Welcome to Interviews with Famous Historical People. In this latest installment, I travel back to the heyday of one of history’s most notorious conquerors, Genghis Khan.
His ruthless campaigns stretched across East Asia through broad, ambitious strategies that established a vast Mongol Empire. But what else can we learn about the man? Back then, Mongolia was considered just one part of the ever-expanding empire established by Khan in 1206, lasting to about 1294. I understand his notoriety as a military genius and all, but there were also fewer people back then, so it couldn’t have been that hard. Of course, I’d keep such comments to myself during the interview.
You might be curious about my ability to time travel. I bought this single seater rocket ship that races through traversable wormholes to the time period of my choice. My “Time Rocket” salesman, a rather mad, wild-eyed eccentric scientist, warned me not to trifle with history.
I said, “I plan on doing no such thing.”
“That’s what they all say until they end up returning to a world no longer that of which they left behind.”
“This sounds awfully familiar,” I said, scratching my chin.
“That’s because we had this same conversation two days ago. You keep coming back!”
“Must be a glitch in the time space time continuum,” I stated before he slammed the top door of my rocket shut and told me to get the hell out of there.
Before racing back in time, I had to prepare for the interview. An obvious language barrier awaited, so I took a crash course in 13th century Mongolian. Piece of cake. I also read through dozens of history books to find out where Khan would be located when I arrived. I packed several gift offerings, a change of clothes, and some non-perishable foods for the trip.
With this entirely plausible backstory out of the way, join me as we talk to one of history’s greatest mass murderers or national hero, depending on how you look at it.
Back in Time
I arrived in a dark, desolate land somewhere in the year 1211. I figured the early stages of the Mongol conquests were an appropriate time to arrive unannounced and bewildered. My rocket was lodged atop a jagged mountain and smoking from the engine. Perhaps I was stuck in the past forever.
I wasn’t even sure what Khan looked like. There was never any definitive account of his appearance in any history book. I assumed, however, that he resembled nothing short of his portrayal in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). In that film, he wore ancient military garb, adorned with leather, fur, and medallions. And who could forget that kick-ass hat?
I ventured down the rocky mountain dressed as a Mongolian soldier. Regrettably, the costume shop where I purchased my tattered getup only sold these cheap Viking helmets. It would have to suffice, despite looking slightly out of place. There was no telling how far I’d have to venture through the ever-expanding Mongol empire to find the elusive Khan. Of course, his real name was Temujin. He had earned the more familiar moniker after being proclaimed leader of the Mongols in 1206.
I was somewhere in Central Asia, China perhaps, surrounded by mountains and a vast plain of sand and rocks. It was also nighttime. My feet hurt, and the whole ordeal seemed like a lot of work for a simple interview. Before leaving the 21st century, I had heard that 1980’s comedian “Gallagher” was performing at a club near me. I could have just talked to him!
As fate would have it, two Mongolian soldiers rode toward me from the distance. Their horses galloped wildly, leaving a trail of dust in their wake. I felt relieved but apprehensive. There was nothing more suspicious in this time than a soldier (or man pretending to be a soldier) without a horse or weapon. I pondered an excuse.
The men advanced in a fury with their glistening swords drawn. They demanded answers. In response, I displayed a bag of fake coins and asked to speak to their leader.
“I’m but a humble servant of our supreme ruler and would much like to speak with him.”
My dialect must have been off, because they immediately took me prisoner. I was whisked away to possible servitude, interrogation, or execution. But the odds were in my favor, even after a brief and unpleasant beating.
I was thrust into a lavish tent of the man himself, Leo Gallagher—I mean Genghis Khan. A wealth of flickering candles illuminated Khan’s opulent lair. I glanced up from my knees and saw a man seated upon a large bed, dressed in a fine robe that touched the ground. His curious, black eyes narrowed as he examined me.
Soldiers stood on both sides of me. I knew I’d face sudden death if I uttered the wrong word. I carefully opened my pelt carry bag and attempted to break the ice.
“Gifts, oh great one,” I began.
His curious, emotionless gaze continued unabated. Several women dressed in silk robes lingered around his bed. I tried to hide my awe of seeing the man for the first time. There were scars on his face above his Fu Manchu. He was surprisingly short and stocky. I wouldn’t have put him past five-foot six.
“Mr. Kong,” I began, with a stutter. “Sorry, Khan. I come bearing gifts.”
I presented the bag of fake golden coins and placed them at his sandaled feet. The next few items I was sure would win him over. I unrolled a Kathy Ireland swimsuit poster, circa 1995. It received extra attention from Khan and his guards. Next, I drew a a box of chocolates and a half pound of medical marijuana in a Ziploc bag.
