January 22, 2012


Matthew White, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities (New York: Norton, 2011) ("Some historians say that the Crusades drove a wedge between Christianity and Islam that still exists to this day, but let's be realistic. Neither of these religions gets along with anybody. It would be difficult to find any time in history when their followers weren't killing each other--and even if you could, that would only be because they were resting up and getting ready for another round." "However, by putting huge numbers of western European aristocrats in close contact with the sophisticated Orient, the Crusades were able to jump-start Western Civilization--in a happy history book that would be the main legacy of the Crusades. For our purposes, however, the main legacy was a harshening of the Christian religion. For the next five hundred years--until the Enlightenment tamed it--western Christianity had an unfortunate tendency to direct violence against unbelievers." "We shall see other religious wars in this book, but those will be wars about people--people trying to impose their beliefs, people wanting to be left alone, people being punished, people being rescued. The Crusades were about a place: the Holy Land." "While fighting over land is quite common, the land in dispute usually provides practical resources--minerals, crops, harbors, farms, strategic location, exploitable labor, or sheer size. Palestine has none of these. The sole resource of the Holy Land is heritage. There's no gold, no oil, very little fertile land, and few natives, noting but sacred sites, so in essence, the Crusades killed 3 million people in a fight to control the tourist trade." Id. at 106. "There is a tendency to dismiss a lot of uncomfortable history as hearsay, but when you get down to it, all history is hearsay. We owe it to the victims to not doubt too readily." Id. at 42.).