What’s in a Name: Causes and Casualties of the First “Crusade”

What’s in a Name: Causes and Casualties of the First Crusade

By Christine Marfia

WRT: A Guide to First-Year Writing at Grand Valley State University, 6th edition, edited by Julie White (Grand Valley State University, 2007)

Introduction: When we mention a “crusade,” what are we talking about? Most Americans know—or think that they do. President Ronald Reagan called for a “crusade for freedom” in a 1982 address. His wife, Nancy Reagan, “crusaded” against drug use later in the decade. To the average American, a “crusade” has positive and even romantic connotations: the quest of stalwart heroes for justice. Even when historians trace the word back to its origins, they tend to concentrate on the good intentions of the First Crusade. Scholars expound upon the piety of those who, with swords in hand and God in heart, set out to free the Holy Land in His name. However, this rosy emphasis misses the war’s darker side: the agony and wholesale slaughter of thousands. To grasp the full meaning of the term “crusade,” we need to understand the First Crusade (1096-1099 C.E.) not only for its allegedly pious motives, but also for the suffering of its victims.

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