We learned little about the French and Indian Wars in high school. I remember only a few names and it was never clear what the whole business was about. It all seemed rather dull. It still does, in a way. There were no more than a handful of pitched battles and a lot of skirmishes and raids. Maybe it was the climate in which the war was fought, temperate northern forests -- green, dark, humid in the summer; dreadfully bare in winter. I went to college in Iroquois country in upstate New York. Some nights were so bitterly cold that the sap froze in the trees and the trunks split open with loud cracks. I remember wondering why the Cayuga just didn't give up and move to Florida.
But this is a good documentary. It fills in the gaps, for one thing, and spells out the dynamic of the competition for resources (hello?) involving the three principal players -- the British in the south, the French in the north, and the various Indian tribes in between.
George Washington was a colonel in the Virginia militia, who fought for territory on the side of the British. But there followed disagreements with the mother country over exactly how to pay for the monstrously expensive adventure. Britain at the time was also involved in what was called The Seven Years War, busy annexing territories that belonged to the French and Spanish. And Britain imposed some taxes on the colonials -- not ruinously high -- expecting that Americans would help pay for the war that saved them from the French. The Americans weren't too happy about that because they had no representatives in Parliament and viewed the taxes as alien, which led to the Boston Tea Party and all the rest of it.
It's an admirably candid and honest history. Washington was friends with some of the Indian leaders but he went ahead and betrayed them to acquire personal land in what is now the Midwest. The Indians aren't portrayed as saints either. They were adept at playing one side against the other and weren't bothered if they had to "tomahawk" a few innocent heads to get what they wanted.
Eventually the French gave up. Montcalm was in charge and HIS mother country starved him of troops and supplies because France's political structure was fragile and somewhat disorganized. His Indian allies deserted him too, once they saw which way the wind was blowing.
There are maps -- just enough of them to make the geographical dynamics a bit easier to follow. Mostly we watch reenactments, which are well funded and adequately staged. The acting on the whole isn't bad but the poor guy playing Pontiac -- yes, Pontiac -- has a voice that suggests not an Indian but a nice Jewish kid from Brooklyn. As far as a non-historian can tell, the period decor is accurate.
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