Jun 01

One of the joys of writing this blog--and something I think we are particularly good at here at On Violence--is coming up with wild ideas to improve our national security. Some favs: An International Criminal Court for Terrorists, Criminals and Pirates. Sending US Brigades on peacekeeping missions. Making Iran our ally in the Middle East.

Today, I present a new one: governments around the world need an Espionage Control Treaty.

I came up with this idea after revelations that the US had been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel It was later revealed Angela Merkel had authorized German foreign intelligence service to spy on Germans for the NSA and she is now paying a political price for that. Since that revelation, there have been several repeated espionage snafus that make me think we need this more than ever.

- During negotiations with Iran, it was revealed that Israel was spying on US Secretary of State John Kerry and the negotiations.

- Recently, we discovered that the Russians had tapped into President Obama’s cell phone.

- China has been accused of spying on American corporations to steal intellectual property.

Since you can’t have a really good treaty without a really good acronym (START is probably the king of all treaties in this regard), we need one for this too. I propose “Restrictions on Espionage and Spying Treaty”, or REST.

REST would prohibit, ban or limit forms of international spying. For instance, it could say that governments won’t steal secrets from private individuals or corporations. Or it could prohibit sweeping up electronic communications and sharing them with allies. Or even all human intelligence collection on other governments. In short, it would make most clandestine spying illegal and against international norms.

Now I can hear some established national security voices clearing their throats to call me naive. They’re already preparing to say, “Did you really not realize that we spied on foreign governments? Did you not think they spied on us back?”

Of course I did.

But the brazen spying on a supposed ally by the US did surprise me. In hindsight, it was fairly easy to predict the diplomatic damage. But just because something--like espionage--is always done, doesn’t mean we have to--as a global community--keeping doing it (like slavery or war). And there are two great reasons why we could use this treaty.

First, intelligence could be the biggest waste of national security spending in the world right now. A lot of countries (not the US!), have dramatically restrained their spending on their militaries, but still spend boatloads keeping spies in the field. As Eric C wrote in his “Two Thoughts on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” post, spying often just wastes time, energy and money. Spies try to collect information, while counter-intelligence folks spread misinformation, and then the spies get that misinformation, understand it is misinformation then spread more. A lot of it seems not much better than guesswork.

Second, this is really the only way for the citizens of the global world to ensure our rights to privacy. Right now, the US can promise not to spy on its own citizens, but that doesn’t apply to British, German or Australian citizens. And those countries can agree to protect the privacy rights of their citizens, but still spy on Americans. Then the intelligence services can just swap information. And even if you trust the UK, Australia and other western governments, do you trust the Chinese or Russian governments? Me neither.

So let’s get to some obvious counter-arguments.

First, we wouldn’t “unilaterally disarm”. I bring this up because I can imagine someone saying, “We’re going to give up all our spies and let China spy on us?” Absolutely not. The entire point of a treaty is to ensure a country doesn’t do something unilaterally. So the US isn’t going to stop spying on other countries until it has agreements in place.

This leads to the second counter, which we receive on the blog all of the time, “Is this really enforceable? Do you trust other countries?” Well, as much as I trusted the Russians when we first established arms control treaties. Or trust opponents in war to follow the Geneva Conventions. Essentially, any Espionage Control Treaty would have the same safeguards as any international treaty. Having a treaty, though, gives us a pathway to both inspections and starts the world on a path for a new global norm.

Of course, America doesn’t always follow its treaty commitments. Think Geneva Conventions and the war on terror. That said, treaties help create international norms and I would love for a norm that enforced the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution worldwide. As a person who believes the values that founded America are universal, I’d love a treaty that starts that conversation.

The next argument, what about all the useful information we would lose? As I said above, I’m not too worried. For the most part spies write reports that become footnotes in other reports that are synthesized in even larger reports and no one ever reads most of them. Those reports, the slight edge we go for, are really just one or two steps above news reports, and maybe not even that high. (Remember when the CIA failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union? Remember when the CIA said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction?) We could still fund analyst shops to analyze the world; we just don’t need spies collecting vague human intelligence sources and collecting all our digital history.

