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.”