War and Social Upheaval: Causes

Figure 1.--Nationalism was not a major factor in world affairs until the 19th century, Europe which dominated world affairs was largely controlld by multi-ethnic empires (Austrian, German, Ottoman, Tsarist). Even in the major nation states there was considerable ethnic diversity.) The major tunning point was the French Revolution. French occupation of much of Europe engendered nationalist sentimnts. France because of teraine and climate was the richest country in Europe. For centuries the primary rivalry was with England. This changed with the Industrial Revolution and the unification of Germany. Agriculture was no longer the primry genertor of wealth. The nationalist rivalry between France and Germany would be a major factor in a century of bloody war (1860-1945). This World War I French postcard is an exampl of the emnity between the two countries. It reads, "Quand tu seras grand: Malgré les eruaulés des sinistres Germains La France connaitra de ealmes lendemains. This translates as, "When you grow up: Despite the wickedness of the sinister Germans France will know many happy days."

An important issue in studying war and human conflict are the root causes. The major causes have been: 1) struggels for territory with the resources and population that generate wealth, 2) dynastic issues, 3) religion, 4) nationalism, and 5) ideology. Nationalism becomes important in the 19th century. It was not absent before, but because great powers were empires multi-national entities it was not a major force. The French Revolution help ignote the nationlist fuse in Europe. Ideology might be seen as a kind of religion without divinity. One has to add ideology to that list by the time we reach the 20th century, but ideology often looks very much like a religion withoutthe metaphysics nd often moral code removed. A reader writes, "Most of the wars since the time we humans started to make historical records of events have occurred because of religious differences, then territorial disputes and thirdly about dynastic issues. And in a civilized parts of the world most trade issues are dealt with through diplomatic resolutions." This is a theme that we often hear repeated today, often by authors hostile to religion. We are not at all sure that this is true, although the issue is admitedly complicated. Looking at ancient history, we believe that religion was a relatively minor factor. The ancients certainly prayed and sacrificed to their gods for victory, but religious differences were rarely the root cause of ancient wars. And many of the great empires (Persian, Roman, and Greek) were amazingly tolerant of religious differences. Westerners often focus on their own history. Looking at China, for examole, religion seems to have been a minor factor in war. And the same was true of the Steppe tribes that alkternatively terrorized China or the West. Often in the so called religious wars there were other factors involved. Even when Western Europe was all Christian, there was no shortage of wars during the medieval period. In fact, one reason for the Crusades were all the wars and battles within Christendom. The Pope wanted to redirect all that mayhem and destruction toward the Muslims. The Thirty Years War is often described as a religious war, but another way of looking at it is the effort by German princes to use the Reformation as a way of weakening the Holy Roman Empire and moving their principalities toward independent statehood. Similarly the French religious wars was tied up with the monarchy's desire for absolutism. Religious wars are often better described as wars cloked in religion as a way of justifying them. It is worth noting that the great body counts in modern history were achieved by totalitarian atheist states who spurned religion and launched athesist campaigns.


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Created: 10:43 AM 2/17/2018
Last updated: 10:43 AM 2/17/2018