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Beginning with the chaotic post-World War I landscape, in which religious belief was one way of reordering a world knocked off its axis, Sacred Causes is a penetrating critique of how religion has often been camouflaged by politics. All the bloody regimes and movements of the twentieth century are masterfully captured here, from Stalin's Soviet Union, Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and Franco's Spain through to the modern scourge of terrorism. Eloquently and persuasively combining an authoritative survey of history with a timely reminder of the dangers of radical secularism, Burleigh asks why no one foresaw the religious implications of massive Third World immigration, and he deftly investigates what are now driving calls for a civic religion to counter the terrorist threats that have so shocked the West.
In a dazzling display of erudition, British historian Burleigh completes his two-volume chronicle of the interaction between religion and politics in Europe from the French Revolution to the present. The first book, Earthly Powers(2006), took the story to World War I, concentrating on the battle for and against secularization in the 19th century, while this installment carries the story to the present. Though best known for his books on Germany, including the prize-winning The Third Reich(2001), Burleigh's remarkable breadth of knowledge is manifest in his trenchant analysis of the role of religion in a number of European countries and the Soviet Union. He thoroughly reviews totalitarian attacks on religion and its misuse by Nazis, Fascists and Communists. Burleigh's opinions are forceful, especially when he condemns a prevalent "fantasy view" of Ireland that is blind to the "gangsters of the Provisional IRA" who are responsible for "bullying, intimidating and killing others." He colorfully criticizes "politicians in Western democracies [who] treat high office as pigs regard their troughs." Burleigh also upbraids critics of Pius XII, claiming that the controversial pope actually did a good deal to save and shelter Jews during the Holocaust. Use of odd words such as "erastianism" and "soteriological" detract from what is otherwise a rewarding example of intellectual history. (Mar.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
'Distress of Nations and Perplexity':
Europe after the Great War
I 'have you news of my boy jack?'
Some future archaeologist, should all written records vanish, may speculate that early-twentieth-century Europe witnessed a regression to the age of megaliths and funerary barrows before it succumbed to a more general primitive fury. The extent of this commemorative enterprise can be gauged from the fact that each of France's 35,000 communes erected a war memorial, mainly between 1919 and 1924, as did most of the parish churches, with a special chapel, plaque or stained-glass window dedicated to local representatives of the two million French war dead.1 Such memorials proliferated across the continent and beyond, with memorial arches, cenotaphs, obelisks, ossuaries and crosses, and plinths peopled by eyeless poilus and tommies in bronze or stone. At Douaumont, Hartmanwillersdorf or Lorette, imposing memorials marked these vast necropolises for the dead. The continent's culture was more generally permeated by the loss of nine million men in a conflict that had become maniacal in its relentless destructiveness. There were a furthertwenty-eight million wounded and millions too who had experienced captivity. The dead left three million widows, not including women they might have married, and, on one calculation, six million fatherless children, not to speak of tens of millions of grieving parents and grandparents, for the war burned its way up and down the generations with heedless ferocity. Total war also struck directly at civilians, whether in the form of burned villages, reprisal shootings and the sinking of merchant ships, or as naval blockades gradually decimated entire populations through calculated starvation.
Myriad individual griefs welled into a greater sense of public loss, in some quarters sentimentalised as a culturally significant 'lost generation'—although plenty of butcher's boys and postmen were 'lost' as well as minor painters and poets. The querulous homosexual Oxford don A. L. Rowse remembered an encounter from his schooldays during the unveiling of a war memorial:
A little man came up to me and started talking in a rambling way about his son who was killed. I think the poor fellow was for the moment carried away with sorrow. He said 'Sidney Herbert—Sidney Herbert—you know they called him Sidney Herbert, but really he was called Sidney Hubert: he was my boy. He was killed in the War—yes: I thought you would like to know.' And he went on like that till I dared not stay any longer with him.2
Rudyard Kipling lost his son John, a subaltern in the Irish Guards, at the battle of Loos in 1915. John's (or 'Jack's') body was never found; it was presumed to have disappeared during a German bombardment, along with half of the British war dead, whose bodies remained unrecovered. Kipling wrote 'My boy Jack' to express his desolation:
'Have you news of my boy Jack?'
Not this tide.
'When d'you think that he'll come back?'
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide . . .
'Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?'
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Possessed even in old age of indefatigable energy, fuelled by implacable hatreds not exclusively exhausted by the Germans, Kipling became a leading member of the Imperial War Graves Commission, overseeing the creation of decorous cemeteries and memorials to John and his kind. They include the Tyne Cot Memorial, where twenty-one-year-old Lieutenant James Emil Burleigh MC of the 12th Battalion Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders is remembered 'with honour', while my other uncle, Lieutenant Robert Burleigh, twenty-three years old, of the Royal Flying Corps, lies in Knightsbridge Cemetery at Mesnil-Martinsart. For others the war left no mortal remains to bury.
