I have been reading a historical fiction about Genghis Khan. The book, Genghis: Birth of an Empire, was written by Conn Iggulden, an excellent writer who also brought us ‘The Dangerous Book for Boys.’ It was recommended by my son Elijah, who is a long-time student of military history.
One of the things I’ve learned about the Great Khan, as I enjoyed this book, was that he built his army by uniting different tribes, giving them one common purpose and leader. It was this sort of vision that made the Mongols a force to be feared across Asia and Europe. Now, don’t get me wrong. Genghis was a cruel man and a harsh conqueror. I’m not suggesting we emulate his ethics or morals. But his ability to unite those who were formerly enemies is something worth considering.
This strikes me as I observe the race-baiting that so characterizes our world, and seldom so much as in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial. Here we are, a nation of vast numbers and vast resources; of laws and technology. And yet, we endlessly descend into our own tribes. Black, white and hispanic, legal and illegal immigrant, urban and rural, college educated and blue-collar, conservative and liberal, theist and atheist, north and south.
It seems to me that Genghis, with his practical wisdom, would be both shocked and impressed by this turn of events in America. I imagine what he would think if we could hire him as a consultant from beyond the grave.
He would likely look at what we have, at our population and agriculture, our industry and science and think, ‘If only I’d had that, I could truly have ruled the world!’ And he’d also see the way we fail. That rather than unite as one tribe, rather than mold the future together we burn our progress and our potential on a bonfire of contrived hatred and division, on which our greatness is sacrificed for political advancement and manipulation.
Finally, he’d be impressed with those who accomplished so horrible a feat in the guise of freedom and equality. He might take notes, incredulous that a land and people like this, with such a history and such power, could be reduced to partisan squabbles and race-riots with so little effort.
But then, Genghis lived in a world where threats were clearer. Or did he? Maybe he lived in a world where goals were clearer. The goals of his nation, his agglomerated tribe, were greatness, conquest, children, food, influence, wealth and safety. The goal, the purpose, of his nation was not the endless retelling of tired old tales and the fruitless pursuit of every grievance; it was the creation of new tales of glory.
It was not the leveling of every citizen to the lowest possible place, but the elevation of the whole. He knew that uniting required an end to blood-feuds and vengeance and the inspiration of a newly formed, motley mass of people to great deeds. While the stories of Mongol cruelty, and that of Genghis himself, are shocking, there can be no argument that he understood a few things about human nature and nations.
What can we learn? Something that Robert E. Lee understood in April, 1865. Urged not to surrender, urged to disband his armies into guerrilla bands which might have fought Federal forces for 50 years, he declined for the good of the Union and all its individual people. He wanted ‘America to be composed once more of Americans, not Southerners and Northerners.
The creation of tribes in a nation like ours is a death sentence. While we all have differences, in faith, ethnicity, geography, politics and so many other areas, our leaders need to stop race-baiting, or ‘sexuality-baiting’ or ‘age-baiting’ or whatever kind of baiting is popular and try to create one people again.
My wife’s people are Irish. Imagine if all of those Mahons, in West Virginia and Kentucky, still sought out every chance to express grievances against anyone of English extraction; say a Smith or Jones? What if Washington encouraged it, and sent agitators to keep the feuds alive? What if the media took every opportunity to point out why the English were the traditional oppressors of the Irish, however long ago the events may have occurred? And what if this happened with every national or ethnic group in the land, since we all have ancestral foes?
The end result would be, and is, chaos, hatred, riots, dissent and loss of opportunity and productivity. The end result would be a land of feuds not a land of progress; a land where every division was sufficient to derail every attempt at unity. And a land where those pulling the strings of grievance would have all the power they desired.
We aren’t far from that, are we? Nevertheless, I will resist. I am not a German-American, and my wife is not an Irish-American. I am an American, in the best sense of the word. And my patients, my friends and neighbors and especially my children are not members of another tribe but of my own.
I think that’s what the Founders wanted. And that’s what would have impressed the murderous old Khan himself. Pity it’s not a goal of the leaders we have in place in Washington. Because without it, we’re finished.