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The Middle East and the Shadow of Blood Meridian

My week began with a photo from Syria appearing via Twitter showing a man holding the body of his decapitated daughter. Syrian government forces had bombed another village in an attempt to erode support for the insurgents. This image joined countless others showing the rioting across the Middle East and the murders of Americans in Libya.

This week also brought the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Sharpsburg, the bloodiest single day battle in our history with 23,000 casualties on both sides. Among the many military strategies developed during that war, none has more strongly endured than the Union strategy of Total War.

Total War requires the breaking of civilian spirit. Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan, an enthusiastic advocate, used this strategy with great effectiveness against the South and later against the Plains Indians. The extinction of the buffalo, the primary Plains Indian food source, can be attributed to his leadership as were the destruction of countless villages along with the deaths of women and children. Nothing breaks the civilian spirit like the death of children as the Syrian father can surely attest.

These shadows of Total War fell during a week that I was reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Harold Bloom suggests that this apocalyptic book demands our attention since the United States has entered the “Evening Land of Western high culture.”

Though cast as a Western set on the Texas-Mexico border during 1849, Blood Meridian transcends this narrow plot by showing the universal menace and effectiveness of Total War. Extreme violence propels the book but never in a gratuitous manner. It shows what we were on the fringes and what we can become again if we continue our path toward an evil and nihilistic society.

An excerpt – A man’s at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he dont want to. Rightly so. Best not to look in there. It aint the heart of a creature that is bound in the way that God has set for it. You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.

I rarely recommend books. Few activities are more personal than reading and each person seeks books for their own edification. However, truth can be found in fiction and this book should be considered by anyone – especially politicians – trying to make sense of the road ahead.