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The Great Siege of Malta by Alan Stang

Recently, I received a complaint from a now happily departed reader. He took issue with a recent piece in which I recalled the history of our centuries-long conflict with Islam. The reader said he has no interest in history. He is only interested in “now.” Specifically, he wants to hear about the Jews, nothing else. Happily, he announced that he is no longer with us, so there is no chance that these modest comments could offend his belligerent ignorance.

In one of his books, Czech novelist Milan Kundera has a character explain that when the Communists impose their version of Socialism on a country, they always destroy its history. They stop teaching it in the schools. They don’t talk about it in the media. They delete and pervert it in the movies. After a while, nobody knows it. Why do the Communists do that?

They do it because if you don’t know your history, you don’t know what you are; you don’t know who you are. Personally, if you don’t know your history, you have amnesia. Nationally, if you don’t know it, you are no longer a nation. You are people milling about in a wide spot in the road. You have no cohesion. You are disunited and easily conquered.

Now look at the people Jay Leno interviews on his “Jaywalks.” Look at the recent You Tube interview of people who had just voted for Senator Also Known As. They love Sarah Palin and thought she was his running mate. They can’t identify Nancy Peelousy. They have no idea what Also Known As would do. Jay’s people don’t know whom we fought in World War II or when or who won.

Remarkably, they know they are ignorant, but their ignorance does not trouble them. On the contrary, when Jay’s questions expose it, they laugh, pleased with themselves, so they will do nothing to abate it. Their ignorance is “cool,” which, where I come from, has always meant, “not so hot.” They are potential slaves, waiting for some dictator to corral them. They will still be giggling inanely about how, like, cool it is, man, as they are put aboard the cattle cars.

Look with me at just one chapter in our history. Since millions of young, putative Americans – who stalk among us and vote – apparently know little if anything about World War II, my guess is that only a pitiful remnant has even heard of the siege of Malta in 1565, or could even find that historic island on a map.

In 1565, Islam is again threatening Europe. Muslim slavers are raiding the nations all along the Mediterranean, depopulating villages, taking white – white – white slaves. Indeed, the Muslims took white slaves as far away as Iceland. Imagine! Today you are in Reykjavik, blond, blue-eyed, enjoying the ice; a few days later you wake up with a knot on your head, the grandmother of all migraines, and you are a white slave in Morocco, eaten up with envy of the free blacks in the Congo.

More than two centuries later, the fledgling United States will fight its first war against these Muslim slavers and pirates. But now we are at Malta, it is 1565, and our host for this expedition is Michael Davies, who told the story at the 2002 Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute Symposia in New York. You could also consult The Great Siege, by Ernle Bradford (New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962).

Malta, in the western Mediterranean, was Christian, like the Holy Land, which the Muslims had raped, robbed and conquered after almost seven centuries of hegemony by worshippers of Jesus. Its strategic location endangered the lucrative Muslim piracy and slavery racket. Maltese vessels were harrying Ottoman Empire piracy routes.

Suleiman the Magnificent – Vice-Regent of God on Earth, Lord of the Lords of East and West, and Possessor of Men's Necks, et cetera and so on – ruled Islam at the time and commanded the most awesome military force in the world. He sent 200 ships, 40,000 troops plus innumerable thousands of slaves and more than 6,000 elite Janissaries, the “Invincible Ones.”

Beside them were the drug-crazed Iayalars who wore the skins of wild beasts and whose raison d'etre was to reach paradise through death by slitting Christian throats in battle. Suleiman’s vengeance would be sweet and easy. Only 9,000 Christians waited to confront him, including 5,000 Maltese irregulars and 500 galley slaves. He would roll over them like the tide in the Bosporus, crush them; drown them in the sea.

Overcome by hubris, he may have overlooked the 700 knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem among them. Maybe he didn’t know about their leader, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, who had survived a year as a galley slave himself, sometimes rowing twenty hours a day stark naked in the bowels of a Muslim ship. De la Valette’s people hailed from Toulouse, which means he was French. What? Yes, French!

