Culture and a War

I’ve been messing around in the 1600s for the past few weeks. That period marks such a shift in European political thinking and warfare that I’ve been doing more digging in that era than, well, since I was researching the Colplatschki books. This is the era when war and politics starts shifting from purely dynastic concerns to what we think of as nation-state politics. Rather than religion and family dominating a lot of conflicts and diplomacy, the idea of “reasons of state” start appearing, along with the beginnings of an internationally-recognized, non-religious International Law and Laws of War. The roots go into the political organization of the Holy Roman Empire, and how problems between cities, lords, and others were mediated, as well as into Catholic and later Protestant discussions about war and the law. Warfare also developed rapidly, as the Ottomans discovered to their ongoing chagrin after 1683.

None of this was instant, and there’s not a clean break between the late Renaissance and Early Modern periods. Dynasty doesn’t go away, as Louis XIV would demonstrate with the War of the Spanish Succession and other conflicts. Multi-national states would continue to dominate central and eastern Europe well into the 1900s, another three hundred years from 1648. But the Thirty Years War sees the beginnings of the process. When Catholic France—governed by Cardinal Richelieu as regent for Louis XIII—is funding Dutch Calvinists and Lutheran Swedes to beat up on the Catholic Habsburgs, while waging war against its own Calvinists and against Catholic Spain, um, messy doesn’t start to describe things. The war is no longer “just” about religion, if it ever was. Sweden will claim to be defending Protestantism while beating up on other Lutherans.

The Thirty Years war left cultural scars on Central Europe, notably in the Czech lands, Rhineland and Elbe watersheds, and other major areas of conflict. The inflation and disruption of trade, exacerbated by bad weather (cold and wet, very cold) knocked cultural life askew north of the Alps. Heinrich Schütz, for example, was forced to leave his official post and flee to Denmark in order to find work. He wrote small, limited compositions that are still beautiful and/or inspiring, because he had no other option. No one could afford the large choirs of Venice or the glory days of the High Renaissance. The grinding nature of war and the repeated waves of fighting marked German-language literature. Those marks still appear.

I was listening to a bit of Sabaton the other day, and then Blind Guardian. Both of those metal bands have albums centered on the Thirty Years War, although Sabaton’s includes the Great Northern War as well. The closest thing in American culture might, might, be Glorious Burden by Iced Earth, about the Battle of Gettysburg. I can’t think of anything else, although there’s probably something floating around. Bertold Brecht drew on a novel written during the Thirty Years War for material, and knew that everyone would catch the references. German-speakers still do. One of the great novels about the conflict, Der Wahrwulf, has been translated into English recently. The original is still in print in German (hard copy and e-book. I have the e-book). You could argue that the American Civil War/War Between The States/ The Late Unpleasantness is still leaving cultural traces, but I’m not so certain. It might be that not enough time has passed, but the Civil War was not the enormous break, with the horrible population loss and extended period of chaos, that the Thirty Years War forms.

*shrug* I’m an American looking in, for all that I’ve read and studied. I always will be. But it’s intriguing to speculate and to see how some things still resonate.

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8 thoughts on “Culture and a War

  1. The ACW isn’t analogous.
    If for no other reason than the last couple generations not being taught anything but the most sanitized overview of the war itself, while completely breezing past reconstruction and the massive cultural upheavals that followed the war.

    It could be (and imo, should be) a similar, but lesser, cultural touchstone.
    But it isn’t.
    Because, ignorance.

  2. I agree with Luke that the ACW has been undertaught in the US, but then almost everything has been undertaught in the last few decades.
    I don’t think we have anything with near the impact of the religious wars of Europe. The sheer depth and breadth, not to mention length of the fighting is unparalleled in the US.
    While the ACW was tough and brutal in many ways, it was only 4 years and almost entirely in the South, not 30+ years across multiple countries.

    • “… almost everything has been undertaught in the last few decades.”
      Amen to this. Students are taught practically nothing except current racial and sexual fads, and if they come anywhere near a history class, it seems to be the Zinnified version of American History.

  3. Brings to mind the quote that those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it. If it’s not even taught, we’re in trouble…

    • Those of us who can’t remember where the plaque with the George Santayana quote went are also suffering a repeat, alas.

  4. I’ve been trying to recall a band someone tipped me off about here, mgc, or ATH.

    I think it was a british band, with a song about crimean war, and wasn’t charge of the light brigade.

    They may have had an ACW song, I forget. Some sort of rock thing.

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