And what about the terrorists? As I linked to above, a hypothetical “International Criminal Court for Terrorists” would handle those criminal investigations.

Do I think this one will ever happen? Of course not. The spies would hate it. Would we be in a better world with it? Of course.

May 20

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime contributor Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

While doing my weekly web crawling for video game news, I came across what seemed like any other example of exploitive violence showcasing the downloadable content for a (at the time) new game. It’s the typical highlight reel of action and gameplay showing off the “all the creative ways [the columnist] offed history’s worst person.”

I found the article, video, and comments that followed intriguing. Immediately, I noticed I lacked the same enthusiasm with the portrayal of Hitler’s death as most people who commented on the video. Unsurprisingly, this made me introspective.

The graphics seem on par with other B list games and boasted animation that slows to an x-ray mode so you can see bone shatter and the dictator’s heart explode. It’s not quite the over-the-top gratuitous face-exploding Hitler-killing in Inglorious Basterds, which On V has previously discussed, but it aims for a similar strange satisfaction derived from the killing of a mass murderer. Instead of feeling that rush of enthusiasm or laughing as Hitler’s testicles exploded, I simply shrugged and contemplated our culture’s fascination with Nazis as the archetypal villain.

On Violence guest posters have addressed previously the role and effect of video games in our culture. A while back, guest poster Will wrote how active participation in a fantasy world can blur the lines between fiction and reality, and I repeat the same. Video games are both reflect and impact our culture. Take the hyperbolic assertion of Hilter as the worst person in history made above by Gameinformer’s columnist. While a matter of perspective, there are a variety of villains in human history, even from the same time period, in contention as the worst person in history. Consider Adolf Eichmann, one of the Holocaust’s actual architects or Himmler the head of the SS. There is also my personal least favorite person; Josef Mengele, a physician who oversaw the terrifying medical experimentation on human beings.

On the opposite side of the war but with similar detest for the Jewish race was Stalin. Then there are monsters whose contributions to human history can be measured in the insurmountable number of lives they contributed in taking or encouraged others to take in their name such as Gengis Khan, Mao Zetong, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Nero, and Caligula.

But the Nazi’s have become the symbol in our culture for the evils of mankind. Consider Fox News’ prominent use of the Nazi regime as a talking point or even the prominent use of Nazi’s in video games as an enemy force.

Killing Nazis in video games is not a new concept. As far back as the original Wolfenstein, we’ve been virtually slaughtering the SS and their commanders. The original Bionic Commando actually allowed kids to make it all the way to the Fuhrer himself and end the regime with his death. We, as consumers, are fine with killing Nazis. After all, we are playing a first person shooter or an action game and there must be an enemy to defeat. Plus, it’s that much more acceptable if our hero is of Jewish descent.

There is only so far we can go with fighting aliens and monsters. At the same time we’re not okay with the Nazis being Nazis. In the original Wolfenstein, creators took heat for portraying the swastika in the game. Even in Sniper Elite, the patch on the Hitler’s arm is not the African division of the German army’s symbol; a palm tree atop the swastika, but a palm tree alone. Other games have tried to diversify the villains, including most notably, Homefront. It simulated a communist invasion of the US by communist forces similar to the movie Red Dawn. But the villains originally meant to be Chinese became North Koreans because portraying China as an enemy would hurt the development company Kaos Games.

I have no affection for Hilter or the things he did or help perpetuate, but I’m beginning to think the way our culture portrays Nazism and Hilter is distorting the lessons we should be learning from one of the greatest tragedies in human history. First and chiefly, the Holocaust did not happen because of one man, but because of an oppressive regime and a frightened complicit people. Second, the danger and ease with which hate and fear can be channeled. And third, the importance of being an active participant in democracy so decisions are not made for you. And lastly, the evils of the present will mirror those of the past.

