history of war

History of WAR #

The dominant religion is not Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or Judaism, but the pervasive faith in violence. Walter Wink

The greatest threat to peace is the barrage of rightest propaganda portraying war as decent, honourable and patriotic. Jeanette Rankin

Throughout history, according to James Hillman in A Terrible Love of War, during the past 5600 years of written history, there have been 14,600 wars.

All religions proclaim: Thou shalt not kill; - Except for, in practice we kill:

  • unfaithful wives
  • Godless infidels
  • annoying neighbours
  • anyone who disagrees with you.

Voltaire claimed that:

To kill another human being is always murder - except if is accompanied by trumpets.

We need to compare and contrast Classical Warfare with modern day fighting to account for why modern day war is no longer romantic or glamourised.

How do the Armed Services attract young people to join?

In 1914, the 1 st world war was called “The Great War” and welcomed as a major sporting contest. It was only the devastation of Gallipoli and later The Somme where 20,000 men were lost in a day, that a more sobering assessment took some of the glory of war away.

Aldous Huxley: ‘People prepare for war among other reasons because war is in the great tradition, because war is exciting and gives them certain personal and vicarious satisfaction, because their education has left them militaristically minded, because they live in a society where success, however achieved, is worshipped, and where competition seems more natural than co-operation. Hence the general reluctance to embark on constructive policies directed towards the removal at least of the economic causes of war. Hence, too, the extraordinary energy rulers and even the ruled put into such war-provoking policies as rearmament, the centralisation of executive power, and the regimentation of the masses.’

In Huxley’s day, such policies were pursued by the great dictators Mussolini and Hitler. Very disturbing is the way politicians fan the emotions of even democratic nations to fever pitch and led them into lamentable swashbuckling expeditions, to distract their attention from the state of affairs at home. America in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, Thatcher’s Falkland’s war, Putin’s special military operation against Ukraine.

In the words of Mussolini,

‘Fascism believes that war alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and put the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to meet it.’

Surely the same sentiments are belted out lot and clear whenever political leaders flex their muscles to be percieved as strong and resolute.

Some Major Wars: #


  1. What was the cause? Was it a just war?
  2. Where did the war take place?
  3. What were the major weapons?
  4. What was the outcome?
  5. Were there heroes? who and why?
  6. Can you find any literature inspired by this war?

a) Trojan War
b) Battle of Thermopylae
c) Punic Wars
d) Antony versus Caesar
e) Charlemagne and the Moors - The Crusades
f) 1066 - The Norman Invasion
g) 1588 The Spanish Armada
h) The Seven Years War - 1756 - 1763
i) Napoleonic Wars 1795 - 1815
j) Crimean War 1854 - 1856
k) American Civil War
l) World War I & II
m) Arab Israeli Conflicts
n) Vietnam
o) Gulf War Iraq and Afghanistan
p) Serbian Croatian War
q) Russia attacks Ukraine

The Bible #

The first dispute between Cain and Abel arises because Cain and Abel both submitted offerings before God. Abel’s was the gift of fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. On the other hand, Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground. God preferred Abel’s gift. Making Cain angry, and in his rage he killed his brother.

God noticed and said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and . . . When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you."

Numerous accounts of wars and battles that involved ancient Israel, Judah, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and other powers in the region are recorded in the Bible and other ancient sources. Some of these conflicts may never have taken place, while others occurred but didn’t have the results that the Bible claims. There are at least 12 “biblical” ancient wars and battles.

War is a common feature in the story of the God’s chosen people, especially after they return from Egypt facing tribes occupying the land of milk and honey.

The Battle of Jericho and of Ai were the most significant. Jericho is a major city that was taken after the Israelis crossed the Jordan River. The story says that the Israeli army marched around the city for seven days, blowing trumpets and carrying the Ark of the Covenant in front of the main body of the army. On the seventh day, the leader of the army, Joshua, commanded the entire army to shout and, miraculously, the walls of the city of Jericho collapsed, allowing the Israeli army to take the city. Perhaps a bit fanciful.


Once Upon A Time, the prophet Samuel came to King Saul with a message from the Lord. According to Samuel, the Lord said:

“I am going to punish the Amalekites for what they did when the Israelites came out of Egypt. Go attack the Amalekites, and destroy everything they have. Do not spare anyone. Kill every man, woman, child, and baby. Every ox, sheep, camel, and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:3)…

Sounds like genocide.

When Saul spares the King Agag an the animals for sacrifice, he is relieved of his position for disobedience.

God helps them conquer their enemies, however later urges them to live peaceably with their neighbors. Modern excavations by archeologists cast doubt on Biblical narratives.

Christ’s message was one of non-violence and promised a thousand year reign of peace.

