This being February 21st I realize that many of you will feel this post is ill-timed. After all, President’s Day is supposed to be celebrated on the third Monday of February. In actuality the day is a commemoration of the birthday of the first President of the United States, George Washington. The official name for the day is still Washington’s Birthday. President’s Day is a gratuitous addition.
Until 1971 we used to commemorate the day by observing it on our first President’s actual birthday – which is February 22nd. Falling between the cusp of the official observation and the actual date of the event may make me politically incorrect. I hope so. In fact, that is my essential reason for offering this post on this particular day.
I was thinking about how George Washington led us to victory to become an independent nation. But that led me to think on other matters – prompted by the fact that I was following the important debate on “illegal aliens” and the effect they were having on our less than robust economy. I couldn’t help but bring my historical training into this matter as I considered this very divisive issue.
Every so often I like to put myself in another person’s shoes. That’s what I’m going to attempt in this post. After all, the problem of “illegal aliens” isn’t a new one. It is something that the indigenous American populations must have worried about as well.
Picture this – the year is 1626. The Lenape Indians decide to accept an offer of twenty-four dollars’ worth of trinkets and sell Manhattan Island to the Dutch. Bad deal you may say. Well it set off a chain of events whose consequences would be compounded over the next four hundred years.
You see, the fact is that the native Americans weren’t all that bright. They signed treaty after treaty with the Palefaces – expecting us to honor our word. We ignored most of the agreements we made in these treaties and did what we found more expedient for us. (Did you know that we are still officially at war with the Seminoles in Florida).
Whether our ancestors were Irish or English or Dutch or Italian or whatever, we are all intruders in the land that belonged to those who were here before us. We are usurpers who have legitimized our dominance through the promulgation of “The Monroe Doctrine” which granted us the right to expand as fast and as far as we could as the masters of the continent.
The fact that there were indigenous people in our way proved to be only a minor inconvenience. We were successful in eradicating this stumbling block which barred our expansionary lust by killing a large percentage of them and confining most of the rest to reservations where they could live in sub-standard conditions.
Of course, we were not alone in our treatment of native populations. The Spanish did an even more effective job in dealing with the Incas in South America. I guess that no matter where you are or who your are if you stand in the way of “progress” you’re going to get steam-rolled.
But isn’t it ironic? The descendants of those Spanish conquistadors represent a large percentage of the “illegal aliens” about whom we are concerned today. Some call this issue a “problem.” Or is it perhaps just karma.
Happy Birthday, President Washington.