While much writing on the Great War centers on its destructiveness, less attention has been given to the steps taken over the half-century before that war to limit the destructiveness of warfare by positive international agreement, the early steps in the creation of a body of international law on warfare and armed conflict. Though some, if not all, of these early efforts failed during the Great War, that failure gave rise to renewed efforts in the 1920s and 1930s (before the beginning of World War II) to redefine, expand, and strengthen international agreements both on the resort to war and on the conduct of war. This article examines the story of the first eighty years in the creation of positive international law on war, dividing this story into three periods: before, during, and after the Great War. It concludes by reflecting on the historical and contemporary influences of religion on thinking about armed conflict.

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