Despite all its good intentions, the children’s crusade against guns being spearheaded by some of the more vocal survivors of the February shooting deaths of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is beginning to resemble a previous crusade by children.
The Children’s Crusade of 1212 never succeeded in its stated goal of ridding the Holy Land of Muslims and ended badly for most of the participants. Many of those youngsters died before ever leaving Europe or were sold into slavery.
The current crusade is not likely to end quite as badly for those involved, but whether it achieves its goals is also rather questionable because of the vagueness of its intentions and the manner in which it is being conducted.
While the parallels of the two crusades are not exact, they are close enough that they may be somewhat instructive into what happens when passion and hysteria about a cause overcome good sense and rational thinking.
For those bereft of historical knowledge, the Children’s Crusade of 1212 was a bifurcated event led by two charismatic and well-spoken youngsters, Stephen of Cloyes in France and Nicholas of Cologne, Germany.
Both were peasants and likely illiterate, but both claimed to be on a mission from God to save Christendom by ridding the Holy Land of the infidel Muslims.
Stephen believed the children could win by force. Nicholas convinced his followers that merely showing up in the Holy Land would cause the Muslims to convert to Christianity.
Historical records are somewhat sketchy on these events, but it is clear that neither of these efforts were officially sanctioned by the church in Rome, as were crusades that came before and after 1212 and involved heavily armed men.
According to Steven Runciman, author of “A History of the Crusades,” Stephen of Cloyes “saw himself now as an inspired leader who would succeed where his elders had failed.”
Teens and pre-teens flocked to this visionary young man, believed to be only about 12 years old, as did adults who encouraged their children to follow him..
“It was easy for an hysterical boy to be infected with the idea that he too could be a preacher,” Runciman wrote.
Like Stephen, Runciman continued, Nicholas “declared that children could do better than grown men and that the (Mediterranean) sea would open to give them a path” to the Holy Land.
By the time the German contingent got to Rome, a number of children had died or returned home. Pope Innocent gave them an audience and congratulated them on their piety and efforts but “was embarrassed by their folly,” according to Runciman.
None of Nicholas’ followers made it to the Holy Land. What happened to Nicholas is unknown, but historical records indicate that some of the parents of children who did not return to Germany insisted that his father be arrested for encouraging his son. The father was later hanged.
The children following Stephen suffered numerous depredations en route to Marseille. When the Mediterranean did not part before them, as had been promised by Stephen, local merchants hired seven vessels to transport the group.
After setting sail, two of the vessels sank, killing all on board. The remaining five, by prior arrangement, were turned over to Arab slavers who took children back to Africa, where light-skinned slaves were especially prized.
Some of the parallels between the Children’s Crusade of 1212 and the current anti-gun crusade are rather obvious.
The Parkland kids leading the crusade seem to believe they are on a mission from God and that they can do what their elders have failed to do. A number of adults are encouraging them in that regard. They are encouraging these youngsters because they espouse much of the same anti-gun rhetoric as have they for years, but without success.
The passion and activism of the youngsters are to be applauded in an era when we of somewhat more seniority and experience often decry the lack of political interest among the young.
But just because some of the more vocal among them survived a mass shooting doesn’t make them instant experts or visionary leaders.
It is not so much what the Parkland kids are saying as how they are saying it that is counterproductive and is setting them up for failure.
Jeff Edwards, a Marine Corps and Iraq War vet, writing in his blog “Unprecedented Mediocrity,” raised an interesting point in that regard: “If the gun control advocates really want to engage the gun owners of America, they need to put a face on TV of any age that is willing to talk to gun owners and not at them.”
And there is the crux of the issue. The Parkland kids are talking “at” people, not “with” them.
When I was teaching at the University of North Georgia a few years ago, I don’t ever recall a student talking “at” me about a particular issue on which we disagreed.
I frequently would have conversations “with” students about political issues on which we had different opinions. But if any of them had tried to talk “at” me about an issue, like the Parkland kids are doing, I would tune out. I am not interested, nor do I have the time at my age, to listen to someone several decades my junior who has yet to experience much in life, tell me how I should think about a certain subject or how wrong I am about a particular political issue.
It’s the same way with my own children, all of whom are in their 30s and have different political views than me. If they want to talk “with” me about a subject, I’m ready and eager to listen.
If they get to the point they are talking “at” me about a subject or telling me how wrong I am about something, the conversation ends right there.
As Edwards wrote in his blog: “Angry kids pleading with us to hear their case and see from their perspective will have my attention all day long. Kids telling me what’s wrong with me and that I have blood on my hands, well, I don’t put up with dawdling service or political speech.”
If the Parkland kids really want to make a difference, if they want this Children’s Crusade to succeed, they would be better served if they started talking “with” those of us willing to consider more rational solutions to violence perpetrated by people with guns rather than shouting “at” us about what they want us to do.
They also need to decide just what the issue is here for them, and for the rest of us who are willing to listen to reason.
If it’s more sensible gun laws, tougher background checks or more restrictive school security, we’ll listen.
If it’s abolishing the National Rifle Association and getting rid of the 2nd Amendment, well, that’s a crusade predestined for failure.
Ron Martz is Marine Corps veteran (1965-68), journalist and former educator whose commentaries appear monthly. He lives in Northeast Georgia.