The following, which might be relevant to current events, is borrowed from here.
St. Jerome was born around the year 340. He came to Rome and was baptized there around 360. He devoted the rest of his life to scholarly pursuits and the translation of the Bible into Latin. He died in 420. He wrote the following observations describing the devastation of the Empire around 406:
"Nations innumerable and most savage have invaded all Gaul. The Whole region between the Alps and the Pyrenees, the ocean and the Rhine, has been devastated by the Quadi, the Vandals, the Sarmati, the Alani, the Gepidae, the hostile Heruli, the Saxons, the Burgundians, the Alemanni, and the Pahnonians.
Oh wretched Empire! Mayence [Mainz, Germany], formerly so noble a city, has been taken and ruined, and in the church many thousands of men have been massacred. Worms [Germany] has been destroyed after a long siege. Rheims, that powerful city, Amiens, Arras, Speyer [Germany], Strasburg, - all have seen their citizens led away captive into Germany. Aquitaine and the provinces of Lyons and Narbonne, all save a few towns, have been depopulated; and these the sword threatens without, while hunger ravages within.
I cannot speak without tears of Toulouse, which the merits of the holy Bishop Exuperius have prevailed so far to save from destruction. Spain, even, is in daily terror lest it perish, remembering the invasion of the Cimbri; and whatsoever the other provinces have suffered once, they continue to suffer in their fear.
I will keep silence concerning the rest, lest I seem to despair of the mercy of God. For a long time, from the Black Sea to the Julian Alps, those things which are ours have not been ours; and for thirty years, since the Danube boundary was broken, war has been waged in the very midst of the Roman Empire. Our tears are dried by old age. Except a few old men, all were born in captivity and siege, and do not desire the liberty they never knew.
Who could believe this? How could the whole tale be worthily told? How Rome has fought within her own bosom not for glory, but for preservation - nay, how she has not even fought, but with gold and all her precious things has ransomed her life...
Who could believe that Rome, built upon the conquest of the whole world, would fall to the ground? That the mother herself would become the tomb of her peoples? That all the regions of the East, of Africa and Egypt, once ruled by the queenly city, would be filled with troops of slaves and handmaidens? That to-day holy Bethlehem should shelter men and women of noble birth, who once abounded in wealth and are now beggars?"
References: This eyewitness account appears in Robinson, James Harvey, Readings in European History (1906); Duruy, Victor, History of Rome and of the Roman People, vol VIII (1883).
For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.
Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity—and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion—has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.
With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.
That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.
A review by Thomas F. Madden of Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. Some excerpts (bolding added):
It is generally thought that Christians attacked Muslims without provocation to seize their lands and forcibly convert them. The Crusaders were Europe’s lacklands and ne’er-do-wells, who marched against the infidels out of blind zealotry and a desire for booty and land. As such, the Crusades betrayed Christianity itself. They transformed “turn the other cheek” into “kill them all; God will know his own.”
Every word of this is wrong. Historians of the Crusades have long known that it is wrong, but they find it extraordinarily difficult to be heard across a chasm of entrenched preconceptions. For on the other side is, as Riley-Smith puts it “nearly everyone else, from leading churchmen and scholars in other fields to the general public.” There is the great Sir Steven Runciman, whose three-volume History of the Crusades is still a brisk seller for Cambridge University Press a half century after its release. It was Runciman who called the Crusades “a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost.” The pity of it is that Runciman and the other popular writers simply write better stories than the professional historians.
[. . .]
St. Paul said of secular authorities, “He does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” Several centuries later, St. Augustine articulated a Christian approach to just war, one in which legitimate authorities could use violence to halt or avert a greater evil. It must be a defensive war, in reaction to an act of aggression. For Christians, therefore, violence was ethically neutral, since it could be employed either for evil or against it. As Riley-Smith notes, the concept that violence is intrinsically evil belongs solely to the modern world. It is not Christian.
All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church. The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. The third was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.
[. . .]
And yet, so ingrained is this notion that the Crusades began the modern European assault on Islam that many moderate Muslims still believe it. Riley-Smith recounts : “I recently refused to take part in a television series, produced by an intelligent and well-educated Egyptian woman, for whom a continuing Western crusade was an article of faith. Having less to do with historical reality than with reactions to imperialism, the nationalist and Islamist interpretations of crusade history help many people, moderates as well as extremists, to place the exploitation they believe they have suffered in a historical context and to satisfy their feelings of both superiority and humiliation.”
