I won’t be going to see Mel Gibson’s movie, "The Passion of The Christ." Not because of any religious controversy, it’s just that I’m not sado-masochistic by nature. Besides, nothing can match my imagination when it comes to terror.
The most violent
scene I’ve seen in any film is when Marlon Brando gets beaten
to a pulp in "On the Waterfront." Actually, the beating occurs out
of sight and the viewer can only hear the thuds of the punches and
kicks, and Brando’s groaning. I’m sure the fight that
occurred in my imagination was more brutal than anything I could
As for Christ’s sufferings, I have
my own version and I don’t need Mel Gibson's heavy-handed
interpretation. But there are other martyrs I wouldn’t mind
learning more about; for an appropriate Christ figure, one only has
to turn to Butte, Mont.
In 1917, during the height of
World War I, Frank Little traveled to the "richest hill on earth"
to recruit striking miners into the Industrial Workers of the
World. Since the war had begun, prices for copper taken from the
Butte mines had risen from 13.7 cents per pound to 29.2 cents per
pound, thanks in some part to war profiteering. Although workers
saw an increase wages from $4 a day to $4.75 a day, inflation in
the cost-of-living far exceeded the wage increase.
June 8, a fire swept through the Granite Mountain shaft of the
Speculator Mine, killing 164 men. Rescue teams discovered that
entryways called bulkheads leading to other tunnels had been
illegally blocked. Many bodies were found piled near the bulkheads.
Three days after the fire, miners spontaneously walked
off their jobs and formed the Metal Mine Workers’ Union. The
union called for reinstatement of all blacklisted miners, a minimum
wage of $6 a day, annual mine inspections, the institution of
safety drills and construction of manholes in the concrete
bulkheads. The operating companies responded by refusing to
recognize the union.
Frank Little arrived in Butte in
late-July. Like Jesus, he hated human greed. Little spoke twice to
the miners in Butte, drawing crowds of 6,000 men each time. No one
transcribed his words.
Like the Romans, the Anaconda
Mining Co. found Little a threat to its empire. The Anaconda
Standard newspaper, owned by AMC, portrayed Little and other strike
leaders as enemies of this country who "should be given the
consideration and treatment to which enemies are entitled and no
On Aug. 1, a local Judas fingered the boarding
house on North Wyoming Street where Little was staying. Around 3
a.m., a half dozen men dragged Little, dressed only in his
underwear, from his bed and forced him into a big black car. Little
didn’t have to carry a cross, but his fate was just as
After driving a few blocks, the thugs pulled
over to tie Little to the end of a rope. They then dragged him over
the pavement to the outskirts of Butte. Not satisfied, they
savagely beat him. No one knows whether Little was still alive when
they tied the rope around his neck and hung him from a railroad
No one was ever charged with the murder. Writer
Dashiel Hammett, whose plot in the novel Red
Harvest closely resembles many aspects of Little’s
murder, worked as a Pinkerton detective in Butte during the time.
Fifty yearsafter the crime, he revealed that Anaconda had
offered him $15,000 to kill the union organizer.
Little did not rise from his grave, but for a while his struggle to
help miners and his murder gave new energy to the strike —
forcing the Anaconda empire to fight back through its political
In 1918, the Montana Legislature passed a
lawmaking it a crime to belong to the IWW and similar institutions.
The Montana Sedition Act also made it illegal to criticize the
government or to "incite or inflame resistance" to it.
The might of Anaconda empire reached far beyond Montana. The U.S.
Congress soon followed suit, amending the Espionage Act to prohibit
strikes that interfered with the war effort. Shortly after passage,
thousands of labor leaders, socialists, anarchists and communists
were arrested across the country, including Eugene V. Debs, a
three-time nominee for president on the Socialist ticket — as
well as a man named Joseph McCarthy, who was later to become a U.S.
senator and conduct a own witch hunt of his own during the 1950s.
Now, if Gibson made a movie about the martyrdom of Frank
Little, I might go to see it — if he treated the suffering of
the victim with respect.