I've been reading about the early colonization of New York city, a subject that I've not approached since my days in elementary school in the 1950s, where, in retrospect, it seemed that we went over the ground quite regularly -- Henry Hudson, the purchase of Manhattan Island, New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, and the English acquisition of the Dutch colonies. As we learned it, it was a sunny story, untroubled and inevitable -- a path leading from pleasant but primitive beginnings to its inevitable culmination in the Greatest City in the Greatest Country on earth. There were large helpings of nationalism and triumphalism -- attitudes that I've come to loathe -- along with the insistence that America was chosen among all the nations for peace and tolerance.
It appears, however, that there are events recounted in Russell Shorto's The Island at the Center of the World (New York, 2004) that, if they had been mentioned, might have diluted our tadpole triumphalism. Keift's War, for example, was never discussed.
Willem Kieft was one of the Dutch governors of the new colony, and he was a pioneer in genocidal racism. A small group of indians had camped at Corlaer's Hook (now the Lower East Side) and a larger group had settled near what is now Jersey City in New Jersey. The Indians (Wickquassgeck and Tappan) sought sanctuary from the Dutch against the Mohawks, to whom they had fallen behind in their tribute payments. Kieft, for reasons of his own, launched an unprovoked attack. According to a contemporary chronicler, "infants were torn from their mother's breasts, and hacked to pieces in the presence of their parents, and the pieces thrown into the fire and in the water, and other sucklings, being bound to small boards, were cut, stuck,and pierced and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone. Some were thrown into the river, and when the fathers and mothers endeavored to save them, the soldiers would not let them come on land but made both parents and children drown.... Some came to our people in the country with their hands, some with their legs cut off, and some holding their entrails in their arms.... After this exploit, the soldiers were were rewarded for their service, and Director Kieft thanked them."
Such atrocities (there were many others) were omitted from the P. S. 217 curriculum.
When I read these stories, I feel as though I was tricked. I'm indignant and angry.
It's all part of a grand deception in which every child is indoctrinated with the idea that his own group is wiser, kinder, and better than the others.
If our great country were truly superior, we would have shown it by telling the truth, the whole truth, not a purged and sanitized half-truth.