From the August 2004 Idaho Observer:

The Peace of Westphalia

by The Idaho Observer

The Peace of Westphalia (1648) is perhaps the greatest achievement in Western history. Not surprisingly, few people have ever even heard of it, much less understand the wisdom it implies for a world marching in lockstep toward global conflict.

The Peace of Westphalia brought an end to the 30 Years War -- a period of total war where about 100 factions (nations, states, ethnicities and religious denominations) in the Germanic areas of Europe were perpetually bathing in each other's blood.

The people became weary of fighting and demanded peace. Though the Pope and the various monarchs had no desire to stop sending men into battle for their own edification and enrichment, the people decided it was time for peace and, though the complexities were seemingly insurmountable, they accomplished peace.

The Peace of Westphalia was struck in the towns of Munster and Osnabruck. It required that all parties humble themselves and hold peace above their own needs, wants and religious beliefs.

Karl-Jurgen Muller, who introduced us to the topic at the MZE conference last year, explained how, “all the concerned parties -- which included more than 100 in both Westphalian cities -- paid great attention to every single word, in order to be able to agree fully; that nobody claimed to put his interests through but they all tried to find a compromise even if it was hard to do so; that all the partners had to be open towards new ideas about the relations of the states among each other and with the church, or towards the rights of their subjects.

Muller explained that, “One cannot really assess the importance of this peace agreement without mentioning the horrors that led to its ratification:

“War propaganda, until then unknown, attributed all the evil features to the enemy and praised oneself as the personified good;

“A stirred up religious fanaticism attributed all the diabolical features to the people of a different belief and forced their own religion on other people or humiliated, tormented and violated them;

“Murdering, raping, plundering and devastating mercenary troops that often suffered from misery, were neglected and bore the marks of years of war. They did not care for the civilian population. In the centre of the war, in central Germany, up to two thirds of the population died, either because they were killed or because they died from wounds, epidemics or starvation;

“War mongers who -- driven by their greed for power, money and fame -- wanted to wage the wars until they were either exhausted or killed;

“Emperors and kings, secular and spiritual princes wanted to secure or enlarge their claim for power and control at the cost of the people. They were caught in the imperial spirit of their time and didn't tolerate a spiritual or secular power to govern the world.

“The 30 Years' War knew many of the troubles that we know from wars in the 20th century,” Muller wrote.

Volker Gerhardt, an authority on the Peace of Westphalia, observed that for peace to prevail, it “...must be desired actively, be established institutionally and be safeguarded contractually within a complex field of interests.”

People can declare and enforce peace amongst themselves. Indeed, that is the only way it will ever happen.

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