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The crusades are an important part of western history. For some reason or another the west has accumulated a negative perspective on the christian side of the crusades. People have lost a valid interpretation of the past events of what lead to the crusades and what the crusades actually accomplished. One myth goes that the crusades against muslims were called to convert them. The crusades primarily took place in the Holy Land, Spain, and eastern and central Europe against the Ottoman Turks. These areas were previously Christian and were lost to Islamic conquest. Another myth goes that the religious motivation for the crusades was insincere and was really about greed and power. A medieval crusade was understood to be a particular type of warfare and must meet certain qualifications before it was carried out. For a war to be considered a crusade, the cause had to be just and holy. A crusade could not simply be carried out for selfish reasons. In response to Seljuk turkish conquest in Syria and Anatolia against the Orthodox Christians in the Byzantine Empire, Pope Urban II before he called the First Crusade was aware of the sufferings of the eastern christians. In addition western Christians were concerned for the safety of christian pilgrims through Seljuk territory to the holy land of Jerusalem. At this time, Christians had a crucial decision to make with three different types of perspectives to take against the growing invasion of Islam. Medieval Christendom could have taken the pacifism approach, the just war method, or the realism perspective.

Pacism would not work in the crusades because Islam had been invading and raiding Christian lands for centuries. Rome had been attacked a multiple of times, Mecca never. At the beginning of the first crusade, around two thirds of the known Christian world had been taken by Islam. Places such as Spain, North Africa, Anatolia, the holy land, eastern europe, and sicily had all been conquered. Christians living in muslim controlled lands were called Dhimmis and declared as second class citizens. Oppression of christians forced them to pay higher taxes and have no rights to property. A special Jizya tax was placed on all non muslims in Islamic states. Failure for Christians to pay the Jizya tax would result in enslavement, death, or imprisonment. During their tax pay day they were forced to attend a ridiculing ceremony where they would pay and be beaten. Christians were not allowed to build churches and churches were turned into mosques. Christian women and children were sold into slavery. Christian children were forced into slavery and trained as Mamluks and Janissaries. These types of slaves were slaves trained and used to fight in wars. Christian women were sold as booty to be made muslim wives and concubines. These instances were not just performed discreetly but were mandated laws. Christians were not allowed to worship in peace and were constantly prosecuted. They were not allowed to pilgrimage. Pacism is defined as “War is always wrong, there is always some better approach to the problem than warfare.” (p. 244) Pacifism would slowly destroy christianity because a life of christendom would be too hard for any group of people to follow. Christians could not simply allow muslims to take over and accept the peaceful approach.

Just War during the crusades is the only appropriate option for Christians. Christians could only partake in warfare if the cause was justified. Christians would not be able partake in the misdeeds of war such as killing and destruction if they could not justify it within their mind and body. War takes a toll on the soul and christians would need a boost in morale if they were going to fight. How could Christians justify war when there is violence committed and innocent lives lost. Just war gives them a reason and the means to wage war. There were three things that needed to happen for it to be a crusade. The classic Just-War Theory has its origins in Christian theology. Saint Augustine is usually identified as the first individual to offer a theory on war and justice. The Saint referred to the Bible and regarded some wars as necessary to amend an evil. Saint Thomas Aquinas revised Augustine’s version, creating three criteria for a just war: the war needed to be waged by a legitimate authority, have a just cause, and have the right intentions. “The goal of just war theory is to restrain both the incidence and destructiveness of warfare” (pg. 31) The moral justifications for a war are expressed in jus ad bellum; whereas, the moral conduct of the war is expressed in jus in bello. The Just-War Theory is a set of rules for military combat. The crusades combined Saint Augustine’s Just War Theory with the idea of pilgrimage. The crusades had to have just cause. War had to come under the abuse of the innocence or must be unprovoked. A crusade could only be acted out if it was in response to acts of aggression. The crusade had to be defensive. It could not be to gain new lands but had to be used to recover lost land. The third maxim for Augustine is a legitimate authority had to sanction the war. A general, emerorer, or just ruler of society had to declare war. The last rule for just war was there had to be the right intent. War could not be waged on selfish indulgences but their heart had to be in the right place.

The realistic perspective to the crusaders would have understood the war with Islam would never end. The overall Islamic conquest would continue until there was a reformation within the Islamic community. Islam would never stop its conquest of converting other communities through death and destruction. It is at the very heart of Islam itself. It is found in the Quran to conquest. Muhammad himself was a waring conqueror. Realists within the crusades would understand the foundation of Islam is a threat to Christians everywhere. Realism is, “ The drive for augmenting one’s own security, power and resources is the prime mover in the realist’s reality.” (p. 223) The realist approach to the crusades would be to attack muslims until Islam ceases to exist. There would be no moral requirements because they would believe themselves to be threatened. Crusaders would wage an all out war on Islam to not only gain back the lands christians had previously lost to muslims, but to also take the lands of muslims everywhere. Islamic lands would be taken in an effort to completely wipe out any threat imposed on Christianity. The realist alternative would never work because the crusaders had no where near the resources or manpower to wipe out Islam. It also goes against the morality of the Christian teachings and the Bible. There are issues with what would be done with the women and children of Islamic communities. What would be done about the innocent unarmed muslim civilians? Crusaders would not be able to follow through with an extinction of muslims because it would go against their warrior code.

Crusaders understood to embark on a crusade was extremely expensive and dangerous. Many had families and property they left back in europe. Crusaders knew the prospect of traveling a vast distance to wage war in a foreign country would put all that they had in jeopardy.

“The rise of the Ottoman Turks and their successful campaigns to the West drastically changed the stakes in the crusading movement. It was no longer far away Palestine that was in danger but Western Europe itself. Crusaders had always seen themselves as fighting a defensive war, defending the Christians in the East, Jerusalem, or the faith. Now they were called on to defend themselves. Henceforth, the crusades were no longer wars to expand Christendom but desperate attempts to slow the advance of Islam. Crusading had become a matter of simple survival.” Thomas Madden New Concise History of the Crusades, p. 195


Orend, Brian. The Morality of War. Broadview Press, 2006.



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