THE WILL TO CONQUER
Genghis Khan was to conquer. “But how? And why?” — so have bewildered men repeatedly wondered, at the thought of his extraordinary destiny. The right answer is, in the words of Kokchu, the shaman, a believer in miracles (and doubtless appointed by Genghis Khan himself to present his career in such a light as to strike the Mongols with sacred awe) “because ‘the power of the Eternal Blue Sky’ had ‘descended upon him.’ Because he was ‘here on earth, Its agent’.”1 The right answer is, in the words of Ralph Fox, a believer in historical materialism: “Because Temujin-Chingis was born at a time of crisis among his own people, when all was ready for the leader who should build a new society; and because it was his fate also to be born when the two great feudal States on either side of him, the Khwarazmian Empire in Central Asia and the Kin Empire in China, were in full decay.”2
I said twice “the right answer,” for both explanations — the supernatural and mediaeval, and the modern, materialistic — are true to fact in the eyes of whoever sees, in the unfurling of events in time, the manifestation of a timeless Necessity. The next consequence of the state of the Universe at any given time and place — the “will of the Eternal Blue Sky” at that particular time and in that particular place, — is nothing else but that which has to be, according to the unchanging Laws that rule both the visible and the invisible world. And Genghis Khan had to be, like all the great ones who made history (while the implacable logic of previous history had made their appearing unavoidable, and sketched out the part they were to play upon the international stage). He had to be, and he had to conquer. And doubtless the socio-political
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 57.
2 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 50.
conditions in Asia, in his time — the conditions in the steppes, on one hand, and the conditions in the two Empires, on the other, — determined how complete his success was to be. But there is more to be said. His own will played, in his conquests, a part at least as important as that of those exceptional circumstances under which it manifested itself. And if those largely account for the succession of events in his career, the quality and the direction of his will, and the aspirations of his heart, give the key to him and situate him in his particular place among the god-like men of action.
As I said before, there was no ideology whatsoever behind his long bitter struggle for the mastery of the steppes. There was but the sheer will to overcome his enemies; to free himself from danger, — the will to survive. And behind those wars that were now to give him mastery over the greatest part of Asia, there was also no ideology; no sacred zeal. There was the desire of greater security, and the increasing lust of wealth and well-being for himself and for his family — nothing more. He conquered for booty. And he organised his conquests with admirable skill — imposing peace and security upon the terrorised survivors of the conquered people, — merely in order to make booty systematic, permanent, and more and more plentiful.
He “welded together into a new nation the people who dwelt in tents,” and above this nation, he set up “the Mongol clan, the tarkhans and noyons, companions of his early struggles.”1 But above them (and, in his mind, for ever and ever) he set up the Altyn Uruk; the “Golden Family”; his own sons and their sons; his own blood — himself. His people were the servants of his sons, and his. No doubt, he rewarded their loyalty magnificently. Nevertheless, he and his sons were the real centre of all his care, the aim of all his efforts. He was a million miles away from the spirit of the disinterested modern idealist who wrote: “My son is but a part of my people.”2 And it is this attitude — and not the necessary ruthlessness of his wars — which makes him, in our eyes, a man “in Time”; a typical “Lightning-man,” in the succession of
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 73.
2 “Mein Sohn ist nur ein Teil von meinem Volk.” (Wolf Sörensen, in “Die Stimme der Ahnen”).
those great Ones that have changed or tried to change the face of the earth.
And the study of his campaigns abroad only deepens that overwhelming impression of self-centred power that one gathers from, the early history of his life.
* * *
As living instances of his thoroughness and efficiency, Genghis Khan’s wars against Hsi-Hsia, against China and against the West, provide one of the most uplifting lessons in patience, will-power and intelligence that I can think of.
The sturdy Tangut kingdom of Hsi-Hsia — which lay just outside the Great Wall of Cathay — although at first only Superficially subdued, was sufficiently weakened not to become a danger to the Mongols during their expedition against northern China. That expedition was decided by Genghis Khan in answer to the pretention of the new Chinese Emperor to receive from him the traditional act of submission which the nomad chieftains beyond the Wall had given every new occupant of the Dragon Throne, for generations. It was but a formal act of submission. But Genghis Khan, well informed about the internal weakness of China in general and of the Kin Dynasty of northern China in particular, decided that the custom, — meaningless anyhow, — had lasted long enough. To break it meant war. But war was the only path to boundless power and increasing plenty; to the fulfillment of Genghis Khan’s destiny.
