The 20th century was the most murderous in recorded history. The total number of deaths caused by or associated with its wars has been estimated at 187 million, the equivalent of more than 10 per cent of the world's population in 1913. Taken as having begun in 1914, it was a century of almost unbroken war, with few and brief periods without organised armed conflict somewhere. It was dominated by world wars: that is to say, by wars between territorial states or alliances of states. The period from 1914 to 1945 can be regarded as a single 'thirty years' war' interrupted only by a pause in the 1920s - between the final withdrawal of the Japanese from the Soviet Far East in 1922 and the attack on Manchuria in 1931. This was followed, almost immediately, by some forty years of Cold War, which conformed to Hobbes's definition of war as consisting 'not in battle only or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known'. It is a matter for debate how far the actions in which US Armed Forces have been involved since the end of the Cold War in various parts of the globe constitute a continuation of the era of world war. There can be no doubt, however, that the 1990s were filled with formal and informal military conflict in Europe, Africa and Western and Central Asia. The world as a whole has not been at peace since 1914, and is not at peace now.
LRB 21 February 2002 | PDF Download