Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wars of Religion?

The Crimean War: A History. 
Figes, Orlando
Macmillan. Kindle Edition. (2011-04-12).

Some time back an ambassador friend told me about this book he was reading. He posed some specific questions concerning Russian Orthodox interests in the Holy Land and the earnestness of struggles among the various Christian factions over their rights or prerogatives in the various holy places in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and wherever. My friend marveled at Figes' thesis that religion as much as anything precipitated the Crimean War. He himself being a European, he found it hard to believe that little more that 150 years ago in what many consider a different type of warfare, a close fore-runner of World War I, that Christian people could still get so worked up about such.

He seemed satisfied with my explanation and planted a seed of curiosity which led shortly to an impulse purchase because it really is that easy with Kindle. Anyway, although I am not voracious when it comes to devouring military history, I have been know to read the genre with a certain relish. If you like such, Figes will not disappoint. I truly enjoyed the book and learned that the countless dead from battle, as well as the far greater numbers of people which were displaced marked a trend which savagely continued throughout the twentieth Century and continues today as innocent civilian populations, as refugees, are no longer pushed from one part of a region to another but too frequently almost to the other side of the globe.

More than an analysis of the role played by religion, Orthodox vs. Catholic, Christian vs. Muslim, East vs. West, the book illustrates also through post-war monuments, especially in England, a shift in sentiment toward esteem for the commoner's supreme sacrifice in the service of his country, of his sovereign. In the case of Russia, he lets Leo Tolstoy kind of stand for a world's consciousness transformed by the carnage of what was by far one of the most senseless conflicts of all time and which no one, not even the French really won. Figes would attribute a certain transformation or maturation as happening in the life of Tolstoy, as a result of his time spent in the Crimea.

Religious rhetoric could hardly mask what were naked geopolitical ambitions on the part of all of the War's combatants. Nobody comes out the white knight in shining armor in this one. 

If such books interest you, to my mind I would recommend it as well worth the read. For some of us who live in that part of the world, even 150 years plus later, there's still evidence that a new generation of oligarchs are not the least bit disinclined to send youth to the slaughter or ride rough-shod over other peoples and cultures for the sake of an empire or reign which cannot endure.

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