Historians spend years, sometimes decades, sifting through primary documents in their attempts to uncover the reasoning behind events in the past; both grand and trite. They’ll offer a host of explanations, descriptions, and analyses to explain why a war started, or how a people disappeared. They’re wasting their time. It all comes down to land. Just patches of dirt; patches of dirt with flora and fauna, and if you’re lucky, some iron ore.
To begin our exploration, let me tell you about the early history of a people, a well-documented history, which while it may be a little faulty in the details, still seems to get the larger view correct according to archaeological and historic study. Let’s talk about the Hebrews.
Their origin and actions are detailed in The Testament. Not the Old Testament. After all, they wrote the thing and so we’ll ignore those “New Testament” shenanigans. To them it was just The Testament; a testament of their activities. After a quick reword of the Sumerian creation myth, it starts when Abraham is spirited out of his home city of Ur, a city of alleged idolaters. What brought him out of Ur? That’s right, the promise that God was going to give him some really special land. Abraham was really into dirt, and after dividing up the dirt with his cousin Lot, he settled down and started the Hebrews.
Abraham wasn’t so bad on his own, but those progeny sure were. Throughout The Testament we’re shown the same, short dialog over and over again.
“You see those people over there?”
“Go kill them and take their land.”
Which of course the Israelites (as they’re known by this point) were quite happy to do. Whether the people were Ammonite or Canaanite, they each suffered the same destructive fate. Abraham’s great-grandson, Simeon, was particularly ingenious. When his sister Dinah was raped by inhabitants of Shechem, Simeon and his brothers forced them to convert to Judaism and circumcise themselves to make up for it. As if that would do anything for poor Dinah.
And the next day, while the Sichemites were lolling around in pain from their bloody genitals, Simeon and his brothers, in a show of filial strength, marched into town, killed all the men, enslaved all the women and children, and took the land. That’s right. In order to get some land they made some other men slice off parts of their penises, then killed them all when, lo and behold, slicing off part of their penises really hurt. All over a parcel of land smaller than Manhattan.
Of course, the Hebrews cum Israelites weren’t the only people interested in land. You’ve got your various Empires throughout history, too, and most people would put their expansion down to trading and taxes, or the like. But how do you get more trading and more taxes? Well, you kind of amble over to the people in another place, kill them, and take their land. Farmland was especially coveted, but Empires were also perfectly happy to just get some dirt, even if they couldn’t grow anything on it. Really it was just about getting land, useful or not. Everyone wanted land and would do anything or kill anyone to get it.
One of the most interesting ways to get land in history was devised by the Assyrians and improved upon greatly by the Mongols. Basically, you show up, threaten the most bloody murder imaginable, do that when people resist, and take their land. Then you hang around for a generation or two and get assimilated because, frankly, your own culture just isn’t that impressive. A bunch of guys who drink horse blood and fermented mare’s milk don’t have much on China or the Abbasids.
In order to get that land, the Mongols did some pretty interesting things, including killing every living thing from people to birds in a city and stacking their skulls in pyramids. It was supposed to be some sort of example to the next city they tried to attack, but really, when tens of thousands of smelly guys with bows and swords show up, it’s almost a given that you’re going to let them pass on. Of course the Mongols still had their obsession with skulls. During The Crusades, they put a ring of skulls around an entire city. You might think they wanted money, but they weren’t going to get that without land. So, of course, all the little birdies and kitties had to suffer for that.
The Crusades were an especially interesting case, because they weren’t just fought over regular dirt, they were fought over holy dirt. Of course, the Crusades were an incredible failure, but that failure was fortuitous because it cut off the European’s route to the Asian lands which were full of spices. As they had to subsist on gruel and oatmeal, the Europeans were really interested in spices; after all, gruel was pretty darn bland.
So, after a while, the Europeans tried to sail across the Atlantic to spice-laden Asia, but instead bumped right into America. When the Europeans discovered America, they basically had a continental orgasm; it was free land and tonnes of it. Sure, they had to kill some natives to get it, but that wasn’t too big a deal since the Europeans were rather well practiced in the fine art of killing people and taking their land. Everyone got into the game: the Spanish, the French, the English, and even the Dutch.
Speaking of the Dutch you’ve probably heard the story that the Dutch purchased Manhattan from a local tribe for the equivalent in beads of $26. That story gets it about as much as smashing your thumb with a hammer when you’re trying to nail something. The Dutch actually purchased Manhattan from several local tribes for various prices. Wouldn’t look too bad if the Dutch had, y’know, paid attention to the fact that a much more powerful nation had its sights set on North America (England of of course). In essence, the Dutch made complete fools of themselves to get 33 square miles of land. Which they lost. Nice going Nederlanders!
Of course the English had their own interesting ways of getting land. For instance, just showing up. If no one happened to be around at the time, well, it must just belong to England. That wasn’t enough for them though. When you need some forest, mountains, and rivers, you of course take some blankets from people infected with a really nasty disease and give them to a group of people proven to be not resistant to the disease. In some cases, the English did this for bits of land no bigger than a couple of acre because, well, there were beavers on those acres and those damn French traders might get there first.
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The modern era isn’t fraught with such examples though, mostly because we’ve all just learned not to take blankets from strangers. But you’d be wrong to think that just because we’ve developed modern life, people have stopped trying to get land. There’s only one example of modern history that rests on something other than land, and that’s World War I, which rests entirely on stupidity, but ended up being a major land grab anyway.
Its aftermath, what I like to call World War II, rests almost entirely on the subject of getting land. Germany, the country which started the ill-fated endeavour because they couldn’t compare the number of factories they had relative to the United States, expressly stated this in their policy of Lebensraum. The Germans didn’t want a living room with nice sofas and such, they wanted room to expand their population. Because their citizens couldn’t put on a rubber, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Then Poland. At that point, why not try on Russia for size.
And of course let us not forget cleaning out the land they already had. Germany built death factories so they could cleanse what was already in their possession of the undesirable: Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Retards, and assorted others. Then they built an economy on that so they could sell lampshades made of human skin and soap made from human fat. That’s German efficiency: take the land and make stuff out of the people you kill. The early Hebrews could have learned something from that if they had a time machine and their descendants weren’t being slaughtered by the millions. Hey, Abraham, they will number more than the stars, but they’re all going to get killed in really nasty ways.
These are just a few examples, but most of human history follows the same pattern. Whether it be Homo sapiens killing off Homo neanderthalensis, Hebrews taking a sliver of land by the sea, Normans snuffing out Britons, Maori shooting the hell out of the Chatham islanders, or Nazi Germany putting Europe to the flame, it all comes down to land. You might hear various things about Vietnam, or “no blood for oil,” but none of those things happen without the lust for land from one party or another. It all comes down to dirt, and the to the people who live on that dirt and the resources thriving on or buried under that dirt.
So the next time you read a history book, keep in mind that it’s all just an effort to grab land. When it all comes down to it, people are a lot like earthworms; we’re both just obsessed with dirt.