On Politics: Part One of an occasional series
We're living in a golden age, threatened by nuclear proliferation and global warming.
That's the short version. In a brutally complex and fractal world, no simple statement of fact, no matter how true, won't bring detractors, people carrying the weight of experience and agenda, who are going to react to the facts in the context of what they've experienced and believe. And if the facts are contrary to their personal experiences, most of us blink hard a bit before accepting it, and some never do -- there are people to this day who don't believe that the world is round. (Every word of what follows is going to be read by some people with "damn liberal" pounding in their forebrain, and by others with "white man." Even at this point in this piece, they're only reading carefully enough to accumulate talking points for the argument they want to make ...)
One of my ongoing problems with the hard left, as opposed to more inclusive liberalism, is the degree to which it focuses on the negative rather than the positive. There's good reasons for this, and that voice of doom, of "If This Goes On," is a useful part of the social machine; one of the reasons we didn't get a dystopian 1984 was that Orwell wrote it first. I don't share this passion, but I recognize that it's important, that the insistance that we look at what's ugly now is one of the drivers of progress. (As a pure digression, though, politics is about energizing people, and love is stronger than fear for repeat business, to paraphrase someone or other.)
When your focus on what's wrong today prevents you from seeing the progress you've made, though, you've screwed up. Let's stay focused on America for now, though much of what I have to say here has parallels in the rest of the world.
Let's go back to 1861. The Civil War started. Some fuzz in the numbers (in all these numbers) but somewhere around 750K Americans died in that war. In the Spanish-American and Phillipine-American wars, about another 6.5K. In World War I, about 116K. In World War II, about 405K. From 1861 to 1945, rounding it quite a bit, about 1.27 million Americans died in war.
That's 84 years, with an average death toll of 15.1K deaths per year.
From 1945 to 2015 is 70 years. In that time, 36K Americans died in the Korean War; 58K died in the Viet Nam War; and about 6700 died in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Rounding, again, we're looking at about 100K deaths, with the overwhelming majority of those deaths occurring in the first 30 years of that 70 year period.
In 70 years, there's an average death toll of 1.4K deaths per year.
Since the end of the Viet Nam War, 40 years ago, American war deaths have averaged about 189 a year.
We're hugely safer than we were, overwhelmingly less likely to be killed in a war, here in the U.S., today, than at any time in our history.
I won't do the numbers for the rest of the world now, though I'm likely to down the road; and there are likely to be some bitter comments about how I don't care about non-American deaths, or the 189 a year we’ve averaged in recent decades; that's projection, but when you start wading into these kinds of subjects, you get those kinds of responses. But I promise we'll come back to it.
Next time around we'll look at the city numbers. It will surprise most people who haven't read me before: cities are also much safer today than they once were.