The Thirty Years’ War and Collective Memory

T. Greer at The Scholar’s Stage tell us World War II provides a convenient metaphorical framework for understanding the world today, but goes on to explain that today’s political situation is more akin to the 30 Years’ War than World War II.

You can summarize the history of the Second World War in two paragraphs. Squeezing the causes, campaigns, and countries of the war into these paragraphs would be a gross simplification, but it is possible. This does not hold true for the Thirty Years War. It is one conflict that simply cannot be related in a paragraph. The number of actors involved, the myriad of motivations and goals of each, and the shifting alliances and intrigues between them all are simply too complex to be stripped down to a single page. Piecing together the events of the Thirty Years War inevitably takes up much more time and effort than single page summaries allow.

Single page summaries or 5-minute interviews allow no room for nuance, deliberation, or even explanation. The goal of televised news seems to be for one side to “win” at the other’s expense, and victory means hammering home as simple an argument as possible. Sure, the Maginot Line is long-gone, we have airborne robots and laser weapons, and even Communism has been defeated, yet somehow the analogies of ‘the last good war’ resonate in our collective memories.

The great majority of policy makers are familiar with the Second World War. If asked to, I am sure that most folks in Washington concerned with foreign affairs and security policy could provide an accurate sketch of the countries and campaigns involved. Indeed, we conceptualize current challenges from the standpoint of World War II; allusions to it are the lifeblood of both popular and academic discourse on foreign affairs. Pearl Harbor, Munich, Stalingrad, Normandy, Yalta, and Hiroshima are gifts that keep on giving – they serve as an able metaphorical foundation for any point a pundit or analyst wishes to make.

Compounding the problem is that old familiar anti-intellectual strain in American public discourse. Just the thought of applying something other than a 20th-century analogy to a contemporary situation seems like high-falutin’ blasphemy, further evidence that the pansy college boys have no place deciding what’s what. But we need to start comparing other human conflicts (thought not so all-over-the-place as Edward Luttwak) to our own, and figuring out what really matters – and what really doesn’t.

Via zenpundit.