The Glory of the Huns

But besides barbarities and looting, no matter how terrible they were, there was more to the conflict of cultures in the Chinese expedition. American general Wilson, a skilled and experienced soldier obviously unaffected by any "idealism", bears eloquent witness to this fact:

"Brigadier Richard Barrow, British Adjutant General, asked for my permission to destroy the beautiful porcelain pagoda which had stood on the brow of the hill overlooking the plains beyond for a thousand years, and was still as fresh in appearance as the day it was built. Amazed at the request which seemed to be made in the spirit of barbarism, I declared at once that I could not countenance the destruction of such a beautiful building while I remained in command of the joint forces. Desirous, however, of knowing what justification could be advanced in support of this strange request, I asked General Barrow why the British Minister wanted to destroy so notable a landmark. His reply was still more amazing, for he explained at once that if the Christians did not destroy this famous Chinese temple, the Chinese, who had destroyed many missionary churches, would conclude that their gods to whom the pagoda was dedicated were more powerful than the God of the Christians.

"A brief conversation followed, in which I stood by my disapproval of the proposition, but concluded with the remark that I should dissolve the Anglo-American command and withdraw our contingent to Peking at the early hour the next morning, after which the British Minister and the British command would, of course, be free to take such action as they might think proper. And there the matter rested that night, and the next morning till I took up my return march, but I regret to add that we had hardly got strung out in the plain below when the British contingent which had already undermined the foundation of the pagoda, exploded a charge of gunpowder under its base and toppled the world-famed structure over in irretrievable ruin."[24]

Rather than styling himself as someone like St. Clement who "labored to obliterate all places of the idol worship", General Barrow should have learned a lesson from Russian Orthodox villagers of the Volga region who, passing by a mosque, would make the sign of a Cross and explain to a puzzled foreigner that "Muslims have built this house for God, and respect is due to it".

Mark Twain in a pamphlet scornfully called "To the Person Sitting in the Darkness" quotes the Rev. Mr. Ament, of the American Board of Foreign Missions, who made a trip to China for the purpose of collecting indemnities for damages done by Boxers:

"I criticize the Americans. The soft hand of the Americans is not as good as the mailed fist of the Germans."[25]

Surely, it was not only the Kaiser who coveted the glory of the Huns.

[24] J.H. Wilson. Under The Old Flag. D. Appleton, 1912, p. 530
[25] Mark Twain. To the Person Sitting in the Darkness. A Pen Warmed-up in Hell, Harper & Row, 1972, p. 61