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Saturday, 16 October 2010

Custer's last stand - why is it so compelling around the world?



This man is known world wide for an epic defeat. Everything he was or became through hearsay and speculation has elevated him in human memory. As a school boy I was fascinated by him and enjoyed the mythical stories surrounding him. Then one day; at school in England, UK; an American teacher came to our class. She was easy to talk to and like all British children we were excited by her because she was from America. However, when she started to talk of Custer, I was so surprised to find out how down beat she was. She was a history teacher and obviously enlightened us to some of his less endearing ways - telling us not to get too sucked in by Hollywood movies. I think this was my first taste of the controversy he caused. Now days I think this is what makes him such a great topic of conversation. You have countless documentaries - some very critical, while others are more apologetic, but whatever path you choose to go along; we never tire of this man and the last day of his life.

While he was alive, I think many of the things he did during the civil war and during the plains Indian war, might have faded into obscurity if it was not for the final and terrible day. His deeds, bad or good, would have still been known about by certain historians who specialized in reading on such subjects, but generally, I think Custer (the legend) would not have been. Even the terrible Waschita River Massacre would have given him a note in the history books, but his name would have been less prominent against the background of the horrendous deeds that were done by the entire government force over all.

When I think of this American soldier Custer; I can't help but reflect on what a strange thing our lives can be. One act, no matter whether it is silly, brave, courageous or even cowardly and deceitful, can echo through out human memory. This man courted controversy and became a monument. I don't think he is regarded as a bad man - yet he did bad things and I don't think he is thought of as good - yet he did good things. He became so neatly packaged in myth and reality by this one big epic defeat - an advert that screams, "Hey look at my life!"

It could be argued that many people lost their lives because of this man's well endulged testament? I think that is what the American school teacher was trying to get across to me? I wonder what he (Custer) might think if he is looking on from another place? I can't help finding anything to do with this enigma of a man compelling. Is he is an anti-hero or a hero?   



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