Iron Man 3 compares villain's work to Sand Creek Massacre
Historian Ari Kelman was watching Iron Man 3 this past weekend with his son when he was startled by a familiar reference, one that seemed very out of context in a Hollywood blockbuster. Mandarin, the apparent arch-villain played by Ben Kingsley, was comparing his own act of terrorism in attacking a church filled with the families of American military personnel to the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. That sad chapter of Colorado history isn't well-known outside of this state, certainly not as well-known as it should be. But all that could change next year.
Why? The year 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the tragedy, when Kelman hopes the country will finally come to grips with the legacy of the Sand Creek Massacre. In his opinion, Iron Man 3 is just the start.
The author of A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, Kelman knows how Americans have struggled to understand the massacre and its meaning; he's devoted an entire book to the very long process that led to the opening of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in 2007.
"For almost a century and a half, different groups of people have used memories of Sand Creek to advance their political agendas," he notes. "The makers of Iron Man 3 tapped into this rich historical vein, repurposing the massacre yet again, this time as an emblem of the hazards of American imperialism. A terrorist in the film seizes on the slaughter at Sand Creek as justification for his crimes, which he views as fair recompense for the murder of more than 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people on November 29, 1864. It's a chilling scene and a grim reminder that the struggle over the meaning of the Sand Creek Massacre still haunts this nation."
Kelman, today an associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis, became very familiar with the Sand Creek Massacre while he was at the University of Denver. And today the University of Denver, too, is still grappling with the legacy of Sand Creek: The school was founded in 1864 by territorial governor John Evans and Major John Chivington, a Methodist minister who was appointed by the federal government to command the troops that he led on the raid at Sand Creek -- a raid that the federal government investigated, then labeled a massacre in 1865, shortly before Evans was asked to resign from his post as territorial governor. DU has now established a commission to investigate Evans's role in connection with Sand Creek.
Wikipedia An illustration of the Sand Creek Massacre by a witness.
And that's not the only reconsideration of Sand Creek now under way. When the History Colorado Center opened a year ago, its core exhibits included Collision: The Sand Creek Massacre 1860s-Today -- an exhibit that the Northern Cheyenne and other descendants of those killed at Sand Creek had asked History Colorado not to open until major changes were made, and then, when the exhibit opened anyway, asked History Colorado to close.
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