Jul 25

(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.)

Donald Trump definitely made America seem like a dystopian hellscape last week at the convention. (See Seth Myers on Late Night for good coverage.) Trump’s theme was clear: the world is in chaos. With multiple wars in the Middle East, terrorist attacks in Europe, police shootings, and violence at political rallies, everything seems to be falling apart.

Trump wasn’t the only person spreading fear this year. Almost every Republican candidate for president--from mild-mannered Jeb Bush to bombastic Chris Christie--told the electorate during the Republican primaries that we live in truly “dangerous” and “perilous” times. Donald Trump and the Republican National Convention just made it their official theme.

Republican politicians aren’t alone in fear mongering. Democrats like Diane Feinstein believe we live in a “dangerous world”. Even a liberal commentator like Jon Stewart--who just called Trump out for fear-mongering on The Late Show--ended his run on The Daily Show (in the second to last episode) saying, “'The world is demonstrably worse than when I started.”

We need some perspective on how great we really have it.

And for that, we turn to the fantasy world of Game of Thrones.

Each week the show offers helpings of war, torture, rape, incest, mass murder, terrorist insurgencies, beheadings and so on, which should just depress us more. But it’s actually refreshing. Contrasting the pessimism of the daily news to this dark but wonderful TV show, we can’t help thinking, “Man, the world is so much safer today.”

Game of Thrones is a fun world to visit, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to stay. If modern times are “perilous”, how would you describe the Middle Ages? Despite the anxiety that pervades our culture, when compared to the past, we’re living in a modern golden age.

And Game of Thrones proves it. Unlike past fantasy authors, Martin based his world on actual European history. George R.R. Martin has said numerous times that he places a high premium on accuracy. “My novels are epic fantasy, but they are inspired by and grounded in history,” he told The New York Times.  Along with accuracy in food (lamprey pie), dress (velvet doublets) and weapons (two-handed greatswords), Martin’s Westeros is an excellent analogue for the ugliness and violence of Europe of hundreds of years ago (specifically, the eras of the Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses). A trip through that world reveals just how much more dangerous and violent it was compared to contemporary times.

(Wall-sized spoilers abound for the rest of this article.)

Rape

Two seasons ago Jaime raped his sister Cersei and some fans got upset. Last season, Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark, outraging many, many fans, including US senators. Viewed from a modern perspective, Sansa’s rape was disgusting. Show that scene to someone from the 1300s and they’d wonder why people were upset. Arranged marriages among royal families were an unquestioned part of life in the past, along with subsequent marital rape.

Sansa’s rape was far from the only sexual assault in the world of Game of Thrones--214 instances and counting in the books. Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane uses war as an excuse to rape as many people as he can. Sansa almost got raped by a mob in season two. And the series opened with Daenerys getting raped by Khal Drogo in the same circumstances as Sansa. (I’m not sure the Dothraki can even have consensual sex.) As Martin has said, in response to criticism both two seasons ago and last season, rape has always been a part of war. To not depict it would artificially sanitize his medieval world.   

Today, governments work to stop sexual violence. For one of the first times in human history, politicians have opened investigations into sexual assault in the military. Husbands can no longer legally rape their wives. This isn’t to say there still isn’t work to end sexual assault--there is--but we have come a long way.

Homicide

One of the scariest parts of Game of Thrones is watching someone travel. Anywhere. As Catelyn Stark found out travelling to the Vale, even armed guards can’t keep you safe. You could be murdered at any point, or in the best case scenario, robbed of your savings, which Sandor Clegane did two seasons ago to a person giving him room and board. Or you could get captured by pirates with an interest in dwarf penises.

Homicide today is not what it was in the past. According to Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, 14th century England had a murder rate that was 95% greater than it is today. In the short term, as has been widely reported in Slate and other outlets, the murder rate has declined, in some cases below levels in the 1950s and even early 1900s.

