The Second Hundred Years’ War

15 August 2015

Saturday


Battle of Crécy, 1346

Battle of Crécy, 1346

In a series of posts I started last summer, A Century of Industrialized Warfare, I reflected on some of the significant 100 year anniversaries of the First World War. There are many more centennials yet to come. There is, in fact, almost a century of centennials from a century of almost continuous warfare.

gas masks

Many have made the claim that the First and Second World Wars were one war with a twenty year hiatus (to rearm and regroup) ever since Marshal Ferdinand Foch, upon seeing the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, summarily announced, “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.” (Foch was not one of those, like Keynes, who saw the terms as too harsh; Foch was disturbed that Germany was not completely dismembered as nation-state.) This reasoning can be extrapolated beyond the First and Second World Wars, which was followed immediately by the Cold War, and so on. If we make this extrapolation, we have a period of armed conflict rivaled in its duration only by the Hundred Years’ War.

Going 'over the top' at the Battle of the Somme.

Going ‘over the top’ at the Battle of the Somme.

The Hundred Years’ War was a construction of later historians: no one in the fourteenth and fifteenth century called the series of conflicts between the English and the French the “Hundred Years’ War,” and no one today calls the series of conflicts triggered by the First World War the “Second Hundred Years’ War,” though we can use the second term with as much justification as the first. Our periodizations are devices that we employ to attempt to help us better understand the past. While our metaphysical ambition is to carve nature at the joints, it is not clear that we can do this with history, i.e., that there is an intrinsic metaphysical structure to history. And we might understand the past century better if we understood out time as the Second Hundred Years’ War.

Hundred Years War

As the Hundred Years’ War is divided into a periodization of the Edwardian Era War (1337–1360), the Caroline War (1369–1389), and the Lancastrian War (1415–1453), so too we can divide the Second Hundred Years’ War into World War One, World War Two, The Cold War… and then whatever historians will eventually call our present stage of instability consisting of a series of Balkan wars, Persian Gulf wars, Central Asian wars, and the “War on Terror.” In both cases — that is to say, in both Hundred Year wars — the outcome of each major conflict created the conditions for the conflict to follow, and follow they did, with a dreary inevitability.

Joan of Arc was one of the most famous figures from the Hundred Years' War.

Joan of Arc was one of the most famous figures from the Hundred Years’ War.

If the First Hundred Years’ War was about who would control the largest kingdom on the European continent (i.e., France), the Second Hundred Years’ War is about a political settlement in the context of industrial-technological civilization, when civilization is global. In other words, the Second Hundred Years’ War is about who will control the planet. This was already implicit in the geopolitics that led up to the First and Second World Wars, specifically, in Mackinder’s doctrine (sometimes called The Geographical Pivot of History) that, “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world.” (Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, p. 150)

Interestingly, the geographical area that Mackinder identified as the Heartland closely corresponds to the geographical region that David Christian calls Inner Eurasia.

Interestingly, the geographical area that Mackinder identified as the Heartland closely corresponds to the geographical region that David Christian calls Inner Eurasia.

I am not defending Mackinder’s view, which is still today discussed by geostrategists; I have observed elsewhere that Mackinder’s focus on land power was balanced by Alfred Thayer Mahan’s focus on sea power. The world-island, after all, is situated in the world-sea, and either can be a pathway to global dominion. But, really, this is not very interesting any more. No one talks about world dominion in explicit terms these days (except for villains in James Bond films), while the practical and pragmatic approaches to global power projection no longer look like Mackinder (or Mahan).

Inner Eurasia: The huge interior landmass of Eurasia, whose dominant features are flat, semi-arid regions of steppe and forest, is known as Inner Eurasia. David Christian defines Inner Eurasia as the territories ruled by the Soviet Union before its collapse, together with Mongolia and parts of western China. Poland and Hungary on the west and Manchuria (northeastern China) on the east may be thought of as Inner Eurasia’s borderlands. The northern margins are boreal forest and Arctic tundra. The southern boundaries are the Himalayas and other mountain chains.