Consider our present. Racism and hatred are still alive and well and even more prominent than most of us would like to admit. Consider the following over examples:

- Let’s start locally.

- Nazi idealism alive.

- Greece’s fascist party.

- And ISIS.

Or the number of past and active genocides you may not have been aware of.

The simple point being that the simulated assassination of Hitler seems an impotent expression of rage at the evils humanity perpetrated against itself. Video games are an outlet for me as much as a source of entertainment. But there is a distinct difference between the video game industry’s ability to add to the discourse of our culture so long as the focus of games is on things like how gruesomely we can assassinate one of history’s worst people.

Matty P is an avid gamer and PA pediatrician. He has been a youth pastor, ordained minister and EMT. He has also participated in medical relief missions and ministry outreach in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Just for the record, he is also Jewish by heritage.

May 18

On the surface, the last few years have been terrible for the so-called “head in the sand types” like me who don’t understand that…

1. There are truly evil people in the world.

2. Wars are a fact of life.

Since 2010, in part because of the Arab Spring and its multiple revolutions, insurgencies and general instability, the world has never seemed so violent. More importantly, the U.S. can’t stop intervening in warzones. In addition to trying to wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the media/politicians have seriously discussed starting wars (“intervening militarily” in newspeak) in Libya, Iran, North Korea, Egypt, Syria and the Ukraine. According to some Republican politicians, only Obama’s weakness has prevented the U.S. from fighting in these places, er, making the world safer.

This seems really bad for liberalism in international relations. Apparently, war isn’t becoming less likely, as Stephen Pinker, John Horgan and others have argued. We almost started six wars in just the last three years!   

Except for that pesky word “almost”. The U.S. avoided wars in North Korea, Syria and Iran, and looks set to both stop Russia from invading the rest of Ukraine while avoiding a nuclear war with Russia. We are close to signing an historic deal with Iran.

I give almost all the credit to liberalism in international relations. Liberal foreign policy--promoting free trade, democracy and international institutions--has accomplished its goals: to further economic growth, create peace and expand liberty across the globe. Along the way, it also prevents unnecessary wars. Here’s how:

1. Democratic politics constrain the executive.

In the case of Syria, the battle between the executive and the legislature stopped a full-blown war.

In the original writings of Enlightenment thinkers, the whole concept of a President was supposed to mimic a monarch. In other words, a dictator. Since the presidency of George Washington, America has always restrained the power of the executive with the checks and balances. Since the Civil War, the power of the presidency compared to the legislature has grown, even under President Obama, who promised to limit executive power. When this happens, disastrous wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have been too easy for the executive branch to pursue.

Syria seems to have reversed that trend. The American people refused to let one man--President Obama--decide to start another war. So did the British government. (Again, anyone who defines cruise missile strikes as “not war” needs to look in the mirror and ask, “What is war?”) Most of the arguments for a war with Syria--based on credibility, based on deterring Iran, based on avoiding making President Obama look “weak”--are the arguments for maintaining an executive branch that can declare war unilaterally, like a dictatorship.

Instead, we saw the legislative branch restrain the executive. (And the same thing happened in England.)

I’d add Iraq to this discussion too. Though, arguably, Iraq is in worse shape than any point during our occupation, Obama really, really, really doesn’t want to add ground troops to the conflict. In this case, though some conservatives/liberals and media types are pushing for war in Iraq through hyperbolic ISIS coverage, Obama won’t put boots on the ground without Congressional approval.

2. Economic disincentives discouraged Russia and Iran.

After their invasion of Crimea, the Russian economy went in a tailspin. Their main stock market plummeted. The ruble fell precipitously, forcing the Russian Central Bank to raise interest rates. Foreign investment plummeted next. The markets only calmed down after Vladimir Putin promised no further military action.

