The Old Normal

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The recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Lahore might lead the impressionable to conclude that the world is falling apart. I submit that terrorist attacks shock because they occur against a backdrop of relative peacefulness. Yes, there are wars here and there, but they are mere skirmishes — albeit with tragic consequences for many — compared with what happened in the twentieth century.

From 1914 to 1973 — a span of two generations — World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the genocides presided over by Stalin, Hitler, and Mao produced casualties on a scale never attained before or since.  Despite subsequent events — the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Gulf War, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and dozens of terror attacks, large and small in scale — the world today is more quiescent than it has been in more than a century.

But the problem with history is that the future isn’t part of it. It is fatuous to suggest, as some have, that the better angels of our nature have conquered violence on a twentieth-century scale. That was the prevailing view in Europe for several years before the outbreak of World War I.

Violence is in fact an essential, ineradicable component of human nature. There will always be armed conflict, and sometimes it will involve the forces of many nations. The proximate causes and timing of war are unpredictable. Conciliatory gestures can be just as provocative as saber-rattling; the former can be taken as as sign of weakness and unpreparedness, the latter as a sign of resolve and preparedness.

If history holds any lesson regarding war, it is this one: Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. This is a lesson that American leftists seem dead set on ignoring.

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