Slavery

In the world of Game of Thrones, slavery is illegal in Westeros, but it’s legal in Essos. And boy howdy is it legal, with an entire region named Slaver’s Bay. The people of Astapor castrate slave warriors and the people of Meereen crucify slaves who rebel.

Until the middle 1800s, slavery was legal in most of the world, including Asia, Africa and Europe. The ugliest and most infamous example was probably the Transatlantic slave trade between 1525 and 1866, when slavers shipped 12.5 million slaves across the Atlantic. (Almost 2 million of them died during the trip.)

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Game of Thrones leans heavily on the Westerosi tradition of “trial by combat”, in which someone accused of a crime can fight their way out of it. This was really only practiced in Germany. Trials by ordeal, on the other hand, were quite common in Europe, forcing people to endure starvation, drowning and fire to prove their innocence. Though many think this only applied to witches, it was actually quite common.

The “justice system” of the medieval world was barbaric and capricious, often catering to the mob. Criminals found guilty weren’t taken to prison, they were paraded through the streets (like Cersei walking naked through the streets of King’s Landing), then ritually tortured (like having their nipples torn off with hot pincers), and then killed in gruesome ways (like being ripped apart by horses). The guillotine was actually invented as a more humane method of capital punishment.

Torture

Remember in the middle of season two of Game of Thrones when Arya, captured by the Lannisters, watches as Lannister henchmen systematically torture dozens (hundreds?) of prisoners? Pretty brutal stuff, plucking one prisoner each day, at random, then torturing them to death.

And pretty realistic to medieval uses of torture. As Pinker told Scientific American about torture five hundred years ago:

“Religious instruction included prurient descriptions of how the saints of both sexes were tortured and mutilated in ingenious ways. Corpses broken on the wheel, hanging from gibbets, or rotting in iron cages where the sinner had been left to die of exposure and starvation were a common part of the landscape.”

The World Is Getting Better

We could go on, listing the multitude of ways the world has become less violent. (We haven’t even mentioned the decline in war, the end to institutionalized racism, and more.)

Over the last few years, a cottage industry has sprouted up among academics trying to prove this academically. Stephen Pinker, John Horgan, Joshua Goldstein, John Mueller and others have tried (vainly) to convince the world that war is decreasing in frequency, terrorism is more hype that danger, and that overall things are getting better. Pinker summed up the argument for Slate a few years ago, “The world is not falling apart”. Charles Kenny titled a piece for The Atlantic in December “2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being”.

But this line of thinking hasn’t broken through. Thanks to the media’s steady stream of daily violence, people believe the world is a scary, dangerous place.

By giving us an accurate, bloody depiction of the ancient world, Game of Thrones may actually give people a sense of how good we have it now. Hopefully, sometime soon, politicians and pundits will stop complaining about the sorry state of the modern world.

Or perhap they’d rather live in Westeros?

Mar 23

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", please click here.)

Today, we’ve got five smaller thoughts on police shootings that weren’t large enough for a post, or made another post too long. (Ir)regardless, we wanted to share them with you. Consider this a “Director’s cut”, if you will, for our “Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2015”.

1. We were wrong about the Michael Brown shooting. And so are most liberals.

I should clarify: in a way, we were wrong, since many people interpreted the closing lines of our Slate piece, “The Surprising History of American Sniper’s “Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs” Speech” for (possibly) abdicating Michael Brown of any responsibility for what happened. Since we wrote that article, the Department of Justice released two reports. The first cleared Darren Wilson, saying Michael Brown, according to forensic evidence and reliable eyewitnesses, probably did go for Wilson’s gun. (The New Yorker has probably the best article on the whole thing.) And as many people pointed out, Michael Brown had just shoplifted.

Still, like Michael C wrote about the Tamir Rice shooting, it doesn’t mean the law enforcement community did the right thing. Darren Wilson was clearly over-aggressive in his handling of the entire incident. And as we wrote about in our second COIN post during this series, and as the second DoJ report made clear, the Ferguson police department engaged in systematic racism against the African-Americans in Ferguson.

