Column: The crusades revisited
(I wrote this in 1991. I reran it in 2006. Now it's 2011. We are directly involved by definition in a war with at least four Muslim countries. Presidents George the First and the Second have come and gone, and, blame them as we might, we can blame them a bit less in light of the fact that we now have another president who seems as committed as the Georges about straightening out the infidels over there.)
It's bad enough to face the aches of aging, without being simultaneously reminded that you've lived long enough to see history repeating itself. I guess I have. Most of what I wrote in 1991 holds true today. History repeating itself. Bad. One would hope to learn from history, not repeat it.
In 1991, I wrote: Some of the parallels between today and history are noteworthy, if not scary. Scariest are the links between the current war against Iraq, and the last time we white Anglo-Saxon-Norman Protestants applied military force to those camel-riding infidels amidst the sand dunes.
The first Crusade began in 1095 as an attempt to wrest control of Christian territories such as Palestine and Syria away from enemies of the cross--the Muslim infidels and their--we thought--false God.
When President Bush (the first one) began using public prayer in public as an additional weapon in the war against Saddam, he did so with a great deal of historical precedent. Peter the Hermit, who whipped up support for a crusade in Europe with his feverish invocations of a Holy War, also did so. He was, he said, authorized by Christ himself.
He was helped immensely by several years of hard times in Europe, and a growing fear there that the infidels were going to enrich themselves so much with their gold and jewels that they might become able to take over the world. Substitute oil for gold and jewels. Sound familiar?
President George (the first one) is presently traveling about the United States doing a prime time presentation of his version of Peter the Hermit, complete with prayer to a Christian God, and complete with proof that Saddam too wants to take over the world, or at least threaten the devil out of it.
Infidels like Saddam and his hidden weapons of mass destruction now add terror to their use of oil to threaten us Protestants.
Hard times? I guess. Trillion-dollar deficits against which we appear helpless, a shaky economy dragged down by stocks headed for the basement, and voodoo trickle-down economic policies.
Peter the Hermit was surrounded by great throngs, received enormous gifts, and was lauded with much fame.
George the First (Then, George the Second. Give Obama a bit more time; he'll see the political and financial wisdom in getting behind this. He's new.) plays to houses packed with the religiously patriotic, who enthusiastically surround him.
What most people don't know is that the Crusades were composed of a lot of people who were willing to fight, funded more than willingly by the rich, who weren't, because there was money to be made by staying at home.
And suddenly, President Bush, (the first) isn't a policy-less, pedantic, voodoo nonperson anymore; instead, praised for his vision, bravery, and determination, he is George the Great. And his praise? Well, that flows mostly from those in control of the money here at home. (Now it's 2011. No doubt, given enough time, George the Second will also be praised. Obama better hurry. All the public acclaim and tribute will be gone.)
Peter the Hermit was brave and determined, too, right up to the point at which he led 25,000 misguided peasants to their fate: Their bones were used by their enemies to build the castle walls even stronger. Very few escaped death.
During ensuing Crusades throughout history, which fared only slightly better, the infidels retreated before them, laying waste to their countryside as they withdrew. (Now, instead of destroying stocks of grain, they destroy stocks of oil and basic needs such as electricity and water.)
Don't forget that one of the main problems faced by Christianity back then was less than wholehearted participation in these many WASP-ish forays by all of Europe, with one or more countries more than willing to stay home, hoping that they might pick off a war-weakened neighbor, one driven so nearly bankrupt as to print bonds for sale for money to carry on. (Any similarity to our deficit?)
Back then, these mortgage agreements, which were written to finance the knights' costly military expenses as they went off to save the world, led to the first national income taxes. The costs of these holy missions were, as one history book put it, "burdensome."
Burdensome. Every man, woman, and child in the USA now owes, if the figures I found are correct, $8,000 to the government. (That was in 1991. Now, in 2011, that debt is now over $40,000 per individual.) That feels burdensome, doesn't it? Darn war.
In 1551, the Hospitallers, a religious order of military monks, heard their Grand Master give this prayer as he referred to the battle in which they were about to engage: "It is the great battle of the Cross and Koran (Muslim bible) which is about to be fought. We, for our part, are the chosen soldiers of Christ, and if Heaven requires the sacrifice of our lives, there can be no better occasion than this. Let us hasten to the altar. There we will renew our vows and obtain by our faith in the Holy Sacraments that contempt for death which alone can render us invincible."
Contempt for death! Whooeeee! And you thought the infidels were anxious to sacrifice themselves with concealed explosives. They had nothing on these Christians.
Of the 9,000 Hospitalers that began that battle, less than 600 remained at battle's end. Faith set the goal posts just a little too high.
So now it is 2011. Then it was 1991, and then 2006. Or 1551, or 1095. First, President Bush, then George the Second, now the current president, is praying that God is on our side. God works in wondrous ways.
It appears that a good Christian, one who wants to steward his dollars wisely, will invest in guns and Tomahawk missiles.