Friday, June 26, 2015

American History 101: The Confederate Flag

I hear and see not strips of cloth alone,
I hear the tramp of armies, I hear the challenging sentry.
I hear the jubilant shouts of millions of men, I hear Liberty!
I hear the drums beat and the trumpets blowing...
O you up there!  O pennant! where you undulate like a snake hissing so curious
Out of reach, an idea only, yet furiously fought for, risking bloody death, loved by me!
 -- portion of Song of the Banner at Day-Break by Walt Whitman

Confederate Battle Flag, The Flag of the Army of Tennessee
and the Second Confederate Navy Jack flag - Not the flag of the CSA.
What does the Confederate flag stand for?  What does any flag stand for?  Does it have an inherent meaning?  Or is it based on our perception?  Whitman's poem, written in 1860-1862 about the flag that represented the United States above a federal fort, speaks to us of how the flag of the day impacted him.  What is interesting is that at the time (1860) the flag was not the national symbol of pride and unity that it is today.  Flags did not bring people together, or symbolize a movement the way they do now.  In 1860, a flag was used as a military ensign or a way to mark territory, flown from forts and ships or flown as a special symbol on the 4th of July.  This idea extends to the flags of the Confederacy.

First Confederate National Flag
flown over Fort Sumter
April, 1861
So to begin to answer the question about what the Confederate flag stands for, we probably need to understand what we are talking about.  What those of us who study, and love history like to tell everyone: know your history.  To begin with we are only talking about a self-proclaimed nation that existed from 1861-1865.  The confusion surrounding this piece of cloth, and what flag represented what is amazing considering the short-period of time the Confederate States of America existed.  Love it or hate it, the Confederate States of America exists today in our history books as little more than a failed experiment at secession from a fledgling nation that was experiencing the growing pains of hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy that saw the United States Navy African Squadron freeing slaves on the high seas, but back home Americans fought for the right to keep black men, women and children as property.  The months that lead up to General Beauregard ordering his batteries to open fire on Fort Sumter in April of 1961 were ones of high tension in the United States.  And while the leaders in South Carolina who voted to secede from the union and become their own sovereign state had hoped Washington letting them go peacefully, the beginning of what would become known as the Civil War was a war that caught no one by surprise.  And when the first battle of the American Civil War was over, the Confederate States of America had driven the United States soldiers out of Fort Sumter.  Once that was done, they raised their national flag -- which is not the flag we refer to as the Confederate Flag today.  See the image to the right to see the flag as it was raised on that day.  Clearly not the rebel flag causing so much commotion in America today.  This flag, referred to as the "stars and bars" was the official flag of the Confederate States of America from 1861 through 1863, with the only changes being that they added more stars as more states seceded (the flag was finalized in November of 1861 with 13 stars).  The flag featured two red stripes, with one in between and a field of blue with seven (and eventually thirteen) stars.  Much like the union flag, the red stood for valor, the white for purity and the blue for vigilance and justice.

The original Stars and Bars, the 1st Official Flag of the
Confederate States of America (1861-1863)

But the Stars and Bars was under attack as early as 1862 for its resemblance to the Stars and Stripes of the United States.  The CSA did not want to be seen as the union's little brother, so they went back to the drawing board for a new national flag.  And by May of 1863 they unveiled the official second flag of the Confederacy.  Referred to as "The Stainless Banner", the flag featured a large white field and incorporated what we now call the rebel flag in the upper left corner.  Officially, the large white field still stood for purity however it was stated by William Thompson at the time (one of the chief designers of the flag) that the white stood for white supremacy.  The inclusion of the rebel battle flag in the national flag is no mistake.  Thompson said that it was included because it gave the flag a unique look, and that the Confederate Army was already using it on the battlefield.  And he was right.  As early as 1861, the Armies of Tennessee and Northern Virginia had adopted the large blue X on a field of red with the stars crossing as their battle flags. They had done so because early on in the war, it became evident that the stars and bars looked far too much like the stars and stripes, and in the mass confusion of battle -- it is difficult to see the difference.

The Second National Flag of the Confederate States of America

The flag that we all refer to as the Confederate flag today is a derivation from the battle flag and the second national flag.  In fact, this flag was one of the initially proposed national flags in 1861 and it was not chosen as the flag of the confederacy.  It was shortly after that vote that General Robert E. Lee adopted the southern cross as the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. 