In the Middle East, as in the West, we are left with the gaping chasm between myth and reality. Crusade historians sometimes try to yell across it but usually just talk to each other, while the leading churchmen, the scholars in other fields, and the general public hold to a caricature of the Crusades created by a pox of modern ideologies. If that chasm is ever to be bridged, it will be with well-written and powerful books such as this.
We Americans are forward-looking people, 'progressives' if you will. ("History is bunk," said Henry Ford.) Muslims, by contrast, live in the past where they nurture centuries-old grievances. This is part of the explanation of the inanition of their culture and the misery of their lands, which fact is part of the explanation of why they won't stay where they are but insist on infiltrating the West. Exercised as they remain over the Crusades, lo these many centuries later, it behooves us to inform ourselves of the historical facts. This is especially important in light of President Obama's recent foolish, unserious, and mendacious comments.
Herewith, then, a piece from someone who knows what he is talking about. I copied it from this location.
Jihad vs. Crusade
Bernard Lewis/Wall Street Journal, Sept. 28, 2001
U.S. President George W. Bush's use of the term "crusade" in calling for a powerful joint effort against terrorism was unfortunate, but excusable. In Western usage, this word has long since lost its original meaning of "a war for the cross," and many are probably unaware that this is the derivation of the name. At present, "crusade" almost always means simply a vigorous campaign for a good cause. This cause may be political or military, though this is rare; more commonly, it is social, moral or environmental. In modern Western usage it is rarely if ever religious.
Yet "crusade" still touches a raw nerve in the Middle East, where the Crusades are seen and presented as early medieval precursors of European imperialism -- aggressive, expansionist and predatory. I have no wish to defend or excuse the often-atrocious behavior of the crusaders, both in their countries of origin and in the countries they invaded, but the imperialist parallel is highly misleading. The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual response to the jihad -- a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war.
At the time of the Crusades, when the Holy Land and some adjoining regions in Syria were conquered and for a while ruled by invaders from Europe, there seems to have been little awareness among Muslims of the nature of the movement that had brought the Europeans to the region. The crusaders established principalities in the Levant, which soon fitted into the pattern of Levantine regional politics. Even the crusader capture of Jerusalem aroused little attention at the time, and appeals for help to various Muslim capitals brought no response.
The real countercrusade began when the crusaders -- very foolishly -- began to harry and attack the Muslim holy lands, namely the Hijaz in Arabia, containing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina where Muhammad was born, carried out his mission, and died. In the vast Arabic historiography of the Crusades period, there is frequent reference to these invaders, who are always called "Franks" or "infidels." The words "Crusade" and "crusader" simply do not occur.
They begin to occur with increasing frequency in the 19th century, among modernized Arabic writers, as they became aware of Western historiography in Western languages. By now they are in common use. It is surely significant that Osama bin Laden, in his declaration of jihad against the United States, refers to the Americans as "crusaders" and lists their presence in Arabia as their first and primary offense. Their second offense is their use of Arabia as a base for their attack on Iraq. The issue of Jerusalem and support for "the petty state of the Jews" come third.
The literal meaning of the Arabic word "jihad" is striving, and its common use derives from the Quranic phrase "striving in the path of God." Some Muslims, particularly in modern times, have interpreted the duty of jihad in a spiritual and moral sense. The more common interpretation, and that of the overwhelming majority of the classical jurists and commentators, presents jihad as armed struggle for Islam against infidels and apostates. Unlike "crusade," it has retained its religious and military connotation into modern times.
Being a religious obligation, jihad is elaborately regulated in sharia law, which discusses in minute detail such matters as the opening, conduct, interruption and cessation of hostilities, the treatment of prisoners and noncombatants, the use of weapons, etc. In an offensive war, jihad is a collective obligation of the entire community, and may therefore be discharged by volunteers and professionals. In a defensive war, it is an individual obligation of every able-bodied Muslim.
