LONDON – In Bertolt Brecht’s great anti-war play, “Mother Courage and Her Children,” one of the characters says, “You know what the trouble with peace is? No organization.”
The play is set during Europe’s Thirty Years’ War, which devastated Europe in the first half of the seventeenth century, ending only with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The war began as a religious struggle between Protestants and Catholics, but rapidly morphed into a long-running fight between rival countries and dynasties, principally between the Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire on one side and Cardinal Richelieu’s France on the other.
Not surprisingly, some have compared today’s Sunni-Shia conflict, which is consuming swaths of Mesopotamia and Western Asia, to that war, which caused death on a massive scale, plagues, economic destruction, and social turmoil marked, for example, by a wave of witch hunting.
There had in fact been a peace settlement a half-century before the fighting broke out – an effort to organize peace. Emperor Charles V engineered the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which was based on an agreement that sovereign states could choose for themselves which version of Christianity to adopt. When that treaty fell apart, the killing started.