De la Valette told his Christian warriors this: “It is the great battle of the Cross and the Koran which is now to be fought. A formidable army of infidels are on the point of invading our island. We, for our part, are the chosen soldiers of the Cross, and if Heaven requires the sacrifice of our lives, there can be no better occasion than this. Let us hasten then, my brothers, to the sacred altar. There we will renew our vows and obtain by our faith in the sacred Sacraments, that contempt for death which alone can render us invincible.”

In May 1565, the Muslims arrived and assaulted Fort. St. Elmo, at the tip of what is now the Maltese capital Valletta on the north shore of Grand Harbor. The Muslims expected to take it in three days. It took thirty five. Every day the knights at St. Elmo held out gave the defenders at St. Angelo, the main base across the harbor, more time to prepare. At night, Valette sent reinforcements. Aware they were heading to certain death, they were grateful for the honor of dying there.

Word arrived that the help the Christians expected from Don Garcia de Toledo, Viceroy of nearby Sicily, would not come in time, if at all. On May 31, La Valette read this dispatch to his Council:

“We now know that we cannot look to others for our deliverance! It is only upon God and our own swords that we must rely. Yet this is no reason to be disheartened. Rather the opposite, for it is better to know the truth of one's situation than be deceived by specious hopes. Our faith and the honor of our Order are in our own hands. We shall not fail.”

The invaders pounded the walls to dust. Then they attacked, endless waves of screaming Muslims, trampling the bodies of their slain, across the moat into which the walls of St Elmo had slid. Each time the diminishing band of defenders fought them off, with pikes and battle-axes, firing muskets and dropping blocks of stone, throwing fire-hoops and cauldrons of boiling pitch that set the flowing robes of the Muslims ablaze and burned them to death like human torches. Michael Davies comments: “The pork-like odor of burning flesh filled the air.” Burning Muslims who smelled like pork?

Knight Rafael Salvage and Captain de Miranda arrived from Sicily with Viceroy Don Garcia's latest message to La Valette. Here is what they saw at St. Elmo: “The insupportable fatigues increasing, chiefly the whole night, and the burying in the parapets of bowels and limbs of men all torn to pieces and pounded by the hostile cannon, to such a pass had the hapless besieged been reduced; never stirring from their posts, but sleeping there and eating; with all other human functions; in arms always, and prepared for combat; . . . they had got so disfigured that they hardly knew each other any more. Ashamed of retiring for wounds not manifestly quite dangerous or almost mortal, those with the smaller bones dislocated or shattered, and livid faces bruised with frightful sores, or extremely lame and limping woefully; these miserably bandaged round the head, arms in slings, strange contortions—such figures were frequent and nearly general, and to be taken for spectres rather than living forms.”

On the 18th of June, La Valette called for volunteers to reinforce. Thirty knights along with 300 soldiers came forward, offering themselves for certain death. The original garrison of St. Elmo numbered 1,500. On Friday, June 22, 1565, a few hundred survivors remained. They sang hymns, prayed, defiantly tolled their chapel bell and prepared to meet Jesus. Those who could no longer stand were seated in chairs, fully armed. Incredibly, they managed to fight on for some hours. The Muslims had finally won the outpost but had lost precious time and thousands of their best troops.

Then the Muslim commander, Mustapha Pasha, made a fatal mistake. Raging at Christian impertinence, he decapitated the knights, raised their heads on spikes, crucified their officers to mock Jesus and floated their headless bodies across the harbor to Fort St. Angelo, where they washed up next morning. De La Valette responded with cannon.

It did little damage, but the Mohammedans were horrified when they saw what he was using for balls. They may have even recognized some of them. When his crucified knights washed up on shore, De La Valette decapitated the Muslim prisoners he was holding, threw their corpses into the sea and armed the cannon with their heads. Mustapha and his Mohammedans were enormously offended. Some of those missiles had belonged to friends.

