Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-pf4mj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-27T15:31:24.730Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

A Thirty Years' War? The Two World Wars in Historical Perspective* (The Prothero Lecture)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009


The great Helmuth von Moltke, addressing the German Reichstag in May 1890 in the last year of his very long life, gave a sombre warning of wars to come: Gentlemen, if the war which has hung over our heads for more than ten years like a sword of Damocles—if this war were to break out, no one could foresee how long it would last nor how it would end. The greatest powers in Europe, armed as never before, would confront each other in battle. None of them could be so completely overthrown in one or two campaigns that they would have to admit defeat, accept peace on harsh terms, and not be able to revive again after a years' -long interval to renew the struggle. Gentlemen, it could be a Seven Years' War; it could be a Thirty Years' War; and woe to the man who sets Europe ablaze, who first throws the match into the powder barrel.

Research Article
Copyright © Royal Historical Society 1993

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



It was only some months after completing the text of this lecture that I came across the treatment of the ‘Thirty Years War’ question by Dr P. H. M. Bell in his excellent work The Origins of the Second World War in Europe (London and New York 1986). I am deeply ashamed of this oversight. Had I read Dr Bell's work, I would have adopted a different approach, if indeed I had tackled the problem at all. But I hope that I have provided at least a tentative answer to some of the questions he raised.


1 Reichsarchiv, , Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918: Kriegsriistung und Kriegswirtschqft, AnUtgen zum ersten band. (Berlin 1930) 43Google Scholar.

2 See e.g. sources cited by Erdman, Karl Dietrich in The Origins of The First World War: Great Power Rivalry and German War Aims, ed. Koch, H.W. (2nd edn., 1984) 345Google Scholar.

3 For a summary of the Histonkerstreit, see German History, VI (1988), 6378Google Scholar.

4 See Howard, Michael, ‘Prussia in German History’ in Lessons of History (Oxford 1991), 49Google Scholar.

5 In British Documents on the Origins of the War 1898–1914, eds. Gooch, G. P. and Temperley, Harold, III (1928), 397420Google Scholar.

6 Quoted by Geiss, Immanuel in The Origins of the First World War: Great Power Rwialry and German War Aims, ed.Koch, H.W. (2nd edn., 1984) 50–2Google Scholar. see also Smith, Woodruff D., The Ideological Origins of Imperialism (Oxford, 1984)Google Scholar and Kennedy, Paul, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antogonism (1980)Google Scholar.

7 Ernst Lissauer, Germany's Hymn of Hale first appeared in the Munich journal Jugend and was published in an English translation by Barbaba Henderson in 1914 by the Gental Commitee for Politcal Organisations, Leaflet No. 112. Its refrain ran:

We shall never forego our hatc

We have all but a sigle hate

We love as one, we hate as one

We love one foe and one alone

8 Fischer, Fritz, Germany's Aims in the First World War (1967), 130ffGoogle Scholar.

9 See e.g. Angell, Norman, Prussianism and its Destruction (1914)Google Scholar.

10 Clausewitz, Karl von, On War, VIGoogle Scholar, Chapter 5.

11 See n. 5 above.

12 Feiling, Keith, The Life of Neville Chamberlain (1970), 416CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 Taylor, A. J. P., Origins of the Second World War (1961), 6971Google Scholar.

14 Angell, Norman, After All (1951), 137Google Scholar.

15 Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf, trsl. Mannheim, Karl (1969) passim, esp. 126–37Google Scholar. On the Jews, see Hitler's Table Talk 1941–44 (2nd edn., 1973), 332.

16 Rich, Norman, Hitler's War Aims: Ideology, the. Nazi State and the Course of Expansion (1973), 212–49Google Scholar.

17 Mein Kampf, 609, 616.

18 Ibid., 133.

19 See Bryant, Arthur, The Tears of Endurance and The Tears of Victory (1942 and 1944)Google Scholar.

20 Hillgruber, Andreas, Hitlers Strategie: Politik und Kriegsfuhrung 1940–41 (Bernard und Graefe Verlung, Frankfurt am Main, 1965)Google Scholar.

21 Rich, Norman, Hitler's War Aims vol II: the Establishment of the New Order (1974), 7Google Scholar.

22 Mein Kampf, 31, 307. See also Robertson, Esme, The Origins of the Second World War (1971), 13CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 See Bartov, Omer, The Eastern Front 1914–15: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare (1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For European support for Hitler's policies see Lukacs, John, The Last European War (1976)Google Scholar and Rich, Norman, op. cit., II, passimGoogle Scholar.

24 Mein Kampf, 91, 109, III.

25 Addison, Paul, Churchill on the Home Front 1900–55 (1992), 124–6Google Scholar.