• Prof. James O'Flannery

GTBT: The Mongol Invasions

*Note: This Good Thing, Bad Thing column was written in a months-long delirium while recovering from spousal poisoning and/or revolutionary sedition. Please do not reproach me overmuch if you notice any errors in spelling, grammar, or the like. The historical accuracy remains, of course, unimpeachable.

Now, maybe it's me, but whenever I walk into a store these days, I always get some uppity clerk or customer telling me, "Sir... Sir... You need to wear a mask, sir!" And boy, do I ever feel like punching them in the goddamn face.

I swear to God, if I hear one more useless know-it-all give me the third degree about the CHINESE VIRUS - oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I meant COOOOOOVID-19 - I'm going to shit my pants just to spite them. These jokers all look the same too. Shrill pink-haired harpies and self-important wiener-boys. The kind of people who enjoy ethnic food and ride their bikes to work. Makes me sick.

Real, actual problems.

For Christ's sake, what the hell happened? When exactly did this nation of explorers and builders and inventors become a whiny bunch of fretful pansies? Sure, the KUNG-FLU is a pandemic and everything. But it's also the most boring one imaginable. It ain't no bubonic plague, that's for damn sure. Hell, it ain't even polio, or mumps, or the measles, or the hundreds of other hideous diseases people used to deal with on a regular basis.

So the Corona pops into a major city and kills five thousand people. Boo hoo. Tell that to anyone with the ridiculously rotten luck to be born during the Black Death. Think about the poor dumb bastards who had to look out their window one morning and say to their loved ones, "Aw shit, it's the Mongols!" - which after months of exhaustive research, I can confidently assert is the most terrifying prospect of all time.

Saddle up, ladies. This shit ain't going to be pretty. It sure ain't no "socially-distanced" walk in the park, if you follow me. Let me tell you about what a real unstoppable killing machine looks like. No, dear reader, it's not the BOOMER REMOVER. Today it's the Mongol Horde.

Allow me to set the stage. It is the waning days of the 12th Century. Soon, a hitherto unknown people from the backwaters of Asia will burst into the historical record with such ferocious grandeur people will all but lose their minds. I only wish a few of our excellent newspapermen were around back then to chronicle the mayhem: Mostly Peaceful Horde Sacks Kaifang. Population Slaughtered In Largely Civil Demonstration.

The carnival of horrors unleashed by the triumphant Mongols staggers credulity. Despite their best attempts, the recent "peaceful protests" could not manage one tenth of one percent of the desecration wrought by these ruthless horsemen. In little more than a generation, the Mongol khans would topple a dynasty in China, wipe several empires off the map, eviscerate the Islamic world, and penetrate the walls of Christendom.

Re-enactmet of the Siege of Samarkand

How and why did they accomplish all this? Though so-called "actual history professors" will debate these questions, the truth may prove to be rather simple. Perhaps the How answers the Why. Perhaps they conquered because they could, because as it turns out, there was something extraordinary about the Mongols. Something uniquely lethal.

Certainly the world had seen their like before. A succession of nomadic peoples had previously decamped Central Asia in search of swag and tribute. But none had the staying power the Mongols had. None were capable of building a lasting empire. The Mongols did, and (dare I say it) went about their brutal conquests with a flair and panache that somewhat cloaks their otherwise despicable crimes against humanity.

What made the Mongols so special? What exactly went into their secret sauce? How did a band of backward nomads carve-up mighty empires like they were hams baked by anyone besides my useless wife? Well, I would argue the answer begins and ends with the figure most associated with the Mongol people. Let me tell you about a man so great his name literally means "great man".

Let me tell you about Genghis Kahn.

John Wayne, in a completely accurate portrayal.

What makes a man a man? Is it winning wars and siring children? The answer, of course, is yes. And by that metric, Genghis Khan is no doubt the manliest MAN ever to walk the face of the earth. This goddamn stallion is responsible for 1% of the global population. Let me repeat that. 1% of all people alive today (70 million souls) are descended from Genghis Khan.

