History vs. Genghis Khan – Alex Gendler


He was one of the most fearsome
warlords who ever lived, waging an unstoppable conquest
across the Eurasian continent. But was Genghis Khan a vicious barbarian or a unifier who paved the way
for the modern world? We’ll see in “History vs. Genghis Khan.” “Order, order.
Now who’s the defendant today? Khan!” “I see Your Honor is familiar
with Genghis Khan, the 13th century warlord whose military
campaigns killed millions and left nothing
but destruction in their wake.” “Objection. First of all,
it’s pronounced Genghis Kahn.” “Really?” “In Mongolia, yes. Regardless, he was one of the greatest
leaders in human history. Born Temüjin, he was left fatherless
and destitute as a child but went on to overcome constant strife
to unite warring Mongol clans and forge the greatest empire
the world had seen, eventually stretching from the Pacific
to Europe’s heartland.” “And what was so great
about invasion and slaughter? Northern China lost 2/3 of its population.” “The Jin Dynasty had long harassed
the northern tribes, paying them off to fight each other
and periodically attacking them. Genghis Khan wasn’t about
to suffer the same fate as the last Khan who tried
to unite the Mongols, and the demographic change may reflect
poor census keeping, not to mention that many peasants
were brought into the Khan’s army.” “You can pick apart numbers all you want, but they wiped out entire cities,
along with their inhabitants.” “The Khan preferred enemies
to surrender and pay tribute, but he firmly believed in loyalty
and diplomatic law. The cities that were massacred were ones
that rebelled after surrendering, or killed as ambassadors. His was a
strict understanding of justice.” “Multiple accounts show his army’s
brutality going beyond justice: ripping unborn children
from mothers’ wombs, using prisoners as human shields, or moat fillers to support siege engines, taking all women from conquered towns–” “Enough! How barbaric!” “Is that really so much worse
than other medieval armies?” “That doesn’t excuse
Genghis Khan’s atrocities.” “But it does make Genghis Khan
unexceptional for his time rather than some bloodthirsty savage. In fact, after his unification
of the tribes abolished bride kidnapping, women in the Mongol ranks
had it better than most. They controlled domestic affairs, could divorce their husbands, and were trusted advisors. Temüjin remained with
his first bride all his life, even raising her possibly
illegitimate son as his own.” “Regardless, Genghis Khan’s
legacy was a disaster: up to 40 million killed across Eurasia
during his descendents’ conquests. 10% of the world population. That’s not even counting
casualties from the Black Plague brought to Europe by
the Golden Horde’s Siege of Kaffa.” “Surely that wasn’t intentional.” “Actually, when they saw their own troops
dying of the Plague, they catapulted infected bodies
over the city walls.” “Blech.” “The accounts you’re referencing were written over a hundred years
after the fact. How reliable do you think they are? Plus, the survivors reaped the benefits
of the empire Genghis Khan founded.” “Benefits?” “The Mongol Empire practiced
religious tolerance among all subjects, they treated their soldiers well, promoted
based on merit, rather than birth, established a vast postal system, and inforced universal rule of law, not to mention their
contribution to culture.” “You mean like Hulagu Khan’s
annihilation of Baghdad, the era’s cultural capital? Libraries, hospitals and palaces burned,
irrigation canals buried?” “Baghdad was unfortunate, but its Kalif refused to surrender, and Hulagu was later punished
by Berke Khan for the wanton destruction. It wasn’t Mongol policy
to destroy culture. Usually they saved doctors, scholars
and artisans from conquered places, and transferred them
throughout their realm, spreading knowledge across the world.” “What about the devastation of Kievan Rus, leaving its people in the Dark Ages even as the Renaissance
spread across Western Europe?” “Western Europe was hardly
peaceful at the time. The stability of Mongol rule
made the Silk Road flourish once more, allowing trade and cultural exchange
between East and West, and its legacy forged Russia and China
from warring princedoms into unified states. In fact, long after the Empire, Genghis Khan’s descendants could be found among the ruling nobility
all over Eurasia.” “Not surprising that a tyrant would inspire
further tyrants.” “Careful what you call him.
You may be related.” “What?” “16 million men today are descended
from Genghis Khan. That’s one in ever 200.” For every great conqueror,
there are millions of conquered. Whose stories will survive? And can a leader’s historical
or cultural signifigance outweigh the deaths
they caused along the way? These are the questions that arise
when we put history on trial.

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