European History Comes in Twos

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m brushing up on European history. What I find so interesting is how so many huge events in European history are basically repeats of each other. In so many instances, the same power or theme is either victorious or is defeated, but then is challenged (or redoubles its power) not long after. The reverberations of truly enormous events really do seem to be not be absorbed the first time through. They have to recur before their lesson is understood or their force is truly integrated into the status quo.

I’m accumulating examples as I go, but some that stand out are the following.

1. World II grew out of the peace treaty of WWI as the longstanding issue of Germany’s place in the international sphere was not resolved by that war.

2. The 30 years war was essentially a relitigation of the wars that were concluded by the treaty of augsburg. Treaty of Augsburg in 1555 gave protestants some rights, and after nearly one hundred years, the treaty of westphalia confirmed those rights after they were almost destroyed by Catholic powers during the 30 years war (Westphalia was signed in 1648).

3. Vienna was attacked twice by the Turks (1529 and then in 1683), and in the second time, Europe remembered the fear it felt the first time around and so rushed to Austria’s aid, helping to create the Austria-Hungary empire in the process.

4. Prussia undergoes a kind of U-shaped history in which it first becomes powerful in the 1700s,  then gets walloped by France at the end of the 1700s/early 1800s, but then comes back resurgent again in the late 1800s (Franco Prussian war). This itself plays into the first two world wars.

4. France itself came and went, becoming powerful under Louis XIV. England and mainly the Dutch had to check the French’s desire to become the most powerful monarchy in Europe, and England (and to a lesser extent the Dutch) had to perform the same trick roughly 100 years after the war of Spanish Succession, in the defeat of Napoleon (1815).

It always seems to take old Europe about 100 years to re-fight its same battles. Now that Europe is basically unified though, I wonder what will happen to the overall movement of history. The last 70 years have undoubtedly been the U.S. most powerful era, but I wonder if some of the U.S.’s most drastic foreign policy / balance of power decisions will have to be renegotiated as well. Will we have to again confront Russia in a new form? It’s not clear that we ended the tension between west and east in the Cold War in a stable way. Will Europe again come to the U.S. aid or have they grown tired of global policing under NATO?

I don’t really have any idea, but I think its fascinating how often the same issues and themes reassert themselves after they have been supposedly CONCLUSIVELY dealt with.


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