And it remains an unjustified tragedy that a young man died for the crime of stealing less than five dollars worth of cigarillos.

That said, we spend a lot of time on this blog pointing out illogical or untrue things conservatives believe. In fairness, the Michael Brown shooting is a blind spot for liberals. I’ve tried to have this conversation with fellow liberals in Los Angeles about what actually happened; most don’t want to hear it.

2. Gun rights are racist.

Ironically, really. The Black Panthers inspired the gun control movement with their open-carry demonstrations in the 1960s. In response to gun control measures aimed at African-American protesters, the NRA transformed into its modern, far right, pro-guns incarnation.

But really, I’m talking about open carry gun rights.

Many modern gun rights activists have started openly carrying rifles and pistols, as an overt, in-your-face demonstration of their (believed) Constitutional rights. But frankly, if you’re black, you’d have to be insane to openly carry a gun in this country. You’re basically signing a death warrant. Think of Tamir Rice. Or John Crawford III. Or countless others. Police saw them and opened fire in seconds. If you’re black in America, carrying a gun is a license to, at best, get hassled by the police and, at worst, get shot by them.

3. A thought on crime and poverty.

Michael C and I were good kids growing up. From elementary to high school, we caused our parents little to no trouble. I got a detention, once, for being too loud. That’s about it. No drinking, smoking or premarital sex. That, of course, didn’t apply to everyone in our high school. There were kids who drank, got pregnant, died of overdoses, got bad grades, and so on. Some kids--with their church’s youth group--even stole a water truck at a construction site. But kids will be kids, and who can really blame teenagers for their actions, right? At some point, forgiveness kicks in, and you let kids grow up, which they do, becoming normal, law-abiding adults.

But a weird thing happened when those kids grew up: a bunch of them became police officers.

I remember, a few years after college, having this realization that, at least in Orange County, CA, cops spent a lot of their time chasing and patrolling themselves when they were teenagers. The difference is that most kids in Orange County still got a chance to grow up and “turn their lives around”, if that phrase even makes sense. This doesn’t apply to poor, minority communities in this country.

4. Did a sheepdog shoot a sheepdog?

Look at the Walter Scott shooting. If you buy into the analogy we’ve debunked before, you would interpret the shooting as a sheepdog (Michael Slager, a police officer) shooting a wolf (Walter Scott, who had a warrant out for his arrest) when the wolf tried to go for his taser. Then the video came out, showing Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back. Clearly a wolf (disguised as a sheepdog) shot a sheep (whose crime was not paying alimony, which shouldn’t be a death sentence). Oh, and both men were Coast Guards veterans, meaning a sheepdog-turned-wolf shot a former sheepdog.

Or maybe the analogy doesn’t make sense.

5. Remember, it’s always been this way.

Listening to music while writing up posts, I heard this:

“A young n**** got it bad cause I'm brown

And not the other color so police think

They have the authority to kill a minority

F*** that shit, cause I ain't the one

For a punk motherf***er with a badge and a gun

To be beating on, and thrown in jail

We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell

Fucking with me cause I'm a teenager...

That, of course, comes from one of the most important hip hop albums of all time, Straight Outta Compton on one of the most important songs of all time, “F*** tha Police”. I think we--white Americans--forget

that this issue is not new, despite the recent surge in news coverage. It’s always been this way. (And the response from conservatives is to rally around the police, just like they did in the 1980s when this song came out and just like they do today at Donald Trump’s rallies.)

Thank God (and cell phone technology) we’re finally seeing and (hopefully) addressing it.

Mar 21

I solved (well, mostly solved) the problem of police officer’s excessive use of force and power after rewatching an episode of Law and Order, specifically, the episode where Detective Green leaves the series to make Rent (the movie). After finding out that Detective Green had shot someone, Lieutenant Van Buren lays down the law to the Internal Affairs detectives, telling them point blank, “Detective Green isn’t talking to you until he has had a chance to consult his union lawyer.”

Wait, what?

