Blood Meridian is a tragic procession of bloody violent acts, from barroom brawls to great and terrible massacres on the plains; even the landscapes of the novel—barren, alien, indifferent—seem to be at war with the forms of life that traverse them.
The central theoretician and advocate for warfare in the novel is Judge Holden, who hails war itself as the ultimate trade, and humankind as its ultimate practitioner. The Judge says very simply that war endures because young men love it and old men love it in them, a claim borne out by the kid’s almost native taste for mindless violence and by the eagerness of so many men to join Glanton’s gang of scalp hunters as they spread carnage and terror throughout the borderlands of the United States and Mexico. In his most grandiose lecture, the Judge goes on to make an even larger claim. War is essentially a battle of wills, he says, and the outcome is determined by a “larger will,” namely fate. In the sense that it determines the course of the universe, “war is God” in the Judge’s formulation.
What’s more, all true servants of war become gods themselves with dominion over the earth. So it is that Glanton holds dominion over his gang, or the Judge holds dominion over almost everything he encounters, from the bat guano he converts into gunpowder to the children he violates and murders to the idiot whom he puts on a leash. Indeed, throughout their expeditions, the scalp hunters are not so much interested in turning a profit—they squander their money wantonly on debauchery—so much as in dominating the lives of those around them, whether they’re demanding drink or running a ferry as though it were a medieval fiefdom. All those who fail to truly serve war fall out of such dominion and into oblivion, the Judge says, and by the end of the novel, it would seem that only he is destined to live forever, dancing the dance of war.
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Warfare and Domination Quotes in Blood Meridian
He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.
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.
There is no government in Mexico. Hell, there’s no God in Mexico. Never will be. We are dealing with a people manifestly incapable of governing themselves. And do you know what happens with people who cannot govern themselves? That’s right. Others come in to govern for them.
The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.
The survivors lay quietly in that cratered void and watched the whitehot stars go rifling down the dark. Or slept with their alien hearts beating in the sand like pilgrims exhausted on the face of the planet Anareta, clutched to a namelessness wheeling in the night.
In this company there rode two men named Jackson, one black, one white, both forenamed John. Bad blood lay between them and as they rode up under the barren mountains the white man would fall back alongside the other and take his shadow for the shade that was in it and whisper to him. The black would check or start his horse to shake him off. As if the white man were in violation of his person, had stumbled onto some ritual dormant in his dark blood or his dark soul whereby the shape he stood the sun from on that rocky ground bore something of the man himself and in so doing lay imperiled.
The nearest man to him [the white Jackson] was Tobin and when the black stepped out of the darkness bearing the bowieknife in both hands like some instrument of ceremony Tobin started to rise. The white man looked up drunkenly and the black stepped forward and with a single stroke swapt off his head.
If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night… This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.
They rode on. They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote.
Above all else they appeared wholly at venture, primal, provisional, devoid of order. Like beings provoked out of the absolute rock and set nameless and at no remove from their own loomings to wander ravenous and doomed and mute as gorgons shambling the brutal wastes of Gondwanaland in a time before nomenclature was and each was all.
They entered the city haggard and filthy and reeking with the blood of the citizenry for whose protection they had contracted. The scalps of the slain villagers were strung from the windows of the governor’s house and the partisans were paid out of the all but exhausted coffers and the Sociedad was disbanded and the bounty rescinded. Within a week of their quitting the city there would be a price of eight thousand pesos posted for Glanton’s head.
Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.
The man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.
War is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within the larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.
All else was heaped on the flames and while the sun rose and glistened on their [the Yuma Indians’] gaudy faces they sat upon the ground each with his new goods before him and watched the fire and smoked their pipes as might some painted troupe of mimefolk recruiting themselves in such a wayplace far from the towns and the rabble hooting at them across the smoking footlamps, contemplating towns to come and the poor fanfare of trumpet and drum and the rude boards upon which their destinies were inscribed for these people were no less bound and indentured and they watched like the prefiguration of their own ends the carbonized skulls of their enemies incandescing before them bright as blood among the coals.
It is this false moneyer with his gravers and burins who seeks favor with the judge and he is at contriving from cold slag brute in the crucible a face that will pass, an image that will render this residual specie current in the markets where men barter. Of this is the judge judge and the night does not end.