That's an impregnation every hour, on the hour, if you're counting. It's exhausting merely to contemplate. I mean, at most, I was lucky to catch the missus in the mood maybe twice a year. Otherwise she was basically Fort Knox with a mild odor problem. Genghis Kahn, by contrast, had whole camps of concubines following him around wherever he went. Dude hit home-runs like it was nobody's business. Off-the-charts slugging percentage. These are historical facts.

Born Temijun Borjigin around 1162, little would suggest this impoverished son of a minor chieftain would one day rise to establish the largest empire the world had ever seen. He spent his youth kidnapping wives, or being kidnapped himself, or escaping his kidnappers, or rescuing kidnapped wives, since there wasn't very much else to do in a place that looked like this:

You know, your standard Mongol education. By age twenty-one, Temijun had at least three wives, who knows how many children, and a host of other problems, but meaningful purpose wasn't one of them. His youthful adventures in a land of tribal intrigue and frequent betrayal had left a lasting impression. Most of all, his heart ached at the unfulfilled potential of the Mongol people. He sensed that they were destined for a higher calling, a divine mission, as he described it. To unite the entire world under one banner and put an end to internecine conflict once and for all.

He began with nothing. Not even an army. Merely a motley band of friends and close relatives. And yet, in a series of petty wars, Temijun slowly fought his way to mastery of the Mongol plains. Right away, his unique qualities were in evidence.

Subutai may also have had magic powers.

Instead of the standard boil-your-captives-alive approach, Temijun regularly spared the best and brightest of his vanquished. He sought out the most capable of his enemies and persuaded them to join his forces. It was no mean feat keeping so many prideful (and often vengeful) Mongols in line, but somehow Temijun made it all work. He had that special touch.

This highly meritocratic approach would become a trademark of sorts - one of the ingredients in that secret sauce I mentioned. In time, the Mongol Horde would absorb siege engineers from China, scribes and bureaucrats from Persia, as well as talented warriors from neighboring non-Mongol nomads - including Subutai, perhaps the most brilliant military commander in history - all of which increased the range and capability of the Mongol armies far beyond the rampaging barbarians who preceded them.

By 1186, Temijun, having brought the Mongol tribes into a single alliance, was elected "Genghis Khan" - meaning greatest king - the ruler of all who dwelt in felt tents. From that moment, the Mongol horsemen, so far unnoticed by history, exploded like a nuclear bomb. Or in their own words:

"We will make you Khan; you shall ride at our head, against our foes. We will throw ourselves like lightning on your enemies. We will bring you their finest women and girls, their rich tents like palaces."

-- The Secret History of the Mongols

The world was basically fucked. And for two key reasons: culture and geography. Let me explain a few things to you youngsters who can't even find a gas station without the goddamn "google" blaring directions at you. Let me tell you about the Steppe.

To be more precise, the Eurasian Steppe, of which Mongolia lies at the extreme eastern end. It is a sea of yawning grassland - treeless, riverless, mountainless, - stretching unbroken from the Balkan Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, a range of some 5,000 miles. It was through the steppe that the Silk Road of antiquity brought Chinese goods into the hands of Persian and later Arab traders. It was here also that the mathematical concept of zero emerged from India and entered into Western understanding.

And it was here, who knows how many years ago, that some ballsy son-of-a-bitch first jumped onto the back of a horse and took it for a joy-ride. Hundreds of panties dropped that day - let me tell you - and ever since, the mounted barbarian tribesmen constituted an existential threat to the settled agricultural societies at their margins.

No way to defend against this.

Ancient Mesopotamia was bedeviled by the Scythians, ancient China by the Xiongnu. Mighty Rome fell prostrate before the ravages of the Huns. In a later era, the Turks would run roughshod over everybody, until they themselves would be trampled underfoot... by the Mongols.

But no matter their language or origin, geographical constraints stamped each of the steppe peoples with a common imprint. Unlike life in an urban society, in which a surplus of food allows for a specialization of labor, the life of a pastoral nomad demanded competence across a wide range of skills. Every man or woman was expected to ride, hunt, slaughter their own food, fabricate their own necessities, and so on.

It was a tough, cruel, unforgiving life. Children that didn’t pack the necessary gear were often abandoned – a policy I would like to see renewed in our public schools, frankly – and those who survived made for the greatest warriors the world has ever seen.