You probably don’t realize it, but this is a pretty peaceful time in human history. In earlier eras, an estimated 15 percent of human deaths were caused by violence; today that number is about one percent.
For most of history, great empires could be amassed for relatively little cost. In the Mexican War, for example, the U.S. got California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming and Oklahoma for the bargain price of only 13,000 dead soldiers.
But today that’s no longer true. Recently, it could be argued that the only recent successful war was Russia’s invasion of Crimea. But that was something of a special case because there was no opposition, no intervention by an outside power, and a population who accepted the outcome. There have been more instances like Iraq and Iran fighting to a bloody stalemate.
So what has changed? In a piece entitled “Why It’s No Longer Possible For Any Country To Win A War” (http://time.com/4826856/russia-trump-north-korea-china-war/?xid=newsletter-brief ), Yuval Noah Harari cites two basic reasons —
— The economics have changed. In the past, great profits could be made through looting and capturing slaves, or more recently by realigning trade. But in a modern economy, much of the wealth lies in intellectual property. True, in the Middle East there’s great value in oil. But where is most of the riches in this country today? As Harari puts it, “There are no silicon mines in Silicon Valley.”
— There are too many weapons of mass destruction In addition to nuclear weapons we now have cyber warfare. If we were to attack a country with even a moderate cyber-warfare capabilities, we would be inviting retaliation that could turn our lives into chaos.
So is the era of major warfare over? Maybe. Humans are incredibly adaptive, and someone could figure out a way to make war profitable under modern conditions. And Harari closes with “We should never underestimate human stupidity.”