A New Thirty Years’ War in the Middle East?

Jacques Callot captured the miseries of the Thirty Years' War.  Here we see a mass hanging
Jacques Callot captured the miseries of the Thirty Years’ War. Here we see a mass hanging

W.J. Astore

The Middle East of the early 21st century is looking more and more like the Thirty Years’ War of the early 17th century that tore apart the Germanic states of the Holy Roman Empire.  Religious sectarianism?  In the 17th century, Catholics and Protestants killed each other with gusto.  Disunity?  Yes, within and among the various Germanic states of the Holy Roman Empire.  Great power intervention that made matters far worse?  Yes, Protestant Sweden and Catholic France intervened in a big way, among a host of other lesser powers. Privatized, for-profit militaries that threw more fuel on the fire?  Yes, Albrecht von Wallenstein, the greatest mercenary captain of the age, created his own empire until he was assassinated in 1634.

The war finally ended when it burnt itself out, and when European leaders realized the more they intervened, the more they risked the infection spreading to their own kingdoms.  Thus came the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, but not before roughly eight million people, most of them civilians, died in and of the war.

When will conflicts in the Middle East finally burn themselves out?  In 2048?  When the oil is finally gone? (Sadly, water may replace oil as a major source of conflict.)

And when will great powers like the United States realize the more they intervene, the more the infection spreads elsewhere?  Indeed, the more it comes home to endanger the United States?

Speaking of 30 years, when did the war for the greater Middle East truly begin?  With the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s?  The creation of Israel in 1948?  The end of World War I and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in 1918?  Biblical times?

The Thirty Years’ War worked to delay German unification until 1871, after which Germany, late to European power politics, decided to rattle its saber for a bigger seat at the table.  World War I was the result.

What will be the long-term effects of constant warfare in the Middle East?  Impossible to see, perhaps, but the short-term ones are before our eyes: more instability ahead, more innocents dead, more hatred spread.

The time is now to put a stop to the killing.

12 thoughts on “A New Thirty Years’ War in the Middle East?

  1. Germany did not initiate World War I. In fact, if a single individual is to blame it would be General Conrad von Hotzendorf of the Habsburg Empire who couldn’t wait to initiate some form of conflict with Serbia as he hated their constant interference with the empire’s ongoing operations.

    The assassination of the Austrian Archduke in 1914 also did not initiate World War I since at that time Royals were being assassinated quite regularly for the previous 20 years with little fuss over it (surprisingly). The unfortunate aspect of this assassination however, is that the Archduke would have provided Serbian nationalists with what they wanted if he had been allowed to live.

    Kaiser Wilhelm also did not initiate the war. In fact, he tried to prevent it but to no avail. It was the eventual Russian mobilization (the action that Wilhelm was trying to prevent) that started the initiation of alliance obligations that actually began the conflict. Russia was allied with both France and Serbia at the time and had to fulfill her obligation to Serbia as a result of the Habsburg attack on that country. Had Conrad initiated a more limited confrontation, Russian mobilization may have never happened.

    Once Austria initiated conflict with Serbia (which was foolhardy given Hotzendorf’s predilections) Germany, which was allied with Austria had to fulfill her obligations and initiated the famed Schlieffen Plan to attack France in order to subdue her first before going after Russia.

    There are those who will dispute this line of thinking but so far everything I have read on the start of the conflict corroborates this. The historian, Albertini, wrote a detailed analysis of the initiation of hostilities in the 1920s or so and was at the time considered a leading authority on events. He does in fact place the blame squarely on Germany’s shoulders for this tragedy and his arguments are sound given Prussian power intentions. However, more recent studies have brought this line of thinking into question….

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    1. Hi Steve: I wouldn’t blame Germany alone. But it was Germany that gave Austria-Hungary the “blank check” that stiffened the latter’s demands against Serbia. And it was Germany that attacked France, hurling seven armies and more than two million men in an attempt to flank and surround Paris, forcing the French into abject capitulation. The “Miracle on the Marne” prevented that.

      Perhaps another way of viewing it is that German ambitions as well as fears turned a regional conflict in the Balkans into a world war. This may not, strictly speaking, have been the Kaiser’s intent, but it was the end result of a German “doomsday machine” that ran amok once the Schlieffen Plan was set in motion.

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      1. Colonel, I agree that the “Blank Check” provided some impetus to the demands by Austria towards Serbia. However, the Austrian ministers who developed such demands had already designed them in such a way as to guarantee that Serbia would reject them. I don’t believe it was so much the “Blank Check” that fostered any increased Austrian aggression on Serbia but instead the lack of conclusive attempts to implement the “Belgrade Option”, in which Austria would halt all engagements when it reached Belgrade.

        However, with Hotzendorf at the helm of it all, it really didn’t matter what plans or assistance was given or withheld. He wanted fervently to destroy Serbia and his actions sparked Russian mobilization. Unfortunately, the smaller Serbian forces summarily defeated Austria in the field and should have put an an end to it all but it didn’t and Russia mobilized making the conflict now solely dependent on the movement of trains, men, and machines from which there was no return.

        It is also true that German leaders had hopes for territorial acquisition but the Schlieffen Plan from what I have studied was not meant as a plan of conquest but more as an immediate rear-guard action so that Germany could concentrate on the defeat of Russia expecting it to be a much tougher opponent than it turned out to be even though some Russian action was done quite well.

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      2. One thing’s for sure, Steve: there was an amazing amount of miscalculation and wishful thinking on all sides. Maybe that’s why there was also a lot of dread. Leaders could sense the doom they were mobilizing and moving toward, but they couldn’t get off the trains. They just flung their armies into battle and hoped for the best without preparing for the worst.

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      3. Colonel, you are absolutely correct about this. World War I was initiated as a result of a string of miscalculations while the technological abilities of the various armed forces outpaced the diplomatic capabilities to control them…

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  2. “Those who ignore history are bound to repeat history.” Thank both of you for this history, a study that our leaders and citizens seem to have little interest in learning from.

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