The one thing we learn when we study the history of man, is that we study the history of war. War and man are inextricably linked and it seems man cannot exist without war. No amount of dialogue has ever successfully prevented war for any period of time. So the study of war is paramount in trying to understand man, and what it is that drives him
Of the many wars fought over the centuries till that time, none was as devastating as that waged against the Roman Empire, culminating in 476 AD with the fall of the Roman Empire. For all its many faults, Rome established one of the most sophisticated systems of government ever known, their reign extending from the Middle East to Britain. In fact, pretty much what was then known as the world.
Rome had been under increasing attack from the Visigoths, the Huns and the Vandals, until they were finally defeated by the Barbarian general Odoacer, who then ruled all of Italy. The results of this were many and varied, amongst them, the first economic crash, as the whole Western world was ruled by Rome and used the Roman economic system.
This was the beginning of the Dark ages, and the church took advantage of the vacuum to create a power base that lasted hundreds of years. All learning was deemed to be the province of the church and illiteracy reigned in Europe for many hundreds of years, with the sciences being deemed to be of no value, as all that was needed was to be found in Holy Scripture. Darkness reigned in Europe.
In 633 AD, Mohammed led his armies and conquered the entire Fertile Crescent, what we now call the Middle East. These wars continued until about 700 AD, when the Muslim armies were repulsed at Tours. They retreated in panic from Transylvania when they came upon a forest of pikes, with heads mounted on them. This was the work of Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Drakul, from whom it is believed we get the story of Dracula.
Meanwhile, learning flourished under Islam, especially mathematics, science and astronomy. Islam encouraged learning in these spheres although, as with every human endeavour there were sects who believed that moving away from the purity of the Quran was sinful in and of itself.
Islamic medicine was far in advance of anything ever practised before and they established hospitals, realised the importance of hygiene and made a scientific study of medicine, including surgery. This was known as Islam’s Golden Age, about 900 AD.
Baghdad was the capitol of this empire, and all the learning of the world was to be found in its libraries. In addition was its position, on the Tigris and having an abundant water supply to the entire city. Baghdad was truly the jewel of the ancient world, with its beauty often mentioned along with its importance as a trading centre.
In 1221 the Mongols under Genghis Khan entered Persia and, by 1258 had entered, and destroyed Baghdad. Reports say the Tigris ran black with ink, as the Mongol hordes, not satisfied with just destroying the city itself, set about to destroy everything it stood for. By the time they had finished, Baghdad was no more, and all the knowledge it contained was gone.
Genghis Khan had, by that time, established the greatest land empire ever seen. That he did it cruelly and despotically was beyond question. One of the towns he attacked dared defend itself and he had every man woman and child tied together and built into a pillar, who were then mortared over. It stands today, in Afghanistan.
During their 150 year long reign, the Mongols killed upwards of 40 000 000 people, as their policy was to utterly destroy every person in any town or village that did not immediately surrender.
Nature, of course, abhors a vacuum, and the Ottoman Empire soon rose to take the place left by the departing Mongols. The Ottoman Empire spread Islam, largely by the sword, as far east as Java and as far west as Sicily.
Sandwiched very neatly between all of this, of course, were the Crusades, which resulted in wholesale slaughter in Jerusalem where it is reported that the blood ran to the depth of a horse’s bridle. This was supposedly to further the cause of Christ, and there was no shortage of volunteers, as the Pope gave full absolution to every man who went on the Crusades. So a wonderful time was had by all.
By the time the Renaissance came along, it seemed every country in Europe, Africa and Asia were at war with each other for one reason or another. Cities were states in their own right and often warred with each other over matters as trifling as trade routes or snubs to personal honour.
Of course, through all of this, the church held sway, killing and torturing all who disagreed with its stated beliefs. Waging war against the Huguenots, the Lutherans and anyone, quite frankly, who stood in their way.
