On Riel, Hollywood propaganda, and modification of history by way of public perception.
Riel believed he was an inheritor of the Davidic monarchy in messianic terms, and even if it was adversely, was quite instrumental in the incorporation and development of what became the province of Manitoba, just as Amor de Cosmos was crucial when it came to British Columbia. At the very least Riel helped forge the identity of the Metis to the point where they are identified with the same parity as aboriginal groups, an identification that is non-existent in the US, as well as negotiating the terms under which Manitoba entered Confederation (Canada).
“At his trial, Riel denied allegations that his religious beliefs were as irrational as were being (and continue to be) alleged. He explained as follows:
“I wish to leave Rome aside, inasmuch as it is the cause of division between Catholics and Protestants. I did not wish to force my views…If I could have any influence in the new world it would be to help in that way, even if it takes 200 years to become practical…so my children’s children can shake hands with the Protestants of the new world in a friendly manner. I do not wish those evils which exist in Europe to be continued, as much as I can influence it, among the (Metis). I do not wish that to be repeated in America.” ” -Wikipedia
While commenting that the outcome of the Battle of Batoche and the NW Rebellion was “never in doubt”, no mention is made of the testing and first use of the Gatling Gun in the suppression of the uprising, “on loan” from the US army along with its inventor, Arthur Howard, which established his and his gun’s reputation henceforward. (Even in this Canadian sourced deconstruction of the battle of Batoche, the gun is mentioned once, but not how it got there, though the implication of its effect and use in ending the uprising is implicit; it was obviously an acting component in the military strategy.) And there you begin to get an indication of just how fundamental the United States’ involvement has been in Canadian affairs, and to what end.
These polarities in Canadian identity (and the deliberate south of the border overt manipulation of such) are still very much with us today, perhaps to the extent of ultimate success in the current conservative majority rule, as the ultimate mentor to the Reform party, which swallowed the traditional Conservative party whole and Americanized its values (and by the looks of things a good deal more) when its membership was in free fall was a former US citizen (we’re rather selective about the public rehabilitation of US citizenry), Tom Flanagan, (y’know, the one defended by such ex-Canadian paragons as Conrad Black for his child porn comments), who himself was first hired by another US ex-pat who hailed from the Pentagon; “Americanization” to the extent of hiring a Chicago firm to generate election attack ads in the US model, though more superficial when it comes to real implications, which there are plenty of. -Timing is everything.
Tom Flanagan is rather analogous to the brand of Irishman that Riel was personally betrayed by; (who later led a cross border raid into Manitoba (Canada), temporarily invading a Canadian fort to erect an American flag; his fellow Metis were responsible for arresting him and his raider party). Unsurprisingly one of Flanagan’s top priorities was a polarizing revisionist history of Riel himself. Not content with setting himself upon the “project” of Americanizing the Canadian political landscape irreversibly, this US citizen also took it upon himself to rewrite Canadian history to Americanize it as well (as far back as attempted erasure of the existent implications of the Royal Proclamation of 1763), including a self-blaming/self-justifying exegesis on Riel, along the lines of if we end up destroying native American uprisings it’s their own fault based on their conduct in uprising. What was at fault was Riel the man. While obviously this is a defining element, the tactic is equally obvious.
I’d bet Mr. Flanagan obliquely passed over the US’s crucial contribution of a naval ship delivering the first Gatling gun for use, along with its US army operator, to suppress the uprising, as does US popular culture. Hollywood of course has done a movie about a heinous US intervention in another nation’s internal affairs by mowing down an internal uprising of “savages” with a Gatling gun. That was “The Last Samurai” located in Japan, scripted on the tail of the US Civil War; in Canada this took place just before. With the historical knowledge that this event did indeed take place in another location entirely, “The Last Samurai” becomes propaganda in the sense of substituting a fiction in the popular consciousness, with the effect of erasing historical existing context of military intervention to affect and alter a nation’s sovereignty. Since the contribution was obviously asked for, it would not have constituted a war crime against an internal population of another nation (the location of the uprising had not yet entered Canadian Federation), but the implications of such intervention and its sensitivity are thrown into relief by the complete avoidance of any reference to the fact that this happened historically. It may not have constituted this legally, but as the US has “normalized” this illegal war crime intervention against national sovereignty outright, including in matters of civil war today, they’d well prefer not to have their actions reinforced by history in a way that indicates this is the very definition of their national character. -Yea, so much for “breaking with convention”, especially given the propagandistic timeliness (“The Last Samurai” premiered 12/05/03) that an analogous line of justification was used to argue for an illegal pre-emptive strike on Iraq, with the ennobling argument of “spreading democracy” (“Operation Iraqi Freedom” - 03/19/03), under a pretext that has proven blatantly false.