Khan’s fierce eyes glowed in the candlelight. A guard handed him the coins and poster upon command. A tense silence filled the air. I pulled a tape recorder from my pocket and pleaded for a chance.
“Just five minutes of your time, Mr. Khan. It’s all I ask.”
The sudden grip of a nearby guard pushed me back to my knees. The jagged blade of his sword pressed against my temple. “Well, this is it,” I thought. “One lousy time traveling interview, and I’m a goner.”
Khan suddenly raised up his hand, displaying large, stony rings on each finger. The sword vanished from my peripheral. I waited in anticipation as he finally opened his mouth and spoke.
“Who are you?” he asked.
I answered that I was a traveler from a distant land.
He pointed to a floor cushion to the side and told me to sit. I complied as he asked what tribe I belonged to.
“One of the good ones,” I said. “Our allegiance is with you, Mr. Khan.”
He studied me intently with clear suspicion. “Do you know Jamukha?”
I recognized the name. Jamukha, lifelong friend of Khan, had betrayed him at some point, briefly defeating Khan’s army in a surprise attack. Khan regrouped and defeated Jamukha some years later. The times were rife with deceit and betrayal. Prisoners from the battlefield were often boiled alive to keep their spirits from leaving their bodies. I didn’t want that happening to me, so I chose a neutral path.
“I’ve heard of him,” I said.
“Of course you have,” he said with an apparent air of fondness.
“A few questions, if I may,” I began, getting to the point.
Khan held his hand out, silencing me. Onlookers gasped. “You dare to question me?” he asked. A guard struck me in the head. I fell to the ground amid their suspicious eyes. Things weren’t going so well. Khan waved his protective guards aside, as I resumed my spot before him.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked.
“Not really,” I admitted.
“And what do you want to ask me?”
There were several questions I had in mind. My head throbbed as I tried to choose the right one. “A lot of people from where I come from would love to know more about you.”
Khan leaned forward. “Such as?”
“Well, what it’s all about? All this conquest and slaughter must have a point.”
“I don’t know what you’re saying.”
I regrouped my thoughts. “Why do you fight?”
Khan leaned back, scratching his chin. A few women seated themselves around him on the bed. I heard the clanging of swords outside the tent. It was the sound of men training before the new dawn.
“Everyone fights,” he said. “Such a silly question.”
I held my tape recorder out. “And how many wives do you have?”
Khan let out a hearty laugh and turned to one of his robed advisors. They spoke quietly and then looked at me, amused. It wasn’t the good kind of amusement either.
“As many as I want,” he finally answered.
I didn’t want to press him, but curiosity got the best of me. “So you must have a lot of children by now. Is that important to you?” I felt like we were getting somewhere.
Khan looked at his men and advisors in near disbelief. He then returned his attention to me. “Why do you ask these things?”
“Because he is spy, dear emperor!” one of his snooty advisors interjected.
“A spy? No,” I said nervously. “I just want to know things. Unifying warirng tribes under one banner to defeat multiple dynasties is unheard of. Your expansion across Russia, China, and Eastern Europe is unprecedented. This slaughtering, pillaging, and ruthlessness has to mean something. Let’s start at the beginning.”
I waited for what seemed like an entirety. Their eyes were were upon me in mass confusion. I likely jumbled some words here and there, but I thought the message got through.
Khan lit a long pipe stuffed with the marijuana I had brought him. He puffed away and narrowed his eyes with what looked like deep contemplation. “I don’t understand. These places you speak of are not under my control, but I accept your wager.”
“I think you misunderstood me, Mr. Kh—“
“I have wanted this since I was a child. We grew up with nothing. My family was abandoned after my father’s assassination, left to scrounge in the forest like animals.” He then leaned in closer with a glaze in his reddening eyes. “You want to know how to conquer this world, strange traveler?”
“I do, sir,” I said, swatting away the thick smoke from his pipe.
Khan held up three fingers. “Patience, persistence, and prudence; the three P’s of success.”
I nodded in understanding. “Did you really kill your half brother when you were kids?”
Predictable silence followed. Khan stood up without response, spoke quietly with his advisor and then retreated to the corner of the tent with his groupies. He really was a short man in both stature and mannerisms.
The stern, lanky, mustached advisor approached me with some news. “The emperor insists that you train now for tomorrow’s battle.”
Panic swept over me. “No, you see, I’m not really a solider. I should get back home.”
The guards picked me up and dragged me out of the fancy tent and into the cold world outside. I observed an array of tents that stretched for miles. As they forced me toward a training pit with sword-wielding tribes, my thoughts turned to Gallagher and the great show I would miss if I didn’t get out of there.
Next time, I’ll just interview Mozart.