Powerful emotions once accompanied monuments experienced nowadays in a blur of traffic—such as the Artillery memorial in London's busy Marble Arch or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Others are too modest to attract a second glance unless one consciously seeks them out, or they have disappeared into the uncertainty that eventually disperses the material effects of even the most scrupulous. For years after the war, reminders of this colossal tragedy lay in drawers or were displayed on mantelpieces and sideboards: photographs of sons, brothers, husbands, uncles in uniform; bundles of letters and field postcards; civilian clothes and juvenilia, augmented by fragments of the soldier's life—perhaps a ring, wristwatch or lucky charm that had brought no luck—if relatives were so fortunate.
The final British war memorial was unveiled in July 1939 at the seaside resort of Mumbles in Wales, the last summer before Europe's civil war resumed on a larger scale. Memorials included simple stone markers in obscure villages; plaques in Oxford college chapels and public schools (at Repton alone 355 alumni had perished) or on the walls of metropolitan stations, recalling 19,000 dead railwaymen; and last, but not least, the two and a half thousand cemeteries that transformed French hectares into permanent corners of England and its dominions.3
Memorialising the dead evolved from practices that initially accompanied armies of the willing. In Britain, rolls of honour, recording the names of pre-1916 volunteers, mutated into lists of the dead, whose names appeared on separate tablets, or proliferated below an ominous black line separating them from men still alive. Primitive street shrines were created in the East End of London, often at the prompting of the same Anglo-Catholic clergy who had introduced settlements into those dismal areas. These were simple affairs of names, illustrative kitsch clipped from the newspapers, and arrangements of wilting flowers, to which more puritanically minded clerics would object at their peril, for the shrines protected men at the front. Permanent memorials, intended to focus mass bereavement, superseded these impromptu shrines, although resort to spiritualists, to which modern technologies had given an enormous fillip since the late nineteenth century, suggests a reluctance to accept that the dead were beyond human contact regardless of disapproval by the Church of England.
Excerpted from Sacred Causes by Michael Burleigh Copyright © 2007 by Michael Burleigh. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted August 15, 2009
As a Christian who is fascinated by European history, this book was totally absorbing and is one of the best I've ever read. It was very enlightening about how European dictators used the church for their own ends yet persecuted Christians as well, and how the Catholic Church behind the Iron Curtain was able to use its organization and base in the Free World to stand up to Communism. Fantastic book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 25, 2006
It takes only a few sentences of Sacred Causes before a depressingly familiar vocabulary emerges, which reveals the all to prevalent tendency of authors to uncritically trumpet their own side as the champions of righteousness and guardians of civilisation while correspondingly depicting those who oppose 'us' (whom ever us might be) as deranged psychopaths helplessly intoxicated by some evil ideology. This is particularly evident in Burleigh¿s blatantly partisan chapter devoted to Northern Ireland, a cut and paste chronicle of 'The Troubles' cemented together with the occasional venomous barb directed at those actors in the conflict whom the author seems determined to blame exclusively for the entire affair. Burleigh skilfully misses almost ever opportunity to provide a balanced account of the conflict, choosing instead to linger in detail over the ghastliness of Republican murders while choosing to deem British Army killings of unarmed civilians a 'Tragedy', an age out propaganda trick implying that one side kills for gratuitous pleasure while similar actions by the other side are unavoidable, accidental and deeply regretted. Observers of press coverage of the Israeli ¿ Palestinian conflict will be wearily familiar with this jaded media manoeuvre. This bias is underlined repeatedly, such as the author¿s adoption of the old Unionist innuendo 'Sinn Féin - IRA' which attempts to conceal the subtle but significant distinction between the two organisations. Inconvenient facts, such as RUC collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in several murders of catholic solicitors, which one might have assumed indispensable to this chapter, are simply omitted. One can only assume their inclusion would have caused the façade of Burleigh¿s central argument, i.e. the inherent villainy of the terrorists v¿s the immaculate virtue of the forces of civilisation, to begin to crumble and reveal the real and far more complex world in which we find ourselves, a world which, despite numerous diatribes to the contrary, is not so morally black and white. It's difficult to read this book without hearing the voices of Christopher Hitchens or Richard Littlejohn ringing in the readers ears, and as such it will probably be enjoyed by those already deeply indoctrinated in the mythology of the war on terror, and blinkered to its blatant contradictions. However for those seeking to develop a greater understanding of the nature of political and religious violence this title will offer very little.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.