This is ample testament to how modern day propaganda is far more nuanced, as any real examination in real terms of whether intervening with the natives in another country in this manner was heinously immoral and oblivious to their basis for uprising and underlying cultural sophistication would examine this event in reality, rather than attempting to rewrite it for fiction in terms of another country, while actually rewriting it inside that country.
In the meantime the fiction mythologises the notion of US individual conscience acting on the side of right that never existed (and was indeed just as non-existent in the movie’s present), injecting a patently false, impeccably timed panacea into the national consciousness (that worked in tandem to justify a much broader invasion of another nation on the pretense of espousing these same ideals). It well indicates that propaganda’s main tool is infantilizing through ignorance, realized in this instance in that no one’s bull-shit-o-meter went off, and no one would care if it did. If the reality that “just happens” to be erased happens to be Canada, no one even notices. These sorts of barometers are in fact regularly produced to test and insure that the level of public ignorance is in fact safe and sound, all tooled to injecting these false panaceas. “Avatar” would be another fine example of this in action. These make it through the gates if they serve the broader agenda of gauging the success of cognitive dissonance (while simultaneously enforcing it) in infantilizing the cognitive judgment of the population.
By the looks of it even Ebert was too ignorant to know there was an echo for this script in US history or didn’t care about literary license, though I’d say anyone of his stature, if cognizant of the history, would have recognized that rather dark implications hid beneath the veneer he lauded so handsomely, as you can’t get more Orwellian by definition than this little number, given it did double duty by performing a complete reversal on historical fact, while simultaneously being injected into the American public consciousness in the interest of helping to justify the another war crime invasion of another country, (i.e., it was a cultural enabler of the ultimate abrogation of a nation’s sovereignty, by ennobling the internal population’s ideals in an equally false pretext). In fact it helped justify the self-same crime of invading another nation’s sovereignty that “The Last Samurai” performed an exercise of exonerating via pure fiction. -A nice little fake exorcism of the American collective psyche, -must be so wonderful to exist under such a delusional mythos of faux purification rites. Double duty was also performed in that it provided an equivalent fictional interior mythology that was entirely a fake construct, as fake as the pretext of “justification” formulated for pre-emptive invasion of a sovereign nation that in no way provided a threat. The domestic population of the invading nation is the prime priori basis for these formulations; when it comes to the fabrication of an attendant mythology to furnish a non-existent basis for non-existent ideals, they are the entire purpose. This interior manipulation of the collective national psyche must be performed in equal measure to the exterior formulation of pretexts for justification for war; they are complementary and integral. With the attendant technology of the information age and cinema, the construct of mythology attains a state of immediacy on demand at the level of alternate reality, with military jingoism serving as (conditioning) entertainment, perfecting the role of bread and circuses (alongside professional sports coverage). This level of priority is the idiom of idolatry.
-But of course, like Americans, the bulk of Canadians do not know this movie had an existent echo of their history either, which is the point of Canadian history being rewritten by a former US citizen like Flanagan. In this instance Canada is so integral in terms of fulfilling resource needs that provide for USA’s ability to function, in order to attain the necessary “harmony” to provide for such extraction, Canadian culture and historical context must also be manipulated into a measure of commonality as well, especially where it did not exist or was quite the opposite.
“The Last Samurai” also mythologizes the context by inserting an American “saviour” into the fray (Avatar ditto), which is the usual patent American BS, given the only American inserted into the real fray in real history (in Canada) was there to mow the “natives” involved in the uprising down with his Gatling gun. (“Natives” in this instance is actually very broad; its main thrust came from the mixed heritage Metis (who had the support of the Roman Catholic Church), as well as the Heinz-57 European Canadian variety who were worried about the abuse of their rights under Confederation. The natives were tribally divided over the matter.)
