horrific”.

First, we need to agree on one thing: history is not pretty. Part of it involves admitting that bad things happened which could have been prevented. The worse part of it is that we have to take a hard look at each of our ancestries and admit that, yes, our forefathers were no better than anyone else.

Consider this example. In the last 30 years or so, a popular style of license plate frame in American urban areas is made up of chain links around the edge. It has been explained to me that the links represent the heritage of slavery which the US condoned for many years. The sight of the license frame makes me uncomfortable, which I believe is its main goal. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “Okay, I get it! We were bad people! Can we forget it?” The answer is no, we can’t forget it; that would defeat the purpose of history.

Another example: the governor of Virginia recently proclaimed April Confederate History Month as a celebration of the state's role in the Confederacy. He did this without mentioning that the slavery issue played a big part in Virginia’s history, and this slight invited mucho criticism. Eventually, he reworded his declaration to acknowledge the slavery problem, but the whole episode points up the dangers of looking at the past from just one perspective. It doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story and, therefore, the full lesson of the event would not be learned.

Yet this is precisely what the Native Americans are — unwittingly — protesting against. Their goal — to end stereotyping of the Indians as savages — is certainly a worthy endeavor. Unfortunately, their portrayal as victims of ethnocentric policies brought by white European settlers is only half of the problem. The settlers came in peace — at first — but then they adopted the attitudes that they were superior to the natives. This enabled them to subject the Indians to all sorts of indignities and civil rights violations. We have no choice but to acknowledge that these feelings existed — much like the slavery question in the examples listed above — because this knowledge serves as a springboard to improve our attitudes - and relations - today.

Agreed, the viewpoint of the Indian as savages was wrong; their actions were done in self defense of their lives and their cultures. Still, we can’t ignore the values that the settlers held. Their socialization — or the adoption of values which enabled them to do a specific task even when that task ran counter to the values (common sense, Ten Commandments, etc.) on which they were raised — allowed them to carry out what would become the subjugation of the Indian culture. It’s a very tricky situation which the present day Native Americans are up against.

Yes, it’s a difficult conflict full of irony. It’s ironic that I use the “Indians on a warpath” metaphor when the present day Native Americans are coming down on the wrong side of the history argument. It’s ironic that I should find myself agreeing with the conservative Republican, born-again Christian Schilling, which is definitely a group with whom I don’t always see eye-to-eye on the issues. Yes, this irony is truly bittersweet indeed.

(Thank you for reading. Please remember history is what it only looks different when you hold it up to the light of truth!)


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