See, Detective Green, in dozens of episodes, gets (tricks?) suspects into talking to him without a lawyer, or dissuades those few who do know their rights, saying things like, “You really want to get them involved?” “We can help you out if you don’t have a lawyer.” Lieutenant Van Buren often helped him, or begrudgingly relents when the suspect lawyers up in the interrogation room.

So what gives? Well, the police know that consulting with a lawyer makes it less likely that suspects will confess to something they did (or, in many cases, didn’t do). What struck me about the scene was that Lieutenant Van Buren treats the citizens of New York differently than she treats her own police officers.

It led me to a simple theory that I think would solve police shootings:

Police officers need to follow the Golden Rule.

That’s it. A huge amount of law enforcement wrongs violate this central tenet that runs through Christianity, Buddhism and countless other religions and philosophies. But the golden rule could still lend itself to interpretation. So let’s be clear on what the “Golden Rule for Policing” would mean:

Police officers must treat citizens as they would want themselves and fellow police officers to be treated.

This would have two major effects:

First, police would treat citizens better.

Think of the Laquan McDonald shooting in Chicago. From the first moment of the shooting, the police officers did everything they could to keep their fellow officers from going to jail and keep the shooting a secret. Compare that to how quickly police release mug shots for suspects for any other type of shooting or leak the suspect’s name to the media.

Instead we could craft policies and recraft our criminal justice system to take advantage of the Golden Rule. In short, the way police officers handle a police shooting is how every criminal prosecution should happen in America. A careful analysis of facts, caution in drawing conclusions, the overriding concern for the rights of the accused, the kid gloves treatment of suspects including ensuring they have legal representation and the chance to consult an attorney before they make a statement; these are the way police officers want to be treated in a criminal investigation.

In a way this is saying, “Hey, police officers, if you give your own brethren every benefit of the doubt, then you need to do the same for the citizens you serve.”

So police departments would ensure that every citizen gets the same treatment that any police officer suspected of a crime gets. That means lawyers would have to be present at every interview. No coerced interrogations. An impartial presentation of evidence to grand juries. Every suspect would get bail. The risk is fewer criminal prosecutions, but that is a risk that police officers willingly accept with their brethren on the force, so it is a risk all society should take with civilians.

Second, police would treat themselves harsher.

Ever been in a car with a police officer who gets pulled over for speeding? You know what they do? They pull out their badge. Most of the time, the cop who pulled them over will give them a pass. If they don’t, they think the cop who gave a speeding ticket to a fellow officer is a jerk. Compare that with the higher rate at which African-Americans get pulled over, stopped, searched, frisked and, in general, treated as a piggy bank by far too many communities.

Under a “Golden Rule for Policing”, officers would take much tougher stands against police misconduct. And there are much more serious issues than speeding.

Like domestic violence, which is much higher in police families than the civilian population. If the woman being abused isn’t related to a police officer, the abuser will most certainly spending the night in jail. And will probably face charges. If the suspected abuser is a police officer? Then likely nothing will happen. Police officers tend to give fellow officers the complete benefit of the doubt and don’t investigate allegations. It allows the issue to fester.

But it goes further than just domestic violence. Police officers have lied on witness statements in police shootings to protect fellow officers or themselves. Or when the official narrative is immediately overturned by camera footage, as Eric C wrote about recently. Under the “Golden Rule of Policing”, those actions are the worst betrayals of the badge.

My solution is, on its face, unrealistic. Or just very, very difficult to implement. Or too vague. But often when organizations have lost their way, focusing on their core values can be the solution. If police officers made this tenet their touchstone--as opposed to fierce loyalty to the badge--they could drastically improve the lives of all citizens in America.

A final note: this post should be a warning to every Christian police officer in America. Most police officers I would wager are conservative and religious. The Golden Rule absolutely applies to every action they take as police officers. The fact that some police officers treat citizens differently than their fellow citizens flies in the face of Jesus’ overriding maxim. Especially in a religious tradition that is based on the Golden Rule. It is literally one of two rules that Jesus said would replace all others. I hope more police officers take this to heart, especially when it comes to their fellow officers and citizens of this country.