Iran experienced similar damage when the P5+1 imposed sanctions, which helped bring them to the negotiating table. Iran remained at the table, and agreed to the terms of a deal as well, because those years of crippling sanctions stalled reasonable economic growth.

The problem that neo-conservatives and unrealistic realists can’t understand is that war isn’t profitable anymore. If Putin continues to push on Ukraine, the result won’t be a war (which could escalate quickly into a nuclear conflict), but greater economic isolation. Removing a huge economy like Russia from the global economy wouldn’t just hurt Russia; it would hurt the entire globe. In short, everyone would lose much more than Russia would stand to gain from “expanding its sphere of influence”.

Of course, Putin could choose to do so anyways and watch as his economy spirals further. It’s not like a Russian ruler has ever been deposed for completely mismanaging a war.

3. International institutions are now the norm.

They help restrain powers. The U.S. and Israel both rely on the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission to investigate Iranian nuclear power. Suspending Russia from the G8 hurt Russian power. A host of international institutions help restrain war with North Korea by coordinating responses to North Korean aggression.

And they helped stop a war in Syria. Sure, the U.N. couldn’t stop a war with Iraq, but it sure stopped one in Syria. Having witnessed the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the inherent difficulty in controlling Libya, most of the world simply refused to fight another war in the Middle East. Thus, President Obama faced the prospect of going to war without the support of the U.N., NATO or the Arab League, or even staunch allies like the United Kingdom. Sure, you could condemn Obama’s coalition building skills, but the more important point is how much weight nations around the world--and even Americans--now put on international institutions. This won’t prevent all inter-state wars forever, but it will help to make them less likely.

(As with all my articles on foreign policy, I have to again clarify that I am referring to liberalism in international relations—which means advocating the principles of international institutions, democracy, and free trade, among other ideals—as opposed to political liberalism—which is an entirely different thing altogether. International relations liberalism holds that as democracy spreads, international institutions strengthen and free trade increases, the number of wars occurring around the world will decline.)

May 11

(Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

We had so many links about the world getting safer, that we had to split last week’s post into two. Here’s the second set of updates...

Steven Pinker, Yet Again, Makes the Case the World is Getting Safer

Stephen Pinker’s first TED talk on the decreasing likelihood of war turned us on to this topic, and helped make it a passion. (Same with John Horgan’s research from a Radiolab episode.) But it never hurts to re-review the evidence.

And Pinker does this in this Slate article published in December, “The World is Not Falling Apart”. Most relevantly, Pinker and co-writer Andrew Mack admonish us to ignore the headlines. They explain that headlines, especially in a cable news and Twitter world, focus on violent events much more than non-violent events. They point out that homicides in the US, UK and worldwide have dropped, violence against women is at historic lows, and wars are increasingly less likely.

Here’s our favorite quote (from the conclusion):

Too much of our impression of the world comes from a misleading formula of journalistic narration. Reporters give lavish coverage to gun bursts, explosions, and viral videos, oblivious to how representative they are and apparently innocent of the fact that many were contrived as journalist bait. Then come sound bites from “experts” with vested interests in maximizing the impression of mayhem: generals, politicians, security officials, moral activists. The talking heads on cable news filibuster about the event, desperately hoping to avoid dead air. Newspaper columnists instruct their readers on what emotions to feel.

"There is a better way to understand the world. Commentators can brush up their history—not by rummaging through Bartlett’s for a quote from Clausewitz, but by recounting the events of the recent past that put the events of the present in an intelligible context. And they could consult the analyses of quantitative data sets on violence that are now just a few clicks away.

John Horgan responded to Pinker, arguing that America needs to do more to make the world safer. (This may have inspired a debate between Eric C and myself. Coming soon.)

And Vox Also Makes the Case

Not much more to say than this, but Vox has a article “26 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better” that, like other posts, pretty convincingly makes the argument that the world is, indeed, getting much, much better.

