October 31, 2016

Custer's Last Stand--review

A review of a fine documentary that I watched years ago:

American Experience: Custer’s Last Stand – Television Review

By Jay WertzOverall, the story aspect of the film is strong when the viewer realizes that it is more about Custer and the myth surrounding the Last Stand than about the battle itself. Examples of the pop-culture development of the myth through movies and literature are presented. These things show the breadth of the fascination with the subject, and the on-camera speakers rev up enthusiasm for the man and the event. Some are stronger and more interesting than others. “Films like this end up having a certain synthesis built into them because we have a kind of Greek chorus of talking heads that help us bring the history back to life,” explains Ives.A video of the documentary's first chapter:

Custer's Last Stand Chapter 1

Random thoughts

Some interesting comments taken or paraphrased from the film:

  • "The Battle of Washita." Some called it a massacre.

  • Custer was seen as a great Indian fighter.

  • Custer was ambivalent about Indians like most Americans. He admired their courage and fighting ability, but considered them primitive savages.

  • The official government policy toward Indians was tolerance and signed treaties. The unofficial policy was "get rid of them."

  • Custer attended 40 performances of Julius Caesar.

  • He wanted a triumph for the nation's centennial.

  • Custer was sent south to surround the Indian camp. Other soldiers thought he'd attack. "Leave some for us," they said.

  • Sitting Bull was calling tribes to gather. It was their last chance to live free, and the largest gathering ever.

  • Custer believed the Indians had no command structure. He thought they were disorganized, would panic and run. His soldiers could defeat much larger force.

  • Sitting Bull sent two people to negotiate.

  • Custer was haunted by the ghost of Elliot, whom he'd left behind to die at Washita.

  • Because of Sitting Bull's success, some believed he wasn't Indian. That he must've gone to West Point and studied Napoleon.

  • Final quote

    From Louis Warren:Right away, Custer becomes a kind of martyr to the cause of American progress. And this allows the cause to be more acceptable than ever. Because it isn't as if Americans have not sacrificed anything now. It's not as if they haven't given something up. They gave up Custer. The more glorious they can paint Custer, in the aftermath of his death, the more they seem to have sacrificed as they take away all the Indians' land.

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