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Stranger in a Strange Land: Joseph Loconte

The Great and Holy War

This is a guest column by Joseph Loconte, associate professor of history at The King's College in New York City. He is the author of God, Locke, and Liberty: The Struggle for Religious Freedom in the West (Lexington Press) and of the forthcoming God and the Great War: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of Faith in the Modern Age.

British historian C. V. Wedgwood, writing 20 years after the conclusion of World War I, produced a sweeping survey of a conflict that created a human catastrophe for Europe. She drew her wounding observations to a close with these words: "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." Wedgwood's account, however, was not about the deadly conflagration that had engulfed the Continent just a generation earlier. The war she had in mind was fought in the early 17th century. It has been called Europe's last religious war: the Thirty Years War.

In a sense, the conflict of 1618-1648 anticipated the war of 1914-1918. Although it could have remained a regional dispute, the Thirty Years War sucked into its vortex most of the nations of Europe. Like World War I, it was breathtaking in its scope and destructive power. Both wars resulted in startling numbers of casualties, caused massive physical devastation, disrupted local economies, and threatened the social fabric of European civilization.

The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) that ended the Thirty Years War promised to remove religion as a source of political strife. The secular interests of the State would set the course of international affairs. The nations of Europe had finally put an end to wars motivated by religious belief. And then the Great War arrived, and with it the revenge of religion.

From the onset of hostilities, writes Philip Jenkins in The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade, this was a conflict ...

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