So how did this misnomer start?  There are a couple of historical events that have propagated the idea that ol' Dixie was actually the Confederate flag.  During World War II, it was not uncommon for some military units with southern nicknames or ones that were primarily made up of men from the south to use the flag as an emblem.  Also, the USS Columbia famously flow the Confederate Navy Ensign as a battle flag throughout its tour of duty in the Pacific War.  This was done in to honor Columbia, the capital of South Carolina since South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union.  After the Battle of Okinawa, the "Rebel Company" (Company A of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines) raised the Confederate Ensign above Shuri Castle for three days.  General Simon Buckner ordered it taken down as a "disgrace to Americans all over who are involved in this battle."  Additionally, the town of Town Line, New York used the Dixie to fly above its town building during a ceremonial vote to rejoin the union in 1946.  The flag was also prominently featured in the 70's television show "Dukes of Hazard" and has been flown over several state capitals up until recently.  Most famously the South Carolina state capital still flies the southern cross as of the writing of this post.

So what is it about this flag -- this symbol of a failed war to secede and create a new nation with new ideals -- that upsets people so?  The root of all the contention is ignorance.  Ignorance of history... ignorance of perception and ignorance of a moment in time.  After all, isn't that what the Civil War is to America?  A moment in time?  Of course it is, but it is so much more that we -- as Americans today -- cannot understand.  I remember vividly on September 11th, 2001 watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center.  I remember sitting and watching the towers smolder, and then seeing the first one fall.  And before the government officially reacted, before the second tower fell and before I even knew if all my family and friends were I knew what all of us know now:  At the moment the world would never be the same.  That is what we do not understand about the Civil War.  It was a moment in time, much like 9/11, in which all Americans knew that the world was changing -- that it would never be the same for them.  The things we learn in our history classed:  the blood, the squalor, the terror, the inhumane conditions, the bloated bodies at Gettysburg or the rotting corpses of Antietam -- they only tell part of the story.  If we measure the heroism of war -- or any struggle -- based on human suffering then surely both the North and South were equally heroic.  For the first time in the history of America we had to deal with, identify, categorize and bury our own dead -- and figure out how to begin to inform families of such.  And it was no different on either side.  We sit back today and find it easy to deprecate the Union cause, at least as it relates to slavery and race.  We can easily point out the casual racism of everyone from the soldiers all the way up to Abraham Lincoln.  We pessimistically say that the Emancipation Proclamation was little more than a solid military strategy.  We firmly state the truism that the Civil War was not a war to abolish slavery any more than World War II was fought to stop the slaughter of the Jews.  Today we say, accurately, that the Civil War was a war to preserve the union, and nothing more.  We know that Lincoln would have preserved the institution of slavery if it meant saving the union.  But the people fighting the war did not understand it that way in 1861.  They did not think it was about the country as a whole.  They thought it was about one thing, and one thing only: ending slavery.  There are many documents from news paper articles to personal letters that support this.

One important distinction that must be made when we are discussing a war to end slavery.  The war to end slavery did not mean a war for abolition.  For many people, the war to end slavery was more about a war to end the compromise of principles, the end the betrayal of people and their ideals, ending the cruelty and the slow yet painful erosion of what was fought for and won in 1776.  This was evident in the role taken on by the blacks during the Civil War.  Many fighting alongside whites to achieve the same victory, and many taking on leadership roles in the fight when allowed.  They fought to attempt to realize the dream that was promised after the Revolutionary War -- freedom.

So what does the flag of Dixie mean?  Or even the Second National Flag of the Confederacy?  It means what you perceive it to mean.  In 1865, it held an entirely different meaning to people than it does today.  There is no way for us to recapture that feeling, that moment in time the way they did in 1861 when their world was turned upside down by people in suits fighting over the rights and humanity of the people who were very much unaware of what was happening.  The best we can do is try and remember what it felt like when the towers fell, and make the leap that 1861 must have felt something like 2001.  So when we look at Dixie and think it stands for racism, that it means treason, that it is a symbol of hatred and hope.  That the stars on the blue crosses stand for every ideal of freedom and liberty for white men, and oppression for blacks, or that the red field symbolizes the blood of 671,000 Americans who went to war in order to try and preserve their ideal of liberty... you are right.  Because at the end of the day, flags are symbols.  And much like a song, they represent to you what you put into it -- and what you take out of it.  But the one thing that all the flags of the Confederacy stood for, and that the ol' Stars and Stripes still stands for is the freedom for you to make that assessment on your own.  They stand for the freedom for you to be offended, or not to be offended.  They stand for your right to wear the rebel flag t-shirt, or for WalMart to not sell clothing with the flag on it.

