Genghis Khan and The Making of the Modern World by Jack Webster


Fate did not hand Genghis Khan his destiny; he made it for himself. 

Rather than relying on defensive fortifications, he made brilliant use of speed and surprise on the battlefield, as well as perfecting siege warfare to such a degree that he ended the era of walled cities. Genghis Khan taught his people not only to fight across incredible distances but to sustain their campaign over years, decades, and, eventually, more the three generation of constant fighting. 

In twenty-five years, the Mongol army subjugated more lands ad people than the Romans had coquetted in four hundred years.

Genghis Khan conquered more than nitwit as much as ay other man in history. 

His architecture was not in stone but in nations. 

Genghis Khan never allowed alone to paint his portrait, script his image, or engrave his name or lifeless on a coin, and the only description of him from contemporaries are more intriguing than informative. 

From riding early fifty miles in one day o a horse, I learned that the fifteen feet of silk tied tightly around the midriff actually kept the organs inn place and prevented nausea. 

It is for want of a man that there are so many men. It is individuals that populate the world — Henry David Thoreau

In contrast to almost every major army in history, the Mongols traveled lightly, without a supply train. By waiting until the coldest months to make the desert crossing, men and horses required less water. Dew also formed during this season, thereby stimulating the growth of some grass that provided grazing for horses and attracted game that the men eagerly hunted for their own sustenance. Instead of transporting slow-moving siege engines and heavy equipment with them, the Mongols carried a faster-moving engineer corps that could build whatever was needed on the spot for available materials. 

Frighten the enemy in surrendering before an actual battle began. 

For the Mongols, the one God was the Eternal Blue Sky that stretched from horizon to horizon in all four directions. God presided over the whole earth; he could not be cooped up in a house of stone like a prisoner or a caged animal, nor, as the city people claimed, could his words be captured and confined inside the covers of a book. In his own experience, Genghis Khan had often felt the presence and hear the voice of God speaking directly to him in the vast open air of the mountains in his homeland, and by following those words, he had become the conqueror of great cities and huge nations. 

Genghis Khan recognized that warfare was not a sporting contest or a mere match between rivals; it was a total commitment of one people against another. Victory did not come to the one who played by the rules; it came to the one who made the rules and imposed them on his enemy. Triumph could not be partial. It was complete, total, and undeniable—or it was nothing. In battle, this meant the unbridled use of terror and surprise. In peace, it meant the steadfast adherence to a few basic but unwavering principles that created loyalty among the common people. Resistance would be met with death, loyalty with security. 

At not single, crucial moment in his life did he suddenly acquire his genius at warfare, his ability to inspire the loyalty of his followers, or his unprecedented skill for organizing on a global scale. There derived not from epiphanic enlightenment or formal schooling but from a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined mind and focused will. He never fought the same war twice. 

Smell holds a deep, important place within steppe culture Where people in other cultures might hug or kiss at meeting or departing, the steppe nomads sniff one another in a gesture much like a kiss on the cheek. Smelling carries deeply emotional meanings on different levels that vary from the familiar sniff between parent and child to the erotic sniff between lovers. Each person’s breath and unique body aroma is thought to constitute a part of that person’s soul. 

Today’s allies could be tomorrow’s enemies. No victory was ever decisive, no peace permanent. 

Herders desire a ger that faces south in order to admit the light ad warmth of the southern sun through the entryway as well as to prevent the cold northern winds from entering. They want to face water, but to be too close. A thirty-minute walk from the river seems to be the right distance to avoid polluting it with too much human waste. That distance also provides protection from the summer insets and flash floods that sometimes rage along the river plains. 

Cleisthenes abolished the tribes and reassigned everyone to ten units of ten, thereby transforming a tribal city into a city-state that grew into the strongest military, commercial, artistic, and intellectual power along the eastern share of the Mediterranean Sea. 

In keeping with Genghis Khan’s dictum that matters of the ger should be decided within the ger and matters of the steppe decided on the steppe, adultery applied to relations between married people of separate households. As long as it does not cause a public strife between families, it did not rank as a crime. 