Europe was ripe for a revolution, and the only surprising thing was how surprised the nobility were at the uprising. It had been simmering for years and been brutally suppressed, but the secret meetings between Robespierre, Voltaire and Rousseau eventually erupted into the French Revolution and the Age of Reason. For approximately five years they ruled a chaotic and dangerous France, a France waiting for someone like Napoleon, who would entrench their gains and build something substantial from it.
While still a General, he effectively ruled France, until in 1804 when he crowned himself Emperor of France, brutally suppressing any opposition through his pit bull, Joseph Fouche. Fouche managed the news reports, effectively silenced any opposition, and allowed Napoleon the freedom to take his armies throughout Europe.
That he suffered the losses against Wellington and Russia that he did, is a matter of historical fact. That he so nearly succeeded in his aims is astonishing. He had allied against him the armies of Portugal, Britain, Spain to a degree, Austria, Germany, Russia and later Poland.
The Great War was essentially the next war that counted, but was so pointless, both in its aims and gains, that it is hardly worth mentioning, except for one small matter: The Treaty of Versailles. This treaty, engineered and pushed through by France, sowed the seeds for one Adolf Hitler, or Schlickgruber, if we use his real name.
He had fought in the Great War, and resentment simmered in him all throughout the war, when he saw the German people being ordered about by aristocratic officers. He believed, as did Napoleon, that a man’s worth as a soldier was more important than his background.
Meanwhile, during the Great War Russian troops were being butchered while led by incompetent Tzarist officers. The revolution had been brewing for a while, of course, but poorly outfitted Russian troops were fighting against crack German troops and, upon entering Germany, found pigs living in brick and mortar sties, while they live in crude huts. And they were expected to lay down their lives for this?
It started with the killing of the officers and spread from there, with Lenin eventually, after much, bickering and infighting, being elected the first Premier of the Soviet Republic. All the loyalists and royal family that could be found, were executed, the Great war forgotten.
Meanwhile, Hitler started plotting the downfall of the Weimar Republic Government, resulting in the calamitous and comedic Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. This resulted in his being imprisoned in April 1924, but he was released by December of the same year. He feverishly worked to reorganise the party and in 1926 it was re-formed.
As the party grew, it became more strongly anti-Marxist and virulently anti-Semitic, gaining more members as it went along. In 1933 the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act and President von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor. After Hindenburg’s death, Hitler rose to full power and slowly, but surely launched ‘The War to end all wars.’
He made a treaty with Stalin, then broke it. History tells us the war lasted just over six years and 60 000 000 people died, but the actual scale of the conflict, and its effect on civilisation and people as a whole can never be estimated.
On the other side of the world, of course, we had Hirohito and his merry men taking on, and nearly beating, the Allied powers. Without the atomic bombs dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is no telling how long this war would have dragged out. The bombing did, however, end it.
Of course it wouldn’t do to have peace for too long and, no sooner had the United Nations been formed, than they took a decision to invade Korea. This less than five years after the end of the Second World War, remember? The War to end all wars? This little war dragged on for three years, as Korea had been split into North and South, the Americans occupying the South and the Soviet Union the North. By 1953, Armistice had been declared, but no Peace Treaty ever signed . Kim Il Sung was the first President of The People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.
Meanwhile a little to the North, a war of a different kind was under way. It came slowly to a boil, but by 1966, the Cultural Revolution, led by Mao Tse Tung, was underway. This revolution lasted all of ten years, and ended with Mao fully in power, all opposition eradicated.
This helped fund the North Vietnamese, or Viet Cong, as they were known, and helped to end that nasty little war. The Americans left, with their tails between their legs, leaving the Vietnamese and Cambodians to face the wrath of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
The movie, ‘The Killing Fields’ only gives a brief glimpse into the horrors perpetrated by that regime. If you wore glasses it meant you were literate and an enemy of the state. If you laughed it was in mockery of Pol Pot and you were an enemy of the state. It was almost impossible to live in Cambodia and not be an enemy of the state.
It is estimated that the Khmer Rouge executed between 1 700 000 and 2 400 000 people by their chosen method – a pickaxe through the back of the head. This was out of a population of 7 000 000. So, generally pleasant folk.
