The opening salvo in 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America is a sobering lesson in mass destruction that resonates eerily in our atrocity-rich present day. The “day” is May 26, 1637 when European Puritans, aided and abetted by power-hungry native tribes, joined forces and set about massacring hundreds of Pequot men, women and children while they slept.
But the savvy native traders, whose women knew more equality than the English would see until the twentieth century, didn’t go quietly. No matter, “professional” soldier John Mason met his carnage quota by ordering the fort torched and anyone who still managed to escape the inferno shot as they emerged gasping, burnt and terrified on the other side of the wooden palisade.
Director James Moll has largely succeeded in documenting the horrors of our ancestors. By mixing period art, live re-enactments and a host of commentaries from academia and Tall Oak, who speaks eloquently on behalf of today’s rebounding tribe (at one point the Mashantucket reservation’s population shrunk to three wise women), he lets the story unfold and reinforces the history with convincing imagery. In the central feast of death, the further addition of slow motion executions are just graphic enough to stir revulsion, leaving the blood lusters disappointed. Using a variety of body types—not just the physically perfect—adds another layer of believability; moments such as the father/son archery lesson add instant humanity to the lives of the “savages.”
Never far from the action is Nathan Wang’s full-blooded score. From the reedy organ wheezing out an old-time hymn to his use of angelic children and slightly distant adult chorus, the “triumph” of the “true believers” over Satan’s spawn is compellingly reinforced. Unforgettable is the land-hungry intruders praying before the slaughter.
The massacre as a point-of-no-return is followed up by efforts of the Europeans to continue their genocide. The Pequot men are tracked, killed and decapitated. In grim homage to antiquity, their heads are paraded on spears. The women and children are sold off to other lands as slaves, all the better to recoup the considerable expense of killing their sometime trading partners. Yet this tragic one-hour incident is but an early rehearsal for many more deadly performances right up to Wounded Knee (1890).
With God at their side and the self-brainwashed notion of “discovering” land that wasn’t theirs, the devil-hating conquerors ply their trade right across America. Not satisfied with the 75% to 90% annihilation of the native population due to imported diseases, the Americans-to-be repeat the successful formula of kill first, ghettoize the remainder to a barren reservation later, hoping historians will appreciate the wisdom of their action.
But the Pequot have the last laugh. From their Connecticut toehold, the “extinct” people regroup then reassert their independence. After uneven success with agriculture and pig farming, the tribe takes the gamble of its life and before you can yell “Bingo” has beaten the white man at his own game by operating one of the most successful casinos in the land. With an endless supply of U.S. wampum, their future is assured. In the name of commerce, the hatchet has been buried and a museum and research center opened in its place.
The unsettling question remains: Has America, collectively, learned the lesson that “just” wars are morally repugnant? Or have the savages in need of its values emerged in distant lands? JWR