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Fewer People Exposed to Horrors of War

In general, the world is becoming a more peaceful place as the percentage of the total labor force represented by armed forces personnel declines.

Yesterday was Memorial Day, a federal holiday remembering all those who have died while serving in the United States armed forces. So, in today's column, I take a brief look at the declining share of men and women worldwide who can expect to be exposed to the horrors of war. Looking at armed forces personnel as a percent of the total labor force, we can observe a sustained decline since the end of the Cold War. Globally, it has dropped from 1.08 percent in 1990 to 0.8 percent in 2014. That's a 26 percent reduction.

In Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, it has declined by 27 percent, 54 percent, 43 percent and 40 percent respectively. Even in the Middle East and North Africa, armed forces personnel as a share of the total labor force declined by 58 percentage points—though, admittedly, some of the conflicts in the region have become more serious since 2014.

A similar trend can be observed in the United States and also in our two most important geopolitical competitors, China and Russia. The three countries saw reductions of 50 percent, 32 percent and 34 percent respectively. (The figure for Russia reflects the period between 1992 and 2014.)

The end of the Cold War turned out to be beneficial for another reason. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was born before World War 2, explained in 2014 that the world is "in greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime." But is that really true?

The number of armed conflicts and wars rose steadily until the collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Then they started to decline. Empirical evidence suggests that those who remember the bipolar world dominated by the United States and the USSR as a period of stability, are mistaken.

Consider the following astonishing fact. According to the Council on Foreign Relations' Global Conflict Tracker, the Western Hemisphere is, with the exception of the drug-war in Mexico, free of conflict. No person alive can remember our Hemisphere to be as peaceful as it is today. That is something to be grateful for as we look back on this past Memorial Day.

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  • JNYC||

    The percentage drop may be due to the increase in population, not a decrease in armed forces. It's not clear that a more populous nation (as opposed to geographically larger nation) needs a bigger army.

    It is good, however, that the avaricious desire for conquest has diminished, as evidenced by trans-border invasions between relatively modernized nations. What's worrisome is the continued war by government against their own citizens. Governments have gotten more oppressive.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The number of armed conflicts and wars rose steadily until the collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Then they started to decline.

    We beat the commies by waging a lot of proxy wars. Time to put that strategy to work against ISIS!

  • DJF||

    So what about civilians exposed to war? Don't they count?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    They are retroactively classified as "combatants."

  • loveconstitution1789||

    How many civilians do you know in American who were exposed to war?

    Yeah very very few. Most were military contractors in war zones. You could say the trade center victims, except we never declared war on those who attacked us.

  • mtrueman||

    There are refugees from such places as Syria. They number in the millions.

  • Rich||

    the Western Hemisphere is, with the exception of the drug-war in Mexico, free of conflict.

    Bullshit.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    What about the War on Cops? Huh?!?

  • Aloysious||

    If John McCain says it, believe the opposite.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    There is a risk that goes along with that: it may become too easy to whip a populace into a war frenzy if too few of them know what war really means.

    I'm not suggesting that having more wars is the cure for that! Rather, find ways to educate people on what "going to war" really means, including challenging attempts to use more sanitized terms like "kinetic military action".

  • Bowfish||

    It used to involve decisive winning. Now it means "kinetic military action" and small footprints and concerns about collateral damage - all of which are imprecise and nebulous words.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    We had people setting off fireworks for Memorial Day. What kind of person would set off fireworks at someone's funeral, unless they specifically requested that? That's like shooting off fireworks on MLK Day or Ramadan or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

    I have had to explain countless times that Memorial Day memorializes military members who died and Veteran's Day is to celebrate patriotic military service.

    I like setting off fireworks as much as anyone but COME ON!

  • Robert||

    Fireworks are more common at funerals than you think. Memorial Day fireworks are very common, I've shot some myself (homemade) at a barbecue on the Sunday of that weekend.

  • Robert||

    Also, people I know take Memorial Day to memorialize not only military members but other individuals, or even dead popul'n generally. As X-Ray Burns said on his WFMU program this past Sun., "There are more of them than there are of us."

    The matter of what the experience of being non-living is like intrigues me. Most of us, at least, can't remember what it was like before we were alive for some time, let alone before we were alive at all, or even if there is any experience under non-living conditions. People talk about what they'd ask a famous person from before our time today, but obviously the most important question to ask if ever there were such opp'ty would be, "What's it like to be dead?"

  • gaoxiaen||

    Or "What's it like to fuck Marilyn Monroe?"

  • Longtobefree||

    She's dead too.

  • Grumpy Old Timer||

    What a piece of trash journalism. Fact: It takes far fewer workers to produce an automobile today than yesterday (you fill in the dates, doesn't matter). So the fact the US is regularly droning citizens of countries the US is not at war with doesn't count? How do those drone strikes and all other air strikes impact the stats in the article.
    How many CIVILIANS have been murdered/mutilated/injured by US drone strikes? Include that plus other air strikes and now you might have some "facts".
    I repeat, this article is a piece of journalism trash.
    I used to read Reason on a regular basis and felt it was even handed. No more, they have gone round the bend and down the rabbit hole just like the lamestream.
    Sad.

  • Ron||

    when people lose their right to armed self defense they become sheep to the despots that rule over them and it then takes fewer armed forces to control the population hence fewer wars but just as much or more oppression

  • Bowfish||

    Which may explain why increasing numbers are historically illiterate and are ungrateful for the high standard of living that others fought for them.

  • Longtobefree||

    Your Uncle Aiden was not working parttime, he was playing around with Kelly Richards.

  • Longtobefree||

    How is it that people who write articles for this web site do not have access to any news outlet at all?
    The whole planet is exposed to the horrors of war.
    Unless you take the position you cannot oppose slavery unless you have been a slave.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Thanks for this. Observe that big wars ended with the development of nuclear weapons, and brush war derivatives change sign as the Soviet initiation-of-force empire crashed and burned. Similar graphs plot for violent crime in Canada.

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