Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thirty Year's War

I’ve been watching on DVD the blockbuster movie Australia. I’m pleased to have seen it but it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t. It begins with slapstick and beefcake and ends in attempted epic, the Japanese bombing of Darwin. It’s too long. Two-thirds of the way through it reaches a natural climax, the posh English lady and the rugged Australian drover with their ill-assorted crew successfully get their cattle through to the port to frustrate the beef baron attempting to gain a monopoly. Lovely scenery, a barely credible love story but a plot with tension to be enough at that stage. The rest is overkill.

In Auckland the saga over medical lab testing continues. It proves the old adage – if it ain’t broke don’t change it. The DHB decided to give the service to a cheaper bid than the old and trusted provider. After protracted legal battles the newcomer carried the day. And has not provided the required service. People’s lives are at stake. It just proves that health like education is not a commodity to be bought and sold like baked beans. Service is not necessarily provided by the cheapest source.

Humanity’s history is riddled with inhumanity. Of these events the Thirty Year’s War is one of the worst. This brutal conflict in the early part of the 17th century wiped out a quarter of Germany’s population and condemned the area to two centuries of internal and international division, impotence and backwardness. While Spain, France, England and Holland gained overseas empires the small German states bickered and smouldered over trivial territorial issues. When that handful of Bohemians tossed the Hapsburg’s envoys out of the Prague castle’s window little did they realise the devastation they were letting lose.

I have read C.V.Wedgewood’s superb account about the war several times. But she wrote it in 1938. So with interest I started Peter Wilson’s recent history of the conflict, a book lent to me by Tom. A hundred pages in and apart from a beginning scene-setter Wilson’s is still backgrounding the religious, political, social and dynastic situation and causes. Reading these pages I became aware of a curious effect.

I’ll go off on a tangent. For years my mother took a keen interest in rugby. But in the last few years before her death her failing eye-sight meant she had trouble distinguishing the jersey colours on the TV screen. "The radio's not the same." My probing unearthed the reason, the names were no longer familiar – no Blackadder, Mehrtens, Marshall, Lomu, Jeff Wilson, Cullen. “The only one I know is Umanga.” I realised the narrative of the match was less important than the comforting recital of known names.

Reading Wilson’s descriptions of the three-fold religious divisions of the period, Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists brought back memories of Stage I History. Intending to be a Presbyterian minister I had concentrated on the reformation. Reading the fresh account brought back a flood of memories, of sitting in the little old stone library in the quad pouring over Bainton’s magnificent life of Luther ‘Here I Stand’, with its contemporary woodcuts. Wilson even mentions Bodin, a rather obscure French lawyer whose political theories point towards the modern nation state, on whom I did a brief paper. Nostalgic, in a different form of comforting recital, I harked back to that naïve young man in a maroon blazer exploring the ivory world of academia teeming with ideas.

The recall of these years was unexpected – a strange bonus considering the subject matter. Life is more bizarre than we would have it.

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