AUTHOR Philip Jenkins sees the First World War as a “thoroughly religious event”, in the sense that overwhelmingly Christian nations fought each other in what many viewed as a holy war, a spiritual conflict. Not in medieval or Reformation times but in the age of aircraft and machine guns, the majority of the world’s Christians were indeed engaged in a holy war that claimed more than ten million lives.
I do not personally believe in the sanctity of any war, leave alone the confused bloodbath that began in 1914. But the overwhelmingly Christian Europe of those years certainly did believe in Holy War, and treated that conflict accordingly. If we ignore that element, we are missing the heart of the story. Religion is essential to understanding the war, to understanding why people went to war, what they hoped to achieve through war, and why they stayed at war.