From the Back of the Class | Issue 2
Temujin united the Mongolian tribes under one banner and was proclaimed Genghis Khan in 1206. I’m skipping quite a bit of terrific history here (including political intrigue, gruesome battles, daring rescues and Mongol sex) in order to tell an apocryphal story illustrative of the ingenuity and flexibility that allowed old GK to create the largest contiguous empire in human history. Having united the peoples of the steppe, GK turned his attention south to the Tangut Empire in north-western China, whose political machinations had been keeping the Mongols and their fellow tribes weak from in-fighting for centuries. This was a totally reasonable tactic of the Tangut considering that once they’d gotten their act together the Mongols pretty much ran rampant over much of Eurasia killing so many people that large areas of cultivated land grew thick once again with trees that absorbed 700 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and made GK one of the best environmentalists in history.
The Tangut were technologically advanced compared to the nomadic Mongols and lived in walled cities, a housing concept the Mongols considered fit only for looting and reducing to ash. When unable to breach the walls of a Tangut city with contemporary means, our hero used a clever trick. He sent a message to the starving people of the city that he would end his siege in exchange for a gift of one thousand cats and ten thousand swallows. Astonished by the unusual request but feeling pretty fucking tired of the whole “siege” thing, the fortress commander gratefully complied.
After the animals arrived in the Mongol camp, GK ordered his men to tie small cotton-wool tufts to the tail of each creature then set the tuft alight. When the panicked and frightened animals were turned loose, they made directly for their nests and lairs inside the city, igniting hundreds of fires. While the defenders were a little preoccupied with watching everything they’d ever known burn around them, GK’s warriors stormed the city and lived happily ever after. A similar tactic — involving a cat, some kerosene and a sugar-cane field — would be used by the CIA in 1960s Cuba, but more on that at a later date.