My personal favorite graphs are:

1. The worldwide deaths from war per capita. It’s down to almost nothing.

2. Comparing European homicide rates through the ages.

And the World is More Democratic

And here’s another compilation of evidence that the world is getting better. It relates to the comments section of one of our last posts on the world getting safer. A reader pushed back, citing North Korea as an example of a violent nation, because it isn’t democratic. The people of North Korea, he argued, live under a constant threat of violence from the state.

We actually agree. Dictatorships are inherently violent. A peaceful world that consists of only dictatorships? That’s not progress. But it turns out this is the world is getting more democratic as well.

If you want to debunk the world is getting safer argument, you need to avoid obvious logical fallacies. Don’t cite anecdotes, cite statistics. You can’t say, “The world isn’t getting safer because X event happened.” (In this case, North Korea being undemocratic.) You have to research whether the world is becoming less democratic overall.

Will Global Warming Cause More War?

Indeed, some have even blamed the conflict in Syria on global warming. As the climate changes, this will disturb populations, the thinking goes, spreading conflict. A paper even came out showing a causal link! Wonkblog’s Brad Plumer says not so fast, the evidence isn’t all quite in.

Finally, a “Quote Behaving Well”

In our post, “The Best Comment On Violence Has Ever Received”, we simply reposted a commenter’s thoughts--”Martin”--verbatim. He spoke about de-escalating a conflict with troublesome students, and we applied it to another future war in the Middle East (Israel, the U.S. and Iran). Stephen Walt echoed a similar theme when he relayed an amazing Churchill quote along these lines. (Not a quote behaving badly because Walt included the link to the actual book passage where Churchill wrote this.)

“In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill."

May 07

(Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

As we promised last week, we’ve got links and links and links arguing that, yes, the world is getting safer. (A second post is coming Monday...)

The Demise of Ares

The article “The Demise of Ares” by Bruno Tertais is so good we had to make it the sub-title for this section.

He, again, shows that long-term war is decreasing in all fronts. I particularly like the opening paragraph as a rejoinder to Frank Hoffman’s “Plato Was Dead Wrong” (who we debunked here) when Hoffman used the example of Prime Minister William Pitt, who predicted peace in Europe and was proved wrong by the Napoleonic wars, as an argument against the world getting safer. Well…

“In 1990, U.S. political scientist John Mearsheimer predicted that we would soon ‘‘miss the Cold War.’’ In the months and years that followed, the eruption of bloody conflicts in the Balkans and in Africa gave birth to fears of a new era of global chaos and anarchy. Authors such as Robert Kaplan and Benjamin Barber spread a pessimistic vision of the world in which new barbarians, liberated from the disciplines of the East — West conflict, would give a free rein to their ancestral hatreds and religious passions. Journalists James Dale Davidson and William Rees - Mogg chimed in that violence would reassert itself as the common condition of life. Former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that the planet was about to become a ‘‘pandemonium.’

“These prophets of doom were wrong.”

So well-trained, wise and learned academics, politicians and pundits have both predicted the end of war and the impending epidemic of war. Who should we believe? I say the people with the data.

Sebastian Junger and the Deep Roots of War

John Horgan--who we really don’t link to enough--reviewed Sebastian Junger’s latest documentary, The Last Patrol here. A few On V connections immediately stood out to us. (Check out our reviews of Junger’s previous book and documentary War and Restrepo.)

First, Horgan writes, “[Junger] started traveling to war zones because he hoped war would make him a man, and his hope was fulfilled. ‘I became the man I wanted to be,’ he says.” As we’ve written before, this is a terrible justification for war. Our argument is simple, “...no one should have to prove their self worth by killing someone else.” We’d add, “Or documenting the killing of someone else.”

Next, Horgan takes down the psychological theories behind much of Junger’s work.

