My last post uncovered how polarized is American public opinion. I suppose that such invective and vigorous argument is a symptom of a healthy democracy. However, I am reminded of one of my favorite books which is entitled "The Great Virtues". The author states that the first and fundamental virtue is politeness, for without politeness there can be no discussion. I would also remind readers of my plea not to post anonymous comments unless there is a real reason to do so. Since so many of my readers are patients, it is quite reasonable for them to keep their personal details confidential, but political opinions ought to be owned by their authors, and if not they assume the status of the anonymous letter written in green ink, which I have always, whether they praised or abused me, crumpled up and filed in the round filing cabinet beneath my desk.
My purpose in writing about Iraq was not to stir up a hornet's nest nor to apportion blame, but to explore the basis of what some have called a 21st Century conflict played by 20th Century rules. The following link leads to an important contibution to this debate made by the British Defence Secretary, John Reid.
If we think that the current war is unpleasant a return to the time of the Thirty Year War in Europe is terrifying. This was one of the few wars in history that England managed to keep out of. It was within this period, 1618-1648, that we had our own civil war, which had similar origins - the conflict betwen Catholics and Protestants.
My knowledge of this period of European history it is very minimal, and mainly garnered from a fascinating book called "Q" written under the pseudonym of "Luther Blisset" by four Italian anarchists, Fredrico Guglielmi, Lucia Di Meo, Giovanni Cattabriga and Fabrizio Belletati. http://mostlyfiction.com/history/blissett.htm Luther Blisset was one of the first black footballers to have a successful career in England. He played for Watford, the football team owned by singer Elton John, but was transferred to AC Milan where he was certainly a character, though not an outstanding success. He finished his playing career here in Bournemouth, where under their successful manager, Harry Redknapp, his career had a late flowering. He owned a sports equipment shop just round the corner from my house. Harry's children were at school with my oldest boy.
The book is about the Peasants War (one hundred years earlier than the Thirty Years War) written from the point of view of the anabaptists (anarchists like the authors). However, the reasons behind the Thirty Years War were similar, revolving around the relationship between religion and statehood, and the conditions of the protagonists were similar. It is a good read to reveal the brutality of war in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Thirty Years War was in part a religious war. Although in Germany the various Principalities had achieved self rule and established Lutherism for 75 years, and had reached a Truce with Rome at the Peace of Ausberg in 1555, the consequences of the Reformation were certainly not settled. The Protestants had split between Lutherans and Calvinists, and Calvinists were not included in the truce. Anabaptists were as much enemies of Luther as they were of Rome. The Jesuit counter-reformation had taken hold, so that there was a powder keg in Germany waiting for a match to set it alight.
The Spanish Netherlands had become Protestant and thrown off the Spanish yoke and were allied with France. Although France was Catholic, its long standing rivalry with Spain had meant that my enemy's enemy is my friend. Spain in seeking to re-establish its authority over the Netherlands could not sail there (since the defeat of the Armada in 1588, England held the Channel), but must take an overland route via Northern Italy, the Alps and Southern Germany. The Holy Roman Empire and Spain were both ruled by Hapsburgs. France felt at risk from a Hapsburg encirclement. Only the assasination of Henry IV in 1610 averted war then.
Denmark and Sweden were also at odds. Scandinavia had once all been ruled by the King of Denmark, but Sweden had broken away. In an attempt to restore its authority Denmark unsuccessfully attacked Sweden in 1611. There was a dynastic struggle in Sweden as the King of Poland had a better claim to the throne than Gustavus Adolphus. But Sweden was Protestant and Poland Catholic - the Spain of the North. To put pressure on Poland, Sweden allied herself with the Russian Tsar, Boris Gudunov. Boris was overthrown and Sweden then allied herself with both Holland and the Evangelical Union in Germany.
