Doug Saunders: We Live in the Most Peaceful Age Ever

Roundup: Talking About History

Doug Saunders is the chief of the Globe and Mail's London-based European Bureau, writes the weekly Reckoning column in the Focus section as well as daily reports and weekly features on European issues and international social and political trends. 

Are we living through the least violent moment in human history? Has there ever been an age, during the past 10,000 years, with fewer wars or mass killings or chances of being murdered?

The answer seems, to me, almost self-evident. There are terrible wars today, but they are extremely scarce, not very intense and do not affect the lives of many people. If we assume that Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Somalia are all “at war” today and all their people are affected, that means that just over 2 per cent of the world’s people know war. If you add simmering events like the Western Sahara conflict, the Middle East showdown and the Mexican drug wars, you might, at a stretch, get up to 4 per cent.

Never before has this been the case. Forty years ago, at least a tenth of the world appeared to be in conflict; 70 years ago, more than half the world was. Earlier, it was no better: Pre-modern history (before 1500) was exceedingly murderous and violent, followed by half a millennium when near-total war was more norm than exception. Violent crime has become a rarity, rather than a part of daily life, almost everywhere.

I realize this. Yet I am also guilty of helping create the opposite perception...

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