“Junger espouses what I call the deep-roots theory of war, which holds that natural selection embedded the urge to wage war in the genes of males. 'The politically incorrect truth,' he once said, 'Is that war is extremely ingrained in us—in our evolution as humans—and we’re hardwired for it.' He expands on this notion in War, citing deep-roots proponents such as chimp researcher Richard Wrangham.

“Ironically, I saw Last Patrol at the Margaret Mead Film Festival in October. Mead, the great anthropologist, rejected the deep-roots theory–and with good reason, because the evidence for the theory is flimsy.”

Horgan’s book The End of War explains why in much greater detail and we highly recommend it.

Are Militaries an “Industry in Decline”?

In a word, yes. The Monkey Cage provides a pretty interesting set of graphs illustrating this phenomena. It turns out that most of the world’s militaries and military populations have shrunk.

Often, pseudo-philosophers caution of World War I, World War II or the Napleonic era to warn that war could break out again. They often ignore that--especially before World War I--Europe had witnessed a multi-decade growth in military spending. A decline in the world’s militaries is only a good thing. (H/T to the now no-longer-blogging Andrew Sullivan.)

It also forces you question those who want us to increase or maintain the size of the American military (especially many of those folks incorrectly believe the world is a dangerous place). As a cautionary note, The Economist wrote in November of last year that spending in Africa on the military had recently spiked.

May 06

Today marks the sixth anniversary of On Violence. Like last year's anniversary, we aren’t really in a reflective mood. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. A lot of post ideas and a lot of series. We’re finishing up some topics and moving forwards on others.

Stay tuned!

Apr 27

(To read the rest of our posts on "The World is Getting Safer/Better, please check out the articles below:

- Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars? (This post has links to an entire series of people asking this question.)

- Why I Believe Things Are Getting Better: A Review of Rising Up and Rising Down's Premise

- An On V Update to Old Ideas, Round Two

- Things Are Getting Better...Still

- On V Update to Old Ideas: Drones, the World Isn’t Getting More Violent, and “This Ain’t Hell” Doesn’t Take Criticism Well

- On V Update to Old Ideas: Fear and Risk Edition

- When Realists Don’t Live in Reality: The World is Getting Safer

- An On V Update to Old Ideas: The End of War Edition

- Another Update to the World is Getting Safer

- Anti-Pollyannas or: The Worst Arguments AGAINST the World is Getting Safer

- Using Anecdotes or: The Worst Arguments AGAINST the World is Getting Safer

- Moving the Goalposts or: The Worst Arguments AGAINST the World is Getting Safer

- Using Incorrect Facts: The Worst Arguments AGAINST the World is Getting Safer)

In the past few weeks, we’ve finished or started finishing up a few long-running topics that, unless a new story breaks, we’re done writing about including: debunking Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy and our work on Lone Survivor and American Sniper. (We’re figuring out where we’re placing a final outside piece of writing on this topic and then we’ll have a few last posts on the topic.)

That leaves us room to expand on some of our other favorite bailiwicks. We’ve decided to devote this week to our favorite topic, (the raison d’etre for this blog if you will):

The world is getting safer! And better!

To this end, we’re devoting the next two weeks to this topic (and a number of other posts as well later this month). We’re going to provide two On V updates to “The End of War”, again filling in this “debate” with all the statistical evidence. (With graphs!) Then, we’re going try to explain why, in Michael C’s opinion, liberalism in foreign policy continues to make the world a safer place, but still doesn’t get any credit.

Unlike our recently discarded topics, we’re going to keep writing about the world getting safer, even once we finish this series.

But, why? Why keep harping-on/retreading/re-discussing this topic?

First, the vast majority of people still don’t know this fact.

In terms of the gap between what people believe versus reality, I would argue that "the world is getting safer" tops the list. Anecdotally, I have to explain it to people all the time.

And this isn’t an issue for just uneducated people. Jad Abumrad co-created Radiolab, one of the most popular radio programs/podcasts on science. Yet, he had a crossover episode with On The Media on nihilism, arguing that present day nihilism is a reflection on the sorry state of the world today. He didn’t realize that the media (which he liberally quoted in that piece) emphasizes statistically rare events.

