Film depicts dual nature of humanity


Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

Column by Sean Taylor

I recently took a trip to Atlanta to visit a friend. Amid the blur of clubbing, tourist attractions and fine dining, I found the time to see the movie Avatar.

I liked the movie and its the message: We’ve got to start thinking about our future and the way we do business on this planet. But the thing that affected me the most was how much a movie set in Earth’s future could reflect its past.

In 1831, the Cherokee fought being forcibly removed from their mountainous Georgia homeland in our nation’s courts, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court. They won that case, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, only to have the president ignore the court’s ruling, set his guns and fire against a defenseless people.

After the court had been swept aside, the Southern states, which had at this time already exploited blacks for centuries in the abominable institution of slavery, mobilized to remove all American Indian tribes within their borders.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French historian who catalogued much of early American history, wrote of the expulsion: “In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn’t watch without feeling one’s heart wrung … We watch the expulsion of one of the most celebrated and ancient American peoples.”

The roadway these tribes walked on the way to the barren wasteland of the Oklahoma Territory is today known as the Trail of Tears. Thousands died of starvation, exposure and disease, including more than one-quarter of the Cherokee tribe.

Children were shot and killed by soldiers whose consciences later haunted them. A Georgia soldier who took part in the war said, “I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.”

We can’t change this past. We Americans have so much blood on our hands. We built our nation on the backs of myriads slain. We killed our brothers and denied that we ever were their keepers. The Cherokee’s is a story repeated over and over in our nation’s past. This is our history.

But it is only part of our history.

We gathered our consciences collectively and ended slavery after a war that nearly ripped our nation apart. We defeated the Nazis and showed compassion in rebuilding our Axis Power enemies. We awoke to the need to protect our environment in the 1960s, and we awaken more to it with each generation born onto this pale blue dot in the sky we call home. We let go of our parents’ prejudices and elected governments which passed hate crime bills that protect people from violence no matter their race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. We give billions in foreign aid every year that help feed hundreds of millions.

We are not the sum of only the evil we’ve done, but also of the good. We are not only children of a legacy of darkness, but also of light. We have a choice in what kind of Americans we want to be, in how our generation is to be remembered.

The earthquake in Haiti and the immense suffering of its people have given us a unique opportunity to show the other side of American history. I hope we in the UK community choose to reflect the light of all that we can be, that we give generously and volunteer our time.

I hope we ensure the story portrayed in the movie Avatar – of cruelty toward those who are different than us, of lessons from the past not learned – remains an allegorical statement about our past, not of our future.