To promote all religions, Genghis Khan examined religious leaders and their property from taxation and from all types of public service. To promote related professions, he later extended the same tax exemptions to a range of professionals who provided essential public services, including undertakers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and scholars. 

To be a just Mongol, one had to live in a just community. 

Genghis Khan trained the would-be hostages as administrators and kept them as a ready reserve to replace any ineffective or disloyal official. The threat of such potential replacement probably did much more to ensure loyalty in the field than the thread that the relative might be killed. Genghis Khan thus changed the status of hostages, transforming them into an integral part of his government that gave almost every family a direct and personal connection not the imperial court. 

Compared to the lurched soldiers, the Mongols were much healthier and stronger. The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, ad other dairy products, and they fought men who lived one gruel made from various grains. The grain diet of the peasant warriors stunted their bones, rotted their teeth, and left them weak and prone to disease. In contrast, the poorest Mongol soldier ate mostly protein, thereby giving him strong teeth and bones. Unlike the Jurched soldiers, who were dependent on a heavy carbohydrate diet, the Mongols could more easily go a day or two without food. 

Rather than a hierarchy of Military units, Genghis Khan organized his men into a set of concentric circles. 

Genghis Khan concentrated more attention on attracting or capturing soldiers of all sorts inn an effort to apply their knowledge to benefit the empire. Thereafter, everywhere he went, he had such men brought to him for interrogation to see what skill they might have and where in his empire it might be applied. 

The Mongol’s success arose from their cohesion and discipline, bred over millennia as nomads working inn small groups, and fro their steadfast loyalty to their leaders. 

Warriors everywhere have been taught to die for their leader, but Genghis Khan never asked his men to die for him. Above all else, he waged war with this strategic purpose in mind; to preserve Mongol life. Genghis Khan would never willingly sacrifice a single one. Every Mongol soldier had to live his life as a warrior with the assumption that he was immortal, that no one could defeat him or harm him, that nothing could kill him. At the last moment of life, when all had failed and non hope remained, the Mongol warrior was supposed to look upward and beckon his fate by calling out the name of the Eternal Blue Sky as his final earthly words. In fighting on the steppe, the nomads left the corpses of fallen soldiers and their possessions o the field to be disposed of by animals and to compose naturally. 

As Genghis Khan said, there is no good inn anything until it is finished. 

Genghis Khan withdrew once again to his mountaintop of Burkhan Khaldun, where he uncovered “his head, turned his face towards the earth and for three days and nights offered up prayer, saying ‘I was not the author of this trouble; grant me strength to exact vengeance.’

Terror, he realized, was best spread not by the acts of warriors, but by the pens of scribes and scholars. The Mongols operated a virtual propaganda machine that consistently inflated the number of people killed in battle and spread fear whoever its words carried. 

Paper was the most potent weapon inn Genghis Khan’s arsenal. He showed no interest in having his accomplishments recorded or in panegyrics to his prowess; instead, he allowed people to freely circulate the worst and most incredible stories about him and the Mongols. 

While pursuing his great quest to unite the steppe tribes and conquer every threat around him, he had never devoted the attention he should have to his sons, and now they were all reaching middle age and were still unproven me. 

He tried to teach them that the first key to leadership was self-control, particularly the mastery of pride, which was something more difficult, he explained, to subdue than a wild lions, and anger, which was more difficult to defeat than the greatest wrestler. He warned them that “if you can’t swallow your pride, you can’t lead.” He admonished them never to think of themselves as the strongest or smartest. Even the highest mountain had animals that step on it, he warned. When the animals climb to the top of the mountain, they are even higher than it is. 

In keeping with the laconic Mongol traditions, he warned his sons not to talk too much. Only say what needs to be said. A leader should demonstrate his thoughts and opinions through his actions, not through his words: “He can never be happy until his people are happy.” He stressed to them the importance of vision, goals, and a plan. “Without the vision of a goal, a man cannot manage his own life much less the lives of others,” he told them. 