The preparation of that war — as that of any other of Genghis Khan’s campaigns, in fact, — is as admirable as the war itself; a masterpiece of patient, far-sighted, minute and thorough organisation, stretched over years. First, the silent, unassuming but absolutely efficient net-work of spies who, from all corners of the enemy’s realm, regularly brought the illiterate son of Yesugei all the information he needed in order to think out his campaign and then to carry it to fruition, is enough to amaze even such people as are acquainted with more modern secret organisations of similar nature. The enemy was doomed before hand. Then come the series of actual military preparations: — another wonder. As his modern English biographer rightly points out, Genghis Khan “left nothing to
chance.”1 From the sort of propaganda the most likely to give the Mongols the desired unity and the best possible fighting spirit, down to the smallest details concerning the diet of the troops and their daily exercises; down to the meanest item of military equipment, all was conceived and calculated with one aim in view: unfailing, machine-like efficiency. “The heavy cavalry wore armour consisting of four overlapping plates of tanned hide, which were lacquered to protect them against humidity,” notes the same biographer; “They were armed with lance and curved sabre. The light cavalry carried a javelin and two bows, one for shooting from horseback, and another for use on foot, when greater precision of aim was desired. They had three quivers, with different calibre arrows, one of which was armour-piercing. The troopers carried tools, a camp-kettle, an iron ration of dried meat, a water-tight bag with a change of clothes, which could also be inflated and used in crossing rivers. All maneuvres were directed by signals, and the whole army worked as smoothly as a machine.”2 And the soul of that extraordinary human machine was a newly born Mongol nationalism, which Genghis Khan cleverly kindled, and used to his own ends.
The numerical inferiority of the Mongols, compared with their enemies, is also a remarkable fact. Their astounding mobility, their thorough preparation and their discipline made up for it.
Finally, there is one thing which cannot but impress us as much as if not more than all the rest, at this stage of the conqueror’s life, and that is (if I may employ such an unusual combination of words) his own spiritual preparation for war. Indeed, before leading his army to the mountain passes and across the Great Wall that had, hitherto, seemed impregnable to the Mongols, — before engaging himself into a great war that was to last several years, — Genghis Khan “retired for three days into his tent, with a rope around his neck, to fast and commune with himself, and then, going to a hill-top, he took off cap and belt and made sacrifice to the Blue Sky.”3
1 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 144. Harold Lamb, (“The March of the Barbarians,” edit. 1941, p. 58), says: “He took no chances.”
2 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 145.
3 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 144.
He was now well in his “fifties” — for this was five years after the great kuriltai on the banks of the Onon. With infinite patience and caution, he had marched irresistibly on and on, and again he had just been taking every thinkable earthly step to make his new war a success. But his unfailing intuition told him that even this was not enough, that there were in war imponderable factors, and that there were means to victory which were neither military nor economic, nor, generally speaking, human. What exactly did the khakhan think, alone before the majesty of the Everlasting Blue Sky? No one knows. But he most certainly felt that there is a secret source of strength in the state of mind of the man who humbles himself in front of the eternal and implacable, putting himself and all his schemes into the hands of superhuman Forces, after having done all that wall humanly advisable in view of success. But, as one reads that reference to his retirement on the eve of his victorious onslaught on China, one cannot help remembering that other time — now far away in his stormy past — when, having lost everything he possessed, including his newly-wedded young wife, he communed with the Unseen upon the slopes of Burkan Kaldun, at sunrise, making libations of mare’s milk to the mysterious Power that had saved his hunted life. One cannot help putting in parallel those two moments and admiring that quest of the conqueror for union with something divine, beyond himself, both at the lowest ebb of his fortune and now, on the eve of his long-prepared victory over the armies of Cathay. And one cannot help feeling that there was a divine purpose (of which he himself did not know) behind that stubborn man who fought for his own security and for the grandeur and riches of his increasing, family.
* * *
The swiftness and discipline of Genghis Khan’s army and the skill of his commanders — and his own — overcame all difficulties. The army of the Kin emperor was defeated in a major battle, the memory of which struck terror for a long time in the hearts of the Chinese. And slowly — for Peking was not to surrender till the summer of 1215, — but steadily, the Mongols conquered the whole country, unto the River
Hoang-Ho. At first, they avoided walled towns. They raided the land, driving off horses and cattle, and were content with taking the armies of the Kin Emperor by surprise and beating them in numberless encounters, while many “auxiliaries” of Mongol blood deserted the Chinese to join Genghis Khan’s banner. The terror of the Mongol name, already great, grew and grew. It increased beyond all measure when the invaders did begin to besiege towns successfully. For Genghis Khan showed no mercy to the people of the cities that he captured. “Any resistance was crushed with inhuman methodical massacre of all that lived within the walls.”1
And although, even after the surrender of Peking, the resistance of the Kin by no means ceased,2 the entire north of China, Manchuria — and Korea — were now a part of Genghis Khan’s growing empire, and a source of untold wealth to him and to his people.
