Thoughts on “The Taking of Jerusalem: An Eyewitness Report” by Umberto Eco

Painting by Émile Signol

So it is no secret that I am a huge fan of Umberto Eco’s work, and this short piece is a fine example of why. It is a piece of brilliant satire intended to demonstrate the absurdity of news commentary, particularly in regard to war coverage. The piece is written from the perspective of a war correspondent covering the taking of Jerusalem during the Crusades.

Typical of a news reporter, the reporter is always looking to get into the heart of the conflict.

My informants tell me that the attack is more interesting on the northwestern front, at Herod’s Gate. I will hop on a mule and try to get to the other side of the walls. And now, back to the studio,

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 255)

The correspondent then gives a play-by-play account, reminiscent of sports commentary. I have often noted that coverage of conflicts, as well as politics, often seem like sports narrative.

From my new position I have a clear view of Godfrey of Bouillon directing the final assault from the top of a tower. The first Christians are on the top of the walls. They are Luthold and Engelbert of Tournai, I’m told, Godfrey and the others follow them, the Moors are falling under their blows, others are leaping from the walls. Herod’s Gate is down—unless it was opened by our men already inside. The men of the Christian Alliance have entered the city on foot and horseback!

(ibid: p. 256)

Toward the end of the piece, Eco makes his most important point, in my opinion. We like to believe that the end of a conflict is the end of the war; this is not true in far too many cases. Sadly, the termination of a conflict is only the beginning of a longer war, that of ideals fueled by resentment and hatred of the other faction.

A monk I spoke to this morning pointed out that this massacre amounts to a defeat. If we are to establish a Christian realm in these lands, we ought to be able to count on the acceptance of the Muslim inhabitants and the tolerance of the neighboring kingdoms. But the slaughter has raised a wall of hatred between Moors and Christians that will endure for years, perhaps centuries. The conquest of Jerusalem is not the end but the beginning—of a very long war.

(ibid: pp. 258 – 259)

We still have this war mentality that permeates so much of our culture: war on crime, war on poverty, war on hunger, war on coronavirus, on and on. Our political debates are battles, this side vs. the other. Everything is broken down to my team against yours (which team are you?). If we are to survive as a species, we need to collectively change this attitude. Us and them no longer works. It has to be we, and that will only be achieved through cooperation and support.



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7 responses to “Thoughts on “The Taking of Jerusalem: An Eyewitness Report” by Umberto Eco

  1. We are in survival mode as I type this Jeff. Let’s see how all of this plays out!

  2. This is excellent, Jeff, as usual. The media coverage on the “war” against the coronavirus (and everything else IMO) is typical and unwatchable, for me, like everything else. And this big war is turning into little skirmishes reported, that people just eat up because we love the conflict. I want to stay informed but I’m bombarded by it. End of rant! Hope you are doing well. We are all hunkered down and entering into the delivery only mode. Take care 🙂

    • Hi Barb. First, I’m glad you all are well. Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe. I am with you in regard to watching news. I scan the headlines but avoid any the hype and sensationalism. Also, social media is such a toxic place again, and try as I may to hide politicized posts, they continue to show up in my feed with people bickering about which “team” is to blame. I’m torn between wanting to make sure my friends and family are well and completely shutting out all the noise. Finding balance is always the challenge. Anyway, sending positivity your way. Thanks for being you.