Feb 08

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", please click here.

Also, we have a ton of thoughts on Lt. Col. David Grossman’s “Sheep, Sheepdogs and Wolves” analogy. To read the entire series, please click here.)

Before we started writing this series, I thought about the cops that I knew. For me--probably not Michael C--writing about cops felt a lot more personal than writing about soldiers. Our family knows a lot of police officers. Yes, obviously Michael and I know a lot of soldiers, but usually with the military, you can blame policy, politicians or officers for most problems. Writing about police shootings--or more accurately, blaming the police for excessive force, unaccountable killings and unjust practices that encourage and promote racial disparity--feels more personal. It feels like we’re blaming them personally.

So I got to thinking about the cops I knew. They’re good people, right? I believe they are. But as the police shootings kept mounting--or for me personally, seeing the video of the Walter Scott shooting--I couldn’t escape the conclusion: some cops are bad cops.

And then it hit me. I was getting close to reusing Grossman’s analogy about “wolves, sheep and sheepdogs” that we spent a lot of time on last year. (Click here and here for some background on this misleading analogy.) Basically, this simplistic analysis is used by some police officers and soldiers to divide the world into three groups: bad people like terrorists and criminals (“wolves”), the good people  who use violence to stop the wolves (glowingly described as “sheepdogs”), and those good people who disdain violence (insultingly dubbed “sheep”).

Unlike last year, I don’t want to keep bashing Grossman’s illogical analogy. In fact, I think it is actually instructive (in a few limited ways) in understanding and stopping police shootings.

Obviously there are some bad cops. (Unlike Grossman, we don’t believe joining the military or police automatically makes you a good person or a “sheepdog”.) So, if you assume that some police officers are sheepdogs (good cops) and some are wolves (bad cops), how do you tell them apart? Easy. Look at their behavior. In far too many police shootings, the shooters had dismal records of over-using force:

- Look at the Laquan McDonald shooting. Officer Van Dyke--the officer who shot McDonald and now faces murder charges--had 18 complaints filed against him.

- Or the shooting of John Crawford III at a WalMart. According to CNN and a federal lawsuit by Crawford’s family, “...Officer Sean C. Williams, who is also ‘involved in the only other fatal police shooting in the history of the Beavercreek Police Department,’ according to the lawsuit.” So one police officer accounts for both shootings in one police department’s history? Unlikely.

- Or Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death using an illegal police tactic, had been sued three times for misconduct.

- Michael Slager, who shot and then lied about shooting Walter Scott, had three complaints for use of excessive force.

- The city of Cleveland had to settle an excessive force lawsuit brought by citizens against Frank Garmback, one of the police officers who shot Tamir Rice.

Not all cops are bad, but some are. We can look at their records and dismiss the bad cops (wolves) preemptively. Even Grossman agrees with this, as he wrote, “the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.”

Alas, this is not what happens.

How do too many good cops (sheepdogs) deal with bad cops? By doing nothing. Police officers are almost never convicted of killing civilians. We pointed out five different examples in a post last year of DAs and police departments ignoring allegations of abuse.

Of the police officers above, the officers who killed Tamir Rice, John Crawford III and Eric Garner received no punishment, as grand juries declined to indict the officers. The police officer who shot Tamir Rice wasn’t questioned until over six months after the shooting, and only had charges filed after video of the shooting became public. If Michael Slager is convicted, he’d be the first officer in five years in South Carolina.

Even worse than all of this looking the other way--for both excessive force complaints and questionable shootings--is when sheepdogs also cover up the crimes of the wolves in their midst.

In the case of Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Police Department intimidated witnesses into silence, according to reports from the family. And police officers lied, “...In reports to internal investigators, the other officers either corroborated his story or said that they hadn’t seen what happened. One said that she had been looking down and missed the whole thing.” And then the police department refused to release the tape of the shooting to the public to conceal what had happened.