In 1215, leaving behind him Mukuli, a trusted commander, at the head of the army of occupation, the conqueror, now nearly sixty, rode homewards. The steppes where he had grown up as a hunted wanderer and fought as the chieftain of a handful of warriors, now swarmed with foreign slaves; gold and silver, and priceless objects of ivory and of jade — treasures unheard of — filled the Khakhan’s coffers; his sons and faithful followers were “clothed in brocaded silk”3 as he had wished. Arid he now counted among his wives a Chinese princess, adopted daughter of the Kin Emperor. And a man of royal blood, wise Yeliu Chuts’ai, descendant of those Khitan Emperors whom the Kin had dethroned, was his counsellor. One could rightly have said of Genghis Khan that he had conquered his dream — and more still. He was now wealthy and dreaded, as he had longed to be all his life. He was a real king. And had he died at that moment of his career, still his name would have been great in the history of Asia; still he would have remained the builder of Mongol power and the father and founder of the new Yuan Dynasty that was to hold the Dragon Throne for over hundred and fifty years.4
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 59.
2 It was not to be entirely broken till after the second Mongol campaign, under Ogodai, Genghis Khan’s son.
3 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 56.
4 Until 1370, date of the advent of the Ming.
But sixty years before — on that cold night when his mother, Hoelun, had conceived him from her ravisher, — the unnoticed pattern of constellations in the depth of the “Eternal Blue Sky” had marked him out to be more, far more than that.
* * *
Apparently, he could have stayed quiet and enjoyed his conquests; ate and drunk in peace and plenty among his people, now organised and prosperous. Maybe, he had himself no intention of doing anything else, and, as some of his biographers say,1 did not actually want war at this stage of his life. Or, maybe, the insatiable lust for power and possessions was still as strong in him as when he had led his tumans through the open gates of the Great Wall, a few years before. We shall never know. But things were happening, and were soon to happen, in High Asia, that were to make war unavoidable. And the hidden, mathematical determinism of the: world, combined with his own irresistible destiny — the destiny of the child Temujin, tangible forecast of the changes that had to take place, — drew Genghis Khan to the West, to unprecedented military greatness; and Asia, to accelerated decay, after his death.
After Tayan’s death and the defeat of his tribe, which we mentioned in the preceding chapter, Kuchluk, the Naiman chieftain, had fled to Balasagun, the capital of the Kara-Khitai country which stretched from the Altai Mountains, and from the boundary of the former Hsi-Hsia Kingdom, to the River Syr Daria. The Gurkhan, head of the Kara-Khitai realm, had given him refuge there, and he, very rapidly, through all manner of treachery, had raised himself to the position of an, independent ruler. Genghis Khan could wait, but he never forgot. And. it was, with him, a principle, that no irreducible enemy should be allowed to live. So, well informed as he was of what had taken place, — and fully aware of the weakness of Kuchluk’s position in spite of such a rapid rising — he had ordered one of his trusted generals, Jebei-Noyon, to march into the land of the Kara-Khitai. The land had been conquered, and
1 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p, 162.
Kuchluk captured and put to death in 1218, three years after the surrender of Peking. And knowing how unpopular both he and the Gurkhan had made themselves by persecuting the Moslems and Nestorian Christians, and what bitter hatred these all nourished towards the Buddhists in the whole realm, the Mongol general had proclaimed complete religious freedom in the name of the Khakhan, a gesture which had made him appear as a liberator in the eyes of a great section of the people, and had immensely strengthened the hold of the Mongols upon the country.
Genghis Khan’s empire now practically bordered that of the Khwarizm Shah, i.e., that of the Turkoman dynasty which ruled, in the place of the former Seljuk Sultans, over Turan and the whole of Iran, — from the mouth of the Ural River, and the land north of the Aral Sea, down to the Persian Gulf, and from Iraq to the Hindu Kush. But again, at first, nothing seemed to foreshadow war between the two potentates.
Yet, war was to break out. As I said: it was Asia’s destiny, linked up with the extraordinary destiny of the son of Yesugei. The greed and folly of the governor of Otrar (a frontier town on the border of the two empires) and the incapacity of Mohammed ben Takash, the ruling Khwarizm Shah, to face the situation as a realist, were the pretext and the immediate cause of the war.
Genghis Khan had sent an embassy to the Khwarizm Shah — who had first sent him one, at the close of the Chinese campaign. A caravan, “a trading enterprise of the Moslem merchants” who now surrounded the Mongol conqueror, followed. “Its five hundred camels carried nuggets of gold and silver, silk, ... the furs of beaver and sable, and many ingenious and elegant articles of Chinese workmanship.”1 When this caravan reached Otrar, the local governor had the merchants and their servants massacred and the treasures seized. Genghis Khan, who, even in great indignation, always remained too practical to be rash, did not, at once, in answer to that outrage, wage war on Mohammed ben Takash, however difficult it might have appeared to believe that the deed had been perpetrated without the latter’s knowledge. He sent, instead, a second embassy, to demand of him the punishment of
1 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936).
the governor of Otrar and compensation for the losses. And it is only after the head of this embassy had been murdered by order of the Khwarizm Shah, in defiance of all accepted notions of right, and its other members shamefully treated, that he decided on war, and started preparing his march to the west as minutely and methodically as he had, years before, his onslaught on Cathay. There was no other honor cable course which he could take. But this war was to be a war to the finish. And the Khwarizm Shah must often have regretted not having avoided it while it was yet time.
