Wednesday, August 17, 2011

War is over?

[T]he last decade has seen fewer war deaths than any decade in the past 100 years [...] Worldwide, deaths caused directly by war-related violence in the new century have averaged about 55,000 per year, just over half of what they were in the 1990s (100,000 a year), a third of what they were during the Cold War (180,000 a year from 1950 to 1989), and a hundredth of what they were in World War II. If you factor in the growing global population, which has nearly quadrupled in the last century, the decrease is even sharper. Far from being an age of killer anarchy, the 20 years since the Cold War ended have been an era of rapid progress toward peace.
Armed conflict has declined in large part because armed conflict has fundamentally changed. Wars between big national armies all but disappeared along with the Cold War, taking with them the most horrific kinds of mass destruction. Today's asymmetrical guerrilla wars may be intractable and nasty, but they will never produce anything like the siege of Leningrad. The last conflict between two great powers, the Korean War, effectively ended nearly 60 years ago. The last sustained territorial war between two regular armies, Ethiopia and Eritrea, ended a decade ago. Even civil wars, though a persistent evil, are less common than in the past; there were about a quarter fewer in 2007 than in 1990.
If the world feels like a more violent place than it actually is, that's because there's more information about wars -- not more wars themselves. [...] 'The decline of violent behavior has been paralleled by a decline in attitudes that tolerate or glorify violence,' [...] today's atrocities [are] mild by historical standards [...]
~"Think Again: War", by Joshua S. Golden

The author makes an excellent point.  I've been watching through The Complete Story of World War I (a documentary from the 1960s), and the death tolls are truly startling.  Hundreds of thousands of men died in battle over single towns.  The deadliest conflicts in history routinely claimed well over 10 million lives.  As deplorable as the casualties of war may be, it certainly seems that the death toll is much lower today than in centuries past.

I don't doubt that our relative peace and the increase in information have made us react more strongly to the deaths we hear about (and we hear about a significant portion of them), but I can't help but wonder:  a) do these figures include genocide, and b) does a decrease in hostilities and casualties now in any guarantee against an increase in the future?  I think not.  And with the technological advances made in the past 100 years, it is quite likely that a large scale conflict in the future would have a devastating effect on the world's population.  We are much more efficient about killing each other now than we ever were--if we ever decide that annihilation is our goal, there's an excellent chance we'll achieve it.

No comments: