A Retrospective On The 21st Century

Modern History 101: the Century of Blood

Allan Milne Lees

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Image credit: BBC News

Welcome, Class of 2157, to today’s lesson which is: why the 21st Century is known as the Century Of Blood. As we all know, the Western world seemed all set for relative peace and prosperity when the century began. There was a very silly historian who wrote a very silly book called The End of History, the title of which alone tells us everything we need to know about the complacent triumphalism that, for a few brief years, was prevalent among political and so-called intellectual circles in Western and in Western-oriented nations around the world.

As we all know, history didn’t end and what really happened was that populations and the politicians they voted for went on to repeat the same mistakes made in the 20th century, thus proving conclusively that no one learns anything from the experiences of those who went before. The only major difference is that while around two hundred million people died around the globe because of wars in the 20th century, more than one billion people died as a result of wars during the 21st century. Yes, the total population of the Earth was indeed greater by then, but still, on a per capita basis the 21st century killed more people than the 20th century. And the number of people impoverished by the inane protectionism of the second Trump administration was nearly forty times larger than those who suffered from the Great Depression in the 1930s. Estimates of deaths from suicide and starvation range from seventy-six million to ninety-four million. The 21st century killed a lot of people.

But of course, centuries don’t kill people. People kill people and invariably do so because of the old constants of human nature: vanity, ignorance, stupidity, and wishful thinking.

It’s a truism that in general technology is neutral. Fire allows us to cook our food, deter nocturnal predators, and perform slash-and-burn agriculture. But fire also enables us to roast our enemies and set fire to their buildings and modes of transportation. Haber’s nitrogen-fixing process gave us the boon of artificial fertilizers and the capacity to manufacture high explosives in huge quantities. Perhaps no technology has ever existed that has not been put to uses both good and ill. Certainly this was true of the seemingly…

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Allan Milne Lees

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.