Sunday, January 29, 2012

Poor Genghis Kahn

You don’t see those words together often, do you?  That is kind of my point; Genghis Kahn gets no respect.  We studied him last year in school, including reading a biography.  This year, we are revisiting the topic.  Last year I supplemented our school with lots of documentaries.  I sent the Genghis Kahn ones back barely watched.  I was so turned off by the portrayal of him that I just couldn’t sit through the show.

Genghis Kahn’s life seems forever coupled with words like bloodthirsty, ruthless and brutal.  He is portrayed as barely human and beyond savage.  This bothers me mostly because of the contrast between the assessment he gets and the assessment of other conquering rulers.  Look at Alexander.  Who?  Alexander the Great!  Yeah, him.  This guy was a conqueror so hungry for more land that he pushed his own soldiers to the breaking point.  What about King Richard the Lionhearted?  This dude wasn’t out to conquer.  He wasn’t defending his own people or land, either.  He just liked going to war, so he did.  It didn’t matter that he left his people to the non-existent mercies of his depraved brother, John.  Even when Richard was captured, imprisoned, rescued and brought home to see the poverty of his people, he couldn’t wait to abandon his land to go play his war games.  There are several rulers who offered the choice of baptism or death to the newly acquired citizens, and many were sainted by the church for it!  Things just seem a little twisted to me in the way we are evaluating history.

Genghis Kahn was born in Mongolia at a time when there was nothing but tribes connected only through raids, kidnappings, rape and murder.  His chieftain father was poisoned by the leader of another tribe and his own wife was kidnapped, certainly raped and likely impregnated by her captors.  Genghis retrieved his wife and embraced her firstborn as his own.  Then he went to unify Mongolia.  Once he brought all of Mongolia together, they did sweep across Asia and eventually ended up with land that stretched literally from sea to sea—the largest empire the world had ever seen.  And it was safe!  The laws were strict, but that meant if you dropped your coin purse somewhere, you could retrace your steps weeks later and actually find it!

I do not personally enjoy reading about military strategies. War really isn’t my thing. But, when we read the biography of Genghis Kahn, I was impressed and even grew excited as we discovered his amazing techniques to bringing together a country. I don’t think Genghis was a teddy bear.  People feared him and his army for good reason.  But, when given the chance, Kahn chose to win entire city-states using psychology rather than brute force.  He won with his reputation and fearsome threats.  He seemed quite content to trick the enemy into surrender, rather than decimate entire populations. 

In our recent reading, it said that Kahn was a bloodthirsty brute who killed thousands of people.  Didn’t the Jews sing about Saul killing thousands and David killing tens of thousands?  Anyone bother to count how many that Great Alexander killed?

Again, I’m not in love with any of these guys.  All were sinners.  All shed blood.  Some may have loved God, others didn’t know Him.  But history books and History channel-type documentaries need to be called on the carpet for such biased reporting, in my opinion.  It seems a blatant example of an ‘us and them’ perspective to glorify our ‘own’ bloodthirsty men and vilify ‘theirs.’  We talk about the land Alexander ruled—but he couldn’t even rule it, and it didn’t last much past his own lifetime.  Genghis Kahn unified a larger piece of land, actually brought it under a civil code, and handed a golden age to his grandson.  It seems only right to be honest and use the same standards to measure a ‘successful’ conqueror.

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