For, in Genghis Khan, bitter, immediate resentment at the feeling of insult, and thirst of revenge, kindled the old will to conquer into a superhuman force of destruction. In all his campaigns the conqueror had shown, swiftness — no sooner the time of patient preparation had come to an end and action had started, — along with unprecedented ruthlessness. But in this one, — his last one, — he was to strike with the sudden irresistibility of Lightning and to bring about such wide-scale desolation as only great physical cataclysms — only God Himself — can work out upon the earth. He was to prove himself, if ever, animated with that which I have called in the beginning of this book, the spirit of “Lightning.”
With the same efficiency as always, the conqueror’s extraordinary “intelligence service” gave him all the necessary information about the enemy’s country and conditions of life and political intrigues, about his exact strength and weaknesses, before war actually started. As always, every detail concerning the mobilisation, the training, the equipment and transport of troops was patiently worked out, and every predictable difficulty surmounted before hand. And once more, in order to draw to himself the divine Power of the invisible world, which he felt at the back of all his achievements), Genghis Khan humbled himself before the one thing he knew to be greater than he; the Everlasting Blue Sky. “He went alone to a height near the Mountain of Power, and took the covering from his head, the girdle from his waist. For hours le communed with the spirits of the high and distant places; and he came down with a message: the Everlasting Blue Sky had granted victory to the Mongols.”1 As Harold Lamb says,
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 62.
he probably had the intention of strengthening the morale of his people at the beginning of a great new campaign. But I somewhat feel there was more than that in this ritual gesture of allegiance to the Invisible. It was a gesture of supreme wisdom, without which Genghis Khan would not have been Genghis Khan. It was, on the part of the greatest conqueror of all times, the, recognition that even his career was but an episode in endless Time, and even he but an instrument in the hands of the heavenly Forces that lead the Dance of Time; that, however much he fought for himself, he too fought for the purpose of all Creation.
The Dance of Time is the Dance of death — and rebirth; and the purpose of all Creation is destruction — before a new Creation; death, before the glory of a new Beginning. Many things were to be destroyed in old Asia. So, “tending the remount herds and the wagon trains,”1 slowly but methodically, — as irresistible as Time Itself, — on went the Mongol tumans over the mountain ranges, the natural barrier between the Eastern steppes and the world of Islam. They felled trees, broke down rocs, and built roads and bridges as they went. They were not hundreds of thousands, as the vanquished were soon to imagine in their terror. They were, according to Ralph Fox, barely seventy thousand regular Mongol soldiers, to which estimate one should add an equal number of levies from the subject Turkish peoples,2 and, according to Harold Lamb, “some fifteen divisions of ten thousand men.”3
A surprise raid of Juchi, the eldest prince, of the Golden Family, across the Ak-Kum Desert and the Kara-Tau Hills to the lower Syr Daria region, i.e., in the direction of the Aral Sea, deceived the enemy. While Jelal-ud-Din, son of Mohammed-ben-Takash, uselessly pursued the raiders (who disappeared as swiftly as they had appeared), Genghis Khan’s main army, concentrated near Lake Balkash, was resting, after its long and difficult westward march, and preparing to attack. All was ready by the autumn of 1219. Yet, not until the early spring of 1220 did Genghis Khan order his general Jebei-Noyon, (who, by the way, was not with the main army, but
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 62.
2 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 199.
3 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 62.
much further to the south, in the region of Kashgar) to march to Khojend, as though he intended to strike immediately at the two great cities of the Khwarizm Empire: Samarkand and Bokhara. The Khakhan had had time, during those six months, to make full use of his amazing “intelligence service” and to gather all the information he needed concerning the enemy’s preparations, and, also, the enemy’s weaknesses and blunders, so as to take the greatest advantage of all these in his own plans against him. The time which a superficial observer would have considered as wasted, had been, in reality, well employed — in a way that was to render possible the swiftness of the decisive blow. Indeed, nothing is more remarkable, in the history of all Genghis Khan’s wars, than the contrast between the apparent slowness of methodical, far-reaching preparations, and the lightning-speed of action at the decisive moment. Nothing renders those wars more admirable, from the standpoint both of the strategist and of the artist.
