Most of the time I believe the “human condition is improving” side of the ledger trumps the “life is worsening” side.
Right now at least, after watching an excellent documentary about Egypt’s civil war, reading about Syria’s three-pronged civil war, and following the BBC’s up close coverage of the terror attack in Kenya, plus the one in Pakistan, I’m less certain of that.
The lesson of those conflicts and most others from the last 50 years is this: the victor’s brutality—whether in civil wars or international ones—sows the seeds of future conflicts. Devastated and humiliated, losers vow revenge; as a result, violence continues unabated.
“An eye for an eye,” Ghandi said, “makes the whole world blind.” No side ever truly wins a war because the underlying causes of the conflict—poverty, greed, ethnic hatred, religious fundamentalism, nationalism, desperation—are exacerbated by the military excesses of the seeming victors. Diplomacy loses, moderates are radicalized, children resolve to avenge their dead parents’ lives. What appears to be an absence of war is just an interlude in the back-and-forth between suicide bombers, anonymous drone missile strikes, and ground combat.
My government doesn’t appear to be learning the lessons of war. Our diplomatic efforts are not increasingly wise or effective. As evidence of that, despite representing 4% of the world’s population, we continue to account for 50% of the world’s military spending.
Our only hope may be running out of money. Someday maybe, we’ll realize we can’t rebuild our infrastructure, pay teachers adequately, provide affordable medical care, compete in the global economy, and invest more in our military while providing security for other governments (see Japan among others).
Like Conservative Republican Southern governors who are backtracking on mandatory prison sentence laws because they can’t afford their incarcerated populations, maybe the day is coming when the State Department will have to step up its game to compensate for a leaner military.
In the meantime, I don’t expect to see meaningful peace in Syria in my lifetime or democracy in Egypt. I hope I’m wrong and Isaiah is right. Chapter two, verse four:
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.