I had a long conversation with a man last night about the ongoing, violent, and near forgotten war in Ukraine. By most objective standards of dialogue held in America and the west today to discuss anything over ten minutes borders on a full-fledged symposium. Fifteen minutes of interrupted reflection on something as important as Ukraine; this was a gift from God. It was during the intermission of a folk music concert here on the island. We were about as far away as one can be from the atrocities in Galicia as you can be. In a hot little room on a tiny island, for fifteen minutes, I tried to explain a country tearing itself apart. Of course, they’re not doing it on their own. They’ve had active help from Russia, the aid of a blind eye from America, and encouragement from Europe in disturbing ways. Ukraine, like a disintegrated Yugoslavia before it, is being prodded into destruction while the world occasionally glances at the atrocities.
Civilians are killed, cities are bombed, and churches are destroyed. To quote the judge’s sermon in Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, “War is god”. I’ve been looking for a means to understand the return of war to a country I love. The Napoleonic histories which tell of the division of Ukraine between east and west offer some context concerning the current crisis. What’s happening now owes much to the failures of the Congress of Vienna. It’s always easy to answer the ‘what’ question. I know what is happening. The ‘why’ is much more difficult to frame. The unrestrained savagery of ‘why’ is not so readily answered. Blood Meridian provides a framework for giving words to the most extreme human savageries. Diplomacy does not offer such a language. We’ve forgotten (and McCarthy recreates) what is means to live in a time and place when excessive violence is normal. Brutality, blood, and slaughter are the daily amalgam of modern ethnic war and in McCarthy’s story of frontier justice in the west Texas badlands. In short, if you want to understand the worthlessness of human life to violent gangs of human predators, the impulsive carnage of intermittent killing, and war as a way of life in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Ukraine read Blood Meridian.