10 WW I Battles That Killed Christianity
World War I is responsible for destroying Christianity as a moral order. Christianity survives today, of course, and even thrives in parts of the world, but it does so in the West as a form of resistance or as a reprieve from the day-to-day grind of life in secular democracies. This was not always the case. What is now known as Europe was once referred to as “Christendom” due to the fact that Europeans by and large operated under a Christian moral order.
This is a tough sell, but look at the Middle East. Today, the Middle East is often referred to as the “Muslim World” and Middle Eastern states are commonly known as Muslim states. Prior to World War I, this was also the case with European countries. This understanding, of Europe as Christendom, became weaker as the 18th and 19th centuries progressed, but large swaths of the world still thought of Europe as Christendom and many foreign affairs conducted by European governments were viewed through the lens of Christianity up until the end of World War I. Christianity enjoyed a cultural prominence in European societies, even the secular ones, that controlled the moral order of European thought and action. Christianity was hegemonic in Europe.
There were intra-European wars, such as the 30 Years’ War, but when the time came to cease hostilities, diplomatic entreaties were made in the form of Christian brotherhood rather than as sovereign states in a world order. This all changed with World War I. The savage slaughter of souls on all fronts wrought the death knell of Christianity in the West.
Here are the 10 World War I battles that destroyed Christianity as a moral order:
10. Second Battle of the Marne: July 15 - Aug. 6, 1918. Between 130,000-150,000 dead or wounded Allied soldiers. Between 130,000-160,000 dead or wounded German soldiers. The Second Battle of the Marne was a last-gasp attempt by Germany to seize control of the Western Front by smashing its replenished army into a combined British-French-Italian-American force. The technical victory belonged to France, but the shared God of those armies lost more than the Germans. The First Battle of the Marne, by the way, fought in September of 1914, saw 154,000 casualties on both sides.
9. Battle of Galicia: Aug. 25 - Sept. 11, 1914. Fought in the early stages of the war on the Eastern Front, the Battle of Galicia pitched mostly Catholic Austria-Hungary against mostly Orthodox Russia in a battle that saw more than half a million men (550,000-650,000) slaughtered senselessly. Also known as the Battle of Lemberg, the Russian Generals won even though they lost more men, and held Galicia for the next three years. Both sides were guilty of fighting a 19th century war with 20th century technology.
8. Battle of Caporetto: Oct. 24 - Nov. 19, 1917. On the Austro-Italian Front, a bloody stalemate between Italy and Austria-Hungary was broken by German reinforcements and their chemical weapons. German soldiers from Protestant or Catholic homes lobbed poisonous gas into the trenches of Catholic soldiers fighting for Italy. The most heinous crimes of war were committed by Christians against Christians in the name of the nation. Italy lost between 300,000-315,000 men. Austria-Hungary and Germany lost roughly 70,000. The Battle of Caporetto saw the collapse of the Italian line, and the Central Powers almost marched into Venice before British and French reinforcements arrived to turn the Central Powers back.
7. Third Battle of the Aisne: May 27 - June 6, 1918. Part of a Spring Offensive launched by Germany to knock out the Allies before the Americans could take root, the Third Battle of the Aisne claimed over 150,000 British, German, and French lives. Lives given not for Christendom but for the nation. German generals had hoped to recapture Aisne and use it as a springboard to capture Paris, but the French and British held out long enough for American troops to arrive and take root on European soil.
6. Battle of Asiago: May 15 - June 10, 1916. Another nasty battle fought along the Austro-Italian Front, Asiago is considered a victory for Italy even though it lost more men than the Austro-Hungarians. Altogether, the surprise attack launched by the Hapsburgs inflicted severe casualties on the Italians, with the latter losing 140,000 men and the aggressor losing 100,000. The surprise did not work for the Hapsburgs, either, as their armies were turned back and the position continued to be held by the Italians. There is a beautiful war memorial dedicated to both sides in Asiago today, and there are no crosses to be found for the dead there.
