The more things change the more they remain the same
That's the conclusion I read after reading a book on the Spanish Reconquista. When Christian rulers in Castille or Aragon wanted to fight their Muslim enemies, they would call for Crusade. War was supposed to be for a noble cause and in those days, fighting for God was the noblest thing one can do.
Their Muslim enemies also did they same, only that they called for Jihad. Yet when you get into the details, you will find that monarchs from both sides would fight their own side as much as they fought against the other side. What's more, Christian Kings allied themselves with Muslim Sultans against fellow Christians. Muslim Sultans allied themselves with Christian Kings to fight fellow Muslims.
I think they mostly fought to expand or defend their territories. Giving their wars the highest motives of the time was just way to inspire their people to fight. It is the same today.
Take the recently concluded war in Libya for example. NATO forces allied themselves with the rebels and toppled the Qadaffi regime. The war, prosecuted mainly by the British and the French, was sold to their public in the name of human rights and democracy.
These two words have replaced God and the Church as justification for war. But I think the real reason for the war has to do with Libya's oil. British and French oil companies had made deals with Qadaffi and invested in Libya. After the Arab Spring toppled Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt, the British and French governments were worried.
For a while, it looked like a matter of time before Qadaffi was toppled. Would the new regime respect the contracts that Qadaffi signed? Or would they repudiate them and take a unfriendly stand towards the British and the French for being friends with Qadaffi?
The British and French governments, I guess, was afraid that the new government might repudiate all the Qadaffi contracts. So they voiced support for the rebels expecting that Qadaffi would fall in days. Within days of the spontanious uprising, rebel forces were approaching Tripoli, Qadaffi's stonghold at Tripoli.
Then Qadaffi's forces fought back. The world was astonished at how quickly the rebels were rolled back towards Benghazi. At the last minute British and French airplanes bombed Qadaffi's forces. American planes joined them later for a brief while. Western intervention was justified by saying that they wanted to prevent a massacre in Benghazi. Ironically, the rebels they are helping include Islamists who fought British and American troops in Iraq. These guys are no Democrats. They want an Islamic state with shariah and not democracy.
The rest is now history. Qadaffi lost Tripoli and at this time is hiding somewhere in his last strongholds. So we have something that has a close parallel to what happened in medieval times. Western powers fought for their material interests and ascribed their motives for the highest ideal. The only difference is that today the highest ideal is no long God and the Church but democracy and human rights. Otherwise, things have not changed.
If democracy one day fails and is no longer highly valued by people, I wonder what is the next idea that people will fight for? Whatever that may be the real thing people fight for will not change.