Top critical review
Tough read, tough issues
on March 2, 2015
I read this book because I asked a friend to read one of my favorites and he asked me to read this. I've evolved way over to the right while he remains true to our mutual hippy roots. He is dedicated to the Free Leonard movement and thinks I should be also. I can't say the book convinced me, but it certainly raised more doubts that I thought I would ever entertain.
There is no question that Peltier was there at the shoot out. There's no question that he exchanged fire with the FBI during the shoot out. Those facts alone would warrant a murder verdict. On the other hand, if you take him at his word, he probably should not have gotten life on a first degree conviction.
But, my friend and the author would also argue that the FBI started it; they were in the midst of a long campaign of oppression, involving torture and murder. Again, here the author convinced me that there must have been at least two sides to this. It seems that the FBI and other law enforcement, at a minimum, were out of line. Yet, I have a hard time believing the full story of the AIM members whose statements are used to back this up. But, even if the FBI were over the line, no one should argue that a person who engaged in a protracted shoot out with law enforcement deserves to be found innocent, even if was just shooting over their heads to scare them away as Leonard claims.
The harder argument is whether the long chain of undeniable horrible treatment of the Sioux should play any part in Peltier's conviction. I don't deny that the USA treated them terribly over the years. But, the fact is that those wars are over; the Indians lost and we're now all citizens of a country that has laws that must be obeyed. Most of the AIM "indians" did not grow up in their Sioux culture, but were instead, disaffected, communist influenced revolutionaries who adopted their Indian culture and used it to argue that they were aggrieved and deserving of taking retribution by force. Many were flat out criminals, losers, alcoholics, dope addicts. I admire the longing for reconciliation with a lost culture and a spiritual past, but it is and was lost and not actually part of them. Anyway, they were living in the USA and they were disobeying, often violently disobeying its laws. They should not be surprised to have law enforcement come down on them, hard.
Beyond the moral and legal issues, the book is very hard to read. The author strings together seemingly endless tales, quotes, facts which clearly have some place in the story but he never really helps us put it all together. Plus, it is very one sided and he is clearly bought in to the most extreme and unlikely version of events.
I would not have been able to finish this book if it were not for the obligation I felt toward my friend to try and understand his view of this issue. Now I know that he and I can never see it the same way, although I can see some of his point of view and I do think the way we treated the Indians and even the way we treated Leonard was wrong. But, I still think the man belongs in jail.