While Mohammed Shah’s attention was diverted by Juchi’s attack, the main Mongol army, divided into three sections, moved rapidly over the land that Juchi had just laid waste, and reached the River Syr Daria. Two forces each of thirty thousand soldiers, were commanded by Genghis Khan’s eldest sons; and the third, consisting of another thirty thousand men and of the Guard, was under the command of the conqueror himself, assisted by his younger son, and by the veteran of the China war and future hero of the European campaign, Subodai, one of the greatest generals of all times. The two princes, Juchi and Chagatai, went south — along the hank of the Syr Daria — to join Jebei and to attack Samarkand with him. Meanwhile Genghis Khan crossed the river, and conducted his tumans across the Kizil Kum Desert, suddenly appearing, a month later, “almost on the top of Bokhara, and try the rear of the Shah’s armies.”1 As always, he had taken every precaution so as to assure the success of, such a march. Every trooper had been provided with the necessary supply of dried meat and water; remount herds of horses had been taken; and the time had been carefully chosen. “Such a
1 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 202.
march through the desert would have been impossible at any other season of the year”‘, says the modern biographer that we have quoted so many times.
Once more, swiftness of movement determined the Mongols’ victory. On the 11th of April, 1220, while Mohammed-ben-Takash fled for his life, the son of Yesugei entered the prosperous and populous city of Bokhara — the hallowed seat of Islamic learning — without encountering almost any resistance. His first orders to the vanquished were to bring hay and water for his tired horses and food for his men.
For a few days, the Mongols gave themselves without restraint to feasting and to lechery. Then, they turned to Samarkand, that the combined forces of Juchi and Chagatai and Jebei-Noyon were attacking from the east. The famous “city of gardens and of palaces” had no choice but to surrender and to be plundered. Its inhabitants were not systematically killed as in the case of towns that resisted the Mongols. The great bulk of the people of Bokhara (who had also not resisted) had been driven before the conquerors to be used in groups “as a human shield for the first ranks of the Mongol attack on Samarkand.”2 And the captives of Samarkand were later on driven off to help the Mongols fill the ditch round Urganj, the besieged capital of the Khwarizm Shah. In the meantime, during the autumn and winter 1220, Genghis Khan allowed the greater part of his army to rest in Samarkand while a force of thirty thousand men, under Subodai and Jebei-Noyon, had been commanded by him to pursue Mohammed Shah “like the flying wind,” wherever he might take refuge.
* * *
Mohammed-ben-Takash, the Khwarizm Shah, who, for weeks, had been hunted from town to town, expired alone on an island of the Caspian Sea — his last refuge — after learning that “his wives and children were prisoners and his treasure
1 Ralph Fox, Ibid.
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 64.
on its way to Samarkand, under convoy.”1 Subodai and Jebei-Noyon then crossed the Caucasus with their storming column, and made a successful raid into the Russian plains as far as the River Don, while the sons of Genghis Khan, Juchi, Chagatai and Ogodai, driving before them the captives from Samarkand, hastened to lay siege before Urganj. On account of its stubborn resistance, — as useless as that which any of the other towns had offered — the capital was doomed before hand; fated to be utterly wiped out.
Meanwhile the conqueror himself, taking with him his younger son Tuli and some of his grandsons, proceeded to deserve, in Khorasan and Afghanistan, that reputation of irresistible destructiveness which the terror of the crushed people has attached to his name for all times.
Any town that made even a show of resistance was “stormed or tricked into surrender”2 and levelled to the ground — as Urganj had been, — while its people, with the exception of the useful artisans and of the young and desirable women, were systematically killed. This mass-slaughter evidently aimed at paralysing all will to resist, nay, all possibility of resistance.... It was practical and methodical, like everything the Mongols did, at Genghis Khan’s orders — and it was carried out “without evidence of sadistic torment.”3 The Mongols, says Harold Lamb, “led out the people of walled towns, examining then carefully and ordering the skilled workers — who would be useful — to move apart. Then the soldiers went through the ranks of helpless human beings, killing methodically with their swords and hand axes — as harvesters would go through a field of standing wheat. They took the wailing women by the hair, bending forwards their heads, to sever the spine more easily. They slaughtered with blows on the bead men who resisted weakly.”4 It is said that about nine million people were thus put to the sword in and round the Place where had once stood the prosperous city of Merv. Fear caused, no doubt the contemporary Muslim chroniclers to exaggerate the number of the dead. Genghis Khan appeared
1 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 210.
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1943), p. 63.
3 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 65.
4 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 63.
to them as “the scourge of Allah” and, wherever his army passed, it was like the end of the world — the end, at least, of that world which they knew. Yet, even if the figures were to be brought down to their half, still they would suggest a magnitude of slaughter unprecedented in history.
It is noticeable that material signs of power, wealth or culture — strong walls, works of irrigation, libraries; — for which the conquerors had no use, were no more respected than human life; that the destruction was as complete and as impartial as it could possibly be when wrought by man’s imperfect weapons under the guidance of man’s will; as similar as it could possibly be to the total, indiscriminate destruction wrought by ever-changing Nature through her storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, or simply through all-devouring Time, the very Principle of Change.
