Ethan Hawke: Why ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are fickle concepts in history

When you simplify history, you obliterate the truth, says Ethan Hawke.

ETHAN HAWKE: Why I think Geronimo is such a wonderful figure unlike Pocahontas, unlike Sitting Bull, unlike Red Cloud, unlike some really amazing figures. Geronimo is really complicated. He's a murderer. I mean he like cut off people's eyelids and put ants on there. I mean we're talking about – people often love to tell the story of Native Americans or any first nation peoples as if they're Buddhist monks, you know. As if it's the Dalai Lama himself riding a horse, you know. And it's totally disrespectful to the culture and what it was. Whenever you want to make it simplistic you talk down to people and I have found in my experience from visiting reservations and things like that they're just forced into their own pockets and their own communities. And there isn't a lot of dialogue.

I'm sure that this book will make many first nation people mad at me because that I don't have the right to appropriate this story. And I'm sympathetic and I understand that. I respect it. I don't want to appropriate anybody's story. I try to focus the story on the war and from a historical point of view but try to see it from both sides. And what I love about using Geronimo is that he's a very Shakespearian figure. He's very complex. He's good and he's bad. Cochise is more of a typical hero. He was a great great leader and one of the last people ad that part of the world that could really unite a large group of people. Geronimo never really united. I mean Geronimo was never even chief for crying out loud.

What I love about the book if I'm allowed to say such a thing is we end before Geronimo ever really becomes famous. We end the story. There's a lot of bad behavior from white people and a lot of bad behavior from Mexicans and a lot of bad behavior from the Apache. It aspires to be a human, not some kind of white guilt book but a book about history and what happened. And there's a lot of wonderful white people who did their best. There's this guy General Howard. Maybe some people would question me calling him wonderful. In this context he worked for the service of good. He started Howard University for African Americans. He took the unwavering equality of mankind part of Christianity extremely seriously. And he was a very serious Christian who believed that all men were created equal. And so he strove to create that in his life.

He had one arm. He lost an arm in the Civil War. He's a very interesting character and one of the white characters. There's also some pretty terrible white people obviously. And one of the things that I love about studying history is that you see that it's not like oh, one thing was bad and one thing was good. You know the wrong people won certain battles. The wrong people won certain elections, you know. President Grant really did want to do the right thing by the Native American people but then he lost the next election and you see why treaties are broken, elections are lost, the wrong person gets in power and is not concerned with ethics. I found studying this book really interesting.

  • In 2016, Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth published the graphic novel Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars. Who were the good guys and bad guys in that era of history? It's not a straightforward question.
  • The novel includes historical characters like Geronimo, Cochise and General O.O. Howard, all of whom were at times arguably heroes and villains.
  • "One of the things that I love about studying history," says Hawke, "is that you see that it's not like 'Oh, one thing was bad and one thing was good.' You know, the wrong people won certain battles. The wrong people won certain elections."

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