Lo, it is nearly 350 years that we and our fathers have inhabited this most lovely land, and never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold the church of St Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples …’. Letter from Alcuin of York to Ethelred, king of Northumbria, 8 June, 793.
I’ve been catching up with the TV series, Vikings, watching series 1 and 2 all in one week. Like many others, I had been brought up to consider the Vikings as the epitome of barbarism. My Anglo-Saxon ancestors, no doubt, having some sway in that prejudice.
As a child I loved the Norse myths as expounded by Roger Lancelyn Green, and have fond memories of my father reading to me the exploits of the gods, Thor, Odin, Freya, dwarves, dragons and heroes; and to complete my initiation into the romance of the Norsemen, I would sit on my father’s knee when he was listening to Wagner’s Ring Cycle and follow the words of the libretto. Heady stuff for a six year old.
MGM and the History channel’s version certainly perpetuates the myth, while adding some human love interest and gentle family interactions in between the betrayals and factions; and of course the brutality is not spared as the actors seem to relish the fight scenes. It’s well done with a convincing authenticity.
The Viking invasion of Britain took place from 793–1284, the last of several waves of invaders, over a thousand years ago, and I asked myself how has the human race progressed in that time. I wondered how many lives have been lost in battles for land, for religion, and tribal internecine strife.
I started thinking about barbarity as this is a word that has been bandied around in recent times with regard to the Daesh in the Middle East and their vicious struggle to establish a caliphate and the battle to stop them. Even the Prime Minister of our country, John Key, has used the concept of standing up against barbarism to justify taking our troops into the battle zone, only to “train” Iraqi troops, of course.
My concern is that our government is buying into a lie and leading our nation into defending actions that are as barbarous as those it decries.
There are no good guys in war, only aggressors and victims. What difference does it make if the violence is a beheading or obliteration by a remotely controlled drone? Lives are lost for no purpose that can be justified.
The Vikings may have been barbarians, but modern man is no better, and at heart has not changed at all.
“They bound Edmund and insulted him ignominiously, and beat him with rods, and afterwards led the devout king to a firm living tree, and tied him there with strong bonds, and beat him with whips. …They then shot spears at him, as if it was a game, until he was entirely covered with their missiles, like the bristles of a hedgehog…When Ivar the impious pirate saw that the noble king would not forsake Christ, but with resolute faith called after Him, he ordered Edmund beheaded, and the heathens did so” Abbo of Fleury, Martyrdom of St Edmund, King of East Anglia.
There’s a whole web page that has compiled the numbers who have been killed in strife over the centuries, it doesn’t make pretty reading, nor does it inspire hope that man learns from the mistakes of history.
Just a few facts to ponder from our more recent history:
“In its report, the UN mission to Iraq says at least 5,576 civilians were killed and another 11,665 wounded from 1 January until the end of June. Another 1.2 million have been driven from their homes by the violence, it adds.
The pace of civilian deaths over the first six months marked a sharp increase over the previous year. In all of 2013, the UN reported just over 7,800 civilians killed, which was the highest annual death toll in years.
The fighting “has inflicted untold hardship and suffering on the civilian population with large-scale killings, injuries, and destruction and damage of livelihoods and property”, the UN report says.
It also documents human rights abuses by both sides of the conflict that may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes.
The UN said Isis and its allies had committed “systematic and egregious violations” against civilians, including killings, sexual violence, kidnappings, destruction of property and attacks on places of religious worship.”
‘Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue’
John Pilger wrote:
“Since 1945, more than a third of the membership of the United Nations – 69 countries – have suffered some or all of the following at the hands of America’s modern fascism. They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted, their people bombed and their economies stripped of all protection, their societies subjected to a crippling siege known as “sanctions”. The British historian Mark Curtis estimates the death toll in the millions. In every case, a big lie was deployed.”
“Nearly half a million people have died from war-related causes in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, according to an academic study published in the United States on Tuesday.”
Total military casualties from both sides 1.475 million
Total wounded from both sides 2.094 million
Total civilian casualties from both sides 4 million
Over 60 million people were killed, which was over 3% of the 1939 world population (est. 2 billion)
The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.
List of wars and anthropogenic disasters by death toll