In one of his most important lessons, he told his sons that conquering an army is not the same as conquering a nation. You may conquer an army with superior tactics and men, but you can conquer a nation only by conquering the hearts of the people. As idealistic as that sounded, he followed with the event more practical advice that even though the Mongol Empire should be one, the subject people should never be allowed to unite as one: “People conquered on different sides of the lake should be ruled on different sides of the lake.” Like so many of his teachings, this, too, would be ignored by his sons and their successors. 

The Mongols enacted their unusual but, for them, tried-and-true strategy of dividing their army and invading on at least two fronts at once. In this way, the enemy could not tell which city or prince would be the main target. If any prince took his army from his home city to help another prince, then the other Mongol army could attack the undefended one. With such uncertainty and danger to his home base, every prince kept his army at home to guard his own territory, and none came to the aid of the others. 

In return for such protections, the people had to agree to commit tribute of 10 percent of all wealth and goods to the Mongols. 

When attacking, the Mongol warriors wore a light leather armor that was thick in the front but thin at the back so “that they might not be tempted to run away.”

To clearly identify which refugees were Jewish refugees and to prevent their entering new Christian communities, the church ordered that Jews had to wear distinctive clothes and emblems to mark them for all to see. 

Despite the extensive spiritual beliefs that the Mongols and Europeans shared in common, the opening relationships had been so negative and misguided that in future years, the entire base of shared religion would eventually erode. The Mongols continued for another generation to foster closer relations with Christian Europe, but in the end, they would have to abandon all such hope, and with it they would, in time, abandon Christianity entirely in favor of Buddhism and Islam. 

“We Mongols believe in one God, by Whom we live and Whom we die and toward Him we have an upright heart.” He the explained, “Just as God gave different fingers to the hand so has He given different ways to men. To you God has given the Scriptures and you Christians do not observe them.”

Despite the lack of conventional army, the Ismaili sect exercised tremendous political power through a highly sophisticated system of terror and assassinations, and the secrecy and success of the group bred many myths, making it, still today, difficult to factor out the truth. The cult apparently had one simple and effective political strategy; kill anyone, particularly leaders or powerful people, who opposed them in any way. The cult recruited young men who were willing to die in their attacks with the assurance that they would achieve instant entry into paradise as martyrs of Islam. The Chinese, Persian, and Arabic sources all relate the same account of how young men were lured by ample quantities of hashish and other early delights that awaited them in the special gardens of the cult’s castles and fortresses. This was the foretaste of the paradise that awaited them if they died in the Grand Master’s service. He then trained them and controlled them with a steady supply of hashish to keep them obedient and make them fearless. Supposedly, because of the importance of narcotics for the Ismailis, the people around them called them hashshashin, mean “the hashish users.” Over time, this name became modified into the word assassin. Whether the killers had actually used hashish to inspire them or not, the name spread into many languages as the word for the murderer of high officials. 

The Mongols had changed the formula of gunpowder to provide enough oxygen to make it ignite in one rapid blast rather than in the traditional slow burn of the firelance or of rockets. Such instantaneous burning produced an explosion rather than a fire, and the Mongols harnessed these explosions to hurl a variety of projectiles. Craftsmen made some of the tubes small enough that a single man could operate them and thus fire out arrowheads or other metal projectiles. The explosion in these tubes required a stronger material the bamboo; so they were made with iron tubes. The Mongols attached the smaller tubes to a wooden handle for ease of handling, and they mounted the larger ones on wheels for ease of mobility. Larger tubes fired ceramic of metal cases filled with shrapnel or more gunpowder that produced a secondary explosion upon impact. In their assault, the Mongols combined all of these forms of bombardment in an assortment of smoke bombs, photo-grenades, simple forms of mortars, and incendiary rockets. They had developed explosive devices able to hurl projectiles with such force that they may as well have been using real cannons; they managed to concentrate their fire on one area of the city defenses and hammer it down. 

The collapse of the Sung dynasty was not a sudden fall or conquest, but a slow erosion as it fell apart.