Originally printed in JUDGE, November 1918
ONCE upon a time man had no Thanksgiving Day. He swore at his gods when there was no rain, prayed to them in winter before the era of the snowplough, and sacrificed to them the beasts of the field and a few enemies before he started out to annex a bit of kultur from the bodies and lands of neighboring tribes.
Time passed (and if you ever notice your clock you will observe that that is an old habit which old Kronos cannot rid himself of). And as time passed, man learned how to smoke the pipe of peace. He actually began to observe that the tribe that lived over the garden wall wasn’t one hundred per cent. yellow. And with peace came more wampum — the price of poisoned arrowheads decreased and the family sugar bowl filled up.
He had time to meditate — to look around on the good old garden patch, Mother Earth, to observe that the stars didn’t bother anybody much except once in a great while, when the heavens, in a grouch, let fly a comet at the earth.
So one day Man went out into the fields — he was still rather raw and hazy about Liberty, Rent Values and Birth Control — stripped off his fighting duds, and mumbled out thanks to Something or Other that the baby’s tooth had come across, that the squaw looked pretty nice that day and that the fishing was good.
That was the first Thanksgiving Day of Man. He got rid of something on his chest — a sense of gratefulness for little things — and resolved, no doubt, to be a more human murderer and a not-quite-so-lazy husband in the future.
From that day to Thanksgiving, 1918, a great deal of human blood has flowed under the mills of the Gods. There have been many things to be thankful for and a great many things to pout at, and a whole lot of things to cuss about. You and I—that is, the human race, for from the beginning they, all of them, have been blood of our blood and bone of our bone (don’t you feel it in this most human time?) — have done pretty well, considering that we have been up against famine, flood, comets, wars, Nature’s sunny cynicism, the decrees of kings, Intolerance, the natural perversity of Things in General, poverty, the flesh, the devil and the Hun.
Yes, we’ve done pretty well. We — you and I — have flowered into a Sophocles, a Shakespeare, a Michael Angelo, a Beethoven, a Leonardo da Vinci, a Darwin, a Newton, a Galileo, a Voltaire, a Mark Twain — the role of our great names would take up an issue of JUDGE.
Yes, we have done pretty well — considerin’. Racially, let us give thanks to whatever gods will listen for Music, Painting, Science, Literature, Dancing, and even the spirit of Humor. We — you and I — have laughed in the face of hell — and of that laugh there was born a star — Art, and its satellite, Pleasure.
Today, in this Thanksgiving season, we who are real men and women thank those same blind and wilful gods that we are alive.
We have stood to our breasts in blood; but we have lived and helped, and feared not.
We have stood, in these four years, at the crossroads of civilization, and fought a thug in the dark — the Hun. We have not forgotten our birthright, Liberty. We have stood and died beside France and Belgium; and each has made the supreme sacrifice — in his way.
This Thanksgiving Day, 1918, is a day for all brave men and brave women, and our brave boys and beautiful girls. It is a day not of night, or sorrow, or the quenchless agony of the battlefields, but a day of gleaming splendor. Never in the history of humanity have such great and unselfish deeds been ‘done; never has there been a time of such beatific martyrdoms; never has there been a time of such unselfishness.
Thanks, thanks, thanks, then, a thousand times, to whatever gods there be for the revelation of mankind unto itself—for the privilege of seeing ourselves in the blazing mirrors of Verdun and Château-Thierry and Ypres and the Marne as we are—neither beasts quite, nor angels quite, but Men and Women with a mysterious destiny battling for a Vision.
And thanks, O thou mysterious Fate that rules us, that we are Americans, and that we have made the sublime gesture of history to enslaved humanity; that thou hast made us strong and implacable in its hour of need; and thanks for sealing with blood our friendship with France, our beautiful, all-suffering sister!
And receive thou our immortal dead into Thy mysterious Presence!