Yet, it was destruction wrought by man, at the orders of a self-centred man of genius and, ultimately, for that man’s personal ends. Genghis Khan “deliberately turned the rich belt of Islamic civilisation into a no-man’s-land. He put an end to the agricultural working of the country, creating an artificial steppe here, on the frontier of his new empire; making it — he thought — suited to the life of his own people.”1 And he did this, apparently conscious of the fact that only if his people, the nomad Mongols, remained nomadic, could sons and grandsons continue for ever to govern the empire he had won them, and to enjoy its wealth. He felt that he had to destroy so that he and his sons and their sons might thrive — not on account of any real or supposed natural right of theirs to domination, not in the name of any real or supposed naturally superior rank of theirs in the everlasting scheme of Creation, but simply because they were his progeny; his “Golden Family.” As I already stated: he loved himself in them — not them and himself in his broader and higher self: his race, integrated, in its proper place, in the still broader realm of Life, human and non-human, as a true idealist, a man “against Time” — capable of no less methodical and thorough destruction as he, but in an entirely different spirit — would have done in his place. He was essentially the embodiment of separativeness, the God-appointed agent of Death; of
1 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians,” (edit, 1941) p. 66.
all the men “in Time,” as I have called them in the beginning of this book, the nearest to the unchanging Principle of separativeness and destructiveness — of change —: Mahakala; Time.
Indeed, when one reads the description of the terror that followed his horsemen wherever they went in Khorasan and Afghanistan, and specially when one ponders over the emotionless, remorseless, methodical character of the mass-slaughter they wrought, one cannot help admiring the detachment and efficiency with which the latter was carried out, and secretly regretting that such wide-scale, machinelike power of killing was not applied in the service of a better cause — of some impersonal truth; of some more-than-human justice, in the spirit expressed by Lord Krishna when, exhorting the warrior Arjuna, in Kurukshettra, He told him, speaking of the enemies he was to slay: “These bodies of the embodied One, Who is eternal, indestructible and immeasurable, are known as finite. Therefore fight, O Bharata!”1
But that was not the spirit of Genghis Khan, the warlord submitted to the bondage of self and therefore of Time. And now and then an episode that history has brought down to us — such as that of the annihilation of Bamyan — stands out to show what a gap separates the Mongol conqueror, despite all his undeniable grandeur, from the ideal of the warrior “against Time” as portrayed in the old Sanskrit Scripture. At the siege of Bamyan, in Afghanistan, Mukutin, son of Chagatai, and one of the young grandsons of Genghis Khan, was killed. As we have seen, in all the conqueror’s campaigns, cities that had, to any extent, resisted the Mongols, had been destroyed, and the greater part of their inhabitants put to the sword. But the blood of the Golden Family, even though it were shed through the veins of one single individual, was still more precious, in Genghis Khan’s eyes, than that of any number of Mongol soldiers, and cried for a greater vengeance. The old Khakhan, therefore, commanded that all living creatures — people without the customary discrimination between the useful and the useless; beasts; and the very birds of the air, — be killed to the last, in and round Bamyan, and that all trace of the town upon the earth be wiped out. And “the order was strictly carried out,”2 notes the modern biographer
1 The Bhagavad-Gita, II, Verse 18.
2 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 214.
of Genghis Khan, — who cannot help contrasting the horror of that deed with the serene, unearthly beauty symbolised in “the great cave of Buddhas,” high up on the mountain-side, above the destroyed city full of decaying corpses. The opposition is indeed staggering. It is, carried to its utmost forcifulness, the lasting contrast between the man “in Time” and what we have called the man “above Time.”
But one should not miss its real meaning by allowing one’s mind to be swayed by hasty reactions. Despite all appearances, it is not the contrast between destructive fury and boundless kindness — love towards all creatures — which is the most remarkable, the actual contrast. It is the opposition between the family-centred, i.e., self-centred attitude of Genghis Khan, as illustrated by that as by many other of his actions, and the perfect detachment of the Indian Sage from all ties. There, — in what they are far more than in what they do, — lies the gap between the man “in Time” and the Man “above Time.” And, I repeat, had the self-same mass-slaughter taken place, but in the name of some impersonal necessity worth its while, and not for the sake of that primitive passion of family vendetta which, in the circumstance, animated Genghis Khan, the physical contrast between the beautiful, peaceful cave on high and the place of massacre, pervaded with the stench of death, would have remained; and it would, doubtless, have been equally impressive in the eyes of the superficial observer; nay, it would have stirred the same feelings, that one guesses, — the feelings nowadays so lavishly exploited in all cheap “atrocity campaigns” for mass consumption — in the hearts of unthinking humanitarians. But it would have been just a physical, an outwardly contrast; it would not have expressed any real contrast, from the standpoint of integral truth, for men “against Time” — capable of destruction in a detached spirit and “in the interest of Creation” — and men “above Time” walk along parallel paths, in eternity if not in history; along parallel paths different from that followed by those, however great, who are still within the bondage of Time.