This country was founded as a "great experiment in democracy" by our founding fathers.  Many of us will tell you, "it isn't a democracy and never was," and while that is true - it does not change the fact that every time our government tells someone "you can't do that" or "you can't say that" or "take down that flag because it is offensive" -- the experiment fails just a little bit more.

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working a Master Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

American History 101: Today in American History The War of 1812 06/18/1812

The War of 1812 is the oft forgotten war between the United States and Great Britain that spanned 1812 through 1815.  On June 1, 1812, President James Madison sent a message to Congress with a list of grievances against Great Britain.  While Madison did not ask for a declaration of war, Congress did so anyway.  Congress took four days and voted 79 to 49 in favor of war.  This marked the first time the United States of America declared war on another nation, and this was the closest Congressional vote on the subject in history.

Many historians have referred to the War of 1812 as the Second War for Independence.  But it was so much more than that.  If it were simply that, we'd be British citizens again.  The United States did not win the War of 1812 by any reasonable measure.  In the end, the Treaty of Ghent returned all captured lands (mostly lands captured by Great Britain) and did not address any of the issues that pushed the United States into war with Great Britain.  After Ghent was signed, the United States celebrated because it was the first time it had gone toe-to-toe in a major conflict with another country and it did not lose out of hand.  In spite of the White House being burned to the ground, and Washington being captured -- in the end, it was a draw and America embraced not losing.

There were a couple of major issues that caused the United States to declare war with Great Britain at a time in which the United States had very little military might.  One of the biggest issues was British impressment of American sailors on the sea.  The American naval force was small and weak at this point in history.  And Great Britain claimed that British sailors were defecting to American vessels and they wanted their sailors back.  In response to this issue, Great Britain would simply seize American ships and take claim the sailors as part of the Royal British Navy.  Great Britain was right -- there were British sailors on American ships.  The United States held the belief that anyone had the right to become and American citizen.  Great Britain did not recognize naturalized Americans as American citizens.  And the British took sailors indiscriminately.  The British took everyone with no regard to their citizenship.  They took American and British sailors, and impressed them into service in the British navy without any right to do so.  The United States made multiple and continuing efforts to curb this behavior, but was really powerless to do so.

The next major issue was the British interference with American expansionism.  America wanted to expand westward.  The Louisiana Purchase of land from France in 1803 gave Americans a new road west.  The largest single expansion in American history excited and charged the country in a major way, and Americans were westward ho.  The problem was that, in spite of France giving the land to the United States, the Native Americans stood in the way.  And before Andrew Jackson (who was a celebrated hero of the War of 1812 before he became President) signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that lead to the Trail of Tears, Americans were clashing with Native Americans at every turn as they pushed west.  The United States began forcibly pushing Indians off their land, but met with resistance.  And that Indian resistance was fueled with British support.  The British were thought to have actively supported Indian raids with the Winnebago, Shawnee, Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo and Delaware tribes against the United States.  When you add that to the British and their insistence that there be an Indian Neutral Zone that would cover what is modern day Ohio and Indiana, tensions were running high.

The United States had repeatedly told Great Britain to stay out of its affairs, but the British barely recognized America as a sovereign nation in spite of its great trade relationship until about 1806 when President Jefferson signed the Embargo Act which cut all trade ties with Britain.  This essentially crippled the American economy and created a lot of strain an American trade abroad.  Great Britain had been at war with France on a continuing basis for some time, and in 1807 Great Britain introduced a series of trade embargoes, blockades and restrictions that were meant to choke trade going to and from France.  When you combined Jefferson's Embargo Act with the British trade blockade, the United States exports dropped over 200% over a three year period.  By 1812, the United States had to do something -- so they declared war to help save their own economy.  

