“Nearly a quarter of Americans have never experienced the U.S. in a time of peace,” contends Philip Bump at the Washington Post. This is an accurate contention that holds absolutely zero value for the reader. I get that lots of people believe we are living in uniquely turbulent and violent times, but it’s a myth. The opposite is true.
Take this especially misleading graph in Bump’s piece:
What do these charts really tell us? Put it this way: A 45-year-old American in 1960 would have lived less than half his life during wartime, but those years include two massive, world-encompassing wars that cost tens of millions of lives and another serious conflict with the Chinese in Korea, all of which led to more than 560,000 Americans losing their lives and millions more being maimed. This man would not only have likely been around to see the Vietnam War, which cost another 47,000 lives, but he would have lived the next 30 years with the possibility of a nuclear war.
A 45-year-old today has lived through far more “wartime,” and seen only a small fraction of conflict, with no draft hanging over his head, and little chance of ever seeing major states engage in any serious warfare. Since the Vietnam War, U.S. forces have experienced just over 6,200 combat casualties in total.
In 2019, there were 32 American deaths due to conflict. In 1944, there were over 200 every day. As Pradheep J. Shanker points out, more Americans died volunteering to fight in the Spanish Civil War than American have over the past five years in total.
Sometimes I wonder how many people understand that we’ve seen a precipitous drop in almost every variety of warfare: genocide, civil wars, terrorism, and the most costly of all conflicts, wars between major countries:
None of this is to diminish the sacrifice that the American military make to protect us (they do so voluntarily, in fact, which, in many ways makes it more impressive and patriotic), or to justify — or criticize — our presence in the Middle East. We all have to function in our time and place. But we also need to function with some basic historical context. And the fact is, GenXers, and all those born after them, have lived in the most peacetime humankind has ever known.