* * *
During this whole lightning-like campaign, only once did the Mongols experience the bitterness of defeat; and that was at Perwana, where Jelal-ed-Din, the fugitive son of the
Khwarizm Shah, managed to get the best of Shigi-Kutuku, one of Genghis Khan’s lieutenants. The Mongols who fell alive into his clutches were put to torture at the orders of the Turkish prince who, for a short time, enjoyed the pleasure of feeling himself the avenger of his father and of his people in a proper Turkish manner — or, should I not rather say: in the manner of a man who lived (despite the tremendous disparity between them) far more “in Time” even than his great enemy?
There was indeed, in this war, from the start to the end, as much deadly passion on one side as on the other. Only Genghis Khan’s passion — his will to conquer, so that his sons and grandsons might be emperors, — was served with far more perseverence, and, above all, with far more lucidity, than his enemy’s will to save what he could of the Khwarizmian Empire.
It was, in fact, if not by Genghis Khan himself, at least by more than one of his generals, — in particular, by virtuous Subodai, the very embodiment of boundless, disinterested devotion, — served with detachment; for those men had no personal lust, for power or riches; their lives were ruled solely by their love for their Khan and their stern sense of duty towards him and him alone; they were freer than he from what I have called the ties of Time; perhaps even some of them were men “against Time,” who saw in him the originator of a new organisation of Asia, destined, in their minds, to lead to lasting peace and prosperity — to the good of all people — and who followed him for that reason. I personally believe that the presence of such men in the conqueror’s General Staff (and possibly also among the thousands who composed his army) was a considerable factor of victory on his side.
The calm with which Genghis Khan commented upon Shigi-Kutuku’s misfortune, simply stating that defeat would teach him caution, and giving him and the other chiefs a practical lesson in strategy upon the site of the lost battle, shows how the conqueror could remain master of himself whenever self-control was useful in view of further efficiency — for he must have felt very deeply the grief of that one only defeat his soldiers had ever known.
In that immense and constant self-control, source of his extraordinary patience, coupled, with the capacity of taking
the right decisions in the wink of an eye at the right moment; in other words, in qualities eminently characteristic of those men whom we called men “above” and “against” Time, lies the secret of Genghis Khan’s greatness. The fact that he used these splendid qualities entirely in view of the materialisation of a self-centred purpose and in a self-centred spirit, makes him a man “in Time” all the more appalling, in certain of his activities, that one is more aware of what a warrior endowed with his virtues could have been, had he only cared to serve, in the words of the Bhagavad-Gita, “the interest of the Universe” — of the whole of Creation — instead of his own and that of his family.
It was, no doubt, difficult, and perhaps impossible, for a Mongol to raise himself to that attitude — and to cling to it, — specially when having attained absolute power after years and years of hardships and struggle. It would seem that the Mongol, nay, that man of Mongolian race in the broader sense of the word, can only be perfectly disinterested when he feels himself the follower of somebody — man or god — not when he happens to be, himself, the source of power. And yet... it is not easy to assert how far the great conqueror’s practical, pitiless self-centredness is an inherent trait of his race. Ralph Fox has, somewhere in his book, compared Genghis Khan’s practical qualities with those of “the founders of the great capitalistic enterprises of the last century, men who also stopped at nothing, who ruined their enemies gleefully and stole their wives and daughters no less gleefully; men who organised great empires, also, — empires of steel and power”;1 — men like, him essentially self-centred; we would say: like him living essentially “in Time.” Yet, those were not Mongols. Nor was, before them, the overrated Corsican upstart Napoleone Buonaparte, he, at least, a warrior, — and one of undeniable military genius, although a pigmy even in that respect, when compared with Genghis Khan, — who led the French to the conquest of Europe in order to secure comfortable thrones for his worthless brothers. Nor were so many self-centred organisers of all sorts, of lesser magnitude, military or political — or both — who left somewhat of a name in history. The truth is that absolutely disinterested — selfless — characters, “men against Time” as we
1 Ralph Fox, “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 88.
have called them, are extremely rare among the great nation-building warriors as, in general, among the remarkable men of action of any race or epoch.
* * *
Jelal-ed-Din did not enjoy for long the advantage given him by the one single victory he had won. His last stronghold fell to Genghis Khan in the autumn of 1221. By then, most of the tumans that had taken part in the siege of Urganj, or scaled the Caucasus and pushed into the Russian plains as far as the Sea of Azov, had joined the main Mongol forces. It seemed as though nothing could stein the conqueror’s advance.
