What does reality consist of? A caste of Lords overlooking devoted Samurai can afford to affect a Zen attitude (and that’s why Zen blossomed in Middle-Age Japan). However “The Revenant“, the movie, depicts North America when many of the moods which have characterized that continent, ever since, were institutionalized. The violence is unrelenting… And, with the ‘right’ perspective, that violence, even if not justified, is well deserved. Even more important, the violence is realistic. Against violence like that, prayer is impractical, as it is always time for something more practical, such as reloading.
Hence an American meta-morality: guns are good, because, whoever survived, and had descendants, that person had got to have been right, having survived, and, thus, having fought the good fight! Life is the right of survivorship, all the might that can be right. This is a (seemingly little) detail of the American meta-morality which could have important consequences… And did have important consequences in World War Two: then the Americans behaved and fought pretty much as the characters in “The Revenant”. Relentlessly. Ferociously. That was shown clearly in the Battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Iron Bottom Sound. All of these battles were fought with poor odds on the American side, and all of them were won because of innovative, creative American heroism. “Revenant” style. The fascist Japanese admirals could not believe the ferocity of the revenants they were facing. And precisely because, they could believe them, they did not anticipate their actions.
“The Revenant” is driven by love: the old Native American chief wants to recover his (adult) daughter, who has been kidnapped (and raped) by white men. This brings massive mayhem. Love can be a villain. So can be a white man who is thief, a racist, a murderer and a consummate liar. One may wonder why so many negative characteristics could pile up on just one. But precisely: when one has risked one’s reputation with one, why not another? When one has discovered that the Dark Side is efficient, where, and why to stop?
Thus the Dark Side acts like a psychological attractor. That is true also with entire countries. In the Second World War, Norway chose heroism, Sweden, the sister country, which long occupied Norway, chose Hitler, that is abjection.
On 16 December 1939 Prime Minister Churchill issued a memo to his cabinet:
“It must be understood that an adequate supply of Swedish iron ore is vital to Germany…the effectual stoppage of the Norwegian ore supplies to Germany ranks as a major offensive operation of the war. No other measure is open to us for many months to come which gives so good a chance of abridging the waste and destruction of the conflict, or of perhaps preventing the vast slaughters which will attend the grapple of the main armies… The ore from Narvik must be stopped by laying successively a series of small minefields in Norwegian territorial waters at the two or three suitable points on the coast, which will force the ships carrying ore to Germany to quit territorial waters and come on to the high seas, where, if German, they will be taken as prize, or, if neutral, subjected to our contraband control.”
Great Britain and France informed Norway and Sweden that the exportation of ten million metric tons of high grade iron ore to the Nazis had to stop. Now. Britain told Norway it intended to mine the 1,600 kilometers long Norwegian inner sea corridor between the continent and 50,000 islands. That’s where the German ships full of ore sailed, well protected by the island from the Royal Navy.
Once in Germany, the high-grade Swedish iron was mixed with greater amounts of low-grade German iron ore, to make huge quantities of usable steel for the Nazi war effort.
In January 1940, strident protest by Norway and Sweden delayed the Allied effort (in spite of Churchill’s determination). However, Norway did not resist convincingly a British assault against a Nazi ship holding 299 British sailors as prisoners… in the depths of a Norwegian fjord. By then Hitler had long decided to invade Norway. Probably because he had been advised that France had a mysterious nuclear program in full swing there.
By January 1938, Irène and Frederic Joliot-Curie had told the French war minister of the possibility of making a nuclear bomb. They had jointly been attributed the Chemistry Nobel Prize 1935 (for creating new elements). Irene had discovered Uranium Self-sustaining chain reaction by 1937 (as the Nobel site recognizes!) although the Chemistry Nobel was attributed by the Swedes to Otto Hahn in 1944 for that discovery exactly, although it had taken many letters from Irene to Otto to teach precisely that discovery to Otto, who had claimed for months Irene could only be wrong! (Don’t expect to read the truth on Wikipedia, but I read the original literature, and I am not keen to get in a Wikipedia war about truths Anglophone Wiki fanatics can’t accept.)
The French War Ministry removed all nuclear patents from the public sphere, classifying all of them “Secret défense”. And a nuclear bomb program was started. The Curies had determined that HEAVY WATER (D2O) slowed down neutrons to allow them to fission. (In Heavy Water, the usual protons which make the nuclei of water are replaced by pairs made of one neutron and one proton; so Heavy Water is twice the density). Heisenberg, the top Nazi physicist, did not believe that nuclear bombs were possible, thankfully. However, the fumes that the French were up to no good with a new death energy reached Hitler’s nostrils.
The very day that Hitler launched the invasion of Norway, April 9, 1940, not only did the Norwegians sink a Nazi battleship, but the Deuxième Bureau (French military intelligence) removed 185 kg (408 lb) of heavy water from the plant in Vemork in then-neutral Norway.
Nearly three months later, during a Nazi bombing on ships off Bordeaux harbor, the cargo ostensibly containing the Heavy Water exploded and sank. It had been sabotaged by the french, and the Heavy Water had been transported to another ship, which reached England.
Later the entire nuclear bomb program was transferred to Manhattan and further east, becoming the “Manhattan Project”. Towards the end of the war, Churchill, suspicious of the “Communist” leanings of the French nuclear scientists contemplated jailing them all. However, French top physicists liked neither Stalin nor the French government, and, in the end, helped neither. The French military had to find help from lesser scientists, and, on the way, launched the Israeli and Iranian nuclear programs.The French had no less than 5,000 nuclear workers at Dimona in Israel in the early 1960s. The message was clear: you the Jews shall do like us, the French, and attack evil next time it shows up. That conflated with Hannah Arendt’s message that the “Judenrat”, the Jewish Councils, had been active accomplices to Hitler’s Holocaust.
Isaac Berlin the Jewish-German philosopher, lamented that the founders of Israel had “listened to Hitler, not to us”. Well, if the Jews had listened more carefully to Hitler, as the french government did, in the 1930s, they could have taken measures that would have prevented the Holocaust of most European Jews (let alone more than 50 million other people). So Isaac Berlin was wrong on the most important question, survival, and the French were right to nuclear arm Israel.
History is not made just of long tendrils of surprising connections of facts with each other. It is also made of moods which perdure. And those moods can propagate.
The mood of early America is well anchored in the institutions of the USA, and it even propagated back to France. (French “Coureurs des Bois” are represented in “The Revenant” rather profusely, if not handsomely).
The most basic mood characteristic of the human species is fighting beyond what other species consider reasonable. That ethologically given mood, “The Revenant” depicts very well. A fighting species. Something to remember when contemplating the human condition. To be free means to be capable, and willing, to fight.