We want world peace — so why is it so elusive?

AP/Madeline Monroe/The Hill Illustration
AP/Madeline Monroe/The Hill Illustration

According to famed and prolific historians Will and Ariel Durant, over the past three and a half millennia there has been at least one war in 92 percent of those years.

That’s a whole lotta war. And Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and criminal (and hopefully soon to be ended) invasion of Ukraine has put civilization there again.

The Durants write in their book “The Lessons of History,” “War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy. In the last 3,421 years of record history only 268 have seen no war.”

They wrote that in 1968. It’s been 54 years since, for a total of 3,475 years now. Unfortunately, the past 54 years haven’t added many, if any, to the number of war-free years.

In 1968 the United States was heavily involved in the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. The U.S. was the key player in the Persian Gulf War (1990-91). Then there was the war in Afghanistan, which lasted from 2001 until last year. And there was the war in Iraq (2003-11).

Of course, other countries were engaged in war even when the United States remained on the sidelines or acted only as a support system. There was the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001), and the First and Second Congo Wars (1996-2003), to cite a few major conflicts.

Sadly, now 2022 will be added to the war years. Indeed, this year will go down as a very deadly and destructive one, possibly spilling over into future years. 

It’s not entirely clear why the Durants decided to begin their war tally 3,421 years earlier. They don’t say in the book, nor do they footnote it (though many of the footnotes in “The Lessons of History” refer to their monumental 11-volume “History of Civilization”). Their “Lessons” was published in 1968. Subtract 1,968 from 3,421 and you have 1453 B.C. But why then? Most historians claim that there have been about 5,000 years of “recorded history.”

It’s just a guess, but the traditional date for pharaoh allowing the Jews to leave Egypt was about 1450 B.C. (though many scholars now dispute that date). 

So perhaps the Durants were alluding to the traditional date for the Exodus, since some of the Old Testament books are “recorded history” of that exodus and journey to what would become the land of Israel. 

Whatever their reason for choosing 3,421 years ago, notice the Durants claim that “war is one of the constants of history,” and that neither the spread of civilization nor democracy has changed that trend.

John Arquilla, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, weighed in on this issue a decade ago in Foreign Policy. In 2012 he concluded, “The 44 years since they [the Durants] made that observation have not added a single year of peace to that meager total.”

So, war has played a role in our world and our lives for 92 percent of the past three and a half millennia. 

It’s a tragic commentary on the history of human civilization. Although billions of people want to live in peace and never see the death and devastation war can bring, it takes only one person – in this case, Putin, backed by his enablers – to shatter that hope for peace.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags . Russia-Ukraine conflict Russia Ariel Durant Civilization Russia-Ukraine war Vladimir Putin

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