In 1812, Madison was gambling that Great Britain would not be able to fight a war on two fronts -- and they'd have no interest in doing so.  Madison was wrong.  Madison worked on the assumption that the state militias would come together and seize the Canadian territories that he coveted.  However, in 1812 the army consisted of fewer than 12,00 men.  Congress authorized the expansion to 35,000, however few signed up.  The United States Navy was outnumbered by the Royal British Navy by 50 to 1.  The first year of the war went very poorly for the United States.  However, by the middle of 1813 the United States military began to grow and push back on the invading British forces.  And with the abdication of Napoleon in 1814, the British could finally send a veteran force to North America.  Unfortunately, the United States was no longer a small force of push overs.  But just as the American military began to show signs of life, a serious blunder occurred.  The American Navy had grown substantially, and began to engage the larger, more powerful British Navy in epic battles on the water.  The United States felt that it could break through the strong British blockage of the east coast, and moved to do so off the Chesapeake Bay in August of 1814.  The offensive mounted by the Americans was quashed, and the resulting British offensive on the Chesapeake led to the British attacking and seizing Washington.  During the sieged on Washington, the British burned down the White House, the capitol building and the naval yard.  It was during this battle that the poem that inspired the Star Spangled Banner was penned

But the United States Navy fought the British Navy to a draw in the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, and continued to push back on the British ground forces until Great Britain tired of the war.  The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814 but word of its signing was slow to make its way to America and fighting continued throughout early 1815.  With the return of the lands and the British retreating from the continent, the biggest losers in the war were the Native Americans.  They suffered the largest lose of life as a percentage of population.  And they were left without anyone to defend and assist them in North America now that France and Great Britain had been run out of town.  After the crushing defeats at Thames and Horseshoe Bend, they were left at the mercy of the Americans who had shown their colors already regarding the Indians.  Many historians agree that the War of 1812 precipitated and hastened things like the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the large scale removal of Indians from all lands in North America.  The War of 1812 also held significance for Bermuda and British ruled Canada, in that Great Britain moved in and built a large presence in these areas because of the conflict.

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working a Master Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Today in American History: National Iced Tea Day 06/17/2015

Today in American History: National Iced Tea Day - 06/17/2015

In fact, not only is June 6th of every year National Iced Tea Day, but June has been earmarked as National Iced Tea Month in America.  Of course, no one would fault you for not knowing this, it is after all, an unofficial kind of holiday.  But, it is one worth celebrating nonetheless -- the drink we know as iced tea today originated here in the United States.

Americans did not invent tea, of course, we brought it over from our mother country, Great Britain during colonial times.  And the origins of tea go back centuries to the ancient Chinese.  But the history of tea in this country go back to day one.  Tea has, of course, played an integral part in our history, from the early days of "tea time" to the Boston Tea Party itself, America has always loved her hot tea.

Early Ice Cutting by Tudor's Company
However, before you could have Iced Tea, you needed ice.  And ice did not begin to become prominent until the early 1800's when New Englanders began to cut large chunks of ice from ponds and lakes while they were frozen in the winter and insulating it in underground cellars with sawdust so they could use it during the summer months.  This was, of course, used for meats primarily -- but the crafty New Englanders threw a few small chunks into their tea and were the very first to sip what we now know and love as iced tea.

But in the south, there were no frozen lakes and pond to get ice from.  Nothing froze over!  It was not until the turn of the 19th century that northern states had perfected a method of insulating and preserving ice in such a way that it could be shipped.  Frederic Tudor was the New England ice magnate who perfected the practice of cutting ice from lakes, preserving it and shipping it to the south -- and then all over the world.  During the 19th century, the United States became the leader in shipping ice all over the world thanks to Tudor.  And once Tudor was able to ship ice to the south, the souther states embraced it and made iced tea its very own.  Just like music and meat, the south wasn't content with simply throwing ice in a drink and calling it a day.  The southerners began to create concoctions that contained alcohol that harken more towards a modern day Long Island Iced Tea than the popular Lipton black tea variety we consume in bulk today.  

Once tea had gone on ice, Americans en masse began experimenting with different flavorings and alcohol drinks.  The south gave us the "Sweet Tea" that we all know and love today, and even northern cities gave us classics like the Philadelphia Fish House punch.  The Philadelphia FIsh House Punch tended to be a combination of iced tea, cold water, sugar, fruit and rum.  These days the recipe does not actually contain tea, just like the Long Island Iced Tea does not have any tea in it.  One of the most popular tea-based drinks to come out of the south was Regent's Punch.  A good Regent's Punch contained green tea, rum, brandy, sugar, champagne and various other types of liquor.  It packed quite a "punch" indeed!

