A Lesson in History from a 17 Year Old

  1. Please read this essay written by a 17 y/o high schooler on his thoughts on Iraq. This was also published in a Saudi newspaper.

    Aftermath of War: A Lesson in History
    By Nick Robertson

    PORTLAND, Oregon, 3 March 2003-Suppose Islam lost a great war. What would the consequences be? Some believe it will cause terrorism to erupt, disrupt the globe's largest reserves of oil-the life-blood of the modern age-and plunge the Arab world into an age of fanaticism and darkness. But as we verge on a controversial war with Iraq, there is a fascinating-and surprising-lesson to be learned from another great battle in history.

    On May 28, 1453, two of the greatest armies in the world ended an epic 52-day battle on the border of Europe and Asia. On one side the 100,000-man army of Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire and the forces of Islam were attempting to capture one of the world's greatest cities-Constantinople (now Istanbul). On the other side, behind the supposedly impenetrable walls of the city, were the defensive forces of the west-the 10,000 man force led by Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI.

    Dragases. The battle for Constantinople is considered one of the greatest and most important confrontations in history.

    Constantinople was one of the most vital possessions of the Christian world. The city was the capital of the East Roman-or Byzantine-Empire ever since the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great selected it as his new capital in 324 AD. Constantinople was the gateway between Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam.

    The city rested by the Bosporus, a watery straight which was the most important artery of international trade. Trade ships from Venice, Genoa, England, France, and much of Europe traveled past Constantinople to the eastern Black Sea ports which connected the European continent to the major trade centers of India and China. The wealth that traveled on this route built the economic power of the Western world-a 15th century version of today's globalization of trade.

    As the battle for Constantinople began, the Ottomans unleashed man's newest weapon, artillery, to breach the city's massive walls. Shortly after the shocking breakthrough, the Ottomans accomplished what had been deemed impossible for over a millennium-the fall of Constantinople. There was horror and disbelief as the forces of Islam routed the Western army. Panic swept across Europe. The vital trade routes to the East were now under enemy control, and an alien army with strange beliefs threatened to march through Europe.

    Was this the end of the Western world? Quite the opposite. What seemed at the moment a knockout punch to Europe ended up causing great change. It literally forced the discovery of a new world.

    Constantinople had been Europe's center for intellectual studies for centuries. Its leaders promoted and encouraged classical studies and art. Many who lived inside the city's walls devoted their lives to studying and preserving history's classical past. When the Ottomans conquered the city, many of these intellectuals fled to Italy. This flight from war was directly responsible for the acceleration of one of the most important periods in Europe's history, the Renaissance.

    Classic ideas, locked inside the walls of Constantinople for centuries, broke free and spread out across Europe. Isolated city-states began to gradually dissolve. For the first time in history, nation states-like Spain and Portugal-emerged. The Renaissance brought Europe into an age of light after an age of darkness.

    It also changed the shape of the world.

    Since Constantinople's fall blocked overland trade routes to the spice markets of South and East Asia, the emerging nation states needed new routes to the riches of the East. The Great Age of Exploration began. Brave men such as Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Magellan circumnavigated the globe to find new routes across vast, unknown oceans. In the process they discovered the world-and many of its secrets, treasures and mysteries.

    Now we face another important battle. Hopefully it can be avoided. But in the long run the result of a victory for the US and its allies may not cause havoc and a new dark age in the Arab world as many fear. As with the battle for Constantinople, it may in fact cause the opposite.

    If liberated from their intellectual and physical imprisonment, the Iraqi people may well take full advantage of their new-found freedom. Iraq has the potential to become the center of a Renaissance for the Middle East. With a new regime focused on human rights and freedom, and with the financial security of 100 billion barrels of oil beneath their desert, a new Iraq can lead the Islamic world into an age of cultural and intellectual renewal. From repression can emerge an age of ingenuity and invention worthy of a country that was once the cradle of civilization.

    Repression creates anger. Anger with little hope of change creates radicalism. Radicalism can destroy civilizations. The liberation of Iraq could break this dangerous cycle. Like the movement of Constantinople's intellectuals coming into Italy in 1453, a liberated Iraq's influence on the people throughout the region could be tremendous.

    As with Europe in the 15th century Renaissance, Iraq's people could begin to focus on the freedom, dignity and worth of the individual, man or woman. These ideals would spread through the Arab world.

    The fall of Constantinople triggered some of the greatest changes in human history. Though both sides suffered great human loses, defeat at the hands of the Ottomans ushered in Europe's great age of reason and the exploration of the world. The same might well occur in the Middle East as a post-Saddam Iraq leads the exploration of a brave new world of human freedom.

    Nick Robertson is a 17-year-old junior at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon, US. He can be contacted at: Narobertson@aol.com. This article was reprinted with permission.
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  2. 15 Comments

  3. by   Mkue
    "If liberated from their intellectual and physical imprisonment, the Iraqi people may well take full advantage of their new-found freedom. "- Nick Robertson
    _______________________________________________

    I like it. (he's only 17? )
  4. by   DebsZoo
    Excellent article, great insight for a 17 year old.
    I think we can ALL agree, no one is all out 100% for war................not one of us want to see our people in harms way, nor the people of any other country. Yet, as this young man points out, positive things can arise from a time of war. Loss of life is never a good thing.......well, in some people's eyes it is.....9/11 is evidence of this, along with the attacks overseas, on American intersts, in Israel and across the world, however, war is never gone into lightly, this I truly believe, and what can be done is evidenced by the past.
    This young man's article supports it.
    Thanks for posting it, Susy
  5. by   pickledpepperRN
    Extremely well written. Even now I cannot write nearly so well. Years of nurses notes with incomplete sentences have not improved my writing).

