Editorial: Peace breaks out all around us
Description: It has been said that blood alone moves the wheels of history, and for much of our recent past there seemed little basis for disagreeing with that view. The 20th century was virtually a litany of conflict, from the two world wars to Korea and Vietnam
Date: 26 March 2006
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist
Despite high-profile conflicts, warfare's toll has been falling since the late 1980s.
It has been said that blood alone moves the wheels of history, and for much of our recent past there seemed little basis for disagreeing with that view.
The 20th century was virtually a litany of conflict, from the two world wars to Korea and Vietnam, from the Middle East to Africa, from Pakistan and India to the Balkans.
And yet a recent study by the Human Security Centre
at the University of British Columbia shows that, almost without our noticing it, the scope and toll of global warfare has finally begun to trend downward.
Since the late 1980s, armed conflicts have actually decreased by 40 per cent across the globe, while the number of people killed in genocidal campaigns has been reduced by half.
Not only are there fewer wars today than at perhaps any time in the modern era, but the conflicts we see around us tend to cause much less destruction. Although the scale of devastation in the second half of the 20th century never approached the level of the earlier decades, battle fatalities during the 1950s and '60s still averaged in the tens of thousands.
In 2002, by contrast, the average number of deaths in armed conflicts had fallen to just 600. Reflecting this overall movement toward stability, the arms trade has fallen on hard times of late, and around the world more troops than ever are being demobilized or redirected to peacekeeping duties.
Of course these facts conflict directly with the almost daily diet of mayhem and bloodshed beamed into our sitting rooms, and the authors ask an obvious question: Why does it seem the world is headed for disaster when, in reality, peace is breaking out all around us?
Part of the answer lies in the dominant event of our time -- America's intervention in Iraq and the clash of cultures it signified. But as the authors discovered, a good part of what is written or reported about conflicts around the globe is either distorted or false.
The following claims have all been made or widely repeated by international organizations:
- Ninety per cent of those killed in today's wars are civilians.
- In the Balkan conflict, 200,000 people died in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Two million children were killed in wars during the last decade.
- Women are the primary victims of war.
- There are 300,000 child soldiers serving in guerrilla armies.
None these assertions, it appears, is based on reliable evidence. All are suspect, some are hugely inflated and the first is just plain wrong.
The authors trace the falsehood that civilian deaths represent 90 per cent of contemporary war-related casualties to several United Nations agencies, including UNICEF.
It appears researchers at a leading think-tank counted the number of people killed by fighting during the 1990s. They also estimated the number of refugees, and listed both categories under the heading of casualties.
Civilians were indeed 90 per cent of this combined total, because they made up virtually all the refugees. UNICEF and other groups, however, either missed or ignored the distinction, and the urban myth of a 90-per-cent death rate is now, as the authors protest, "an uncontested truth."
Several other fallacies get equally short shrift. So-called security indexes or terror scales that purport to rank countries on the basis of threats to safety exaggerate the risk because they bundle together everything from kidnapping and death squads to minor human-rights violations.
Criminal violence is also often overlooked, yet in many countries, Canada among them, what the public fears most is crime.
"What if they gave a war and nobody came?" was one of the first questions the '60s generation asked of authority. Thanks to this far-seeing report, it does appear a more hopeful answer may await our children.