De la Valette told his men to take no prisoners. Every day until the end of the siege they hanged one Turkish prisoner upon the walls of Medina. Aghast at the enormity of his losses to take so small a prize, Mustapha offered safe passage to the Knights if they would only surrender the island and leave. They refused.

The Grand Master told the knights this: “I will tell you now openly, my brethren, that there is no hope to be looked for except in the succor of Almighty God – the only true help. He who has looked after us until now, will not forsake us, nor will he deliver us into the hands of the enemies of the Holy Faith. We are soldiers and we shall die fighting. If, by any evil chance, the enemy should prevail, we can expect no better treatment than our brethren who were in St. Elmo. . . . Let no man think that there can be any question of receiving honorable treatment, or escaping with his life. If we are beaten, we shall all be killed. It would be better to die in battle than terribly and ignominiously at the hands of the conqueror.”

The siege continued, the target now St. Angelo, the fortified enclave of the knights on the southern side of Grand Harbor. No one anywhere has ever fought a battle more ferocious. The Mohammedans tunneled beneath the Christian defenses to bury a mine and blow the knights up. When the Muslims ignited it, on August 18th, the head of the mine was finally under the Bastion of Castile. It destroyed a vast section of the main wall. Muslim troops swarmed through the breach.

La Valette seized a pike and rushed from his post of command in Birgu towards the Bastion of Castile. About to give way, his soldiers saw the Grand Master at the head of some knights running towards the danger. They forgot their fear and stopped the invading Muslims.

A grenade injured La Valette in the leg. Men shouted, “The Grand Master is in danger!” From every side knights and soldiers came rushing to his aid. The Muslims staggered and fell back. “Withdraw, Sire, to a place of safety!” a knight shouted. “The enemy is already in retreat!” Limping, la Valette continued up the slope. “As long as their banners still wave in the wind,” he said, “I will not withdraw.”

Not until the Christians reoccupied the whole bastion and repaired the defenses did he agree to have his wound dressed. At dawn, when the Muslims finally withdrew, both fortresses were still in Christian hands. By the way, Grand Master Jean de la Valette was not only French; when he commanded Christian defenders at the siege of Malta he was seventy one years old. Are you striplings in your sixties embarrassed yet?

The siege lasted 112 days. More than 40,000 Muslims had arrived. Only some 10,000 returned to formerly Christian Constantinople. Almost 250 knights of the Order had been killed; the survivors were badly wounded or crippled for life. Of the original 9,000, barely 600 still could bear arms.

Michael Davies says this: “The Maltese were one with the Knights, determined, whatever the cost, to be rid of the Turkish invader, though of the nobles there is barely a word in contemporary records; presumably they sat it out in their palaces in Medina.” In other words, they were irrelevant. See my recent piece entitled, “Innocent Bystanders.”

All this happened in 1565, not long ago, a mere four hundred some years. Look at the map and you will see that the Christian triumph at Malta was one of the hallowed few that saved Western civilization. Another was the battle of Tours, where Mayor of the Palace Charles Martel, “the Hammer,” commanded the French knights who stopped the Muslim advance in 732.

There was the battle of Lepanto, in 1571, where the Christian fleet commanded by Don John of Austria defeated the Muslims. Miguel de Cervantes, wounded in that battle, would go home to write one of the greatest books of all time. And the next time you explain how many Polaks you need to screw in a light bulb, remember that without the Poles you would now be speaking Arabic. The Polish hussars commanded by King John Sobieski saved the West in 1683, when they stopped the advancing Muslims at the gates of Vienna.

Are you a Christian? Are you a man of the West? All of this is your history. Without it, you are what the conspiracy for world government wants. You are a Jay Leno interviewee, a giggling ignoramus, reveling in your ignorance, a parasite ripe for extortion and conquest, brainwashed to be exactly that in the nation’s communist government schools. You don’t know who and what you are; so you are nothing.