The good sheepdogs of Chicago tried to specifically protect a wolf in their midst. So much for sheepdogs being “punished and removed” for the sake of our democracy.

I don’t believe all cops are evil. I don’t believe they should be vilified. But I do believe they need to be criticized for working in and protecting a system that shields all cops from punishment, without differentiating the good cops from the bad, or at least trying to. It’s the police officers in New York who, feeling like they’re under attack, protest after their fellow officers choke a man to death for selling loose cigarettes.

The problem, hate to paraphrase a quote-behaving-badly, is sheepdogs doing nothing about the wolves in their midst, who let a broken system remain broken. I would hope that the police officers I know can at least agree on that.

Aug 20

After two vigorous opening arguments to our debate, “Does America Make the World Safer?”, we have our rebuttals.

Eric C Rebuttal

The main argument Michael C put forth is that a wide variety of traditionally liberal (in foreign policy terms) policies have made the world safer, including establishing international norms and treaties, a rise in the number of democracies around the world, and free trade. And yes, America has traditionally supported those developments, if not outright invented them in the modern era. Or as he wrote “[America] has been the single largest supporter for international relations liberalism.”

Actually, that’s not the case.

Those changes would probably have happened independent of America. Even China, leading its fellow BRIC nations, is creating its own version of the International Monetary Fund. Instead, America pushes back against these trends, supporting dictatorships and opposing treaties. Outside of encouraging free trade--for all the wrong reasons, I might add--America does not make the world safer.

Most importantly, Americans believe they are above international norms. We flouted the Geneva conventions after 9/11. Our politicians bash the UN. We support dictators, when convenient. We barely approve treaties. This doesn’t mean we can’t get better, but it doesn’t mean we are making the world safer.

And he didn’t address the other huge issues I brought up: America is the most violent developed country in the world. Our murder rate is an embarrassment, and this is directly connected to our domestic issues like gun rights, a punitive not rehabilitative justice system, and economic inequality.

Internationally and domestically, right now, America is not making the world a safer place because we reject the policies that make it safer.

Michael C Rebuttal

Eric C and I looked at the data for the last 15 years--the massive decline in war--and drew the conclusion that the world is indeed getting safer.

But how can you look at those 15 years and not see the U.S. as widely involved in all the factors causing that decline? The collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent victory of the Western (mostly United States) vision of modern civilization helped drive that decline. Yes, the world would be less violent if the U.S. hadn’t started a war in Iraq, but that doesn’t make the world less safe because the U.S. is in it.

Further, this motion isn’t, “Could America be even better?” because of course it could. The motion isn’t, “Has America caused violence around the world?” If Eric C just had to point out a single bad American action, then yes he would win in a landslide. But Eric C has created an impossible standard. For America to win, under his terms, it would have to be perfect.

But the debate is about the balance. On the whole, adding up all the good and subtracting all the bad, does America make the world a safer place? I would say it absolutely does. It spends money to help developing nations, its economy drives the world closer together, and even its military has fought dictators. So yes, America is making the world safer.

If you would like to respond to the prompt, send us an email at info at On Violence dot com.

Jul 29

(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.

This week and next, we’re debating the motion: America Makes the World a Safer Place. Below is Eric C’s argument against the motion.)

Let me get a counter-argument out of the way. I don’t think that American military expenditures make the world safer because America provides global security “for a dangerous world”. The idea that American hegemony provides security just doesn’t jive with the evidence. We aren’t making the world safer through military expenditure or military invasions.

Sorry.

But I still think America makes the world safer, on the whole, because it has been the single largest supporter for international relations liberalism. If you’re an international relations liberal (which we are) then you have to agree with the motion. America supports all three pillars of international liberalism: international institutions, democracy and free trade.

Let’s start with the last in that list, free-trade.

