garynorth.com / August 06, 2015
The Thirty Years’ War, 1618-48, ended with the Treaty of Westphalia. That was one of the great events in Western history. It lasted until the summer of 1864.
The Thirty Years’ War shook Europe to its core. Prior to that war, the influence of the Catholic Church in restricting warfare to warriors had been dominant in the West. Protestants generally respected this tradition for a century. But in 1618, the tradition ended. It ended in Germany, and it ended in the Netherlands a year later, with the end of the 12-year truce between Spain and the Netherlands. The 80-year war of secession resumed.
In the German principalities, armies destroyed civilian households and churches. Family records ended in Germany for most people during the war, because both sides burned down the churches of the opposing side, and birth records in the form of baptismal records were burned with them.
In 1648, two wars ended: the Thirty Years’ War and the war of Spanish Independence. In reaction to the bloodshed, German society was restructured. The new rule was this in Germany: the religion of the local prince would decide the religion of his subjects. A great migration began, as families moved from principality to principality in search of religious toleration.
It was understood by Europeans in 1648 that the bloodshed would have to de-escalate. Europe would have to go back to what it was before 1618, where the rights of civilians would be respected.
BREAKING THIS TRADITION
This tradition was honored until 1864. Then, Lincoln made a decision to unleash the military forces of the Union Army against Southern civilians. It began in the summer of 1864, when he authorized Sheridan’s forces to burn the farms of civilians in the Shenandoah Valley. This was the origin of the modern war of terror on civilians. Sherman’s troops dug up railroad tracks, placing them in the proximity of trees, and heating them, so that they could be hammered into “Sherman’s neckties” around the trees. Sherman fully understood the the only way to get rid of those reminders of defeat would be to chop down the trees. He burned Atlanta because he wanted to send a message to a defeated, helpless population. “War is hell,” he famously said. He helped make it so as a matter of policy. Then he took his troops on the legendary march to the sea. The Union Army stole everything it could from Southern civilians. It lived off the land. Only it didn’t; it lived off the wives and children of the region.
The American Civil War was the first modern war. It was the first war ever to be fought by means of telegraphy and the railroads. Rapid communications and rapid transportation combined to create a new form of warfare. Europe recognized the transformation immediately. But Europe did not immediately adopt the other aspect of the American Civil War: the legitimacy of war on civilians. Lincoln, as Commander in Chief, oversaw a return to the bloodshed of the Thirty Years’ War. That tradition lasted operationally until August 9, 1945.