In his declaration of 1998, Osama bin Laden specifically invokes this rule: "For more than seven years the United States is occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of its territories, Arabia, plundering its riches, overwhelming its rulers, humiliating its people, threatening its neighbors, and using its bases in the peninsula as a spearhead to fight against the neighboring Islamic peoples." In view of this, "to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who can, in any country where this is possible, until the Aqsa mosque and the Haram mosque are freed from their grip, and until their armies, shattered and broken-winged, depart from all the lands of Islam, incapable of threatening any Muslim."
Muhammad himself led the first jihad, in the wars of the Muslims against the pagans in Arabia. The jihad continued under his successors, with a series of wars that brought the Middle East, including the Holy Land, under Arab Muslim rule and then continued eastward into Asia, westward into Africa, and three times into Europe -- the Moors in Spain, the Tatars in Russia, the Turks in the Balkans. The Crusade was part of the European counterattack. The Christian reconquest succeeded in Spain, Russia and eventually the Balkans; it failed to recover the Holy Land of Christendom.
In Islamic usage the term martyrdom is normally interpreted to mean death in a jihad, and the reward is eternal bliss, described in some detail in early religious texts. Suicide is another matter.
Classical Islam in all its different forms and versions has never permitted suicide. This is seen as a mortal sin, and brings eternal punishment in the form of the unending repetition of the act by which the suicide killed himself. The classical jurists, in discussing the laws of war, distinguish clearly between a soldier who faces certain death at the hands of the enemy, and one who kills himself by his own hand. The first goes to heaven, the other to hell. In recent years, some jurists and scholars have blurred this distinction, and promised the joys of paradise to the suicide bomber. Others retain the more traditional view that suicide in any form is totally forbidden.
Similarly, the laws of jihad categorically preclude wanton and indiscriminate slaughter. The warriors in the holy war are urged not to harm noncombatants, women and children, "unless they attack you first." Even such questions as missile and chemical warfare are addressed, the first in relation to mangonels and catapults, the other to the use of poison-tipped arrows and poisoning enemy water supplies. Here the jurists differ -- some permit, some restrict, some forbid these forms of warfare. A point on which they insist is the need for a clear declaration of war before beginning hostilities, and for proper warning before resuming hostilities after a truce.
What the classical jurists of Islam never remotely considered is the kind of unprovoked, unannounced mass slaughter of uninvolved civil populations that we saw in New York two weeks ago. For this there is no precedent and no authority in Islam. Indeed it is difficult to find precedents even in the rich annals of human wickedness.
Mr. Lewis is professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.
One of the books I am reading is Joachim Fest's Not I: Memories of a German Childhood (orig. publ. in German in 2006 by Rowohlt, tr. Martin Chalmers, New York, Other Press, 2013).
The title alludes to Mark 14:29: "But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I."
WSJ review by T. J. Reed here. I reproduce a sizeable chunk of it in case it ends up behind a pay wall:
The [Fest] family lives under a shadow. Their dissent is no secret. Father had been a member of the Reichsbanner, the organization in which his Catholic Centre Party had joined with liberals and Social Democrats to defend the republic against Communists and Nazis. It's not every school headmaster who gets involved in street fights and comes home bloody, as Johannes Fest did. But after 1933 he was a headmaster no longer, suspended indefinitely by the new political masters. The family's status and income were lost, their lives transformed. Grandfather had to come out of retirement to earn a bit for them. Father never worked again. The Nazis did try to cajole him back into teaching, since any observable dissent was bad publicity. They even offered accelerated promotion if he would outwardly conform. He remained firm.
Family tension became palpable. Mother, bearing the brunt of straitened family circumstances, asks Father if he might not compromise. Weren't lies always the resort of the "little people"? He replies: "We aren't little people." It is one of the maxims that guided the conduct of Fest's father and a few friends. (The title of his son's memoir comes from a Gospel passage that he would often quote, Peter promising Jesus: "Even if all others fall away—not I.") There were some Germans who made sure that they were carrying something in both hands when they went out into the street, the only plausible ground for not giving the required "Heil Hitler" salute to anyone they met. But Fest's father goes out resolutely empty-handed.
"Keep your head down," Johannes [father of Joachim] told his family, "but don't let it make you smaller." Young Joachim didn't always listen. A classmate reports him for carving a Hitler caricature on his desk. (He has been scribbling them on surfaces all over town.) As a consequence, he is removed from the school; his brothers too. The episode is just one instance of an independence akin to his father's.