Non-alcoholic tea-based drinks did not begin to gain popularity until the late 19th century, which is when the southern masterpiece "Sweet Tea" began to really catch on.  That recipe was first published in the Housekeeping in Old Virginia cookbook by Mario Cabell Tyree.  During the early 20th century, iced tea got a boost from the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis.  While the 20 million visitors walked around the hot, humid fair they sipped iced tea and brought a love for the cool and refreshing drink back to their homes all over the country, and the world.  But it was not until prohibition kicked in during the 1920's that iced tea became the true staple of an American Summer as the average American looked to the non-alcoholic drink to cool its overheated soul.

Another boon to the popularity of iced tea was the ever growing number of tea plantations in India, Ceylon and around the world.  This made the cost of importing and purchasing of tea leaves, particularly black tea, continue to drop during the 1920's and 1930's.  So even as green tea was immensely popular pre-1930's, during World War II
Classic Tennessee Tea
the trade routes with China were cut off and the country became evenly split between black and green tea because of cost.  After the war, black tea sales continued to climb as trade routes opened up again.  Simply put, Americans seem to prefer black tea.

According to the Tea Association of the United States, over 85% of tea that is consumer in America is iced.  So whether you like your tea with a good Tennessee Tea (that's Jack Daniels and iced tea) or just over ice with a twist of lemon, you are in good company partaking in this 200 year old tradition!

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working a Master Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

History 101: Is Religion the Cause for The World's Worst Wars?

Some would say that being a Christian today is to paint a target on your back.  I think it might be more accurate to say that religion, on the whole, is under attack.  Is that an over-statement?  Maybe, it really depends on your perspective.  We live in a time when Christians are attacked and persecuted in the Middle East, when Jews in Europe feel unsafe because of the approaching threat from ISIS and people are fleeing the out-of-touch church by droves.  Recently, Dr. Ruth Westheimer was on the Howard Stern show and said, “I thought that after 1948 everything was going to be alright.  The war was over, Israel was our new land – everything was fine.  I was so na├»ve.”  And she was.  There has never truly been peace in the Middle East – not since 1948, and not before that.  Many people point to a number of reasons why peace has never been achieved in that region – and by extension, throughout the world.  And a growing number of people point the finger squarely at religion and religious extreme groups as the core cause of war, death and tragedy throughout history.

This is patently ridiculous.  There is no disputing that millions of people throughout history have been persecuted, tortured and murdered in the name of Allah, God or whoever’s glory the people claimed to be fighting for at the time.  Most people will point to the Crusades as the big example of Christians murdering, pillaging and looting their way to a greater glory under God.  And while the Crusades are not a well-defined set of wars, instead they are a series of wars fought by people who wanted to preserve Christianity and did so for a variety of reasons.  Not the least of which was power over Europe, but I will give on the Crusades and say they were a religious set of wars.  The best estimates put the death toll of all the Crusades at roughly 3,000,000.  That is surely a great number of dead.  And the number of tortured, raped and pillaged simply cannot be estimated considering the Crusades stretched for roughly 500 years.  So that puts us at 3,000,000 dead in the name of God.

Another lesser known war that was fought in the name of religion was the Huguenot Wars (aka The French Wars of Religion).  These wars lasted from 1562 through 1598, and were principally fought between the French Catholics and the French Protestants.  The conflict arose because of a disagreement based in theology and how it related to the rights of the Huguenots (Protestants) to worship.  Although there is some debate as to the exact end of the wars, and some scholars are inclined to include the rebellion in 1629 with the French Wars of Religion, by 1598 the Huguenots were afforded the right to worship as they wished.  While the death toll here is also difficult to estimate, most put it at 2,000,000 to 4,000,000.  Let’s err on the high side and say 4,000,000 for the Protestant God.  That brings us to 7,000,000 dead in the name of God.  For you history buffs out there, it is worth noting that England fought on the side of the Huguenots – further complicating the historical fighting between England and France.