All through the eighties the Soviet Union waged a war in Afghanistan, resorting to some of the most dastardly measures ever, such as explosive-filled dolls, which were then picked up by children, who were blown to smithereens. They eventually lost that war as the Soviet Union slowly collapsed, helped along by the many wars instigated by the CIA.
We’ve had the two Gulf Wars, the war between Iran and Iraq, the never-ending conflagrations in Africa, the Bosnian conflict, the Falklands War and the list goes on and on…
Is there a reason for this brief history lesson? Yer dern tootin’, there is!
A very well researched and written and article, ‘The Rise of Atheism’ was published on these pages recently. I have said before, I have friends who are atheists and, although I fear for their spiritual welfare, I respect their views. We talk frequently, without any of us really making a dent in the other’s belief or lack thereof.
While I disagreed with the writer of this article, I appreciated his research and lack of stridency. He put forward an opinion, backed up by research. This is really all you can ask of anyone who is writing something as contentious as this. Reason, sweet reason.
When the French Revolution ushered in the Age of Reason, it ushered in something else as well. A refusal on the part of the Intelligentsia to accept anything that ran counter to their thinking and reasoning. They killed 40 000 people who disagreed with them.
When Genghis Khan destroyed Baghdad, he destroyed knowledge that had been built up over centuries – knowledge that can never be replaced, because we have no idea what it was. He also killed 40 000 000 people.
When the Barbarians finally conquered Rome, they destroyed knowledge and learning that had taken centuries to acquire. When Napoleon went on his rampage through Europe, much of the learning of every country was destroyed. War is war, and why should anything stand in the way? 5 000 000 people died in these wars.
The little Austro-Hungarian conflict known as the Great War, or WW1, killed approximately 11 000 000 people.
Lenin and his happy campers clamped down on any kind of learning that was not for the good of the Soviet, and in turn killed approximately 2 000 000 people.
Stalin was, at that time the granddaddy of all villains, killing 20 000 000 of his own people and a further 15 000 000 others. Just an all-round nice guy. All forms of learning not in line with Soviet protocol were frowned upon. And for Stalin, a frown was a death sentence.
Kim Il Sung and every other ruler of North Korea have banned outright any attempt to learn from the outside world.
Mao Tse Tung, with his Cultural Revolution, was responsible for 50 000 000 deaths, and the complete suppression of non-state-sponsored learning .
These all-round good guys were, by all accounts, atheists who either set themselves up as gods, or believed in no god at all. And if you have a regime of the sort they built, you would want to suppress all knowledge that was no beneficial to the state.
The Roman Catholic Church suppressed all non-essential learning for hundreds of years, torturing and killing heretics. However, along with the Reformation came a new thirsting for knowledge and the Catholic Church eventually gave in and allowed scientific discovery to take its rightful place.
This article is partially in response to ‘The Rise of Atheism.’ It is not totally, as the writer didn’t indulge in strident attacks on every kind of religious belief, nor call them necessarily wrong.
In part this is also a reply to the particularly strident people on this site who constantly claim that under atheism there would be freedoms never allowed in a Christian state.
The fact is, the first true Democracy, the United States, based their moral code on the Bible, even though most were not Christians. Christian Britain, in the very loosest sense of the word of course, encouraged the sciences and went so far as funding expeditions.
The church might very well have burned these people at the stake, as they claim, but that church operated in direct contravention of the teachings of Christ, and still does. And whether you believe in His existence or not, the teachings remain, and are not being adhered to by most Christians, and definitely not by the Roman Catholics.
Without the battles fought by people abiding, even loosely by the Christian code, we could very well have been living in a Nazi dominated world, a Soviet dominated world, or any of the oppressive regimes spawned by totalitarianism.
So, atheism may be on the rise, and I have no doubt it is, but religious extremism is rising even faster, as atheism is for the most part the luxury of the learned and those who have the necessary time to philosophise. That is why Western Europe is largely agnostic /atheistic. They have the luxury of free time to ponder these issues.
Overall, though, it seems the atheist governments do a lot more to suppress knowledge than any Christian-based government ever did.