5. Battle of Tannenberg: Aug. 26-30, 1914. This was less a battle than it was a slaughter. Fought in the first month of the war, the German military outclassed the Russian army and proceeded to eliminate 170,000 Russian soldiers. The Germans lost 10,000-15,000 of their own, but the sheer number of Russian deaths, coupled with the fact that Germany was unable to land a knockout blow even after such a lopsided battle, was a harbinger of things to come. The Russian army was conditioned to fight sporadic, one-sided battles of their own against khanates and Persia, so when it met another Christian army head on, it was woefully unprepared.
4. Battle of Łódź: Nov. 11 - Dec. 6, 1914. Marked by confusion, freezing temperatures, and an inconclusive victory, the Battle of Łódź serves as a microcosm of the war as a whole. The Russians suffered 85,000-100,000 casualties, and the Germans, roughly 40,000. Blood mixed with snow, and many of the soldiers on both sides were fighting in their summer gear. Altogether, the Russian Army lost more than 1 million men to the war effort against the Central Powers. St. Petersburg’s campaign against its enemies was butchery, plain and simple, and contributed heavily to the collapse of the Romanov dynasty, the civil war in Russia that followed this collapse, and the rise of the officially atheist Bolsheviks. The brutality of the Bolshevik crackdown on Orthodox Christianity is rivaled only by the brutality of World War I.
3. Battle of Passchendaele: July 31 - Nov. 10, 1917. Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele was a bloodbath. Casualty estimates range from half a million on both sides to 850,000. Passchendaele is infamous in military circles because of the decisions made by British generals to keep pressure on the Germans at the cost of heavy casualties. The reasoning behind this fruitless logic was that, although both sides were evenly matched casualty-wise, the Germans could not sustain losses the way the British could. Although the Germans lost ground and were eventually pinned down, the draining psychological effects of the battle were felt on both sides.
2. Battle of the Somme: July 1 - Nov. 18, 1916. The second largest battle of World War I, with 3 million men participating in the fight, the Battle of the Somme was also the bloodiest battle of the war, with over 1 million casualties on both sides. Nearly 20,000 British soldiers were killed on the first day of the battle alone, and by the end of the battle, 141 days later, the British and French forces had recaptured six miles of land from the Germans. Volunteers throughout the United Kingdom saw their first, and often last, action at the Somme, as British generals threw massive amounts of manpower at the German machinery that was defending its kingdom’s gains. The month of September became the worst one for casualties on the German side at the Somme. Chemical warfare was used by both sides. Cannon fodder was sacrificed the God of Modernity: the Nation. One million casualties, all for six miles of land.
1. Battle of Verdun: Feb. 21 - Dec. 18, 1916. The largest battle of the war, Verdun was to the French what the Somme was to the British: a vile reminder of the horrors of war. Fought solely between attacking Germans from Protestant regions and Catholic states and defending Catholic Frenchmen, this battle of attrition between two Christian powers resulted in over 700,000 casualties. Do note the date. The French Empire had committed troops to Verdun and the Somme simultaneously, and Paris spared further resources for the Italians after their lines broke against an Austro-Hungarian offensive. Those jokes about French military ineptness lack the bite they once did. The French have never been the same after Verdun, and it’s not challenging to see why. Verdun is used today by the French and German states as a symbol of peace and eternal friendship. The only crosses to be found are those that mark the sea of graves.
Christianity was dead by the end of 1918. In its place were nations, international organizations dedicated to state sovereignty, and battle hymns for the state. In Christianity’s place arose not a world safe for democracy, but a world safe for communism, fascism, and ethnic cleansing in the name of the nation.
Today, Christianity’s prospects for regaining its prominence are extremely dim in Europe, Australia-New Zealand, and North America, but in Africa and Asia - especially China - Christianity’s appeal as a moral order is ascending quickly. It is here that Christians in the former Christian world should look for allies and converts, and not in the capital cities of Christendom’s former realm, for the cross carries no meaning to the peoples of Europe; such meaning was buried alongside the dead in places like Passchendaele, Caporetto, Marne, Asiago, Aisne, the Somme, and Verdun.