Greeks #

According to Robert Fagles, the 50 some Greek city states were continually at war with one another, sometimes as allies, other times as enemies. The permanence of war is echoed by Homer and Plato.

Young men, from an early age, were trained in a warrior culture.

War, as Homer, Hitler and Heller show, simply turns men into corpses - carrion for scavengers, vultures and rats.

Athens, during the fifth century was at war on land and sea for more years than they were at peace. They fought Persia, allied with Sparta from 480 BCE, but in 460 fought with Sparta.

After defeating Persia decisively, after 15 years of peace, in 431 began the Peloponnesian war against Sparta for 27 years, surrendering with the loss of her naval supremacy and ending democracy.

Roman Wars #

The Roman Empire succeeded because it was ethnically heterogeneous – not homogeneous. The Romans knew how to win the peace.

Virgil: “To impose the way of peace you must spare the conquered and subdue the proud.”

Even people at the periphery of the empire felt they were at the heart of the empire. Most young men from conquered territories were conscripted into the army to serve 25 years after which they became full Roman citizens with lifelong pensions. Spain took 200 years to subdue, but eventually produced Seneca, born in Cordoba, a Stoic writer and advisor to the Emperor Nero. It also produced two emperors, Trajan and Hadrian. Constantine was born in Serbia.

The Emperor Caracella in 212 made all free men citizens, simply so he could broaden the tax base. The Roman Empire succeeded because it was ethnically heterogeneous – not homogeneous. In-breeding was always the privilege of royalty - and look what happened to them. Some of the most interesting people are miscegenous. Much of what we know of ancient civilisations is very recent. Most records were wantonly vandalised and destroyed by misguided religious vandals. Byzantine and the Moorish cultures managed to preserve and transmit some to future generations. More and more we rely on archaeological excavations for reliable artefacts to base our assumptions.

The Roman Empire lasted some 500+ years giving us some salutary lessons on enduring cohesion and good governance. It gave us the model of integrating diverse people through tolerance and co-opting talent from across the empire. While the Romans certainly attempted to crush their conquered subjects when they failed to submit to their authority, they also attempted to integrate and assimilate the “barbarians”.

The Crusades #

See: https://nebo-lit.com/religion/crusades.html#third-crusade-1190---1192

Thirty Years War #

Thirty Years’ War, (1618–48), was a series of wars fought by various nations for various reasons, including religious, dynastic, territorial, and commercial rivalries.

Also known as the religious wars spawned by Martin Luther, they tore nations apart due to intolerance. In Spain, the Inquisition devastated the nation. France experienced conflict due to the rise and fall of the the Huguenots who suffered severe persecution at the hands of the Catholic majority. England had to contend with Henry VIII’ cruel and barbaric imposition of his break from Rome.

Germany’s began in 1618, when Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Roman Catholic absolutism on his domains, and the Protestant nobles of both Bohemia and Austria rose up in rebellion. Ferdinand won after a five-year struggle. In 1625 King Christian IV of Denmark and Sweden’s Gustav II Adolf, got involved, invaded Germany and won many German princes to his anti-Roman Catholic, anti-imperial cause.

The conflict widened, when Poland, attacked Russia. Three denominations vied for dominance: Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism, a struggle between the Holy Roman Empire, and a network of Protestant towns and principalities that relied on the chief anti-Catholic powers of Sweden and the United Netherlands, which had at last thrown off the yoke of Spain after a struggle lasting 80 years. A parallel struggle involved the rivalry of France with the Habsburgs of the empire and with the Habsburgs of Spain.

The principal battlefields were the towns and principalities of Germany, which suffered severely. Many of the contending armies were mercenaries, unable to collect their pay. They began the “wolf-strategy”. The armies of both sides plundered as they marched, leaving cities, towns, villages, and farms ravaged. Ordinary citizens suffered the most. Its destructive campaigns and battles occurred over most of Europe. Real wolves actually inhabited most towns.

The balance of power in Europe had been radically changed. Spain had lost not only the Netherlands but its dominant position in western Europe. France was now the chief Western power. Sweden had control of the Baltic. The United Netherlands was recognized as an independent republic. The member states of the Holy Roman Empire were granted full sovereignty. Ending the power of the pope The essential structure of modern Europe as a community of sovereign states was established and nationalism emerged.

The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the map of Europe had been irrevocably changed. It was the first feeble attempt to solve religious disputes by negotiation, rather than blood.

Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage depicts the struggle in a detached, alienated approach, heightening its horror in graphic but cerebral techniques.

The Napoleonic Wars (1798 - 1815) ravaged all of Europe killing countless youths for no real gain to anyone. By 1815, 80% of young able bodied men had been murdered through senseless conflict.

The Congress of Vienna was another failed attempt to resolve disputes by diplomacy rather than killing each other.

