One hundred years ago, humanity was on the verge of global war. Hitler’s Germany had already annexed Austria, and Hirohito’s Japan had invaded China, Mongolia, and the USSR. Tens of millions of people would die in the ensuing Second World War, the deadliest conflict in human history. Today, we remember the fallen, both military and civilian, in this and other wars. We remember, and we give thanks for the current peace, which we have good grounds for believing will be an enduring one.
As recently as 25 years ago, such optimism would have seemed naïve. Though the world was already becoming much less violent in general, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were still an open psychic wound for many Americans, and isolated wars raged on in many regions. Fears of nuclear proliferation threatened to spark further conflicts in the already volatile Middle East.
But parallel to these political events and tensions, the global economy kept growing, spreading the benefits of industrialization and trade to more and more people in more and more countries. The more obvious the connection became between basic economic freedom and rising standards of living, the harder it became for even the most authoritarian regimes to resist the push for freer markets. Dire poverty has now been all but eradicated and real economic security is commonplace. And as people have more to live for, they are less willing to die for their countries. Pragmatic negotiations have become more attractive, and violent conflict less so.
The change that humanity has undergone can be summed up by a simple but profound slogan: Make trade, not war. As we have become more accustomed to seeing our neighbours as potential trading partners in positive-sum exchanges, killing them no longer seems to make a lot of sense. We remember today the wars of the past, that we might better appreciate our present peace and extend it indefinitely into the future.
Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.