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Blood Sacrifice and the Nation
Marvin, Carolyn & David Ingle

Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag

What is really true in any community is “what its members can agree is worth killing for,” or what they can be compelled to sacrifice their lives for. What is “sacred” within a given society is that set of beliefs “for which we ought to shed our own blood.” Warfare constitutes the central ritual allowing societies to enact or demonstrate faith in the nation.

Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War
Miller, Steven E.

Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War

The ideology of the offensive at all costs grew out of the desire to demonstrate the moral courage and will of one’s troops, and therefore the greatness of one’s nation. Such a strategy rarely resulted in breakthroughs. By virtue of attacking—even when slaughter was the result—soldiers exemplified the will to national self-sacrifice for the sake of one’s nation.

To the right and below are additional review essays that appear on our Library of Social Science Book Reviews Website (please also see our recent Newsletter here).

I’ve had conversations with prominent authors—reminding them of important ideas or passages from books they’d written. Often, they’d forgotten what they said. One author remarked that I understood his ideas better than he did.

Scholarly work is not simply “writing.” What is required is an integration of significant ideas—particularly when the ideas in question are painful or disturbing. Indeed, one of the characteristics of groundbreaking theories is that they are not palatable when initially introduced. It’s one thing to read about an idea. It’s another to recognize the truth of this idea—and to integrate it into one’s mind and consciousness.

Some of the books we’ve reviewed contain disturbing ideas. For example, Carolyn Marvin’s theory (in Blood Sacrifice and the Nation) that what is true for any community is what its members can “agree is worth killing for.” Or Michael Howard’s idea (in Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War) that World War I grew out of the “ideology of the offensive”—which insisted that men run into machine gun fire to demonstrate “moral courage.”

Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 is sometimes viewed as a Nazi effort to gain “living space” in the East. Andre Mineau (in SS-Thinking and the Holocaust) suggests, rather, that Operation Barbarossa represented another dimension of the Holocaust, a gigantic “sanitary operation” reflecting the “politics of antibiotics.”

Mark Schantz states (in Awakening the Heavenly Country) that the American Civil War provided an occasion when individuals could sacrifice themselves in order to achieve “eternal life in heaven.” Finally, Elaine Scarry hypothesizes (in The Body in Pain) that the essence of warfare lies in resolving disputes through the “maiming and destruction of human bodies.”

Ideas expounded in the books reviewed by Library of Social Science do not always represent conventional wisdom. We are devoted to providing a “space of freedom”—suitable for scholars and thinkers who relish the opportunity to encounter and engage with challenging ideas.

Note: To read any essay described on this page, click the title or photo.

SS Thinking and the Holocaust Mineau, André

SS Thinking and the Holocaust

Total war is total health, and the Nazi party portrayed Germany as a patient in danger of racial infection. The SS translated its biological worldview into dispassionate practice. War was a matter of self-defense, a prophylactic, and therefore ethical. In SS thinking, Mineau claims, Operation Barbarossa and the Holocaust combined to act as one “gigantic sanitary operation,” representing the “politics of antibiotics par excellence.”

The Body in Pain Scarry, Elaine

The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World

The desire to resolve disputes through waging war revolves around the fact that the maiming and destruction of human bodies is necessary—a requirement. War seeks to establish the validity—the truth—of a sacred ideal. Warfare is characterized or constituted by a unique, radical form of verification: the maiming and destruction of human bodies.

Awaiting the Heavenly Country Schantz, Mark S.

Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death

The political system of U.S. society in the Civil War era demanded that its citizens sacrifice their lives and commit violence against their fellow countrymen so the nation as a whole could survive. The dominant religious ideology of the time required citizens to voluntarily exchange the mundane world for the heavenly rewards of the afterlife. The individual could achieve the eternal life in heaven and could be commemorated as a hero if he was ready to sacrifice himself.