British Colonial Wars #

British expeditionary forces were deployed to various parts of it expanding empire to subdue the natives in India, China, Africa…. This was done brutally and ruthlessly with colonial resentment mounting.

The disastrous Afghan wars of 1839 – 1842 and 1878 - 1880 were described as:

‘wars begun for no wise purpose’ and concluded with no obvious success.

In 1842, the British army occupied the capital of Afghanistan, but was forced into a retreat so disastrous that a force of 4500 British soldiers was reduced to a single survivor. Only the surgeon staggered out alive to tell the story.

The British were in Kabul to prop up an Afghan puppet ruler they’d installed. Their enemy was not especially large or powerful. They were routed by a relative handful of Afghan tribesmen. The 1842 debacle was not inevitable, or even necessary, but largely self-inflicted.

“The road was strewn with the mangled corpses of their comrades and the stench of death was in the air,” ran an account of the British retreat from Kabul to Jalalabad along narrow mountain passes in a bitter winter. “All along the route they had been passing little groups of camp-followers, starving, frost-bitten and many of them in a state of gibbering idiocy.

“The Afghans, not troubling to kill these stragglers, had simply stripped them and left the cold to do its work and now the poor wretches were huddling together naked in the snow, striving hopelessly to keep warm by the heat of their own bodies. There were women and little children among them, who piteously stretched out their hands for succour.”

It was “the most disgraceful and humiliating episode in our history of war against an Asian enemy”, one of Britain’s better 20th-century commanders, Field-Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, said.

Despite this resentment, colonial outposts supported Britain in both the First and Second World Wars.

Britain was slow to learn, and even as late as the 1970’s was attempting to maintain colonies in Africa by military force.

The Crimean War #

The Crimean War, (1854 - 56) was perhaps the most unnecessary war ever fought, mainly due to lack of understanding. It was a disaster for all sides, especially the winners - Britain, France and Turkey.

When Russia expressed an interest in protecting Russian speakers in the Balkan states, England and France became concerned about the “balance of power” disturbance. Despite Russia deciding to abandon its plans, British and French media staged propaganda campaign that painted the Russian as sub human - a bear - and enthused or stirred their populations and soldiers to such high levels of espirit de corps or morale that when the Russians backed down, the French and British press urged their ministries to attack regardless and a force of just over 80,000 men was able to conquer a Russian force of over 300,000 serfs on their own territory.

The term Jingoist (one who wants war) is derived from a song of the time, “By Jingo we’ll show the Russians a thing or two.” Other noteworthy consequences were the contribution of Florence Nightingale organising field hospitals for cholera- stricken soldiers and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, which chronicled a charge of light cavalry under confusing orders against impregnable Russian gun positions, giving us these memorable lines:

“Someone had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die”

“While the Allies won the war, the costs for both sides were immense, with the British and French losing up to 25,000 and 100,000 men respectively, and the Russians losing many multiples of this. The majority of deaths were from diseases such as typhus, cholera and dysentery, despite the best efforts of Florence Nightingale and her fellow nurses to look after the wounded and dying soldiers.” A Short History of the World Christopher Lascelle

World Wars #

The First World War, often called the Great War or the war to end all wars was undoubtedly the lowest point of human idiocy.

It was totally needless, run abominably by both sides and ended with the dumbest treaty imaginable. It inevitably led to the Second War War that became the deadliest on record but with clear goodies and baddies. Will we ever learn?

Australia’s World War I official war historian Charles Bean, said

“any blame” for atrocities must by rights be sheeted home to those “who make wars, not those who fight them”.

The formation of the League of Nations and later the United Nations provided promises of a better way of managing conflict, however it appears the phobia of the spread of communism and terrorism provoked America to engage with force in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, to little avail. Most wars now are local uprisings: Serbia, Syria, Africa…..

Civil War #

The prominence of civil war is nothing new in world history. For at least 2000 years civil war has been the most frequent form of collective human conflict. It has also been among the most ferocious. In the first century BC, at the height of Rome’s civil wars, about a quarter of all male citizens aged between 17 and 46 were in arms. About 1700 years later, probably a greater proportion of England’s population died during the civil wars of the 1640s than perished in World War I. Two centuries later still, the military death toll in the US Civil War was six times larger, relative to size of population, than the casualty rate in World War II.

General William Tecumseh Sherman was the first in the Civil War to engage in “total warfare.” In this mode, in addition to battling the Confederate Army, he burned homes, destroyed crops, expelled civilians and sought to destroy the South’s will to fight.

Immediately after Atlanta fell to his army, Sherman initiated a plan to expel all civilians from the city. Sherman declared:

‘If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war and not popularity seeking. If they want peace they and their relatives must stop war.’

A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman Michael Fellman University Press of Kansas 1995, Pages:180-182

Joan Biaz, Night they drove old Dixie down:The https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wanJQC5KAfo