Why The 20th Century Was The Bloodiest Of All

January 27, 2009

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[First published September 15, 2005] Some have called the 20th Century now past the bloodiest of all. Usually, those who claim this seem always to have in mind World Wars I and II, plus the Korean and Vietnam Wars. However, there were many more people in the world then, a mid-century population of 2.3 billion compared to the mid-19th Century population of 1.2 billion.

Indeed, if we calculate conflict related deaths as a percent of population for previous centuries, what do we get? We get what you see the chart below from the UN 2005 Human Development Report.

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By this Table, the 20th Century was the bloodiest. And this chart, I am sure, does not even take into account the massive democides accounting for about 170 million deaths. That these would make the 20th Century even more bloody compared to the past can be seen in the table I included in the upper right.

How do we account for the 20th Century bloodletting? Through previous centuries, the prevailing form of government was monarchies — inherited rule of one person. Even seemingly absolute monarchs were chained down by tradition, and violated it at their own personal peril. By the beginning of the 20th Century, monarchies had been replaced by dictatorships in many countries, and by the end of WWI, dictatorships, or democracies dominated the world.

Monarchies, of course, could be bloody in their wars and democide, but few reached the heights of mass slaughter of the Mongols in the 14th-15th Centuries. See the table below.

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The much greater slaughter of the 20th Century occurred because of two ahistorical socio-political experiments, one fascism (especially in Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, Japan, and China), and the other, communism. These absolutist, unrestricted, uninhibited ideologies murdered people in war and democide without compunction, without the inhibition of tradition, culture, or religion. Their defeat and replacement by democracies whose leaders are restricted and inhibited by a democratic culture, liberal values, and an open and competitive electoral system has brought a virtual end to such incredible killing, as the charts I showed yesterday (see here) attest.

Leaving aside its many international and internal wars, communists murdered about 110 million people.

Link of Day

The Second Draft” Website

This website is devoted to exploring some of the problems and issues that plague modern journalism. In this age of globalization, the media has unprecedented influence on the way we see the world. And yet, whether out of misplaced good intentions, unconscious agendas and predispositions, or unwarranted faith in false information, they can get the story dramatically wrong. Therefore, we want to revisit and critique journalism’s “first draft of history”, and hopefully produce a more accurate second one. In our HYPERLINK “http://www.seconddraft.org/cur_invest.php”current investigations we present the story the way the mainstream media initially told it, introduce further evidence, and let you decide what you think really happened.

A helpful corrective to the major media’s liberal bias.

Links I Must Share

“Beltway vs. Blogosphere” By Howard Fineman

Democrats are struggling to reconcile the differences between party leaders in D.C. and independent activists on the Net.

“Matt Drudge threatens N.Y. Times”:

E-journalist considers booting paper’s columnists over new reading fees

Like Drudge, I will not link to The N.Y. Times, once its pay-to-read goes into effect, or to any other source with such a retrograde requirement.

“Europe Learns the Wrong Lessons “:

Nearly one third of Germans under 30 say that the U.S. government ordered the 9/11 attacks. In France, a book insisting that Americans carried out the assault themselves to increase defense budgets becomes a huge bestseller. In Britain, major newspapers carry headlines like “The USA is Now the World’s Leading Rogue State.” Asked which countries are the biggest threat to world peace, Europeans name the U.S as often as North Korea and Iran (each are picked by 53 percent). Countries characterized by Euros as less menacing than the U.S. include Syria, Iraq, Russia, China, Afghanistan, Libya. As one American living in Britain, Anglican minister Dwight Longenecker, summarizes: “Our cultural ancestors have become unrecognizable, even hostile, to us.”

Having rescued Europe from the Kaiser, Hitler, post-WWII economic collapse, domestic communism, and Stalin, I don’t see these opinions abating until we have to rescue them again, this time from internal Islamofacism. But if one can’t wait to be appreciated, get a dog.

“But for the U.S. and its allies” By Hiwa Osman (media advisor to President Jalal Talabani):

Yesterday, [9/13/05] an important meeting took place between President Bush and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, hearalding a new era in Iraqi-American relations. For the first time in the history of the two nations, the White House received the first freely and democratically elected president of Iraq. 
The Iraqi president conveyed a thank-you message from the people of Iraq, who were empowered to vote last January, for making a democratic Iraq a reality.

This makes me proud to be an American.

Willful Blindness?

January 27, 2009

[First published July 12, 2005] In spite of being repetitive, I’m gong to keep writing about this as long as the press and academics keep misunderstanding or ignoring the reason for the recent decline in violence. In “Researchers see lowest levels of war in the world since ’50s,” (no free link), published in the National Weekly Edition of the Washington Times, David R. Sands points to the 2005 edition of the Marshall-Gurr “Peace and Conflict Survey, which shows a sharp drop in violence while the number of democracies has rocketed. But these and other academics, and Sands do not connect the dots. For the statistical analyses of this, see my Democratic Peace clock.

I addition to this, the Marshall-Gurr survey points to a study by Victor Asal and Amy Pate that shows that the governments practicing political discrimination against their ethnic groups has almost been cut in half while those trying to remedy past discrimination has quintupled.

It seems almost willful blindness to miss the role of democracy in all this, especially when one considers how others try to explain the decrease in violence. The most often cited reason is the end of the Cold War, which also ended the U.S. and Soviets indirectly fighting the Cold War through the Third World. I find this an amusing reach, since the most prevalent explanation for conflicts after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was that it took the lid off conflicts that the U.S. and soviets kept a lid on so that they didn’t escalate into direct violence between them. The expectation at that time among students of war and violence was that violence and war would increase in the 90s.

Another explanation is that the European Union and the U.N. have played a significant role in the decline of violence. I don’t see it. If anything, the E.U. and U.N. failed miserably in preventing the Bosnian and Kosovo violence, and then there is the U.N. and Rwanda, Sudan, and Burma. By its own reckoning, its peacekeeping efforts have been a failure.

Then there is the claim that war is an international institution that is becoming discredited and obsolete and is dying out like dueling and slavery did.

Since the huge increase in the number or democracies (about 120 today) is recognized, how can they not see the connection and completely ignore the voluminous democratic peace literature that makes the connection (bibliography here). I’m almost willing to say its willful blindness, since the Marshall-Gurr survey provides empirical support for President Bush’s claim that promoting freedom will promote peace. To my knowledge, no commentator or academic (I’m retired) has made the connection between the sharp decline in war/violence, the soaring number of democracies, and Bush’s Forward Strategy of Freedom.


Link of Note

“Laying to Rest the Autocratic Peace (2004) By Karen K. Peterson
Presented at “Journeys in world Politics,” University of Iowa

Professor Peterson is a political scientist at Vanderbilt University.

This research focuses on militarized interstate conflict between pairs of nondemocratic states. It is based in part on a categorical indicator of regime type that is more comprehensive than the dichotomous indicator currently used in most research. My measure distinguishes among the different types of democratic and non-democratic regimes found in the international system between 1816 and 2001. I then use my new measure in conjunction with the existing Correlates of War Militarized Interstate Dispute data to analyze the conflict propensity of different types of regimes.

As part of a larger project, I present findings below related to the conflict behavior of pairs of non-democratic states. Regardless of how I conceive of the idea of regime similarity, I find no evidence of an autocratic peace at either the initiation or escalation phases of militarized interstate conflict, suggesting that the notion of an autocratic peace that functions in a manner similar to the democratic peace lacks empirical support.

Her conclusion makes it clearer, “. . . there is something unique about joint democracy that reduces the likelihood of conflict initiation and escalation and that non-democratic regimes do not possess this quality.”
Democratic Peace