More importantly, he's even interviewed On V fav John Horgan before, which turned us onto this entire topic!

Second, even if you learn this fact, many people don’t want to believe it.

People, it seems, just want to think the world is a terrible place. I recently researched and read the various rebuttals to Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature--I’m open-minded, so I wanted to see if I was missing something--and the counter-arguments some thinkers make to rebut Pinker are down right silly. And illogical.

For example, if you debunk Pinker’s the-world-is-getting-safer thesis by citing one example of violence in the world, that’s an anecdotal fallacy. But people also misuse statistics, move the goal posts, or “debunk” one part of Pinker’s thesis but ignore others. Why would otherwise intelligent people deny this reality? They don’t want to believe it, a response more emotional than rational.

Third, we keep finding more evidence.

We keep finding and collecting links on how the world is getting better. Over the next two days, we’ve got two “On V Updates to Old Ideas” sharing links about how the world is getting safer (and better, in general). In some ways, these links prove the case in the simplest, most definitive way possible. (Just look at the graphs!)

Fourth, we need to cover this because most pundits/journalists/media sites don’t.

To paraphrase Steven Pinker, newspapers and websites don’t run news stories on all the countries that aren’t at war. Not unexpectedly, after the GermanWings airliner crashed, it took over the news, but all the car accidents around the U.S. didn’t. Even the coverage on the nuclear deal with Iran focused more on a possible war than the actual deal.

Fifth, we want to focus on good news.

For a website named On Violence, we don’t want to only write about what’s gone disastrously wrong. (Like the people in the previous paragraph.) Yes, we hate drone strikes (coming soon), possible wars with Iran, NSA snooping, police violence, innocent people on death row, overcrowded prisons and so on. So we have a blog to write about these things.

We shouldn’t lose focus: good news comes out all the time. It’s just not sexy.

Besides harping on the statistical rarity of terrorism--you, an American, are more likely to win the lottery than die (or suffer injuries) from a terror attack--our other favorite bit of optimism comes from the decreasing risk of war. Yes, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan have simmering civil wars. Yes, Israel and Palestine have not come to any agreement. Russia still controls Crimea. And yes, Iraq is in a civil war. But the pace of interstate wars is at historic lows. So are internal civil wars. And the rate keeps going down. (One could also argue that if the developed world/rapidly developing world focused more on peacekeeping and preventing dictatorships, this could go down even faster.)

Sixth, this affects our nation’s willingness to go to war.

Many neo-conservatives, and especially those in the military establishment, believe the world is a “dangerous place” and use this argument to go to war. Or expand funding to fight terrorism. The world is, comparatively, not a dangerous place. It weakens that particular argument.

Counter-intuitively, the things that have made the world safer, at times, make us more likely to go to war. Why does ISIS inspire the world’s rage? Not because they’ve killed thousands of Iraqis, but because they’ve executed a handful of Americans. At this point, the deaths of a few can inspire the world to war.

Seventh, by figuring out why the world is getting safer, we can actually help it become even safer.

Really isn’t that why we do this in the first place?

Apr 20

As we wait for (hopefully) another guest piece to go up somewhere, enjoy this “On V Update to Old Ideas”.

Ebole Updates!

First off, some good news: last year, when we wrote about Ebola--click here and here to read those posts--we repeated a warning from scientists, “Ebola could become more dangerous if it, ironically, becomes less dangerous. If the disease mutates in a way that allows more victims to live and live longer, it could become a pandemic by not burning out too quickly.”

Because the international community took so long to act, we (humanity) increased the risk of making Ebola more dangerous. Turns out, though, we dodged a pathogenic bullet on this one. According to the Los Angeles Times, “...new research published Thursday in the journal Science suggests that the virus is undergoing only limited mutational changes, and is no more virulent than when the outbreak began.”