Inner Eurasia: The huge interior landmass of Eurasia, whose dominant features are flat, semi-arid regions of steppe and forest, is known as Inner Eurasia. David Christian defines Inner Eurasia as the territories ruled by the Soviet Union before its collapse, together with Mongolia and parts of western China. Poland and Hungary on the west and Manchuria (northeastern China) on the east may be thought of as Inner Eurasia’s borderlands. The northern margins are boreal forest and Arctic tundra. The southern boundaries are the Himalayas and other mountain chains.

Nevertheless, there is a sense in which the global political system, which cannot avoid being global today because of the way all civilizations are crowded up against each other, seeks an equilibrium, and an equilibrium would be some global settlement of power relationships that would allow for an internal security regime in each nation-state and an external security regime that minimized conflict and facilitated trade and commerce. If this is what “global dominion” means today, so be it. Perhaps you would prefer to call it peace. Whatever you call it, this is what it will take to end the Second Hundred Years’ War.

. . . . .

1914 to 2014

. . . . .

A Century of Industrialized Warfare

0. A Century of Industrialized Warfare

1. Assassination in Sarajevo

2. Headlines around the World

3. The July Crisis

4. A Blank Check for Austria-Hungary

5. Serbia and Austria-Hungary Mobilize

6. Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

7. Ernst Jünger is Mobilized

8. The August Madness

9. The Battle of Coronel

10. The Christmas Truce

. . . . .

twentieth century war collage

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

project astrolabe logo smaller

. . . . .

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2 Responses to “The Second Hundred Years’ War”

  1. Joe said

    Hello. I came upon your website via Centauri Dreams. There are some rough estimates on the Internet regarding the average length of a civilization. One idea is to take some historian, say Toynbee, and the 23 civilizations he studied. You add up how long these civilizations lasted and then take the average. I think you get around 300 or 400 years average length. So if modern Western Civ got started around 1800 with the industrial revolution, it implies we have maybe a century or two to go. Have you written anything along these lines? Is it impossible to predict the duration of Western Civilization due to too many unknown factors? Or can history and statistics be used to forecast the future (as in “Foundation”)?

    • geopolicraticus said

      Thanks for your comment.

      Recently in Case Studies in Civilization I mentioned the taxonomies of Toynbee and Huntington, but only in order to reject them. However, the basic idea of taking a lot of civilizations that finding their average age is a reasonably sound procedure, and it parallels, for example the average longevity of a species in biology — which says nothing of the individual species, which may have a much longer or a much shorter lifespan.

      Prior to the above-cited post I partially addressed the longevity of civilizations in A Metric for the Science of Civilization, though this was just about establishing some standard measure for the longevity of a civilization, rather than making any prediction.

      The folks who are working on what they call cliodynamics are seeking mathematical models and quantitative predictions about civilization, though this isn’t my method. One might also cite Big History in this connection, and while I am much more sympathetic to Big History than to Cliodynamics, this isn’t exactly a predictive enterprise for the study of civilization.

      I think it might someday be possible to predict certain aspects of civilization, possible also its longevity, but we aren’t even close that yet. Our understanding of civilization is presently on an anecdotal level, and we need to formulate a rigorous science of civilization if we are going to formulate hypotheses and make predictions.

      However, in regard to the specifics of your comment, and the origins of modern western civilization about 1800, and its potential only to endure for a few more centuries, I don’t think that this is quite right. The industrial revolution inaugurated a new macro-historical division, and marks the beginning of the transition from agricultural to industrial civilization. However, within these broad categories (i.e., within these macro-historical divisions) there are many individual civilizations. The division of agricultural civilization endured for about ten thousand years, but no one civilization of this macro-historical division endured for that period of time. And many civilizations last a thousand years, so I think that modern western civilization still has quite some time to go. But that assertion carries many caveats, which I hope to develop in the near future.

      Best wishes,

      Nick

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