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The Manchester attack, London attacks, versus the end of IRA and ETA action... The Crusades, The Mongolian conquests, The Russian civil war versus modern day Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria.... Which era was bloodiest? Are we worse off now?
I haven't got time to chase this up now, but I wanted to start this thread; I'm interested in what people think and what knowledge you have to share.

Here are some articles/ sites to be going on with
Mapped: How the world became more violent - Telegraph

Wars in the World » Map Ongoing Conflicts

10 Deadliest Wars In Human History
 

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Interesting thread. Will read over the coming days
 

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Statistically the world is NOT getting more violent, as Steven Pinker demonstrated in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. We are less likely to die in a violent incident in the 21st Century than 50 years ago, 100 years ago, etc. The Telegraph article points out that there has been an increase since the book was published (2010), but that's mainly down to the Syrian conflict. In the long term, the overall trend is still downwards.

What I find most disturbing is that at the start of the 20th century, 90% of wartime casualties were soldiers and 10% were civilians. A hundred years later this situation has reversed.
 

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No.
For me it's our perception of violence in the world which has changed.
Primarily due to 24/7 news media giving us a permanent briefing on the global situation.
Secondly increased comfort and higher quality of life cocoons us into a false sense of security as much to natural phenomena as human-sourced violence.
 

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Statistically the world is NOT getting more violent, as Steven Pinker demonstrated in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. We are less likely to die in a violent incident in the 21st Century than 50 years ago, 100 years ago, etc. The Telegraph article points out that there has been an increase since the book was published (2010), but that's mainly down to the Syrian conflict. In the long term, the overall trend is still downwards.

What I find most disturbing is that at the start of the 20th century, 90% of wartime casualties were soldiers and 10% were civilians. A hundred years later this situation has reversed.
But Pinker's thesis has been widely discredited. For one thing he's not a historian, he's some kind of cognitive 'scientist. We simply don't have the data about death rates or war casualties from the pre-modern or even early modern past to make an objective assessment of his thesis.
He also has some kind of humanist 'progressive' ideology and sets out to show us that we are as a species 'getting better', less violent.

We simply have no idea of civilian casualties in, say, the Hundred Years War or any war which ravaged Europe in previous centuries.
So I would disregard his optimistic take entirely and think about what we know about violence in the last century, a century of violence unparalleled in previous times.
Two world wars with enormous military casualties and civilian death and suffering unknown before and all the other conflicts of the past hundred yeas.
It's estimated that more than twenty-five million Soviet citizens died during the years 1942 to 1945. Then there are the millions killed deliberately as policy in the Ukrainian famines in the 1930s and add to those the million or more that perished in Stalin's Gulags. One country alone.

Some might say that any avoidable death is a violent one...death by famine in the African sub-continent because of policy decisions. Then there's the fact that violent death on a mass scale has been made easier by technological progress: the aeroplane, the submarine, devastating explosives, nuclear weapons - we can kill now at the press of a button.

Pinker tries to justify his conclusions by citing population growth but real demographic experts have dismissed this.
The fact is that Pinker starts out with an agenda, that of proving the failed Enlightenment belief that human nature can somehow be 'perfected'.
**** sapiens, or rapiens, as I prefer to call us, is an innately violent species. We are even inadvertently killing our planet....but the planet will kill us first.
Like the dinosaurs, extinction surely awaits the human species.
 

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I cited Pinker's book because the Telegraph article was based on it. I have seen other sources, also suggesting that the statistical risk of dying as a result of a violent act (wars, crimes etc) is lower now than it's ever been, but I can't remember them. Do you dispute that?
 

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Back to PW's question, which era was the bloodiest?

I'd suggest the 16th-19th Century when European powers were colonising the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia. There was genocide on a massive scale - an estimated eight million died in the Spanish conquest of the Americas alone. Over ten million Africans died as a result of the Atlantic slave trade. Countless more people died in wars between colonial powers across the globe.

In 1500 the world population is estimated at around 500 million. In 1900 it was around 1,550 million. Today it's around 7 billion. I'd say your chances of dying a violent death during that period was significantly higher then than now.
 

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I cited Pinker's book because the Telegraph article was based on it. I have seen other sources, also suggesting that the statistical risk of dying as a result of a violent act (wars, crimes etc) is lower now than it's ever been, but I can't remember them. Do you dispute that?

Yes. For statistics to have any validity they must be accurate and available for scrutiny.
There can be no reliable statistics for primitive, early or late medieval times, probably in fact up to the late eighteenth century.
Pinker is speculating from a view he already holds and has tried to find evidence to substantiate.
As I said, he is neither historian nor demographer.