The friends of the Fests—they now became former friends—and many neighbors and acquaintances fell by the wayside, even without being keen Nazis. Only one of the 12 families in the apartment block was in the party. The rest merely went along as things changed, drifting deeper into acquiescence, making excuses even as stable social and political structures fell apart in the name of a new "people's community." The Nazis, after all, were formally the legitimate government, however brutal their conduct of affairs—from the realm of international diplomacy to the arbitrary laws that replaced justice down to the small changes in everyday life, the swindles and favoritism of party members.
By recording these small changes, Joachim Fest creates a picture of how the one-party state operated on an intimate level, and exerted its unbreakable grip. It recalls the bleak account of incremental misery in Victor Klemperer's diaries of the period. A woman sees a Jewish-looking man in the street not wearing a star, pursues and denounces him. There are first rumors and then reliable evidence of atrocities.
Anti-Semitism had considerably more popular resonance than many other Nazi policies, such as the campaign for "Lebensraum" in the east. How many Germans would have wanted to up sticks and resettle somewhere on the vast Russian plains? As for Jewish Germans themselves, even after Kristallnacht there were those who waited for the Nazi "phase" to pass. Their trust in a culture that had produced Kant, Goethe, Schiller, Lessing and Beethoven, a culture into which they felt they had assimilated, meant that they delayed escape too long.
But was it German culture that produced Kant, Goethe, et al.? Or was it the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian culture that had its sources in Athens and Jerusalem? That is one question. A second question is whether talk of production is anywhere near adequate, whether any culture could produce such geniuses as opposed merely to providing a fertile soil in which they developed themselves.
A third question is whether we are not now drifting toward a totalitarian unculture in which the slightest deviations from politically correct modes of thought and speech bring down drastic punishments on those who think they can speak their minds in private and in public without fear of reprisal from illiberal 'liberals.'
The best antidote to the leftist-progressivist fantasy that man is basically good is the study of history, including the history of leftist-progressivist atrocities. Here is an excerpt from Antony Beevor's book on the fall of Berlin. "They raped every German female from eight to 80."
It occurred to me this morning that there is an ominous parallel between Putin's occupation of the Ukraine and Hitler's of the Sudetenland, and on a similar pretext, namely, the protecting of ethnic Russians/Germans. The Sudetenland was the German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia whose annexation by Hitler in 1938 was part of the run-up to the Second World War. But I'm no historian. So let me ascend from these grimy speluncar details into the aether of philosophy.
George Santayana is repeatedly quoted as saying that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Although this may be true individually, I cannot see that it is true collectively. I have learned from my mistakes, and I don't repeat them. But a collection of individuals, with its ever-changing membership, is not an individual. Collectively, whether we remember the past or not we are condemned to repeat it. That is how I would go Santayana one better. Or to put it in less ringing terms:
Collectively, knowledge of the past does little to prevent the recurrence of old mistakes.
One reason for this is that there is no consensus as to what the lessons of history are. What did we Americans learn from Viet Nam? That we should avoid all foreign entanglements? That when we engage militarily we should do so decisively and with overwhelming force and resolve? (E.g, that we should have suppressed dissent at home and used a few tactical nukes against the Viet Cong?) What is the lesson to be learned? What is the mistake to be avoided? Paleocons, neocons (the descendants of old-time liberals) and leftists don't agree on questions like these.
One cannot learn a lesson the content of which is up for grabs.
What did we learn from Hiroshima and Nagasaki? That the wholesale slaughter of noncombatants is sometimes justified and may (as it actually has) usher in a long period of world peace? (There hasn't been a world war in going on 70 years). That this is a case in which the end justified the means? No adherent of just war doctrine would agree that that is the lesson.
Another reason why knowledge of the past is of little help in the present is that, even if there is agreement on some general lesson -- e.g., don't appease dictators -- there is bound to be disagreement as to whether or not the lesson applies in particular circumstances. Is Obama an appeaser? Is Putin a dictator? Is the Ukraine sufficiently like the Sudetenland to justify an action-guiding comparison? Et cetera ad nauseam.