Bohemia (the modern Czech Republic) provided the spark for war. The region was a mixture of Calvinists, Catholics, Lutherans and Anabaptists who lived in harmony. In 1617 Archduke Ferdinand of Styria became Holy Roman Emperor and determined to reimpose Catholicism on Bohemia. In protest two Catholic deputies (Martiniz and Slavata) were defenestrated in Prague. This was a classical Czech habit of chucking people out of windows. They were not hurt; they landed in a dung heap (unlike Jan Masaryk who was murdered this way by the Communists in 1948). This was an insult to Ferdinand (who was to become Holy Roman Emperor) and following a dispute over the succession to the Kingdom of Bohemia he defeated the army of Frederick, Elector of Palantine at the Battle of White Mountain, and expelled the Protestants from Bohemia. This laid down the gauntlet and the Protestant countries picked it up. War raged for 30 years.
After early victories by the Catholic generals Tilly and Wallenstein, Gustavus Adolphus entered the conflict and took control of Germany. A restored Wallenstein hindered Gustavus and though defeated at Lutzen so that he had to retreat to Bohemia, Wallenstein inflicted important damage on the Protestants; Gustavus was killed. Swedish power was now at its zenith. Wallenstein exceeded his authority and began making peace treaties. He was murdered by his own officers. In 1634 a major battle at Nordlingen saw the Protestant army defeated and the Peace of Prague ensued. This provoked France into re-entering the war and allied herself with Sweden, the low countries and some Northern Italian states. Cardinal Richelieu (yes we're in Three Musketeers' territory) had several setbacks at first, but managed to repel the Spanish invsion. Spain suffered naval defeats by the Dutch and the French and even at home there were embarrassed by a Catalan rebellion. Defeats for the Empire at Nordilgen (again) by the French and at Jankau by the Swedes meant that it could no longer carry on, but neither France nor Sweden could push home their advantage. By 1645 military exhaustion had set in throughout Europe. Millions had been killed, plague had ravaged populations, agriculture had failed and nations were bankrupt. It was estimated that urban areas in Europe had suffered a 33% population loss and rural areas a 40% loss.
The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years War. It is considered by historians to mark the beginning of the modern era. As a result of the Peace Accord the Netherlands finally gained independance from Spain, ending 80 years of conflict. Sweden gained some teritory in Northern Germany. The power of the Holy Roman Emperor was finally broken, but Germany remained a group of 360 independent and seperate principalities. Calvinists were given legal recognition. France was the overall victor; it acquired Alsace and Lorraine and a vote in the German Reichstag. Switzerland was recognised as a fully independent nation.
The most important consequence was that it ended for all time the idea that the Holy Roman Empire having secular dominion over the entire Christian world. The nation-state would be the highest level of government subservient to no other. No state had any right to determine how another state undertook its business.
In Mein Kampf Hitler states that the Treaty of Westphalia cemented Germany's internal divisions for over 200 years and prevented Germany acquiring an Empire like Britain's or France's. Communism predicted the demise of the Westphalian system seeing it replaced by an International Workers' Union. In 2004 in the aftermath of the Madrid attacks, Lewis 'Atiyyatullah, an al-Qaeda spokesman, predicted that the Westphalian system would collapse and be replaced by a system under the leadership of a mighty Islamic state. In 2000 Joshka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, predicted that the Westphalian system of nation states would be replaced by a supranational European Institution.
What can we learn from the Thirty Years War? First, that to assume that a decisive battle imposes your will on another nation state by force is to deceive yourself. War must either be prosecuted to ultimate and complete victory or else it sows the seeds for the next conflict. Second, in the end you have to negotiate a settlement that satisfies all parties. Third, you cannot change men's minds on religion by force. Fourth, people of different religions can live in harmony with one another when they accept conclusion 3.
We need to reconsider whether the sovereign nation-state is subservient to no other. Is it right for a national leader to attack a section of his own people because of the color of thei skin, their religion, their politics or what they write or say? Who is to defend their human rights?