The reaction in some quarters to the US election makes it sound like we’re facing the apocalypse. Today should put that melodramatic response into perspective. Remembering those who fought and died in the First World War should remind us how lucky we are to be living today.
Over 900,000 soldiers died for the British Empire during the First World War. Over 8 million lives were lost on all sides. Including the wounded and missing, the total casualties came to over 37 million.
A hundred years ago this month, the Battle of the Somme ended. In the space of 4 months, 1.5 million had been killed. Nearly sixty thousand British soldiers died on July 1st, the first day of the battle, alone.
Of course, war and suffering aren’t a thing of the past. But the world is becoming less violent. The peace that most of us in the West have enjoyed since the Second World War, in spite of the Cold War, is unprecedented.
In fact, notwithstanding the atrocities of Nazism and Communism, the twentieth century was comparatively less bloody than those that preceded it. As Steven Pinker has written in The Better Angels of Our Nature, before the modern era, conflict was often even more deadly.
It’s easy to be pessimistic about the future. Maybe it reflects a tendency to romanticise childhood, and fear old age and death. But the fact is the world today is better in almost every way than it was a century ago, and it is likely to get better still.
This year, in both Britain and the United States, some people have reacted to votes that didn’t go their way by expressing shame in their own countries. Today we remember that, a hundred years ago, millions of young men had to give their lives in the service of those countries. Lest we forget how much we have to be grateful for.