I hesitated in writing this piece for exactly some of the reasons you have outlined. I didn’t want it to seem like I was saying the world is a perfect place. I am under no illusions that we are living in a world of peace. From Venezuela to Brazil, from Palestine to Tibet, there are countless atrocities being perpetrated by the powerful against the weak that have no place in modern society.
Both of you mentioned the futility of the War on Drugs. I couldn’t agree more. It’s one of the most pointless and wasteful things that has taken place in the last half century, and has unncessarily ruined the lives of millions of people.
However… the fact remains that by comparison to war between uniformed armed forces, the violence that takes place today has a far lower impact. We don’t see death tolls in the millions any more. Inter-state war and full blown civil war kill far more people than state on citizen violence like we see today. Drone warfare creates civilian casualties, yes. But it’s a lot better than dropping a cluster bomb onto a village like they used to.
We need greater limits on American power, and an international governance system that is not designed for the 20th century. We should legalise the drug trade (and fortunately there are increasingly strident calls for this to happen). We still have huge battles to fight.
But we should also acknowledge the progress we’ve made. The statistics I used in this post are not from the UN. They are from independent research institutes in Oxford, Sweden and Norway. They show a real story — that war kills fewer people today than it has for most of our history.