We like to deceive ourselves about our true nature as a species.
 

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Back to PW's question, which era was the bloodiest?

I'd suggest the 16th-19th Century when European powers were colonising the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia. There was genocide on a massive scale - an estimated eight million died in the Spanish conquest of the Americas alone. Over ten million Africans died as a result of the Atlantic slave trade. Countless more people died in wars between colonial powers across the globe.

In 1500 the world population is estimated at around 500 million. In 1900 it was around 1,550 million. Today it's around 7 billion. I'd say your chances of dying a violent death during that period was significantly higher then than now.
Pure speculation.
As you say, an 'estimated' eight million, an 'estimated 500 million'.. 'Countless people' died, you say. If you can't count them, you can't base a sound judgment on them.
On what is your figure of ten million African deaths from the slave trade based?

This really is pure speculation. You can make any thesis you like from these unreliable statistics and estimates.
If you focused on Europe alone you'd probably find that the last century was proportionately more responsible for violent death than any other.

Do you know how many were estimated to have died as a result of Chairman Mao's 'Great Leap Forward?
 

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The other factor to take into account when making judgments on violence in everyday life is the fear factor.
Real events as well as the media play up violent events and help create a climate of fear, widely shared amongst western peoples.
Fear may be illusory and mistaken but like Marx's fabled 'false consciousness', it has an effect, it motivates.
Nowadays an awful lot of people have mainly needless fears, about being mugged or burgled, about terrorist attack, about plane crashes and natural disasters, about accidental or deliberate nuclear war.
All this damages the quality of life for very many people in a way that wasn't the case in the past.
 

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Pure speculation.
As you say, an 'estimated' eight million, an 'estimated 500 million'.. 'Countless people' died, you say. If you can't count them, you can't base a sound judgment on them.
On what is your figure of ten million African deaths from the slave trade based?

This really is pure speculation. You can make any thesis you like from these unreliable statistics and estimates.
If you focused on Europe alone you'd probably find that the last century was proportionately more responsible for violent death than any other.

Do you know how many were estimated to have died as a result of Chairman Mao's 'Great Leap Forward?
Yes, it's partly speculation but there were some records and they have been carefully studied by historians. Trade records show that between 10 amd 13 million slaves were transported across the Atlantic from Africa, and traders counted deaths in transit for insurance purposes (1.5 million died on slave-ships). Premature deaths in the plantations were recorded by the Church and indicate that around 50% of Africans died within three years of arriving in the New World. Then there were all the indigenous people captured and enslaved to work in the gold and silver mines of South America. They didn't last long either.

Google tells me the Great Leap Forward killed 45 million. In 1950 the world's population was 2.5 billion. It's too hot to do the maths but horrendous though it is, I think you'll still find a higher percentage died violently in the 16th century.
 

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Yes, it's partly speculation but there were some records and they have been carefully studied by historians. Trade records show that between 10 amd 13 million slaves were transported across the Atlantic from Africa, and traders counted deaths in transit for insurance purposes (1.5 million died on slave-ships). Premature deaths in the plantations were recorded by the Church and indicate that around 50% of Africans died within three years of arriving in the New World. Then there were all the indigenous people captured and enslaved to work in the gold and silver mines of South America. They didn't last long either.

Google tells me the Great Leap Forward killed 45 million. In 1950 the world's population was 2.5 billion. It's too hot to do the maths but horrendous though it is, I think you'll still find a higher percentage died violently in the 16th century.
But we don't know and Pinker has no reliable figures for civilian casualties in any age, 'collateral damage' I believe it's euphemistically called.
For instance, how many died as a result of the Iraq sanctions?

Pinker's problem as I (and others) see it is that he starts with a thesis and tries to mould the facts to fit. Plus he's a psychologist, not a historian.
 

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The other factor is that whereas previously violence was almost exclusively under state control now it is the domain of individuals acting either alone or as part of terrorist groups.
 

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But we don't know and Pinker has no reliable figures for civilian casualties in any age, 'collateral damage' I believe it's euphemistically called.
For instance, how many died as a result of the Iraq sanctions?

Pinker's problem as I (and others) see it is that he starts with a thesis and tries to mould the facts to fit. Plus he's a psychologist, not a historian.
I'm not sure what point you're trying to prove. Forget Pinker for a moment. Do you think historians have systematically exaggerated the death tolls associated with colonialism? Why would they do that?
 

