"Thus it came about that the city and all its inhabitants fell into the hands of the enemy, whose violence and cruelty were due in part to their common hatred of the adherents of the other faith, and in part to their being embittered by the shells which had been fired at them and by the derision and insults that the townspeople had heaped upon them from the ramparts.Actually it was Magdeburg, destroyed in the thirty-year conflict between Catholics and Protestants that engulfed Europe, just as the conflict between Shia and Sunni is engulfing Syria, Iraq and the Middle East.
Then was there naught but beating and burning, plundering, torture, rape and murder. Most especially was every enemy bent on securing much booty. When a marauding party entered a house, if its master had anything to give he might thereby purchase respite and protection for himself and his family till the next man, who also wanted something should come along. It was only when everything had been brought forth and there was nothing left to give that the real trouble commenced. Then, what with blows and threats of shooting, stabbing and hanging, the poor people were so terrified that if they had had anything left they would have brought it forth if it had been buried in the earth or hidden away.
In this frenzied rage, the great and splendid city that had stood like a fair princess in the land was now, in its hour of direst need and unutterable distress and woe, given over to flames, and thousands of innocent men, women and children, in the midst of a horrible din of heart-rending shrieks and cries, were tortured and put to death in so cruel and shameful a manner that no words would suffice to describe, not no tears to bewail it…
Thus in a single day this noble and famous city, the pride of the whole country, went up in fire and smoke; and the remnant of its citizens, with their wives and children, were taken prisoners and driven away by the enemy with a noise of weeping and wailing that could be heard from afar, while the cinders and ashes from the town were carried by the wind to nearby towns, and still more distant places…"
Those killed in the Thirty Years War are said to number some seven and a half million, from populations a fraction of their modern equivalents. Europe was a smoking ruin; starvation, disease, failed harvests, lawlessness. And the lesson is that no wars are more fratricidal, more zealously fought, than wars of religious sects; intervention is pointless, and peacemaking premature until the earth is soaked in blood and both sides are exhausted.
It's a lesson I hope dearly that David Cameron will learn, and not only Cameron. Mathew D'Ancona wrote a particularly stupid piece for the ES recently lecturing us all on our duty to intervene. For whom, Mathew? Do we prefer dead Shia or dead Sunni? Do we support the Syrian rebels until their own atrocities are uncovered and then switch sides? And what's the sense of supporting Shia here and Sunni there?
D'Ancona may learn in the fullness of time that all any assistance, arms and money to one side or the other will achieve is an acceleration of the cathartic bloodshed and the saturation of the soil with the lives of the protagonists more rapidly than otherwise.