NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

War More Common Than Peace

April 9, 2002

More people have perished in conflict since the Second World War than the 60 million who died during it. Throughout history, war has been more common than peace.

  • Even in the last two decades of "peace," the U.S. still fought small wars in Grenada, Libya, Panama, the Gulf, Serbia and Afghanistan.
  • The democratic Athenians in the fifth century B.C. fought three out of every four years against Persians, Aegean Islanders, Cypriots, Egyptians, Spartans, Syracusans and a host of other smaller city-states.
  • About the only prolonged period of real peace occurred during the second century A.D., when for nearly a hundred years, under the so-called "Five Good Emperors," Rome's government defeated most of its enemies, ran the Mediterranean world, and pretty much treated its own people humanely.

Wars tend to be serial, punctuated by uneasy armistices, until there is a decisive victory or change in governments.

  • After Plataea (479 B.C.) no Persian king ever again thought his troops could defeat Greeks in pitched battle -- or tried.
  • After the Third Punic War (146 B.C.), there was a Roman Carthage in North Africa, but not a Punic one -- and so lasting peace on both sides of the Mediterranean.
  • Once a series of elected governments in the United States decided it was not worth the loss of lives and treasure in Vietnam, we ceased to fight and win, and so the war tragically was lost and will probably not be renewed.
  • In the Middle East, Israelis and Arabs are on the verge of War No. 5 of the last 55 years (1947, 1956, 1967, 1973, 2002).

And in a single decade Iraq has invaded Iran and Kuwait, sent missiles into Israel, and killed thousands of Kurds and Shiites.

Source: Victor Davis Hanson, "Wishing War Away," National Review Online, April 5, 2002.


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