Conflict and Conscience: Ideological War and the Albigensian Crusade
By John W. Bauer
M.A., Military History, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (2007)
Abstract: This thesis is a case study on ethics within war. The thirteenth century Albigensian Crusade was a war against a heretical religious ideology known as Catharism whose tenets threatened the social order of Europe. The campaign took place in present-day southern France, a region that was at the heart of medieval Christendom. While the Church had recognized the area’s slow decline into heresy for over a century, only during the papacy of Pope Innocent III did the situation escalate to necessitate armed conflict. Following the papal call to crusade, Christian nobles and knights from France and Germany formed an ad hoc army that waged a war of occupation for two decades (1209- 1229) against an elusive enemy. Despite the military accomplishments of the Crusade, the most important factor leading to its eventual victory was moral. In the end, the nobles and citizens of the region were persuaded to abandon their sympathies toward the Cathar heretics, not through violent coercion but by winning their hearts and minds. This case study’s particular emphasis on the moral challenges of this unique type of ideological war offers a historical parallel with the Global War on Terrorism that our nation engages in today.
Introduction: The conduct of warfare and the moral evaluation of that conduct are inextricable. Throughout history, we are presented with examples from the past showing that wars have moral limitations. Time and again, limits have been the result of moral choices that have brought restraint to what would have otherwise been limitless violence. From a human point of view, one would suggest that this is a good thing. Only our imagination can bear witness to the consequences of limitless violence, especially in today’s atomic age defined by man’s newfound capability to destroy entire populations at once. Arguably, a mix of two components, practical and moral, provides the restraint necessary to prevent this disastrous outcome. Yet in the past when man has identified a threat to his system of moral norms, he has been apt to defend through military action that which he believes to be morality itself. Such conflict can be referred to as a certain type of ideological war, or more specifically, a war whose goal is to defeat an insidious moral ideology. By considering a historical precedent of this particular cause for war, we stand to gain insights on the unique challenges and pitfalls of this type of conflict.