Thoughts on Royster
Why is greatness more appealing than goodness? Because greatness confirms that one has a divinely decreed destiny, confirms that one is “sanctified,” as Stonewall Jackson thought he was.
By attributing victories to God, Jackson was confirming both his and the Confederacy’s divinely decreed destiny. This confirmation required domination and domination confirmed divine approval. Isn’t this the heart of “American exceptionalism?” This is shared by most Americans, but most strongly by the most patriotic, most dedicated Americans, just as it was shared by both Jackson and Sherman, and by people in the north and in the south. It was shared even in the presence of slavery and savagery. In fact, it was required because it was the only way to redeem those phenomena.
This was also true of the Civil War itself. Unless it represented a divinely decreed destiny, the war was just inhuman in its death and destruction. And insofar as it was seen as part of the unfolding of such a destiny, then its death and destruction were justified. “His [Jackson’s] aggressiveness embodied his confidence that, when the destruction to which he committed himself stopped at last, his cause would prove to have been God’s.”  Did not Lincoln justify the war in the same way? Read his second inaugural.
This is the veil that Machiavelli lifted, by asserting, e.g., that Hannibal’s greatness – and it was greatness – was due to his inhuman cruelty. When the belief in a divinely decreed destiny is seen for what it is, a myth, then greatness can be seen for what it actually is, inhuman cruelty. And when that veil is lifted, no wars will be seen as “heroic wars.” There are wars, of course, but there are no heroic wars. Interestingly, though, lifting this veil could make the world a more peaceful place because there would be no “holy wars.” Wars, yes; holy wars, no. And no wars of annihilation or purification.
Why was the movie Mash banned in Israel? Because it presented war as an obscenity in which the dedicated appear as fools and the ironic appear as wise. Israel, because Jews claim to be “the chosen people,’ cannot tolerate the idea that war is obscene, that it is not divinely decreed. Because insofar as war is not divinely decreed, so too it becomes doubtful that the Jews’ claim to be a divinely decreed people also becomes doubtful. Similarly, if God didn’t bless America, then its wars are not divinely decreed. They are obscenities, maybe just or necessary, but still obscenities.