War, terror, murder: deaths hit record lows

Long Peace: There has been a small rise in war deaths since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.

Are we in the most peaceful era in history? Appalling images from war zones often fill our newspapers. But behind the headlines, some say that the world is growing ever less violent.

From civilians battered by bombing raids in Syria to the brutal attacks of Islamic State terrorists, the harrowing reports of war and suffering that blare out from news bulletins can make the world seem chaotic and dangerous.

But these sensational events only tell part of the story. In fact, some think that deeper trends (which often go unnoticed) suggest we should be much more optimistic about the state of the world.

Psychologist and philosopher Steven Pinker famously argued that humanity is in the midst of a wholesale “retreat from violence,” and that our current age could be the most peaceful in history.

While some brutal conflicts make headlines, Pinker charts a steep overall decline in the rate of war deaths since the second world war.

For other nations it is often terrorism, not war, that directly threatens security. Yet even here there is an encouraging trend. According to the Global Terrorism Index, there was a 22% reduction in terror deaths worldwide between 2014 and 2017.

And it is not just deaths from war and terror that is on the decline.

In the UK, the murder rate has fallen 29% since 2000. And whilst the rate of killings in the USA rose slightly in 2015 and 2016, it still remains way below its peak in the 1980s and early 90s.

But is the world really safer than ever before?

World peace?

Quite possibly, some argue. Our perceptions are often warped by a modern culture which favours drama — and reports of things not happening do not often make the news. But take a look at long-term trends, and a striking move away from violence is revealed.

Nonsense, others respond. The statistics do not show the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula or Europe’s eastern borders. In both cases big nations could quite easily clash and spark lethal wars.

You Decide

  1. Is bad news more interesting than good news? If so, why?


  1. What do we mean by the word “conflict”? Write down as many ways that it can happen as you can think of, big or small.

Some People Say...

“There's no problem on the planet that can't be solved without violence.”

— Andrew Young

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Currently, there are four ongoing wars which caused over 10,000 deaths in 2017. These are in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Mexico (drug war).
What do we not know?
One area where information is lacking is the rate of executions worldwide. This is because several countries which employ capital punishment do not release figures on the number of deaths, including China and Vietnam.

Word Watch

The Syrian civil war began in 2011. So far over 400,000 people are thought to have been killed, with millions more made refugees.
See graphic.
According to Ipsos Mori.
In the book The Better Angels of Our Nature published by Penguin Books.

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