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While I def. agree starting out with a preplanned research answer is really not history, and as historians we are interested in'facts', a lot of history is not based on 'fact', but is based on hearsay and a great deal of speculation by some of the wisest minds. Even digging in archives could result in mistakes being made. I worked in a city archives for some years and some city employee decided there should be a clear out of 'papers' in some of the vaults. It was votd to just get rid of the papers. They were city offenses of women in the 1800's, very instructive and worth hanging on to. I really felt like taking the tons of paper home, but decided against it. Now if someone wants to write and research about how women were treated in those days in court, a lot will be missing! From my reading of the papers, women were treated with a lot more regard than they are sometimes now! So, I can write that, it is def. my honest assessment and opinion, however so, I don't have the archives to prove it.

So, my point is, a lot of history is going to be written from a few sources, the writer takes them and comes to his/her own conclusion, we still have to read discerningly.

Sometimes looking beyond the statistical tells more. The numbers are something, but indvidual stories, actual diaries, city records, can demonstrate what things were like.

This isn't the same as 'creating history'. In this more singular way of doing research, we can see what life was. Always look for a researcher who is researching without putting a his own psychological slant on it. Still it can be useful to read those ons too, just use the facts from him that you find inbetween the propaganda.
 

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I'm not sure what point you're trying to prove. Forget Pinker for a moment. Do you think historians have systematically exaggerated the death tolls associated with colonialism? Why would they do that?
Simple. I'm saying this:

Pinker is wrong. I do not believe that it has been proven beyond all doubt that we live in less violent times.
I believe as do many historians that Pinker cherry picks facts and speculative statistics to support his views.
I do not know whether 'historians' as a group have falsified data
Yes, I do believe some historians will exaggerate, be very selective with their sources, to fit their agendas - historians of both left and right routinely do that.
It's impossible to obtain accurate and comprehensive data for some historical events so any conclusions drawn from them must be tentative, to say the least.

And yes, of course there are politicians and historians who focus exclusively on the very real crimes of the West, ignoring atrocities that don't suit their agendas. Have you read Holocaust denier David Irving on Hitler?
Why do they do it? Ask the leaders of groups like Stop the War Coalition why they focus on some crimes and not others.

Although looking at the far left credentials of their leaders are you surprised?
 

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Simple. I'm saying this:

Pinker is wrong. I do not believe that it has been proven beyond all doubt that we live in less violent times.
I believe as do many historians that Pinker cherry picks facts and speculative statistics to support his views.
I do not know whether 'historians' as a group have falsified data
Yes, I do believe some historians will exaggerate, be very selective with their sources, to fit their agendas - historians of both left and right routinely do that.
It's impossible to obtain accurate and comprehensive data for some historical events so any conclusions drawn from them must be tentative, to say the least.

And yes, of course there are politicians and historians who focus exclusively on the very real crimes of the West, ignoring atrocities that don't suit their agendas. Have you read Holocaust denier David Irving on Hitler?
Why do they do it? Ask the leaders of groups like Stop the War Coalition why they focus on some crimes and not others.

Although looking at the far left credentials of their leaders are you surprised?
So basically, because there is more reliable evidence of the number of casualties for events in recent times, you believe the past century is the most violent ever. Fair enough. There's no doubt in my mind that there was genocide during the colonial era; whether it was worse than the 20th century we'll never know, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter.

But if I genuinely thought that mankind was on a downward spiral towards self-destruction, as you suggested earlier, I would soon lose the will to live.

I'll bow out of this debate now.
 

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So basically, because there is more reliable evidence of the number of casualties for events in recent times, you believe the past century is the most violent ever. Fair enough. There's no doubt in my mind that there was genocide during the colonial era; whether it was worse than the 20th century we'll never know, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter.

But if I genuinely thought that mankind was on a downward spiral towards self-destruction, as you suggested earlier, I would soon lose the will to live.

I'll bow out of this debate now.
Ok even if you don't read this:), it needs to be said that very many scientists believe that yes, we are on a downward spiral towards self-destruction, not to mention climatologists.
And is that famous nuclear clock still ticking towards midnight?

Looking objectively at how we are does not mean losing the will to live, as you imply.
Far from it. I enjoy life and people to the full. What it does mean is accepting the contingency of everyday life and living life fully, mindfully even, as seems to be the current practice.
Some people take comfort against the contingency and unpredictability of life by taking refuge in a secular or transcendental faith. Some believe in Christ or some other sacred figure, others believe in some political dogma, others in the perfectibility of mankind.Others simply focus on the immediate, which doesn't mean believing there isn't a future. It just means being aware of the fragility and unpredictability of life and of how we should value and nurture it.