John Hawkins argues that it is in a recent Townhall piece. I agree with everything he says, except the title. It suffices to argue that liberalism is wrong. It is irrelevant whether it is on the right or wrong side of history. Allow me to explain.
The phrase "on the wrong side of history" is one that no self-aware and self-consistent conservative should use. The phrase suggests that history is moving in a certain direction, toward various outcomes, and that this direction and these outcomes are somehow justified by the actual tendency of events. But how can the mere fact of a certain drift justify that drift? For example, we are moving in the United States, and not just here, towards more and more intrusive government, more and more socialism, less and less individual liberty and personal choice, Obamacare being the latest and worst example. This has certainly been the trend from FDR on regardless of which party has been in power. Would a self-aware conservative want to say that the fact of this drift justifies it? I think not.
But if not, then one cannot argue against liberalism by trying to show that it is on the wrong side of history. For which way history goes is irrelevant to which way it ought to go.
'Everyone today believes that such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such is true. 'Everyone now does such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such ought to be done. 'The direction of events is towards such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such is a good or valuable outcome. In each of these cases there is a logical mistake. One cannot validly infer truth from belief, ought from is, or values from facts.
One who opposes the drift toward socialism, a drift that is accelerating under President Obama, is arguably, pace Hawkins, on the wrong side of history. But that is no objection unless one assumes that history's direction is the right direction. Now an Hegelian might believe that, one for whom all the real is rational and all the rational real. Marxists and 'progressives' might believe it. But no conservative who understands conservatism can believe it.
One night a conservative talk show host told a guest that she was on the wrong side of history in her support for same-sex marriage. My guess is that in a generation the same-sex marriage issue will be moot, the liberals having won. The liberals will have been on the right side of history. The right side of history, but wrong nonetheless.
It's why Congress has an approval rating of 6%. It's why Obamacare is wildly unpopular. It's why D.C. and our court system have devolved into partisan warfare. It's because liberalism is a non-functional, imperious philosophy that is out of step with the modern world and on the wrong side of history.
Hawkins thinks it is a point against liberalism that it is on the wrong side of history. But whether it is or not is irrelevant -- unless one assumes what no conservative ought to assume, namely, that success justifies, or that might makes right, or that consensus proves truth, or that the way things are going is the way things ought to be going.
As I have said more than once, if you are a conservative don't talk like a [insert favorite expletive] liberal. Don't validate, by adopting, their question-begging epithets and phrases.
For example, if you are a conservative and speak of 'homophobia' or 'Islamophobia' or 'social justice,' then you are an idiot who doesn't realize that the whole purpose of those polemical leftist neologisms is to beg questions, shut down rational discussion, and obfuscate.
Language matters in general, but especially in the culture wars.
There is much that is right in this piece by the editors of NRO. But I am sure glad that Kennedy was in charge back in October, 1962 as opposed to Bill Clinton or, God forbid, the feckless Obama. The Irishman was a resolute commie-fighter who stood tall against Krushchev, the shoe-banging butcher of the Ukraine.
I don't usually recommend anything from Slate, but Fred Kaplan's Killing Conspiracy is a must-read. The money quote:
. . . If horrible events can be traced to a cabal of evildoers who control the world from behind a vast curtain, that’s, in one sense, less scary than the idea that some horrible things happen at random or as a result of a lone nebbish, a nobody. The existence of a secret cabal means that there’s some sort of order in the world; a catastrophic fluke suggests there’s a vast crevice of chaos, the essence of dread.
As the old adage has it, “Big doors sometimes swing on little hinges.” John F. Kennedy’s murder was a big door—had he lived, the subsequent decades might have looked very different—and Lee Harvey Oswald was a preposterously small hinge. The dissonance is wildly disorienting. It makes for a neater fit, a more intelligible universe, to believe that a consequential figure like John Kennedy was taken down by an equally consequential entity, like the CIA, the Mafia, the Soviets, Castro … take your pick.
We are beings who seek Deep Meaning in all the wrong places.
1. Why did the Japanese so foolishly attack Pearl Harbor?
2. Why did the Germans attack the Soviet Union so recklessly at a time when they had all but won the war?
3. Why did the United States stop after spring 1951 at the 38th Parallel, thereby ensuring a subsequent sixty-year Cold War and resulting in chronic worries about a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons and poised to invade its neighbor to the south?