Thursday, February 10, 2011


Wednesday's discussion of arguably one of the most climatic scenes of the Blood Meridian provided us a chance to delve into the psyche of Judge Holden. Undoubtedly, as much as "War is God" passage helped to flesh out the Judge's motives, the same passage unnerved me. The very idea that violence wasn't just something could be committed for its own sake, but is in fact almost an obligation for those in positions of power ran so far against what my personal philosophy that I couldn't help but feel pretty discouraged about how societal attitudes managed to evolve into something so taboo and morally defunct.

Call me a romantic, but I say that violence, as an act that pushes us to the limits of our humanity desperately requires moral justification. It wasn't too long ago that Eisenhower asserted just prior to D-Day that his soldiers who were about to commit horrific acts of violence were "[embarking] on a Great Crusade" for "liberty-loving peoples." I'm not saying that we can always fight a "good" war with moral justification; instead, I find that for the legacy of conflict to escape untarnished, all "good" wars need provide a reason so compelling, so far beyond reasonable doubt that history has no choice but to be kind.

Now that I think about it, my ideas aren't so silly either, they just might be pretty timeless. The quote in the title from the Art of War states that the moral authority of the leader, and thus the moral motives behind conflict need to be firm. The need for moral justification is so important that it is one of the key factors (the others being the weather, the terrain, the skill of the commander and the discipline of the soldiers) that can separate sure victory from likely defeat. In case others are wondering whether how in the world I have the time to commit incomprehensible sentences in classical Chinese to memory, I would like to point out that my interest in this Art of War quotation was piqued after a recent viewing of John Woo's recent epic "Red Cliff," which shares a view of war at least as romantic as my own.

In one of the scenes (which I was unfortunately unable to find on youtube), two leaders debate the merits of fighting a war, determining that despite the lack of hostility on their lands, it was imperative to fight the antagonist, Cao Cao because this warlord from the North had disrupted the harmony of the nation, turning countryman against countryman and thus needed to be stopped.

Judge Holden's claim that might is right seems to indicate that he believes that the world needs to be ruled by violence so that a proper hierarchy may be established, that an alpha male may be placed at his rightful place. Because the powerful are at the top, they are above morality, and are compelled to destroy vestiges of it by continuing to war against others. This provides not only an intriguing juxtaposition of literature from polar opposites points in time and space, but also an opportunity to observe the gulf in cultural attitudes. Perhaps so jaded in the wake of the Vietnam War and Washington's sometimes clumsy support of dictators world wide, McCarthy argues that the world has now past the point of no return, thus akin to a volcanic explosion, or the falling leaves of autumn, the next stage of the life cycle must begin - the second chance rises from the ashes of the old.

1 comment:

  1. It does seem that the Judge’s reasoning for why war happens is pretty one sided. Cases of conflict do exist for other reasons besides the Napoleonic crusades of conquering for the sake of dominating more people or land. Just wars are possible especially when fighting in defense for one’s belief. However, this reasoning does depend on what lens you look through or what side your talking about.

    Take the American War on Terrorism. In the eyes of many Americans, they see a crazed group of Islamist extremists committing violent acts of public destruction on our soil. Therefore the war is a retaliating response. In the eyes of the Islamist groups, they are protecting an ideology and attacking what they view as a threat to their culture and nations in the only form that they can inflict damage in, which are through acts of terrorism. They too are protecting themselves and their beliefs.

    Although certain Islamist groups would like to see America fall, neither group is searching for dominance over the others land or power within that region (well maybe America is…). Surely this isn’t violence for the sake of violence when observing each side in isolation.


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