Yes, you never know WHAT I'll feel like commenting on in these letters! Frankly, I think about history a lot, becauuse it so often seems as if it is going to eat us.
One of the things that makes it so dangerous is that it is so often twisted. Somebody decides that the facts are not bad enough; let's decorate them. And the result is that people, looking at the decorated version, are even more outraged than the actual facts warrant.
Take the Crusades, for example. These are those Medieval wars in which the West moved against the Moslems who had moved into the Middle East. Among other things, the Moslems had taken over what still is sometimes called the Holy Land, including modern-day Israel and Jordan.
Following the events of September 11, 2001, Westerners have been sold the idea that the Crusades were demonstrations of Western Christian arrogance, brutality, and bloodyhirstiness.
But is that really the case? Let's take a look.
A good place to explore the question is in the books of such historians as Christopher Dawson. These cannot easily be found, these days; but good places to look for them are on such sites as a libris and abe books. Some of them are very inexpensive; others will set the buyer back a substantial amount. They tell a far different story than that which is taken for the truth these days.
And what is that story?
Life in Europe during the period of the Crusades was brutal. Starvation was a constant threat, due to limitations of agricultural technology. There were plagues and epidemics. The century before the Crusades, the 10th, must have been one of the worst, not only in European history, but in all of human history.
That was only the natural setting, so to speak. The peoples of Europe also faced military threats from all sides. To the north there were the fierce, marauding Scandinavian peoples, usually called the Vikings. To the east, there were the Mongols and other roving tribes, with a clear roadway across the steppes into the heart of the European continent.
And to the south, since B.C.E. 632, the Moslems had been advancing on the continent by way of North Africa and the Straits of Gibraltar. They had been stopped at the Battle of Tours/Chalons in 732; but they remained ensconced in the Iberian Peninsula and the South of France.
Furthermore, the threat they represented increased when they took over the Holy Land. It is easy to forget that Europe is within walking distance of this historic piece of geography. Aside from the theological affront of having Jesus's homeland in the hands of Mohammed's followers, it must have seemed an increase in the Moslem threat to Europeans.
Under these circumstances, did Pope Urban II's preaching of the First Crusade represent Western arrogance and bloodthirstiness? Or a bid for European survival? Or both, or neither?