Thursday, September 18, 2008

Limited warfare

Military history bores me. I find it fascinating, for example, that most historians of the war between the states (1861-65) are amateurs. However, I'm just not interested in the actual work they do. Go figure.

But the medieval convention of the "peace of God" is interesting to me. However, I had never heard of the "truce of God," -- a related subject -- until reading this book: William H. Marnell's The Good Life of Western Man, which traces Western civilization's representative man through five stages, if you will: the citizen (in Athens), the saint (in early medieval Europe), the prince (later medieval and the Renaissance), the philosopher (the early 18th century) and the "individual," in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The peace of God and the truce of God were means of limiting something that sinful man finds difficult to stop: warfare. The peace basically limited warring to the dead of winter, and the heat of summer, times that limited war's interference with agriculture. The truce stopped warfare from vespers on Wednesday to sunrise on Monday.

It's easy to wonder why, if they could stop war during these fairly long periods, they couldn't stop it altogether. That's an easy idea, and too easy. Men were sinners then and we still are. But limiting warfare was the Church's means of putting brakes on that sin, and protecting non-combatants, such as women, children, the elderly, etc. Our medieval ancestors also had customs such as that an armed knight could not attack an unarmed knight. Total warfare, in which all are viewed as enemies, was something that came about began with the war of 1861, and continues until Sept. 18, 2008. Our capacity for self-admiration easily forgets that our forefathers 800 years ago had learned and put into practice the realization that there must be limits to our sinful impulses. We have forgotten that.

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