But surely there were more than 7,000,000 killed in the name of religion – right?  Of course there were.  History records The German Peasant’s War (1524-1525), The Battle of Kappel in Switzerland (1531), The Schmalkaldic War of the Holy Roman Empire (1546-1547), The Eighty Years War (1568-1648), The Thirty Years War of the Holy Roman Empire (1618-1648), the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (England, Scotland, Ireland) (1639-1651) as The European Wars of Religion.  And you can include the Scottish Reformation, the English Reformation, the Irish Confederate Wars plus even the Nine Years War (1688-1697) as religious wars if you want to cast a wide net of causality.  All of these wars combined are responsible for roughly 8,000,000 deaths.  It is worth noting that the bulk of these are attributed to the Thirty Years War, and that I could not find any accurate accounting for the death toll in the Schmalkaldic War – either way, our Religious Death Toll is now at 15,000,000.

But these are just the wars… certainly there have been many killed because one religion is attacking another?  What about the bombings in the Middle East?  What about the Inquisition?  And what about events such as the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971?  It is estimated that 3,000,000 Hindus were killed during that conflict.  And what of the Holocaust from 1937-1945?  Six million Jews were persecuted and murdered.  What of that?

You cannot argue that these were not terrible events.  The continuing bombing in the Middle East is a tragedy and a travesty of humanity.  Wars such as Bangladesh and World War II are scars upon the world’s history that will never truly heal.  No one will argue that is not fact.  However the only thing that I mentioned in the previous paragraph that was religious in nature was the Spanish Inquisition.  During the Inquisition, approximately 45,000 people were tortured because of their religious beliefs – and only 826 are noted as resulting in executions.  You might wonder why I’m not discussing anything that occurred in the United States as religious persecution and murder.  Surely the Salem Witch Trials count, right?  Only a hand full of women were actually put to death during the Salem Witch Trials.  And these other events were not about religion. They were about power, greed, land and – in the end – human nature.

Someone with an eye on history will note that I have not yet discussed the death toll of World War I, World War II (yes, I mentioned The Holocaust but World War II was not about the Holocaust – remember, the Allies did not even know it was happening, and the Holocaust was not about religion), the American Civil War – no conflicts in Asia or anywhere outside of Europe and the Middle East for that matter.  No discussion about the ancient Roman Empire (whom we know persecuted Christians), or any other ancient civilization.  That is because there is no major religious undertone to any of these conflicts throughout history.  In fact, if we took the total deaths caused by the previously defined religious wars (15,000,000) and ranked it as one war it would rank as the 8th largest death toll tallied up in one war throughout history.  I will discuss the top 3 and their major causes – but here is a list of the top ten conflicts in history based on the total number of deaths.

  1. World War II - 1939-1945 - 60,000,000 dead (including Holocaust Victims, but not Second Sino-Chinese war)
  2. Mongol Conquests – 1206-1324 - 40,000,000 dead
  3. Three Kingdoms War – 184-280 – 38,000,000 dead
  4. Qing Dynasty’ Conquest of Ming Dynasty – 1616-1662 – 25,000,000
  5. Taipeng Rebellion – 1850-1864 – 20,000,000
  6. Second Sino-Chinese War – 1937-1945 – 20,000,000
  7. World War I – 1914-1918 – 17,000,000
  8. Religious Wars Throughout History – 15,000,000
  9. Lushan Rebellion – 755-763 – 13,000,000
  10. Russian Civil War – 1917-1922 – 9,000,000

So at 15,000,000 dead, it is obvious where the Religious Wars of History sit.  But if these other wars aren’t about religion, what are they about?  It is simple – power.  Looking at World War II, where it began and how it played out it is all about power.  Taking into account the amount of land conquered, and how the Mongols used the local resources -- their conquests were all about gaining land and resources.  And the Thirty Years War was about filling a power vacuum left by a crumbling dynasty.