America has the world’s largest economy, and is the largest financial contributor to both the World Bank and the IMF, huge benefactors for global trade and economics. America also supports and helped found the World Trade Organization, the most important promoter of global trade and economics. I can already hear the critics of all three of those institutions. I admit, they aren’t perfect, but they promote free trade.

A more interconnected world, with more trade, and more movement of people, decreases the likelihood of war. Is America alone in supporting free trade? Of course not. But as the biggest economy, this goes along way to helping prevent world wars.

America also furthers economic growth through aid to the tune of $31 billion dollars last year. US donors drive this up further, mainly through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Is this enough? No. Would I like to see it even higher? Of course, but it still helps make the world a safer place.

And on the whole America supports democratic movements. Is America perfect? No. We oppose a dictatorship in Venezuela and a theocracy in Iran, but ally with a monarchy in Saudi Arabia and a dictatorship in Egypt. On the whole, America still supports UN democracy movements and funds democracy watch groups to support legitimate elections. (And yes, Iraq and Afghanistan were disasters, but we tried to promote democracy.)

And we don’t go it alone; we leverage international institutions that provide international legitimacy. America funds the United Nations. Yes, for a time period the U.S. shorted the U.N. bill under a Republican president under conservative pressure. In 2009, though, the United States paid back its past debts, and now provides more funding for the U.N. than any other country and more funding for peacekeeping operations than any other country.

But it’s not just the UN. America is also key force in many multi-national organizations--from NATO to ASEAN to OAS--that help prevent wars. (An easy rule of thumb: medieval Europe and feudal China didn’t have lots of international organizations, and fought plenty of wars. Modern countries have tons of international organizations and don’t fight a lot of wars.)

I can hear the critics. For all the big trends America either created or encourages, every so often we choose to go off the rails in something else. Historically, America spent the Cold War doing what it takes to stop the Russians, and it frequently backfired. The Cold War also caused the Vietnam War for America and the Afghanistan War for Russia. And the conflict in Afghanistan never really died down. We also executed democratically elected leaders and tried to put in our own proxies. This can still haunt us today. (Exhibit: Iran.)

And yes, America is involved in another decade long war in the “War on Terror”. Drone strikes provoke violence and extremism, providing the raison d’etre for terrorists around the world. Our national security establishment doesn’t even realize this. We need to fix that.

But during the Cold War and through to today, America led the world by creating the very concept international relations liberalism. We started the first international institution--the League of Nations--created the biggest free trade initiative in history--The Marshall Plan--and made the world’s first constitution. America basically invented the values that make the world a better place.

A world without any America might be safer, but it’s hard to see the evidence for that.

Jul 27

(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.

This week and next, we’re debating the motion: America Makes the World a Safer Place. Below is Eric C’s argument against the motion.)

Before we begin, let me frame my argument for why I oppose the motion. (This is, unfortunately, necessary; many people don’t understand the basic concept that “the world getting safer” does not equal “violence doesn’t exist”.)

I believe America’s policies--foreign and domestic--have caused violence, which keeps the world from being EVEN safer than it is now. In some ways, this is a counter-factual: if America had done things differently over the last twenty years, the world would be safer and less violent than it is today. I’m aware this is a high bar to hurdle over, but I think I can do it.

Let’s get into the specifics. First, foreign affairs.

America’s Overreaction to 9/11

Check out the “List of Ongoing Conflicts” page on Wikipedia (as of July 2015) and you’ll notice two things:

1. War really is on the decline.

2. Of the four deadliest wars right now, America is to blame for two of them. Moreover, America is involved--mostly unproductively--in five of the fifteen deadliest wars happening today.

So two things are true: war is less deadly than it’s ever been, but America has needlessly inflated the overall number of wars by choosing to fight and get involved in so many of them.

Our extended stay in Afghanistan could be justified ethically for the first few years, but repeated mismanagement of that war turned it into a quagmire. Iraq, on the other hand, was a war of choice that destabilized the region. If America hadn’t invaded Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people (Iraqis mainly) would still be alive. (Who knows what would have happened in Syria without the Iraq war. Certainly couldn’t be worse than the situation today.) And our drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have angered millions of people, creating more violent extremists and increasing instability.

