Monday, April 15, 2013

Perspective on World Violence

People often wonder where we are and where we are going, are things getting 'better' or 'worse' in the world?

If we look at recent history in the United States we see a very sharp drop in the rate of violent crime, down about 50% from 757.7 per 100,000 in 1992 to 386.3 per 100,000 in 2011. Aside: There are some very good arguments to be made that a component of this drop is credited to an environmental reduction in lead [MJ] [Forbes] [NBER] [AlterNet]

But I think that, even as bad as some places are globally, on the whole the world is a better place today.

There was a confluence of factors that made the 19th and 20th centuries, by far, the most violent and bloody this world will (hopefully) ever know. First, was the advent of the medical sciences which rapidly and greatly expanded the average human lifespan (combined with agricultural advancements and industrialization), creating a population explosion. Second, was the advancement of military technologies, which enabled the capability to murder human beings on a terrible scale. Third, was the lack of individual-to-individual world-wide communications - news travelled too slowly and through too few channels that were too easily controlled. And I would argue a fourth, humanity was simply ignorant of too many critical things. This enabled psychopaths to acquire and control the means of mass murder against massive populations and there wasn't much anyone could do seem to do about it, in large part due to a lack of knowledge (especially in China).

Leading up to this time period and continuing through the early 20th century we still had the mass enslavement of millions of Africans (estimates range from 10-20 million slaves taken from Africa with a solid 10 million reaching foreign shores) and people through the Americas on the authority of the Spanish Requerimiento (especially the islands). We had the destruction and slaughter of the Aztec and Mayan peoples in the Southern Hemisphere and Manifest Destiny in the Northern Hemisphere giving empowerment to the idea that we could take land and lives from the Native 'savages' (and I use the term with disdain). So many millennia of slavery had to pass before the idea that all men should be free and be treated equally under the law (and by our fellow man) - and the slow realization that we had left out over 50% of human beings, that women too should be treated with the utmost respect as human beings and given the same rights as men (the right to vote and the right of bodily autonomy).

We still see deep and hateful racism and sexism, violent at times, but things ARE better on these fronts as well. The next major frontier is the fair and equal treatment of our gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer and all other gender- and sexuality-spectrum fellow human beings. Realize that neither gender (not physically nor biologically) nor sexuality are binary things... people ARE different and we need to recognize that and celebrate it and lament on how long it took us to get here. How many people suffered in silence, among people who Hate and Despised them and wished them dead? These people are finally finding a voice in the world, this IS progress.

Let's look back through history for some perspective:

King Léopold II, Congo Free State (1886-1908): 8,000,000 dead
First World War (1914-1918): 15,000,000 dead
Russian Civil War (1917-22): 9,000,000 dead
Soviet Union, Stalin's regime (1924-53): 20,000,000 dead
Hitler: Second World War (1939-45): 66,000,000 dead
Mao Zedong: People's Republic of China (1949-1975): 40,000,000 dead
Mexican Revolution (1910-20): 1,000,000 dead
1st Chinese Civil War, Nationalist Era (1928-37): 5,000,000 dead
Post-War Expulsion of Germans from East Europe (1945-47): 2,100,000 dead
2nd Chinese Civil War (1945-49): 2,500,000 dead
Korean War (1950-53): 3,000,000 dead
North Korea (1948 et seq.): 3,000,000 dead
Rwanda and Burundi (1959-95): 1,350,000 dead
Second Indochina War (1960-75): 4 200,000 dead
Ethiopia (1962-92): 2,000,000 dead
Nigeria (1966-70): 1,000,000 dead
Bangladesh (1971): 1,250,000 dead
Cambodia, Khmer Rouge (1975-1978): 1,650,000 dead
Afghanistan (1979-2001): 1,800,000 dead
Sudan (1983-2005): 1,900,000 dead
Kinshasa Congo (1998 et seq.): 3,800,000 dead

Brazil (1900 et seq.) 800,000
Portuguese Colonies (1900-25): 325,000
China, Warlord Era (1917-28): 800,000
Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922): 400,000
Spanish Civil War (1936-39): 365,000
Spanish Civil War, Franco Regime (1939-75): 100,000
Abyssinian Conquest (1935-41): 400,000
First Indochina War (1945-54): 400,000
India (1947): 500,000
Algeria (1954-62): 537,000
Sudan (1955-72): 500,000
Indonesia (1965-66): 400,000
Uganda, Idi Amin's regime (1972-79): 300,000
Vietnam, post-war Communist regime (1975 et seq.): 365,000
Angola (1975-2002): 500,000
Mozambique (1975-1992): 800,000
Iraq, Saddam Hussein (1979-2003): 300,000
Ugandan Bush War (1979-86): 300,000
Iran-Iraq War (1980-88): 700,000
Iraq (1990-2003): 350,000
Somalia (1991 et seq.): 500,000

American Conquest of the Philippines (1899-1902): 220,000
Colombia (1899-1902): 100,000
Somalia, Mohammed Abdulla Hasan (1899-1920): 100,000
Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901): 115,000
Amazonia (1900-12): 250,000
French Colonies (1900-40): 200,000
Russo-Japanese War (1904-05): 130,000
Maji-Maji Revolt, German East Africa (1905-07): 175,000
Libya (1911-31): 125,000
Balkan Wars (1912-13): 140,000
Russo-Polish War (1918-1920): 100,000
Turkey (1925-28): 250,000
Chaco War (1932-35): 100,000
Russo-Finnish War (1939-1940): 150,000
Greek Civil War (1943-49): 158,000
Yugoslavia, Tito's Regime (1944-80): 200,000
Colombia (1946-58): 200,000
Romania (1948-89): 150,000
East Germany (1949-89): 100,000
Guatemala (1960-1996): 200,000
Congo Crisis (1960-64): 100,000
North Yemen (1962-70): 100,000
New Guinea Irian Jaya (1962 et seq.): 40,000 - 400,000
East Timor, Conquest by Indonesia (1975-99): 200,000
Lebanon (1975-90): 150,000
Cambodian Civil War (1978-91): 225,000
Kurdistan (1980s, 1990s): 300,000
Uganda (1987- ): 100,000
Liberia (1989-2003): 250,000
Algeria (1992-2002): 100,000
Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-95): 175,000
Zaire (Dem. Rep. Congo), Civil War (1997): 250,000

The list of smaller conflicts goes on-and-on-and-on, but adds up to far too many lives destroyed. There cannot be enough tears shed for these people and their families and loved ones. We cannot even begin to imagine the suffering of these people. To even try is to dispair, the numbers are just astronomical.

And there are still unacceptably tragic conflicts going on around the world today, but on the whole things ARE better than they have been in the past.

This doesn't make the remaining violence 'ok' in any sense, but it gives some perspective for having hope in our future.

The biggest Challenge to forward progress are the prejudices which plagued the 20th century.

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