The Power of Will
In the 13th century, Mongolian armies invaded Europe, having previously cut a path of destruction across much of Asia. Against them was arrayed the might and chivalry of Europe. Armored knights in full plate armor riding great warhorses and armed with steel swords and lances. In comparison, the Mongol hordes were a shabby lot. They were a primitive people, their culture having evolved little from their nomadic beginnings in the time since they were united together under the leadership of Genghis Khan. They rode short, sturdy horses and fought primarily with bows and arrows. To the kings and queen of Europe at the time, dealing with these uninvited guests from the East must have seemed a minor distraction barely worth their notice. Surprisingly, however, the Mongols not only defeated but utterly annihilated the combined armies of Christian Europe sent against them, leaving a trail of pillage and plunder from modern day Russia as far south as Bulgaria. In the end the Mongols were halted not by their enemies, but by their own internal squabbling and the untimely death of the then Khan. Had it not been for this fortunate occurrence the history of Europe, and the greater Western world, might be entirely unrecognizable. The West survived, but it was by the skin of our teeth.
The Mongols triumphed over their enemies, despite their apparent technological disadvantages and shabby looks, because they were a unified fighting force that was utterly dedicated to their Khan, highly motivated with a fanatical will to conquer in his name. In contrast, fancy armor aside, their European opponents were a disorganized rabble of various noble vassals leading levies of unmotivated peasant conscripts. On the battlefield, the Mongol fought to win glory for his Khan while his opponent fought because he had been dragged their by his noble master.
Do the parallels to the modern day even need pointing out? On paper, the battle we are now engaged in throughout the Middle East should not even be a contest. The technological gap is even more in our favor today than it was seven centuries ago. The knights of Europe had plate armor and steel swords. We have fighter jets and tanks and combat drones. Yet in spite of this we are barely managing to hold our own against a scraggly band of marauders armed with pickup trucks and AK-47s. A scraggly band of marauders driven by pure fanaticism. History is proving yet again that it is not the weapon but the will of the warrior that wields it that often determines the outcome of battles, often before they are even fought.
Just as the kings and queen of old could not imagine the oncoming storm that was the Mongol horde, we too seem almost oblivious to the threat before us today. The moment you are most confident, most powerful, and most secure in yourself is always the moment you are least able to recognize the threats off in the blacked out corners of the map. And just like the in the days of old we are vulnerable, not because we are defenseless but because we have seemingly lost the will to defend ourselves.
The Iraqi army that melted away in the face of the brutal fury of ISIS did so because the men serving in it felt they had no skin in the game. We here in the West appear to be little better off. Barely a century ago young men lined up in the streets here in my own country of Canada to volunteer to fight for King and Country. Today we can barely meet the recruitment quotas to maintain the tiny military we already have, forget about raising an even greater one. Decades of moral relativism and an educational system more focused on teaching young people everything that is wrong with their country and its history (and yes, hands up, there are more than a few things there to not be proud of) have led to the unsurprising result that an entire generation here in the West have grown up concluding that if everything is of equal value then nothing is of any value, so what is the point of doing anything anyway. When did the rot first begin to set in? The 60s? The French Revolution? The Enlightenment? Hard to say, and viewing the crumbling edifice that is modernity it seems a little silly to try and guess when it all began going so wrong. It has, and the question should be how do we deal with it.
If the Western world is to survive, we first must start remembering why we should survive. We must start enunciating it to ourselves again. We must start remembering who we are. We have a history so we also have a future. Yes, there are certainly parts of our past and culture that we should apologize for (the Holocaust, slavery, and the entirety of pop music being places to start). We are also the society that produced the Magna Carta, Shakespeare, Gustav Mahler, Florence Nightingale and a little thing called the Bible. “There’s some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” Perhaps it’s time to start reminding ourselves of that again.