Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Furies (1)

I have just finished reading a book by Lauro Martines called Furies. It gives an account war in Christian Europe between 1450 and 1700. I have always hated war. I have never believed the hype of the militarists and warmongers who glorify war.

Most histories of war focus on the decisions of the political and military leaders and the outcome of their battles. Martine’s tells the story of the impact of war on the ordinary people. There experience was truly horrifying. The costs of war for them far outweighed the military casualties.

I am not a complete pacifist. I believe that there are situations, where war could be justified, but they are very rare. I set out the conditions for a just war in Defence and War. One of the important principles is that the benefits of a war must outweigh the costs.

I have read quite a lot of history and I have not found a war yet that met the criteria. Reading this book confirmed that. Few wars justify the cost in terms of the military casualties. After reading Martine’s book, I realised that including all the civilian casualties dramatically increases the cost of war, making most wars unjustifiable.

During the period covered by the book, Europe was almost continuously at war. The hundred year’s war in France had just ended. There was a thirty years war in Germany. There was an eighty years war and a nine years war. One war just rolled into the next and the mercenary armies moved for one to another.

Kings could gather armies of 30.000 men. Some would be locals, but many would be mercenaries drawn from all over the world.

The cost of paying and supplying and army of this size was huge, and few kings could afford it.

Armies relied on foraging the areas they travelled through to get supplies. Solders relied on looting to compensate for not being paid.

Having and army move into and area was a huge disaster. They would commandeer all food. If the harvest had just finished, they would take the lot, leaving local people to starve until the next harvest. Farm animals would be taken for food and wagons would be confiscated to carry cannons and supplies. People who objected would be beaten and have their homes smashed. Woman and children were often stolen and used by the solders.

The approach of the regiments terrified villagers. Their raids frequently ended in the mass theft of livestock, fodder, grain, tools, carts and horses. Villagers were beaten, killed, and held to ransom; and women were sometimes raped or abducted. Arson was frequent, employed particularly against obstinate peasants. To feed themselves in the following famine, villages often had to sell off common lands at prices fallen to less than half of their normal value (p.13).

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