World peace is an ideal where all nations are free from war, genocide and violence yet our headlines continue to be filled with strife. Several recently-published books, however, paint a different picture. It’s probably easier to measure war than peace and statistics are one way to assess such things which is exactly what has been done in the books mentioned below. The authors have substantiated their findings with some interesting and perhaps surprising statistics.
Most people are familiar with the Nazi holocaust but not so much the Crusades which killed a million people. Shortly thereafter, the Cathars of Southern France were exterminated in yet another Crusader genocide. Given world population at that time, the Crusades rival the death toll of the holocaust. But those are merely a couple of examples. History is full of war, genocide and violence. The Inquisition killed 350,000 people and it’s estimated that Christians killed as many as 100,000 in European witch hunts. Yes, the world has been a very violent place for a very long time.
One recent review of genocide concludes that the genocidal death rate was 1400 times higher in 1942 than it was in 2008. So the numbers seem to be at odds with world-going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket headlines. That genocidal death rate is just one measure supporting the premise that world peace is growing. Others can be found in a book titled The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined written by prominent Harvard psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker.
War, it seems, has also become less deadly. War once produced a battlefield death rate of 500 per 100,000 people. By the 20th century, even with two world wars, that number dropped to 60. And the battlefield now accounts for just three tenths of one battlefield death per 100,000 people. That is a 1000-fold drop!
Similar support can be found in a report called the Human Security Report 2009/2010: The Causes of Peace and the Shrinking Costs of War. That report, written by the Human Security Report Project, is a worldwide examination of war and violence and it concludes that impacts from recent wars have been relatively minor compared to the past.
Another book called Winning the War on War and written by Joshua Goldstein, a professor at the School of International Service at American University, supports these arguments and claims that the decade since 9/11 has been has been the most peaceful in a century.
While we may find the numbers surprising, they might also be viewed as hopeful. Yet some will find them suspect or argue in order to pursue an agenda those numbers do not support. Those folks may want to review the supporting data offered in the books mentioned here. If they still don’t believe we’re making progress on world peace, they may have to find solace in the idea that with just one good nuclear war, they may be right as rain.
Interestingly, these books offer a variety of explanations for improvements in world peace yet many appear to be self-serving: peacekeepers tend to think peacekeepers have had a lot to do with it, humanitarian workers believe its humanitarian aid, democracies believe its democracy, Americans think U.S. peacekeeping efforts are responsible, and the United Nations believes its diplomacy. Yet some explanations contain no apparent self-service such as literacy and generally higher IQs. I’ve decided to embrace the literacy explanation and to also acknowledge writers! That’s right, writers! Writers are more than important to literacy so it makes perfect sense! Absolutely! Let’s credit writers for improving world peace!