As elegantly and engagingly written as it is, it’s not a book one reads straight through. The sheer scope of the subject and the breath-taking erudition of the author, which must be savored in small dollops, forbid that. That’s probably why it’s been my chosen companion over the years on required forays into the time-wasting, mind-numbing world of various state bureaucracies, not to mention travel near and far.
I returned to the book recently and noticed that I’d tabbed Wedgwood’s comments on her approach to the subject and to the place of war in human history. Her remarks, written in 1956, seem particularly apposite today.
Many of my generation who grew up under the shadow of the First World War had a sincere, if mistaken, conviction that all wars are unnecessary and useless. I no longer think that all wars are unnecessary; but some are, and I still think that the Thirty Years War was one of these. It need not have happened and it settled nothing worth settling. No doubt it assured the replacement of Spain by France as the dominating power in Western Europe, an event of some importance in the history of the western world. But the same result might have been achieved without a generation of war among the Germans who were only indirectly concerned in the matter at all. Several statesmen of genius outside Germany from time to time dominated the course of the war; no statesman of genius inside Germany appeared to put a stop to it. The dismal course of the conflict, dragging on from one decade to the next and from one deadlock to the next, seems to me an object lesson on the dangers and disasters which can arise when men of narrow hearts and little minds are in high places.