The roots of the cause of World War II lie directly within the end of World War I.  World War I was fought primarily because Great Britain was not very accepting of its diminished role as a world power, and continued to flex its muscles into the 20th century throughout Europe.  Germany was (and still is) a landlocked country with a limited amount of natural resources.  The Germans wanted to reach out and have access to the natural resources to the east and south.  Great Britain stepped in and limited Germany’s access to key avenues and ports essentially forcing their hand.  Germany felt that Great Britain had no right to stop Germany from building the southern railway, and using the ports on the Mediterranean.  And by the time Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, Germany was already prepared to wage war.  It may be a common thing to blame Germany for World War I, but Great Britain pushed them into it.  And when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, Germany was taken to task.  Germany’s military power was destroyed, and they were forced to pay monetary reparations to every country in Europe that was destroyed during the war.  A young and angry Adolf Hitler thought that Europe had put Germany on the path to long term poverty and an unfairly diminished role in the world’s eye.  Hitler wanted to avenge the lost pride of Germany and return the Reich to its former glory and power.  Hitler felt that Germans were a superior race of people, so much so that he (in conjunction with others) created a backstory of Arians that linked to present day Germans to help justify their superiority.  By the time German tanks tolled through Poland in 1939, all of Germany was behind him and Hitler wanted to conquer all of Europe to make them pay.  The conquest of Europe itself, however, was not the primary reason for war.  Just as in 1917, Germany was a landlocked country.  In order for Germany to become the primary world power that Hitler envisioned, Germany needed more natural resources.  And those resources were east and south, in Russia and Africa.  In fact, before Hitler invaded Poland he signed a non-aggression pact with Russia to ensure that Russia would not intervene in Poland – which then set Russia up for Germany’s sneak attack in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa.  You will notice there is no mention of the Jews in the causality of World War II.  That is because the persecution and murder of millions of Jews had nothing to do with the war itself.  Hitler and “The Final Solution” were an after-thought, and add-on to the war effort.  In fact, it is thought by many scholars today that if Hitler has not concentrated so many resources on the extermination of the Jews as a side-project, World War II might have gone very differently.

The second largest group of deaths in an armed conflict belongs to the Mongol Conquests.  These conquests lasts for 121 years and resulted in the Mongols conquering from the east coast of Asia all the way west to the Mediterranean Sea over this time period.  Throughout this time period, a number of leaders and war mongers killed, murdered and maimed millions of different types of people.  But in the end it was all about power, conquest and land.  The Mongols did not care who you prayed to, or if you prayed at all.  In fact, as they conquered, they unified with the likes of the Turks, Merkits and Tartars along the way.  They did not simply pillage and move on, they ruled and worked with locals in many cases.

The Three Kingdoms War that occurred in 184 through 280 took approximately 40,000,000 lives.  This conflict resulted from the tripartite division between the Wei, Shu and Wu states after the Han Dynasty dissolved in China.  This period is one of the bloodiest in the history of China, and marked by chaotic infighting between various warlords throughout China.    There was a period of military cooperation between the three states from 220-263, but that fell apart when the Wei conquered the Shu and then in 280 the Jin conquered the Wu and united the three kingdoms under his power.  The bloodshed is marked during this period by a great deal of technological advances in warfare including the repeating crossbow and wheel barrow.  This is a very fascinating time period to study in-depth, and I cannot do it justice here.  But no matter how you look at it, it has nothing to do with religion.  It is about control, power and real estate.

While there have been millions of deaths caused by religious beliefs that are misconstrued, bastardized or otherwise used to justify taking lives – there is little evidence here that religion is the cause of all or even a large portion of the wars and misery throughout history.  Folks who read my BLOG with some regularity know that I primarily post about American History, not World History.  I posted this World History post because I felt that a discussion on the causality of war and death throughout history was worth starting, and even though my treatment of it is cursory at best, it proves the point.  By discussing four of the top ten most deadly conflicts in history, plus just about every major religious war -- we've seen that war, death and misery is not caused by religion any more than it is caused by vegetarians.  In fact, there is more evidence here that Asians are the cause for the majority of the worlds death and misery than religion -- and no one would make that claim.  People will take the most powerful thing they can think of at the time and use it as a weapon or justification in order to achieve their goals.  Just as in October of 2001, the United States government used the tragedy at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 in order to pass the Patriot Act.  In one fell swoop of the pen, the rights and liberties of the average American were denigrated and made inconsequential to the government if the government wanted to persecute an individual.  But rest assured, I will BLOG in detail about the Patriot Act one day.

Disagree? Have another point of view on this subject?  I’m always happy to interact!  Know an atheist who wants to put the world's evils in God's lap?  Share this post with them!  Need to respond to an uneducated God-hater on Facebook?  Share this BLOG!

Bruce holds a degrees in Computer Science, Biblical History and American History from Temple University, Liberty University and American Public University.  He is a member of the Historical Studies Honor Society and the Saber and Scroll Society.  He has worked in educational technology for over 20 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Be on the lookout for Towering Pines Volume Two: The Sound and the Fury which is currently a work in progress.

Some of the Resources Used Writing This Article