As we've reported elsewhere in these pages, we were intrigued by a comment written some time ago by Patrick Cockburn, who, along with Robert Fisk, provide consistently the best reporting and reflections on war in the Middle East in the English language. Cockburn has mentioned more than once that Westerners who make bombastic judgments about the Middle Eastern conflicts with characteristic extreme self-righteousness -- the product of superiority in war technology and historical ignorance, the old imperial duo -- ought to read a good history of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).
It turns out that there are not many to choose from in English, but Cicely Veronica Wedgwood (1910-1997) wrote a magnificent one on the eve of World War II.
These were her concluding remarks. Once we might have insisted that you pay the closest attention to Wedgwood's final thoughts on that war and, in fact, read the entire book to fully understand her brief remarks. But isn't everyone constantly pushing books and articles on you, demanding that you read them or watch this or that or fall forever into the Great Dumpster of the Uninformed. Can there be anything worse, any sin more grievous than abandoning our constant striving to be smart?
After the expenditure of so much human life to so little purpose, men might have grasped the essential futility of putting the beliefs of the mind to the judgement of the sword. Instead, they rejected religion as an object to fight for and found others.
As there was no compulsion towards a conflict which, in despite of the apparent bitterness of the parties, took so long to engage and needed so much assiduous blowing to fan the flame, so no right was vindicated by its ragged end. The war solved no problem. Its effects, both immediate and indirect, were either negative or disastrous. Morally subversive, economically destructive, socially degrading, confused in its causes, devious in its course, futile in its result, it is the outstanding example in European history of meaningless conflict. The overwhelming majority in Europe, the overwhelming majority in Germany, wanted no war; powerless and voiceless, there was no need even to persuade them that they did. The decision was made without thought of them. Yet of those who, one by one, let themselves be drawn into the conflict, few were irresponsible and nearly all wer genuinely anxious for an ultimate and better peace. Almost all -- one excepts the King of Sweden -- were actuated rather by fear than by lust of conquest or passion of faith. They wanted peace and they fought for thirty years to be sure of it. They did not learn then, and have not since, that war breeds only war. -- C.V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War, 1938. p. 506