What prompts a group or nation state feel obliged to collectively apologise for a historical event?
In 1162 AD, a male by the name of Temujin was born in the land of Mongolia. At this time, Mongolia and many of the surrounding lands in the Eurasian Steppe were populated by nomadic tribal peoples. Life was hard for these people between a combination of poverty, harsh weather and constantly at war with other tribes. By the time Temujin reached adulthood, he had begun to actively seek to unite the nomadic tribes in the land of Mongolia under one banner. By 1206 AD, he had conquered central and Eastern Mongolia. During this time, many of the tribal leaders, agreed to appoint Temujin as the leader of the tribes and he took the name of Genghis Khan (Universal Ruler).
From then on, Genghis and his army waged almost constant war with several nations, including the Xi Xia, The Chin and the Sung Dynasties and laterally, he and his generals conquered in Central Asia and in to Eastern Europe. Genghis Khan died in 1227, however his sons and grandsons continued to dominate from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea, into North Eastern Europe and down in to Afghanistan and Iraq.
At the height of the Mongolian Empire’s influence, it was the largest contiguous land Empire in history and covered approximately 24 million square kilometers.
What is less well known about this Empire was the enormous amount of death and destruction caused by this people. It is estimated that the Mongolian Empire was responsible for the deaths of between 10 and 70 million people. They were merciless in their conquering techniques, where by when they captured a city, they would often kill every man, woman, child and animal within the walls. One of the most infamous incidents that the Mongolians were responsible for, was the destruction of Baghdad in 1258. The western and Arab sources differ enormously on the siege of the city. The death toll within the city ranges from between 200,000 people (Western sources) and 2 million people (Arab sources). At the time of its destruction, Baghdad was believed to be the joint most advanced city in world and the people living in that area, enjoyed a much richer lifestyle that their European counterparts. The destruction of the city at the hands of the Mongol Empire was so absolute, that a huge amount of documented history held within the city, was destroyed along with its residents. It is believed that Baghdad only got back to its pre destruction heights, by the 20th century, through help of oil wealth.
For a thoroughly fascinating coverage of the Mongolian Empire, I recommend checking out Dan Carlin’s podcast series: “Wrath of the Khans”.
Fast forward to the current day. The Mongolian Empire is mainly remembered for its enormously successful military strategies and weapons systems, allowing them to utterly dominate the armies that they found themselves fighting against. We do not often hear about the titanic death tolls that they inflicted in their conquests. We do not hear politician and pressure groups demanding that the Mongolian people apologise for the atrocities inflicted by their ancestors.
Similarly, Julius Caesar is remembered for his amazing military tactics and bringing Roman traditions, technologies and culture to modern day Western Europe. However, to achieve this, it is believed that he killed and enslaved approximately two thirds of the Celtic tribal population (4 to 6 million people) within Gaul. Again, it can be argued that Caesar was responsible for a genocide but instead of being summarised by this, he is remembered positively for the effects that he had on today’s civilisations. It is unlikely that you will meet many European people who hold hatred for the actions of Caesar. The Italian people are not expected to apologise for the atrocities caused by Caesar’s armies.
You might ask yourselves, where am I going with this?
I have recently been reading a book: The Strange Death of Europe, by Douglas Murray, which is a worthwhile and eye opening read.
In today’s society, you hear more and more about the “guilt” held by western civilisations.
Christopher Columbus was credited with the beginning of the colonisation of the Americas. However in recently years, he (and subsequent colonialists) are demonized and blamed for the near extinction of the Native American people.
Likewise, children in Australia are taught in school that their country was founded on “theft and genocide”. Since 1998, there has been an annual “National Sorry Day” in Australia to attempt to apologise and atone for the acts carried out by the ancestors of the Australian people against the Aboriginal people.
The most inflammatory issue that never seems to be away from the media, White Americans and Europeans are forever expected to apologise for the slave trade and plantations in America and the subsequent issue of racism in the USA. American Presidents have now been apologising to African countries for decades regarding the slave trade. In 1998, President Bill Clinton, on a trip to Uganda, apologised on behalf of America, for the slave trade.
The recent (and growing) opinion, that the West is “getting what it deserves” through the current migrant crisis, where by many of Western European countries are expected to cease to exist in the next few decades as we know them. We are experiencing an epidemic of Islamic motivated terror attacks all over the world right now, yet the main criticism that is batted about, in the media, is Western people’s “intolerance” towards the Islamic faith.
The popular phrase that is used in social media these days: “Not all terrorists are Muslims” is absolutely correct. They are not all Muslim, however there seems to be a disproportionately large number of attacks which are claimed by Islamic groups such as ISIS.
We do not hear constant demands for people of the Islamic faith, to atone for the minority of people, who feel the need to commit acts of terror, in the name of Allah.
During World War I, the Turkish Ottoman Empire was responsibly for the first genocide of the Twentieth Century, where by the population of Armenians that lived in Turkey, were massacred to the figure of more than a million people in a few short years. I was unaware of this piece of history, until relatively recently.
You rarely hear demands for the people of modern Turkey, to apologise for the actions of the Ottoman Empire. Ironically, the Turkish government has written in to law, that criticising Turkey is illegal. To mention the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, is an offence punishable by imprisonment. What is even more eyebrow raising, is there is almost no criticism of this fact.
Where as, it is widely taught that Nazi Germany was responsible for the Jewish Holocaust and that it is illegal in Germany today for someone to actively deny that the Holocaust took place.
When a child is born, they are viewed as innocent beings, unable to make decisions for themselves. They cannot be held responsible for their actions. You would not call a child a terrible, abhorrent being for throwing their food on the floor. It is viewed as totally unacceptable for a human to kill a baby. They are unable to defend themselves. You would not expect a child to apologise for a crime that his mother, father or other family member had committed, if they had no control over the situation.
Why then, do we find ourselves in a situation where certain people in society are demanding that certain groups are expected to apologise repeatedly for the sins of their ancestors? Why must be held responsible and they should feel guilty for actions that they had absolutely no control over?
Do you see the illogical thought process here? A young child is not held responsible for its own actions or the actions of his or her parents, yet an entire group of people can be made to feel guilty and responsible for something that took place before they were alive. Why?
Not only is this mind set completely devoid of common sense, it is stopping society from moving forwards. By continuing to bring up the sins of our ancestors, for the purpose of instilling guilt in a group of people, we actually risk causing these acts to repeat itself.
If society continues to focus on the actions committed in the past, how can we move forward and actually develop in to a more civilised and stable community?
For the record, I have not written this article, to try and take away from the horrendous acts committed by civilisations of the past. The incidents that I have highlighted are a few of the atrocities in mankind’s past, and they cannot be justified in today’s society. However there seems to be an apparent hypocrisy, whereby certain events and groups of people are highlighted continually and are expected to apologise and others are for the most part, ignored.
I am not for a minute suggesting that we should begin to demand that Turkey should continually apologise for the acts of the Ottoman Empire’s genocide against the Armenian people, or that Muslims as a whole, should apologise for the acts committed by the Islamic terror groups that exist today.
What I am trying to say is that a group of people should not have to pay repercussions for their ancestors crimes, when they have no control over it. History exists as history for a reason. To learn from it. We must learn from the mistakes of the past, so that we can prevent them from happening in the future.