Thursday, March 6, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Twentieth Century Death Tolls

"Women will get the vote, and will become the peer of man in education, in literature, in art, in science, in the home, the church and the state." ~ Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 1900

In 1900, there was a great confidence about the new century. It would be a century of wonder and achievement. Freud, it was said, introduced his Interpretation of Dreams that year because the time was ripe for a new golden age in human history. There was even optimism that housework chores would no longer be a chore. It would be an era of Utopian Paradise.

I am reminded here of an article I was reading about twenty-five years ago along the same line that in the 21st century our robots would do our housework. At the time I was painting an apartment and, looking out the window at a street person rummaging the dumpster I thought, "That guy will never have a robot."

The ivory tower visions of optimists need a dose of reality-based rootedness once in a while. It is true that human achievements in the 20th century were nothing short of astonishing (manned flight, walking on the moon, telecommunications, etc.) but there has been a dark side as well. And a lot of that dark side is not going away, no matter how hard we try to avoid looking. When people study what really happened in the past, it is easy to understand why some are uneasy about the future as well.

Milton Leitenberg, of the Center for International and Security Studies, published a 2003 paper which gave very detailed estimates for all major conflicts between 1945 and 2000. His estimate for the total century is based on the following numbers:
• World War I mortality, between 13 and 15 million.
• The Armenian Genocide of 1915, 1 million.
• The Russian civil war of 1918–1922 and the Polish-Soviet conflict towards its end, deaths of over 12.5 million in Russia alone.
• The Chaco War, between Paraguay and Bolivia, 1928–1933, approximately 3 million deaths.
• The Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939, 600,000 deaths.
• Various colonial wars, approximately 1.5 million deaths.
• World War II, deaths of between 55 and 65 million.
• Wars/conflicts between 1945 and 2000, deaths of 40 million.
• Soviet collectivization and "dekulakization" 16 million to 50 million, though some included in World War II totals in these estimates.
• Deaths under Mao, between 16 million and 30 million.

Adding in a variety of other pogroms and civil wars, he comes to a final estimate of 216 million. This does not include what he calls "structural violence": deaths in under-developed nations because of crime, poverty, environmental degradation, disease, malnutrition not part of famine, contaminated water and lack of available medicine. He estimates that this reached 17 or 18 million per year by 2000.

No wonder Larry Norman closed one of his most famous songs, "Only Visiting This Planet," with the words, "This world is not my home."

"Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn." ~ Robert Burns


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