A few years ago, one of our college librarians remarked that she wished had something to be thankful for. "With all of this war and violence in today's society, there's little good cheer in the world."
She's hardly alone. I am frequently bombarded by similar comments from people; I read other columns telling me that doomsday is upon is, as there is more war now than there ever has been in history. Surely the "end of times" must be upon us, right?
But Fox News columnist John Stossel writes
Americans now face beheadings, gang warfare, Ebola, ISIS and a new war in Syria. It's natural to assume that the world has gotten more dangerous. But it hasn't.
He goes on to note.
President Obama would still be correct when he said, "If you had to choose any moment to be born in human history, you'd choose this time. The world is less violent than it has ever been. It is healthier than it has ever been." He was mocked for saying that -- and much of what our president says is deceitful and should be mocked -- but that statement was true.
Is Stossel correct? To fact check him, I went to the Center for Systemic Peace. The data they show indicates that war, which rose in size and scope from the end of World War II until 1991, has declined precipitously through 2013.
Data from the Center for Systemic Peace
International war was actually less frequently employed than one would think, reaching single digits for the number of cases. Since 1946, its numbers always remained low, and fell since the 1980s. Internal conflict, which accounted for much of the postwar boom in war, has fallen to its lowest levels since the 1960s.
Now critics have pointed out that the postwar conflict trends are still higher than the 1800s. But the "alarming increase in wars" is not supported by the data, as the trend is clearly downward over the last 20 years.
In addition, the number of political deaths from such violence is also falling according to the CSP.
The world's population is growing relatively rapidly while the numbers of deaths during the contemporary period seem to remain fairly constant (except for periodic spikes). Once we control for global population growth, we can see that the annual 'death rate per million population' from political violence is diminishing over the contemporary period.
The librarian was relieved when I sent her the data. It seemed to brighten her Christmas spirit, knowing at least the trends are getting better.
Of course, any death from political violence is one too many. As the Center for Systemic Peace authors write "We can not discount the importance of global development and the due diligence of conflict management and prevention efforts; they are our best hope for a better future."
Have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and continue to pray and work for peace on Earth.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.