It Used To Be Easy To Conquer The World

It’s still easy, if no one resists

It used to be easy to conquer the world; it wasn’t a very big place. The Mauryan empire of ancient India was no more than five million square kilometers, but included over forty percent of the planet’s population.  The Mongol Empire was six times that size, covering one fifth of the land surface, but only held twenty-five percent of the population.

Conquer the known worldIt’s much harder to conquer the world now.  We can monitor every square meter of its one hundred forty-nine thousand square kilometers.  It’s a huge world, but progress made it small.  The Romans shrank the world with their road-building programs.  The Mongols’ horsemanship enabled them to create their empire.  The British Empire (seven centuries later than, and the same size as the Mongol Empire) depended on sea transportation to bring distant places within reach.

In the twenty-first century the internet, surveillance satellites, security videos and personal camera-phones have made the world smaller yet.  We know more about somebody half a world away than our next door neighbor.

Today, the instantaneous world of electric information media involves all of us, all at once.  Ours is a brand-new wold of all-at onceness. Time, in a sense, has ceased and space has vanished.  Like primitives, we now live in a global village of our own making, a simultaneous happening.  The global village is not created by the motor car or even the airplane.  It is created by instant electronic information movement.  The global village is at once as wide as the planet and as small as the little town where everybody is maliciously engaged in poking his nose into everybody else’s business.  The global village is a world in which you don’t necessarily have harmony; you have extreme concern with everybody else’s business and much involvement in everybody else’s life.”- Marshall McLuhan

Does that mean we have seven billion neighbors?  If so, what is our responsibility to them?

The Bible is pretty clear:

Don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor; I am God.”

do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor

Simply stated, we should not allow our neighbor to die if it’s in our power to prevent it.

Eighty million people were killed between 1000 and 1525 AD when Islam tried to conquer India.  Few, if any people in the West would have known about it, and had they known, there would have been little they could have done.  Indeed, the West was preoccupied not letting Islam conquer Europe.

Tens of millions of people were killed during Communist China’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.  The government of the People’s Republic of China keeps the actual number a closely guarded secret.  It might have been eighty million.  It was more likely around forty million.  People in the West knew something terrible was happening, but China was (and is) a secretive country.  Could the West have done something?  Yes.  A difficult war could have brought down the Communist government.  Tens of millions could have been saved, but millions would have died in the process.

And we didn’t know much about them.  They weren’t our neighbors yet.

Atavistic Hatred Original art by Esti Mayer
Atavistic Hatred
Original art by Esti Mayer

In a 1994 genocide, Hutu death squads slaughtered eight hundred thousand Rwandans.  The world’s superpowers knew something bad was about to happen, but they stood idly by.  President Clinton described his failure to intervene as one of the biggest regrets of his presidency.  Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire was Force Commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda.  His desperate calls for support to stop the slaughter were ignored.

 “Still, at its heart, the Rwandan story is the story of the failure of humanity to heed a call for help from an endangered people.

It wouldn’t have taken a massive, dangerous military intervention.  Nonetheless the world stood idly by as the blood of its neighbors was spilled.  Would this have been, in McLuhan’s words, maliciously poking our nose into everybody else’s business?

What about the invasion of Iraq- the one that overthrew Saddam Hussein.  Was that maliciously poking our nose, or obeying the Biblical (you can also call it “moral”) dictum of not standing idly by the blood of your neighbors?  President Bush described Iraq as an exporter of terrorism.  Its leader was a genocidal despot, who used chemical weapons against his own people.  The President argued that Hussein was perilously close to deploying weapons of mass destruction against other nations; whether this was true is still a matter for debate.

President Bush applied the principle of not standing idly by, as well as another Jewish teaching (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72a) that “If someone comes to kill you, arise [preempt him] and kill him first.”

Iraq in 2014 is a malicious corner of our global village.  Neighbors from other Muslim lands such as Chechnya or Britain are forcing their religious beliefs on Iraqis; the ground is soaked with the blood of those who resist.  Do we stand idly by?

a promise
a promise

And that other principle that President Bush applied: if someone rises up to kill you, it is your obligation to preemptively kill him first.  The Sunni extremists now slaughtering everyone within reach have promised to come to New York, and not as tourists.  Where they go, their goal is to conquer.

Can we say that current events in Iraq are not our concern?  That we don’t care about the blood of our neighbors, or that ISIS is rising up to kill us?  The world is too small for that attitude.  The people of Mosul are our neighbors.  They and their ISIS tormentors live in our global village.

The Roman roads, the Mongol horses and British ships led to world domination.  There’s another group out there that wants to conquer, and they’re using the digital highways developed by Western civilization to wage their war to attack.  Do we stand idly by our own destruction?

6 thoughts on “It Used To Be Easy To Conquer The World

  1. The world has become ungovernable because of what Marshall Macluhan said. We cannot defeat ISIS militarily no matter how much TNT we throw at them.
    To combat danatic nihilism we must offer constructive alternatives: build schools and hospitals and roads, bring food and jobs and movies- only hope can defeat dedtruction. Military force destroys more than it serves. Cut the ocygen supply if hopeless young men who flock to these terrorist organizations. The ocygen of terrorism is hopelessness and chaos. If the US would have spent 10% of what it spent on war – in building hope, the world would have been a better place.
    I guess hope nakes less money for governments than making tools of war.
    Qui bono?

    1. Most of the 9/11 terrorists were from wealthy families. Many of the people fighting in Syria and Iraq came from comfortable homes, abandoned good jobs. Read the accounts of individuals from Canada, the U.S., Britain or Australia who sign up for jihad. Very many, if not the overwhelming majority were middle-class. They had hope. It didn’t interest them.

  2. Smash them into oblivion,we did it with nazism and Japanese feudalism and we will do the same to islam!

  3. The post-WW II emotional reaction to genocides and other bloody conflicts was “Never again!”. However, for the most part, realpolitik took over [continued?] and it was only where particular self-interests rather than moral values were threatened that intervention took place. In addition, it is obviously extremely difficult for one nation to act alone, especially against well-financed fanatics.

    That said, there is no moral excuse for not acting although how to act is problematic.

    I agree that these fanatics do not act out of hopelessness but rather out of a warped conviction that only they know the true path. And building western institutions such as schools does not help when girls are killed for attending the schools, or where voting in an election leads to fingers being cut off.

  4. We should not allow our neighbor to die if it’s in our power to prevent it, but what is in our power is debatable. If your neighbors are hellbent on killing each other there is nothing we can do. The Rwandan story is the story of the failure of humanity to heed a call for help from an endangered people, but you cannot know what things may have been had western armies occupied Rwanda. Foreign policies are easy to criticize, but don’t be fooled into thinking that things would be great if foreign powers made other choices.

    1. We can never know the result of our actions in advance. Did the U.S. think that supporting the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets would have augmented the world-wide proliferation of terrorism? Did Carter envision the human-rights consequences of throwing the Shah of Iran under the bus, in order to advance human rights?
      Do we let our lack of prophetic abilities paralyze us?

What's your take?