Occasionally Peace Breaks Out
"One death is a tragedy; a million is [just] a statistic."
Real and lasting peace has always been illusory—within our dreams, but beyond reality. The history of civilization is a history of war. It reeks from naked aggression, ethnic cleansing, barbaric murder, torture, and brutality-usually perpetrated in the name of patriotism, colonialism, exploration, and religion. Humankind's taste for high adventure, heroic trial, and material achievement has, through the filter of time, bleached those despicable acts and rendered them down to romantic legends.
History books rarely lack references to aggression and hostility. Alexander the Great led senseless expeditions to India. Julius Caesar subjugated the Mediterranean countries, bringing the vanquished as slaves to Rome. Genghis Khan built the world's largest empire conquering peoples from Korea to Hungary. And the list goes on: Napoleon, Charlemagne, Augustus, Hannibal, the Pharaohs, Xerxes, Agamemnon, Robespierre, Attila and Pyrrhus were all savage leaders, today they are often celebrated as epic heroes. The Mongols, Vandals, Norse Vikings, Huns, Berber Moors, and Barbary Pirates were marauding lawless gangs. Nor should we forget the other blemishes on humankind's collective past such as pogroms, witch-hunts, conquistadors, the Inquisition, and the Crusades.
In attempting to identify the causes of war, it is important to grasp that armed conflict is as inevitable to man as is eating and reproducing. Environmental factors do not produce aggressive behavior; any more than cold weather (rather than germs) causes colds. (I will discuss this subject at greater length in Chapter 10. Can’t We Just Get Along Without Fighting?)
When examining the history of war, some trends and patterns do emerge. My analysis shows that the average length of each war during the last 5,000 years decreased from about 10 years to 3 years by the 19th Century. Troublingly, it has begun to rise in the 19th and 20th Centuries. (Appendix B)
The truly distressing statistic is the frequency of armed conflicts. The 5,000 year average has increased sharply from 37 per century (a new conflict every 33 months) to 298 in the 20th Century (one every 4 months).
Are we any closer today to protecting against the mass destruction of humanity, such as the 20 million lives lost in World War I or the 50 million lives lost in World War II, than we were thousands of years ago? It would appear not. Malignant personalities and genocidal events will undoubtedly reappear if left unchecked by the world. Nothing indicates that our future will be different from our past.