Just to point it out: we are correcting ourselves. In other words, early reports were too pessimistic. At least the Los Angeles Times corrected the record. Most news outlets, when offered the opportunity to correct the record, don’t. This is also a good warning on general science reporting: early reports are often wrong and inaccurate.

As we mentioned earlier and in our original posts, the international community took way too long to react to Ebola. But the bigger concern is our country’s focus on reactive policies, instead of proactive policies. Julia Belluz at Vox (linking to the New York Times) has great article describing how America’s reaction--impromptu treatment facilities in affected countries--has utterly failed.

Too Many Munich Moments!

The day after we finished writing about Ebola last December, Michael C wrote, “How Do We Stop the Worst Analogy in Foreign Policy?” in which he joined the chorus of pundits asking that the “Munich” analogy be killed. Of course, we failed to convince a few politicians complaining about the new Iran agreement on nuclear weapons, including...

    - Ted Cruz

    - Mark Kirk

    - Tom Cotton

    - John Bolton

    - Victor Davis Hanson (The Washington Times)

    - Michael Markovsky (The Weekly Standard)

    - William Kristol (The Weekly Standard)

    - Roger Simon (PJ Media)

    - Joel Pollak (Breitbart)

    - Thomas Sowell (National Review)

Each of the above pundits and politicians, arguing against a deal with Iran, immediately argued, “This is Munich!” How rhetorically depressing is this? It’s as unsurprising as it is disappointing.

To highlight the good news, some writers pushed back, including Paul Waldmen in The Washington Post, Jim Newell at Salon, Dominic Tierney at The Atlantic, and Amanda Taub at Vox. It’s a point that can’t be remade enough.

Rick Perry Hates Isolationism...and Foreign Aid

Another fun fact, related to rhetoric and foreign policy: as Michael C wrote in “I’m an Isolationist?”, some politicians accuse people who don’t want to invade foreign countries of being isolationists. In July last year, Rick Perry wrote a Washington Post op-ed stating just that, “Isolationist policies make the threat of terrorism even greater”.

But what’s rick Perry’s stance on foreign aid spending?

A quick google search reveals this headline, “Perry: My foreign aid budget starts at zero” from the Republican primary in 2012. So he isn’t an isolationist, but he wants the U.S. to isolate itself from all other countries with zero foreign aid spending. To be fair, Rick Perry’s position was more nuanced than that--after cutting the budget to zero, he wants to re-analyze all foreign aid allocations on a yearly basis, which is beyond impractical--but the overall message is the same: fighting wars abroad is fine, supporting other countries peacefully is not a priority.

Saudi Arabia Sucks Compared to Iran

America does not get along with Iran...because they’re evil. After President Obama wrote a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last year, Mitt Romney “...was frankly stunned that the president of the United States would write a letter of that nature and in effect, legitimize a nation and a leadership which is violating international norms and is threatening the world.

As we’ve written before--and discussed in the comments section of our Iran post two weeks ago--these norms are incredibly inconsistent. Take, for example, Saudi Arabia. Did you know they’ve outlawed movie theaters? Did you know saudi Arabia awarded a prize to an Islamic scholar who called 9/11 an inside job? Did you know they still behead people? And they’re beheading people at a faster rate this year than last year.

Speaking of Self-Interest…

In January 2014, Zack Beauchamp had a great article on Henry Kissinger, “The Toxic Cult of Henry Kissinger”. First, Zack breaks down the actual divide in American politics is “not the split between Left and Right, or civil libertarians and security state hawks, or interventionists and non-interventionists. It's between those who buy into the cult of America's national interest and those who don't.”

This is an awesome way to look at American foreign policy, and how to fix it.

More importantly, Zach describes Kissinger’s many war crimes and how that doesn’t seem to affect either his esteem or celebrity. Why? Because the American security establishment supports Kissinger’s actions because they supported America, no matter how shorted or immoral.