The Scourge of God

The phrase is most closely associated with Attila the Hun but Ghengis Khan and his Mongol hordes were called something similar to that. Many in Khwarezmia thought he was a form of divine punishment on a corrupt Shah. I am reading this book Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy by Frank McLynn. I have to say that I have learned a lot. My knowledge of Mongol history was fragmented. This book put a lot of the pieces into place and did it with a very enjoyable narrative style. There is some attempt to analyze, theorize and compare and make some judgments that even the author acknowledges are up for debate or unverifiable short of time travel.

It was very interesting though to see once again just how illusionary what we think “The Truth” is about anything in the past or for that matter the present. The primary sources for much of the “facts” that we “know” about Mongol history come from The Secret Histories compiled by multiple unidentifiable Mongols with axes to grind and narratives to nurture and contemporary (broadly interpreted) accounts by such writers as Rashid Al Din, a Persian, and somebody who might have a very different perspective given the events. But even Rashid Al Din has some interesting preferences and grudges on display that don’t always correlate with expectations. This is what I have read and not the actually primary sources from Al Din.

But I only mention this because when I read non-fiction I try and look for interesting ideas, thoughts and scenes that I can use to fire my imagination or somehow reflect into my fiction. There was a scene that McLynn described during the final stages of the Mongol invasion of the Jin Empire in what is now Northern China that left me in a strange stupor. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The situation is in so many ways alien to my existence on this earth. I’ve led a semi sheltered and fortunate life so that’s not saying much I guess. But intellectually I thought the incident was striking.

I wish I could qoute it but its on my kindle. I goes something like this. The Mongols had a very solid reputation for killing every living man, women and child in a beseiged city if there was any resistance offered. Sometimes even if the gates were opened and tribute offered immediately, they still sacked the place and murdered all its inhabitants if their blood was up because they had taken losses or a favorite of the Khan had been killed in battle. Often a Peace Faction inside a city would come to power and surrender to the Mongols after “negotiations.” The citizens would be marched out into the fields and then slaughtered. This happened on so many occasions that one has to wonder whether it was hopeless self deception or a lack of good communication between cities. You would think the word would get around. It probably did but humans will deceive themselves I guess. We are all the heroes in our own stories.

The final campaign in Jin was just as brutal as anywhere else, and the population density made it perhaps even more so. There was a city that like many other held out. Many chose to fight to the bitter end. The Mongols had become very good at siege warfare by this time by ironically using Jin engineers. Finally starving and unable to hold out any longer the garrison negotiated their own deaths. What is fascinating is that one rather well known Jin General (I wish I could find his name but I can’t locate the exact passage) went to surrender to the Khan personally. He knew he would be executed but his wish was to behold the famous general Subutai before he died. He wanted to look upon the Mongol legend in person.

This has the makings of a great story of two heroes showing each other mutual respect in a bleak and brutal world. The reality of the encounter was anything but if the “sources” are to be believed. The Jin general was brought before Subutai and the Mongol high command including the Khan and he praised his enemies and Subutai in particular. Subutai was disinterested and yawned throughout the homage and the Jin general was then unceremoniously led out of the tent and beheaded. That pretty much sums up the Mongols though. They weren’t necessarily any more morally deficient than their contemporaries (some even argue less so, but personally I think such debate is pointless) but they were clinically efficient on a level that was exponentially greater than that of their opponents.

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