    Many people died. There was biological warefare in that war too. Bodies of those who died of the plague were catapulted over the walls of the city. Just imagine the fear of both soldier and resident of a city with fire balls and dead bodies. More dies of illness then violence according to one history book. I will have to get out my Will Durant books again.

    This young man will be well known if he chooses to. I hope he does!
  6. by   eltrip
    Good essay. A very different point of view. The most optimistic one I've encountered in a while. Definite food for thought!
  7. by   semstr
    Very well written, especially for a 17 year old young man.
    But, I can't compare Europe (with many different countries and leaders) to Iraq (one country, not occupied by a foreign leader, but by one of its own, although crazy as can be).
  8. by   JedsMom
    Extremely well written and thought out. Thanks for posting it.
  9. by   vettech
    Originally posted by semstr
    Very well written, especially for a 17 year old young man.
    But, I can't compare Europe (with many different countries and leaders) to Iraq (one country, not occupied by a foreign leader, but by one of its own, although crazy as can be).
    I think his point is one I've heard a lot lately - that a free and democratic Iraq could spark a rebirth of the region.

    Iran is on the verge of revolution as the 30-somethings have HAD it with the Theocracy there and openly desire Western goods and services. The new king of Jordan is very progressive and that nation could easily become a constitutional monarchy much like England. He's about as pro-West as he can be and still remain in power. Bahrain and Quatar are very progressive nations as well. Yemen is barely a coherent government so they will be harder to change. The Saudis and Syrians are so strong that they will require real pressure to change.
  10. by   semstr
    sorry, guys, but I can only say dream on!
    Must the middle-east, with their own culture and heritage, become like "us in the west"?
  11. by   Q.
    Renee,
    I'm not quite sure I understand you. It seems to me that you're saying that unless a people is under a dictatorship or repressed, they are "like us?"

    Perhaps that is where we disagree. I believe that people, regardless of their culture, heritage, or spot on the map, are entitled to freedom: freedom of expression as well as basic human freedoms. If seeing the direct opposite in the middle east and wanting them to be free from a dictator is trying to make them "like us" so be it. I'm not into human rights violations.

    The article that I posted in the thread "UK Opinion Changing?" (The Guardian) describes what I feel we will uncover more of over time. And when that happens I feel that the entire world will be embarassed that we didn't do something earlier.
    Last edit by Susy K on Mar 7, '03
  12. by   semstr
    No, Suzy that is not what I meant. I absolutely agree with you on the human rights violations.
    No, what I mean, is the remark of Vettech, about countries in the middle east being very western orientated.
    I don't think it is good for "them" to put "our" cultural-, ethical- and moral-, juristical-, christian- way of living on.
    They have so many good things themselves, different from ours, but then again, even "we" in the west, are pretty different sometimes.

    But again, I agree on the human rights violations and speech of freedom and women rights and so on. But the last two points I wrote down here especially, are different.

    Plus I don't think bombing the hell out of Iraq, is really going to help people over there, getting more like the west. (when that is the goal) Kill that SOB, yes, right away, and I still don't understand, why that is not possible. But no killing of innocent people.
    They won't be grateful.
  13. by   vettech
    Originally posted by semstr
    No, Suzy that is not what I meant. I absolutely agree with you on the human rights violations.
    No, what I mean, is the remark of Vettech, about countries in the middle east being very western orientated.
    I don't think it is good for "them" to put "our" cultural-, ethical- and moral-, juristical-, christian- way of living on.
    They have so many good things themselves, different from ours, but then again, even "we" in the west, are pretty different sometimes.

    But again, I agree on the human rights violations and speech of freedom and women rights and so on. But the last two points I wrote down here especially, are different.

    Plus I don't think bombing the hell out of Iraq, is really going to help people over there, getting more like the west. (when that is the goal) Kill that SOB, yes, right away, and I still don't understand, why that is not possible. But no killing of innocent people.
    They won't be grateful.
    What I meant was that they desire what we have - freedom to chose our leaders, to worship as we see fit (or not worship for that matter), freedom to basically do as we please.

    Pro-west does not mean you surrender your culture. India, Japan, Germany and Turkey are all examples of democratic nations yet they retain their distinct cultures. Is there something wrong with people wanting western goods (computers, satellite dishes, dishwashers) or services (modern hospitals & schools)?

    As far as juristical and ethical issues are concerned, are you saying the current systems of jurisprudence in the Middle East are something you see as reasonable, fair and just?

    Killing Saddam alone will NOT solve the problem. He has far too many cronies who are just like him and would take power in a split second if given the chance. And I disagree with you. I think the people of Iraq will be quite greatful that we came to their aid. Especially those who have had friends or relatives tortured or unjustly imprisoned by that psychotic.

    And to your comment of the "killing of innocents". I am sad to say that non-combatants die in war. I'm sad to say that anyone has to die in war. But how many Iraqis has Saddam gassed, burned, shot or imprisoned? I know in my heart we will do everything in our power to avoid civillian casualties.
    How many innocents do you think Saddam will house in clearly military targets just so he can show the bodies to the press and cry about how evil America is?

    If there is a way to remove the Hussein government short of war, I'd love to hear it.
  14. by   Aussienurse2
    You can't just kill the man and think that this will solve the problem. You have to discredit him, in front of the Islamic fundamentalists who support him. You have to be sneaky, find out what he has done wrong in the eyes of Allah NOT the West. Then tell the people, back it up with the facts and let them decide what to do. The same applies to Bin Laden. Unless you find a way of dicrediting the leaders the people will make a martyr of him and the terrorist attacks increase. In short you have to think like a woman.

    Or maybe you could just feed them McDonalds and wait till they get too fat to fight?

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