God’s Battalions: The Case For The Crusades, by Rodney Stark
This book does something very useful in talking about the Crusades in a way that is not likely to make the author a popular fellow but which does a good job at explaining why it is that the Crusades were called as well as some of the more important aspects of the wars, including why it is that they eventually became less popular once they were undertaken by kings who taxed all their people rather than being paid for by the mortgages and efforts of the actual people engaged in fighting them. The author’s insights are mostly in the realm of reading primary and secondary sources well, but this serves the reader in presenting a sound but critical reading of sources that is based on the historical record rather than the fashionable follies and errors and stereotypes about the West and Islam that are passed around as if they are historical truth. It is not even as if this book is dishing out unpleasant truth. It is unflinchingly honest, but in a way that does credit to the moral courage of its author. This is the kind of book that could get an author like this death threats for saying obvious truths about the state of Islam during the Middle Ages as well as the fact that the early Middle Ages were not in fact a dark age at all.
This book is about 250 pages long and is divided into ten chapters. The author begins with an introduction that immediately points out his wholesome and proper desire to overcome the image of the Crusaders as greedy barbarians in armor. After that the author looks at the terrible record of the Muslim invaders of the Middle East going back to the seventh century (1). This is followed by a look at how the Crusades marked Christianity striking back (2), as well as a thoughtful critique of the view of Western ignorance as opposed to Muslim culture, in the appropriate air quotes (3). After that comes a look at pilgrimage and persecution (4), and how it was that crusaders were enlisted (5). The author spends a good deal of time about the travel east of the groups of the First Crusade (6), their bloody victories en route to the Holy Land (7), and the establishment of the four Crusader Kingdoms (8). After that comes a discussion of the struggle to maintain the Outremer (9), the failed Crusades against Egypt (10), as well as a conclusion about the abandonment of the crusading ideal, after which the book ends with a bibliography and notes.
Were the Crusaders God’s Battalions? Certainly Crusaders thought of themselves as such. If we think of this as ridiculous, the author points out the general moral superiority of Crusader conduct to that of Muslim jihadists during the period, giving the lie to claims that Saladin was some sort of gentlemanly and honorable person who just happened to be a flawed commander bested on multiple occasions by a leper king of Jerusalem who was heavily outnumbered and generally able only to exercise his wrath on undefended prisoners of war. Similarly, the author points out the embarrassing truth that so much of what is considered to be Muslim culture was the result either of the historical legacy of Hellenistic culture, Judeo-Christian culture, or culture from heathen Sabians, Persians, and Indians, and that this brilliant culture was under permanent threat from a not very cosmopolitan Muslim elite that eventually destroyed the greatness of dhimmi culture that had propped it up for centuries. The author also spends a good deal of time talking about the genuine cultural excellence of the West, a surprisingly unpopular task.