By S Brian Samuel
October 25 is Grenada’s own version of Thanksgiving Day; when a nation doesn’t celebrate what it wants to forget.
An American university professor, upon leaving the office on Friday evening, and remembering that the following day was a national holiday, cast a parting remark to his Grenadian colleagues, “Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!” He later described their reaction. “My God! They all just glared at me, and nobody said a word. Talk about a non-reaction!”
That’s what you get in Grenada, when you bring up the subject of 25 October, 1983. People don’t want to talk about it – especially to foreigners. It’s not an episode that Grenadians (of a certain age) want to remember, let alone celebrate. However, 19 October is a different matter altogether. The tragic events of that day are seared into Grenada’s national consciousness, a cataclysm that shook Grenada to its foundations.
For the few who don’t know; just six days prior to the US intervention/invasion/rescue mission call it what you will, Grenada’s four-year experiment in revolutionary socialism came to a sickening, bloody end. At the end of that tragic day, the country’s hugely popular (if unelected) Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, and a still unknown number of his followers, were brutally gunned down by their former comrades in the People’s Revolutionary Army. The Revo had devoured its own. For good, bad or evil, 19 October 1983 is a day that Grenadians will never forget. It was our darkest hour; certainly within living memory.
So no one was particularly surprised when America invaded Grenada, just before dawn on 25 October 1983; the only surprise was the speed with which it happened. This was a result of a happy coincidence: an amphibious task force just happened en route from North Carolina to Lebanon, when they got a call to head south and clean up a little trouble in a place called Grenada Where’s that? They really did only have tourist maps, and the combat stories depicted in “Heartbreak Ridge”, Clint Eastwood’s low-key movie about Operation Urgent Fury, really did happen. As an aside: who in the US military comes up with those corny Doctor Strangelove-era “secret” code names? Urgent Fury, Shock and Awe; what next: Sh*t and Piss?
Of course the inevitable happened: Goliath won. Not as quickly or painlessly as Big G would have liked, but win they did. And indeed, Grenada was the poster child for the grateful natives – we couldn’t shower our American liberators with more genuine kindness and gratitude than we did. Thank-you Reagan murals spontaneously appeared on walls, bemused American GI’s accepted the gushing appreciation of an entire nation: young and old; male and female; young and female.
Mind you, by the time the liberators had landed, the entire nation – collectively and individually – was still reeling from the emotional trauma of the past six days. If Martian soldiers had landed that morning, they would have been feted as conquering heroes, and Grenada would now have a lot of half-Martians walking around today. On that first Thanksgiving Day, which the American soldiers were celebrating, people of Grenada spontaneously warmed to the idea, and in a touching display of appreciation, showered the soldiers with a Grenadian version of a Thanksgiving dinner , in villages and beaches throughout the island. Our local leaders, latching onto a good thing, declared that henceforth, 25 October would be celebrated as “Thanksgiving Day” – essentially saying: Thanks America, for freeing we.
Fast forward 31 years, and what do we have? This most moribund of holidays; a speech here and there; bored politicians trotting out well-worn phrases. Basically, it’s just another day off – which this year falls on a Saturday, dammit.
Really, isn’t it about time we did away with this fawning foolishness? Judging by the lack of reaction or any kind of connection that this holiday has with “the masses”, one really has to say: this is a meaningless holiday. Hey, we all like another day off, but if we want to have a holiday with meaning; how about we just move the date up just a little – to 19 October. And how about we change the name, to something like Remembrance Day? Something that means something. For good or bad, 19 October is a date that is loaded with Grenadian historical significance; and it strikes me that this would be a more appropriate day for some national reflection and soul-searching; than on the day the invasion came. When a still unknown number of Grenadians and Cubans died; when an also unknown number of mental patients died when they were bombed by mistake. That’s something to celebrate? Instead, let us remember and reflect upon the chain of events that got us to that sad state of affairs in the first place; and reaffirm that such a tragedy will never be repeated in Grenada; that we will never again put dogma before life.
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