Op-Ed: The safest, most secure time in world historySoldiers with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, walk in what could be mistaken for another planet. Once the Chinook helicopter dropped the Soldiers off at Forward Operating Base Pacemaker, it immediately flew away causing the loose dirt and dust to fly into the air. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ruth Pagan, 2nd BCT, 4th Inf. Div., PAO)
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“All war is a symptom of Man’s failure as a thinking animal.” – John Steinbeck
That the world seems to be going insane is a common perception. Chinese maritime expansion in the East China Sea, a bloodthirsty madman in charge of the Philippines, an even crazier despot in North Korea firing off intercontinental ballistic missiles, Russia and the United States engaged in dangerous parry in the skies over Syria and the Baltic states, and a series of spontaneous mass terror events inspired by a murder-suicide cult known as D’aesh, (a.k.a. ISIS), in the capitals of Europe and North America.
Given the above, it is understandable if people believe these are the most dangerous of times. But when viewed in perspective, it is remarkable to see that we are actually living in the safest and most secure time of history. Consider:
- 1937-1945, the time period that covers World War II and the conflicts leading up to it, approximately 24 million military casualties and an estimated 49 million civilians perished in the Allied nations struggle against Germany, Japan and Italy.
- An estimated 3.4 million soldiers and civilians perished in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.
- 1946-1954, during the First Indochina War, as many as 834,500 Viet Minh and French Union (French, Viet, Cambodian & Lao) and Vietnamese civilians died.
- 1955-1975, during the Second Indochina War (a.k.a. the Vietnam War) approximately 1.9 million Vietnamese (North & South), American, Korean, Filipino, Thai, Australian and New Zealand military died. An estimated 4.2 million Viet, Lao and Cambodian civilians died. Post-1975 in the bloodbaths that followed the Communist victory, a further 2.5 million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge, and an estimated 1 million Viet, Lao and Cambodians were killed by the Vietnamese Communist regime after the Fall of Saigon.
- 1965-66 during the mass killings of the Indonesian Communist Purge, estimates are that between 500,000 to as high as 2 to 3 million died. During the Indonesian “pacification campaign” of East Timor, 1975-1999, an additional 100,000 to 250,000 people were killed.
During the course of the Cold War, a huge, largely unknown conflict took place across the continent of Africa. The wars that occurred in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, Angola, Nigeria, and Mozambique were actually proxy wars between the West and the nations of the Communist bloc. In a deliberate decision to avoid another Vietnam-like escalation to conventional warfare, advisors from the United States, the UK, West Germany, Israel and South Africa fought their counterparts from East Germany, Cuba and the Soviet Union. Millions perished in combat, and in the subsequent years of famine produced by the revolutionary economic politics of Socialist regimes in Ethiopia and elsewhere. During this era of conflict:
- 1974-1991 (Ethiopian Civil War), over 500,000 war deaths occurred and 1 million died due to famine.
- 1986-present as many as 500,000 have been killed in the collection of conflicts known as the Somali Civil War.
Also during the 1960-1990’s era, wars of national liberation raged in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Namibia (then South West Africa), and Angola. Belligerents included South Africa, the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), the African National Congress (ANC), National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), and Cuban and East German advisors. Approximately 34,000 combatants were killed in this conflict, and as many as 500,000 civilians perished.
- 1958, 1966-76: 49-78 million deaths due to policy reforms like the Great Leap Forward (1958) and the Cultural Revolution.
Across the Middle East, wars raged from the late 1940s to early 1990s. Accurate death counts elude us as the war timelines overlap and killings continued during ‘peacetime’ between all-out conflict. Wars and significant engagements during this time frame include the Israeli wars of national liberation, the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, the Lebanon Crisis of 1958, the North Yemen Civil War, the Dhofar Rebellion of Oman, the Ba’athist Iraqi Coup of 1963, the Aden Emergency 1963-67, the PLO’s Black September War in Jordan in 1970-71, the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Lebanese Civil War 1975–1990, political violence in Turkey in the 1970s, the Kurdish–Turkish conflict, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent killings that occurred during the consolidation of the Iranian Revolution, the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), the Yemen Civil War, the Gulf War (1990, 1991), and the Iraq War (2003–2011). Including less violent uprisings with casualties in the hundreds, the world has witnessed over one hundred conflicts in the Middle East since World War II.
Casualties of aforementioned conflicts and other wars, coups-d’etat and uprisings are at approximately 2.5 million (this number does not count for state reprisals on citizens or terror killings during interwar periods). This is a significant amount, but bear in mind this involves the entire Middle East from Turkey to Yemen, and Egypt to Iran, over seventy plus years. Breaking it down to an annual rate, this is comparable to the amount of people who die from automobile accidents in the United States in an average year.
Considering that the average person is far more likely to die from a traffic accident than to ever be affected by armed conflict or terrorist violence, we still get into our automobiles every day without a second thought and accept the odds, while the thought of a terrorist attack preoccupies us. This is the epitome of the philosophy of the architect of modern terrorism, Mao Zedong: “Kill one, and strike fear into the heart of ten thousand.”
We live in a time of great discovery and technology; an era of instant communications. But there is a lack of understanding that produces unreasoning fear to misunderstood and unrealized threats. I would propose that nowadays the world seems more violent due to the continual news cycle via cable TV and social media. This makes the violence seem close to us even if it is half a world away. We can see it, and seem to actually “feel” it through video. There is a subsequent sense of despair, and a sort of slow panic, which is fear with no foundation.
Sean Linnane is the pseudonym of a retired Special Forces career NCO (1st SFG, 3d SFG, 10th SFG). He continues to serve as a security professional on six continents.