The American Military Doesn’t Care Enough About Limiting Civilian Casualties

My second biggest disagreement with American foreign policy--after starting so many wars--is with how poorly we’ve fought them. And by poorly, I don’t mean “failing to close with and destroy the enemy”. Actually, I mean the opposite. This means detaining less Iraqis and Afghans. It means limiting civilian casualties. It means sacrificing more of our own soldiers to protect others. If we’d have gone into Afghanistan seeking to rebuild a war-torn nation, developing roads and infrastructure and providing medicine, I believe we could have won.

But the American military hates that. And they’re so immune to criticism by the American populace that the military won’t be forced to change its approach.

Michael C and I started the blog mainly to write about population-centric counter-insurgency. We haven’t written about it much recently, mainly because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sort of ended. Still, it matters. The American military‘s failure to embrace the future of war has prolonged our wars...and artificially increased war deaths across the globe.

Republicans Hate Treaties

International norms help make the world a safer and better place. But Michael C has written recently about how Republicans hate treaties. Due to the anti-treaty stance of Republicans in the Senate, this means America leads the world in preventing international norms from being established. Treaties make the world a safer place and the U.S. Senate leads the world in opposing them.

America Hypocritically Loves Dictators

As we’ve written about before, America hates some dictators, but not all. For example, Iran is our mortal enemy, but Saudi Arabia is not. This has made the world less democratic and, by extension, more dangerous. We don’t do enough to oppose all of the regimes that torture and violate human rights.

On to domestic policy....

Gun Rights

Years ago, Michael C and I decided that we weren’t ready to discuss gun control on the blog. We didn’t feel--as we wrote about here--that the facts were in. Studying the academic literature, we no longer think that’s the case. More guns equals more gun deaths.

America has lots of guns. As most statistics show, if you own a gun, someone is more likely to be shot by that gun, either through suicide, spousal abuse or accidental shooting. Many of the major statistics cited by gun rights advocates have been debunked. By owning so many guns, America is more violent than it should be.

Our Judicial System

As I pointed out a few weeks ago, America’s judicial system, which locks up way too many young men, doesn’t mean the world is more violent than 50, 100 or 500 years ago.

But it is a huge problem.

Our country’s views on crime, punishment, prisons and rehabilitation have created a permanent underclass of citizens. Business don’t hire people with criminal records, worsening the problem. Our drug laws--though getting better recently--are insanely punitive. And we see how police departments across the country harass minorities. The reason I’m adding this into the debate is that America has failed to adopt the policies Europe has embraced, and increased violence is the result. Thus, America’s massive homicide rate compared to Europe is, well, America’s fault.

In closing, America has, like other nations, adopted a number of policies that have made the world safer. But compared to other nations, too many of our foreign and domestic policies have perpetuated violence both in our country and across the world. And that’s why you should oppose the motion.

Jul 21

(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.)

In fiction, conflict is the heart of good drama. Does the same thing apply to non-fiction political writing?

We’ve been writing a lot recently about how the world is getting safer. We mean a lot. Michael and I, like most every topic on the blog, agree on this point. The conflict comes from us disproving the people who don’t believe this. (Eric C wrote a whole series of posts debunking those opinions.) But another conflict arose discussing this issue. Inspired by this John Horgan post, and assuming you want the world to keep getting safer and believe us that it is getting safer, it begs a simple question:

Is America making the world a safer place?

Michael C knew the answer pretty easily, yes. Eric C knew his answer, no. Michael C mentioned supporting democracies. Eric C mentioned supporting dictatorships. Michael C said international aid. Eric C said Iraq. So it looks like we had the making for a good old-fashioned On V debate. So let’s have it. The motion is:

America Makes the World a Safer Place.

The debate will go in three parts. First Eric C will argue against the motion. Then Michael C will argue for the motion. Finally, we will have rebuttals.