American conquistadors

Don’t miss “Men Without Weakness.” Dale’s take on imperialism is very much like my own, and I link it here to provide perspective on my ongoing series, Postcards from a Conquistador. Stonewall Jackson and William Tecumseh Sherman were cut from the same cloth as Hernán Cortés, I think.

The cold blue eyes look down history, finding us with contempt. He gave up drinking whiskey when he found that he liked the taste of it; he gave up reading the newspapers when they started to praise him. He did take pride in winning battles, but he knew it was a sin: the victories belonged to God, not to him. In winning a battle he found spiritual ecstasy: it was, maybe, the only token of God’s love he would ever believe.

Though I suppose Dale’s perspective, like my own, must’ve been shaped by leftist critiques of imperialism, this post could just as easily have been penned by a disciple of Ron Paul, and I like the fact that he tries to get inside the heads and hearts of men who are all too easily dismissed as monsters, or adulated by latter-day partisans. By the end of it — it’s not long — you’ll also understand why Dale named his blog mole, after the homebody protagonist of The Wind in the Willows. Go read.

3 Replies to “American conquistadors”

  1. You hit on a great point — that these men are too easily dismissed or adulated, that there might be a third way. But what is this third way, is it this fascination with the unbearable acts committed by men like Sherman, Jackson and Cortes?
    My favorite contemporary philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian, was criticized by his audience during a lecture on Hitchcock’s films. The audience wondered how he could give this lecture when atrocities were being committed in his country. His reply: “How can you talk about Hitchcock?” We need to be fascinated by these atrocities precisely so we can see our own lives as ‘normal.’ It seems to me that rather than try to understand the man who pulls trigger, we try to understand the ‘normal’ lives of those who had the guns pointed at them with the full understanding that we live under the guns as well. That we “admit that in a sense we also imitate peace, live in a fiction of peace. [that] Sarajevo is not an island, an exception within the sea of normality; on the contrary, this alleged normality is in itself an island of fictions within the common warfare.” The common war is not over. It happens everyday in Iraq, on the East Side of Columbus, Ohio, on television, in your brain every time you say “well, I’m an exception.”

  2. Nathan – Great comment. I suspect that there are many third ways; you’ve hit on one of them (an important one). There’s a moral paradox, too: to what extent does it make sense to feel empathy toward those who may be incapable of experiencing empathy themselves?

  3. (If there are any such, I don’t see what harm it would do. From my tradition’s perspective, anyway, we practice empathy not mainly because it does other people good but mainly because it does us good.)

    Thanks for the good words, Dave! It’s no coincidence, of course, that I think of these men much as you think of your conquistadors: I’ve been absorbing your take on them for some time :-)

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