Ergo, the target was native Canadians up against their government (the pre-existing indigenous people on the territory), so this constituted an intervention in the determination of another nation’s internal affairs, an attack or redefinition of national sovereignty. More essentially, this was the deliberate eradication of that spectrum of another country’s population who were assimilative and integrative with the existing culture to the extent of becoming potentially definitive of that nation’s culture (the real contest Riel presented in his brinksmanship to compel negotiation); this assimilative identity had to be crushed in order to preserve the mandate of extinguishing the existing indigenous culture, which has very disturbing far reaching implications, into the present day. What was contested and “won” here was the predominance of Protestant Anglophones in dictating the incorporation of the West. It wasn’t kind, and was based on outright robbery of land from the indigenous people.
It is especially disturbing if you consider the ideals “The Last Samurai” was falsely lauding Americans to possess “just happened” to serve the interest of justifying another illegal invasion that destroyed a nation (a far more gross intervention in national sovereignty), by simultaneously reinforcing these ideals in American popular consciousness with a patent falsehood. There is a fundamental insult existent in the lauding of Japan’s culture in the idiom of actually ennobling and examining historical culture (when it didn’t exist in Japan itself in this context), when it is an act of erasure of Canadian indigenous culture and identity, by creating a fiction substitution gloss over a real insurrection that was really destroyed.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the only sort of individual who happened to have inserted himself on that side was in my grandfather list of greats. If Tom Cruise had been dramatizing reality in any way, he’d be the one behind the Gatling gun, trying to kill my surviving ancestor. That was the US mandate: it did its damndest to destroy those who might possess any shred of assimilative enlightenment akin to the rebirth of Nathan Algren’s consciousness and conscience, or those who were truly being disenfranchised, when the Samurai rebel minority were only resistant to being disenfranchised of the privileges of a military formed aristocratic caste system. Such a system is the opposite of integrative inclusion and process, just as the Irishman Riel executed stood for the imposition and definition of Canada purely as a British vassal under the Queen (a de facto colony of Great Britain) in the model of Ireland (he was an Orangeman; given the Irish Famine clearly this was not good). His execution was an off-shoot of his deliberately provocative blatant Anglo-Saxon religious prejudice/racism. (Whatever their stripe, Irish patriots were decidedly unhelpful.) This also means that Riel stood for not just racial but religious peace and integration, whereas an Orangeman tended to either the religious dominance of his Protestant faith or sectarian violence.
This allegation of “The Last Samurai” as a device in erasing Canadian history is made with the understanding that the movie is a fictional hybrid of such, and was referenced on a real Samurai rebellion in Japan. For consideration of all the elements borrowed and deconstruction of the elements that were pure fiction; there are references here and here. Gatling guns were used by the Imperial Army, their efficacy having been demonstrated at the Battle of Batoche in Saskatchewan; (arms trade being the US casus belli). The modernization of Japan took place with the contribution of colonial powers, but the US was not one of these, as it was not one of these powers. Given the crippling sort of depletion it would have produced, the notion of a post-civil war US army directing the crushing of this rebellion and single-handedly modernizing the Japanese Imperial Army is utter fiction and a conceit, and the possible insertion of a US mercenary like Nathan Aldridge a nigh impossibility. There was also a much closer parity of arms in this rebellion, which was a purely internal Japanese affair.
Hence what has been inserted into this narrative, and is in fact the closer fit (apart from the level of the massacre) is the real existing historical context of the US intervention in the Canadian rebellion at Batoche, but with the additional fabricated insertion of a US participant of the side of the “native” rebels. The narrative’s cited collective contributory elements, thrown into relief with the one rendered very conspicuous by its absence, is ample testament to mythology employed in what has always been its precise purpose. It is the injection of what was an actual existing confrontation inside Canada into a context with Japan that never existed at all. The devising of mythology to erase unpleasant realities for the sake of a fabricated patriotic idealization is the operative function and nature of propaganda.
About the only parallel that exists (again conspicuous by its absence) was that the slaughter of the “noble savage” mythologized figment of the remaining Samurai in the movie took place with the tacit Imperial consent of their government, just as Canada sought US aid in exterminating its own rebellion in the interest of quelling and subjecting those who were already native to the West. It had to be suppressed quickly so the confrontation wouldn’t be drawn out in a way where their grievances were aired. The Canadian Federation wouldn’t be compelled to negotiate, as they had been in Manitoba; they wouldn’t be compelled to integrate the existing culture. So the brutality of the Gatling Gun’s first use in efficacious suppression of another nation’s culture in the movie is a true reflection. It is accurate on the tacit complicity between US and Canadian elites in suppressing internal national attempts at parity, sovereignty or human justice (not to mention technology), suppression that has generally been for the sake of untrammeled resource exploitation.