The Khakhan overtook the Turkish prince as the latter had reached the Indus River, and there he defeated him in a last pitched battle and sent a cavalry division in pursuit of him. But the raid beyond the Indus “was not pressed home”1 and it is not till years later — after the death of Genghis Khan — that Jelal-ed-Din (who, in the meantime, had secured himself a new kingdom in Iraq) was again hunted along the highways by the Mongols, and that he met his end. Yet, one can safely say that at the moment he crossed the Indus he was, already, for all intents and purposes, “politically dead” — no longer able to stand in the way of the Mongols. And he never was to acquire, anyhow, but a shadow of power.
Before starting, in the spring of 1223, the long homeward journey back to his native Mongolia, Genghis Khan had a few conversations with one of those rare men “above Time” that Asia has never failed to produce, even in the darkest periods of her history: the Chinese sage Ch’ang Ch’un, a Taoist. The main reason why he had invited the wise Cathayan to his camp shows how much the conqueror was, despite all his greatness, submitted to the bondage of Time and conscious of it: he wanted to learn from Ch’ang Ch’un the secret of prolonging physical life and strength indefinitely. He had heard that the seekers of the Tao — the priests and monks of Ch’ang Ch’un’s sect — were in possession of such a secret. From his boyhood he had been fighting in order to survive; and in order to leave his family power and riches — the greatest enjoyment of life — in inheritance. Now that he was growing old, he clung to life
1 Ralph Fox “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936).
more and more. His mind was not sufficiently detached to accept death joyfully — as so many of his own followers had accepted it for his sake. (His followers had him to love and to die for; but he loved nobody save himself and his progeny, being, in that respect, no better than millions of lesser men.) And when the serene man of meditation, the man “above Time,” told him that there was “no medicine for acquiring immortality,” he was disappointed. Yet, he was sufficiently impressed by Ch’ang Ch’un’s talk to grant him a decree exempting “all Taoist priests and institutions from the payment of tax.”1
* * *
The journey across the mountain-ranges and steppes of Central Asia, back to Karakorum, took months. It was interrupted by great hunts and great feasts, after which took place athletic exercises and horse-races-sports dear, to the Mongols as to many other warrior-like peoples. It was saddened, for Genghis Khan, by the growing hostility that opposed Juchi to his other sons and by the departure of Bortei’s first-born — of doubtful birth — to the Kipchak steppes and, soon after, by the news of his death. But Genghis Khan’s own end was drawing nigh.
The years 1226 and 1227 were filled with the conqueror’s last campaign: his second war against the former Tangut kingdom of Hsi-Hsia, whose king had rebelled against Mongol yoke. Genghis Khan died in August 1227 — the year of the Pig, in the Calendar of the Twelve Beasts — after the Tangut had been defeated and while Kara-Khoto, their capital, was still besieged by his army. He died in the saddle, as he had lived, “on the upper Wei River, near the junction of the frontiers of the modern provinces of Kan-Su and Shen-Su.”2 His last order was to put the Tangut king and all his followers to death, as soon as Kara-Khoto would fall.
The conqueror’s body was taken back to the ordu of the Yakka Mongols in the midst of which he had been born
1 Ralph Fox. “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 234. Harold Lamb, loc. cit., p. 70.
2 Ralph Fox. “Genghis Khan” (edit. 1936), p. 240.
seventy years before. The men who carried him, lying in his coffin upon a two-wheeled wagon, killed every living creature, human being or beast, that they met on their way, according to Mongol custom.1 In death as in life a trail of blood was to follow that extraordinary man, who had come into the world clutching a clot of blood in his right hand.
He was buried in some place that he had himself designated long before — probably somewhere in the shade of Burkan Kaldun, the “Mountain of Power,” on which he had once communed with the Eternal Blue Sky, in the hour of distress; near the head waters of the Onon and of the Kurulen, but no one knows where, to this day, save, perhaps, (it is believed) a very small number of Mongols, who keep the knowledge religiously secret.
When he lay in his grave, with offerings of meat and grain, with his bow and sword, and the bones of the last warhorse that he had mounted,2 it was solemnly announced by the chief-shaman — the Beki, — who had presided over the burial ceremony, that his sküldé or life-spirit had left his body to abide for ever in the Banner of the Nine Yak Tails — the banner of the Mongol tribe — so that it might, there, continue to lead his army to victory. For, kindled by the consciousness of the sombre beauty of his great life, the will to conquer had survived the conqueror. And his sons would continue and extend his work: strengthen the hold of the ever wealthier and more powerful Golden Family upon Asia and — they hoped — upon the world.
1 So that no enemies might see the death cart of the Khan (or be, indirectly, caused to learn of his departure). (Harold Lamb, loc. cit, p. 75).
2 Harold Lamb, “The March of the Barbarians” (edit. 1941), p. 77.