If we stop to think about the role chance plays in our life we might not be so sure that we are consciously progressing. It seems that nuclear Armageddon was avoided in the Cuban Missile crisis not because of the humanity and wisdom of Kennedy and Krushchev but because a Soviet submarine commander refused to obey orders to launch a nuclear torpedo at a U.S. navy vessel.
 

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Every major act of violence is relayed by media to feed a global addiction to news.
A localised act of violence thus impacts people living on the other side of the planet.

One’s perception of a « rising climate of violence » can stem from media and statistics
rather than a personal experience of direct encounters with violent behaviour.

How many of us have directly witnessed violent behaviour regularly over the past 5 years ?
It greatly depends on your neighbourhood and your line of work.

The global population has increased by **% since the middle ages. Can we compare the % of population confronted by violence then and now ?

In the run of daily life rape, abuse, physical violence, destruction of property, corporal and capital punishment was (and still is in certain parts of the world) seen as part of life, inevitable and implacable just as the weather.

There’s a latent violence bubbling under in men ; moral and social codes (and sport !) help us keep it under control most of the time. Then religious, political, sexual or other idealogical mindsets can interfere with the default settings. Fanatical override leads to adopting a « by any necessary means » outlook.

Violence is all around ; domestic violence behind closed doors, TV series and video games seep violence into our passive minds, drug gang wars, hate crimes.

Are conquest wars and genocide really out of style ? Are we into the age of Aquarius « make war to keep peace » era ?

The threat of the next financial crash, armageddon or climate disaster looms overhead nonetheless.

Has psychological violence replaced physical violence for many of us ?
Whatever voluntarily causes human suffering is still violence regardless the source.

To measure more or less violence is meaningless for me. It can never be an objective science.

How barbaric would our modern society appear to the Mongol hordes or the Vikings ?
Other times, other violence.
 

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The answer to the OP's question is "not necessarily." Prior to more recent times, the reporting of news was not as immediate nor as thorough, so our perception of the violence of life, and death is distorted. For example, whole swathes of people died as a result of slavery by the Egyptians to build their pyramids, by the Romans when colonising and deriving their entertainment and religious persecution. This type of violence went on for centuries but those were still relatively small-scale affairs in themselves.

Fast forward a few centuries and, true, people were suppressed/oppressed and defeated but not necessarily exterminated just forced to work for new masters, e.g. during the Reconquest of Spain. In battles, the fighters of one army might be completely wiped out by the opposing army and victory be declared but it was just the army and maybe a few civilians but not all because the victors needed the local manpower to work for them.

The Charge of the Light Brigade was supposed to be a military disaster but there were only 156 killed or missing versus over twice as many horses being killed; almost all the human casualties were those actually involved in the fighting. Advance less than a hundred years and we get into WWI and civilian casualties start to get included and violence becomes more impersonal. It is estimated that roughly 10 million combatants died and roughly 20 million non-combatants plus several million refugees. 25 years later and it is WWII when the total death toll was in the order of 65-80 million, many more of whom were civilians killed while living peacefully in their own homes and not actively involved. War had come to the people instead of being something that happened on some foreign soil.

The changes in people that were brought about in wartime and in its aftermath were primarily caused by the calling up to fight of millions of people and secondarily by being bombed or shelled by the enemy who might be hundreds of miles away. It was no longer a matter of the the King's Champion fighting the other King's Champion or the country's standing army that was involved, but almost every family in the country was involved, not just during the actual hostilities but for some considerable time afterwards. People who had been plucked from their normal peacetime activities, were trained to kill, they had heightened levels of aggression - kill or be killed. Many, especially those who had been prisoners of war came away with a great deal of psychological injuries that made them more aggressive and would attack with no forewarning. When I started work (1957,), there was a guy who worked shift work, as did we, (this was on a War department base) and we used to spend a lot of time where he worked rather than spending time in our own complex (the nature of our work meant that could do so) in order to keep him company and help him to remain sane. He had spent many months in solitary confinement and suffered water torture amongst other atrocities at the hands on the North Koreans. In time he became more normal but, if we hadn't been supportive, there was no telling what might have happened. For many there was not that level of support and the violence that had been driven into them - kill or be killed - remained and, in general, this increased the level of violence in normal life.

In addition, an increased level of violence is down to movies and television. One sees this actor or that is killed or maimed this week, but next week, there he is again fighting somebody else - death or injury isn't permanent. For intelligent and rationally thinking people we are able to draw the line between fact and fiction, but there are many for whom such distinction is more difficult or impossible.
 
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