Friday, April 1, 2016

Genghis Khan and the making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan by Jack Weatherford, is written in such concise English it is a delight to read. Published by Three River Press, of Random House, in 2008, it was a bestseller on the New York Times list.

Weatherford is a professor of anthropology at Macalester University in Minnesota. In this book he rewrites history from an objective point of view. He explains the benefits the Mongols gave to the tribes and peoples unified by their Empire, and how much that has influenced and shaped the modern world. He points out that the horrific picture painted of Genghis Khan was propaganda spread at the instigation of Genghis Khan himself, to instill fear into the people he intended colonizing. He prefered that they simply accept him and his rule, than to have to fight the leaders. If there was resistance, he was totally ruthless, of course, as he had to be to achieve his goals.

There is a long list of the beneficial aspects of the Mongol Empire. It united the tribes of Mongolia by breaking down the family structure and recruiting the men into military units loyal to Genghis Khan and each other, not based on tribe. A military genius, Genghis Khan (1162-1227) defeated the peoples around him, stopping inter-tribal fighting. He laid down a Great Law that everyone had to obey. He had a personal Guard who protected him and enforced the Law. A common citizenship was created, built on merit, loyalty, and achievement. Freedom of religion was guaranteed to everyone. A writing system was adopted. A postal communication system was put in place. A system of roads was built and free trading between all the different areas of the Empire was encouraged. He defended his people against raiding bandits and terrorist assassins.

The overarching belief system of Genghis Khan was that the Eternal Blue Sky had appointed him to rule over all the world and establish order throughout. Born as he was, in a little ger of his nomadic people, of an outcast family, perhaps he needed this conviction to achieve what he did.

The military tactics of Genghis Khan and his Mongol descendants are well worth study. I found particularly interesting their building a wall around an already walled community, and then demoralizing the inhabitants by catapulting gunpowder, naphtha, burning oil, etc. over the walls. It was the Mongols who invented the canon, combining Chinese gunpowder with Muslim throwing of the firelance. To the Mongols, honour was not in the fighting, but in the winning.

The Mongol Empire at its height during the 1200s, was one of the largest contiguous land empire in history. It stretched from Eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan, northwards into Siberia, southward into the India, Persia, and westwards as far as the Levant and Arabia. Descendents of Genghis Kahn ruled in China, Persia, Russia, Turkey and India. As the Moghuls, they reigned in India until 1857, when the British drove out Emperor Bahadur Shah II and chopped off the heads of his sons and grandson.

Professor Jack Weatherford was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Chinggis Khan College in Mongolia. With this fascinating book, he certainly deserved it. If you want to catch up with history that has been neglected by the western world in the past, this book is how to do it.

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