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Posted by2 months ago

Mapping the History of Peace: How many years have we seen in human history with no major conflicts?

Calling on all the resources of r/history here folks.

I remember reading somewhere an historian's estimation that, in the past 3500 or so years of human history, we had seen only 268 in which no major armed conflicts were known to have been fought around the world. Only thing is, that estimation didn't include any details of specific years.

I thought it'd be fun to see how many years we could find in global history where there was credible evidence of peace.

Rules as follows:

  • Starting from 1500 BC, records previous to this are too sparse for even reasonably accurate mapping

  • A 'Peace Year' can include a year during which a 'low intensity conflict' was nominally in progress (e.g. Isles of Scilly vs. Netherlands, Caste War of Yucatan, Unif. of Saudi Arabia) so long as no major engagement in said conflict occurred during that year

  • Skirmishes and extremely localised conflicts do not count for the purposes of this exercise unless they can be said to have direct impact on subsequent military events (i.e. unless they led in some way to a war). Small one-off bouts ('handbags' as we call them in Britain) can occur in a Peace Year.

  • Pogroms and state-mandated, systematic persecutions cannot occur in a Peace Year. Customary/legal allowance of what we now consider 'barbaric practices' may occur in a Peace Year for the purpose of not making the exercise totally redundant, as those activities occurred almost everywhere to some degree until very recently, even though their inclusion does somewhat cheapen the idea of a 'Peace Year'

  • If the readership thinks it worthwhile, 'Near Peace Years', with only marginal conflict, can also be included.

How many Peace Years can we find?

92% Upvoted
level 1
ModModerator Achievement · 2 mo. ago · Stickied comment

As we hope you can appreciate, the Holocaust can be a fraught subject to deal with. While we don't want to curtail discussion, we also remain very conscious that threads of this nature can attract the very wrong kind of responses, and it is an unfortunate truth that on reddit, outright Holocaust denial can often rear its ugly head. As such, the r/History mods have created this brief overview. It is not intended to stifle further discussion, but simply lay out the basic, incontrovertible truths to get them out of the way.

What Was the Holocaust?

The Holocaust refers to the genocidal deaths of 5-6 million European Jews carried out systematically by Nazi Germany as part of targeted policies of persecution and extermination during World War II. Some historians will also include the deaths of the Roma, Communists, Mentally Disabled, and other groups targeted by Nazi policies, which brings the total number of deaths to 11-17 million. Debates about whether or not the Holocaust includes these deaths or not is a matter of definitions, but in no way a reflection on dispute that they occurred.

But This Guy Says Otherwise!

Unfortunately, there is a small, but vocal, minority of persons who fall into the category of Holocaust Denial, attempting to minimize the deaths by orders of magnitude, impugn well proven facts, or even claim that the Holocaust is entirely a fabrication and never happened. Although they often self-style themselves as "Revisionists", they are not correctly described by the title. While revisionism is not inherently a dirty word, actual revision, to quote Michael Shermer, "entails refinement of detailed knowledge about events, rarely complete denial of the events themselves, and certainly not denial of the cumulation of events known as the Holocaust."

It is absolutely true that were you to read a book written in 1950 or so, you would find information which any decent scholar today might reject, and that is the result of good revisionism. But these changes, which even can be quite large, such as the reassessment of deaths at Auschwitz from ~4 million to ~1 million, are done within the bounds of respected, academic study, and reflect decades of work that builds upon the work of previous scholars, and certainly does not willfully disregard documented evidence and recollections. There are still plenty of questions within Holocaust Studies that are debated by scholars, and there may still be more out there for us to discover, and revise, but when it comes to the basic facts, there is simply no valid argument against them.

So What Are the Basics?

Beginning with their rise to power in the 1930s, the Nazi Party, headed by Adolf Hitler, implemented a series of anti-Jewish policies within Germany, marginalizing Jews within society more and more, stripping them of their wealth, livelihoods, and their dignity. With the invasion of Poland in 1939, the number of Jews under Nazi control reached into the millions, and this number would again increase with the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Shortly after the invasion of Poland, the Germans started to confine the Jewish population into squalid ghettos. After several plans on how to rid Europe of the Jews that all proved unfeasible, by the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, ideological (Antisemitism) and pragmatic (Resources) considerations lead to mass-killings becoming the only viable option in the minds of the Nazi leadership. First only practiced in the USSR, it was influential groups such as the SS and the administration of the General Government that pushed to expand the killing operations to all of Europe and sometime at the end of 1941 met with Hitler’s approval.

The early killings were carried out foremost by the Einsatzgruppen, paramilitary groups organized under the aegis of the SS and tasked with carrying out the mass killings of Jews, Communists, and other 'undesirable elements' in the wake of the German military's advance. In what is often termed the 'Holocaust by Bullet', the Einsatzgruppen, with the assistance of the Wehrmacht, the SD, the Security Police, as well as local collaborators, would kill roughly two million persons, over half of them Jews. Most killings were carried out with mass shootings, but other methods such as gas vans - intended to spare the killers the trauma of shooting so many persons day after day - were utilized too.

By early 1942, the "Final Solution" to the so-called "Jewish Question" was essentially finalized at the Wannsee Conference under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich, where the plan to eliminate the Jewish population of Europe using a series of extermination camps set up in occupied Poland was presented and met with approval.

Construction of extermination camps had already begun the previous fall, and mass extermination, mostly as part of 'Operation Reinhard', had began operation by spring of 1942. Roughly 2 million persons, nearly all Jewish men, women, and children, were immediately gassed upon arrival at Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka over the next two years, when these "Reinhard" camps were closed and razed. More victims would meet their fate in additional extermination camps such as Chełmno, but most infamously at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where slightly over 1 million persons, mostly Jews, died. Under the plan set forth at Wannsee, exterminations were hardly limited to the Jews of Poland, but rather Jews from all over Europe were rounded up and sent east by rail like cattle to the slaughter. Although the victims of the Reinhard Camps were originally buried, they would later be exhumed and cremated, and cremation of the victims was normal procedure at later camps such as Auschwitz.

The Camps

There were two main types of camps run by Nazi Germany, which is sometimes a source of confusion. Concentration Camps were well known means of extrajudicial control implemented by the Nazis shortly after taking power, beginning with the construction of Dachau in 1933. Political opponents of all type, not just Jews, could find themselves imprisoned in these camps during the pre-war years, and while conditions were often brutal and squalid, and numerous deaths did occur from mistreatment, they were not usually a death sentence and the population fluctuated greatly. Although Concentration Camps were later made part of the 'Final Solution', their purpose was not as immediate extermination centers. Some were 'way stations', and others were work camps, where Germany intended to eke out every last bit of productivity from them through what was known as "extermination through labor". Jews and other undesirable elements, if deemed healthy enough to work, could find themselves spared for a time and "allowed" to toil away like slaves until their usefulness was at an end.

Although some Concentration Camps, such as Mauthausen, did include small gas chambers, mass gassing was not the primary purpose of the camp. Many camps, becoming extremely overcrowded, nevertheless resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of inhabitants due to the outbreak of diseases such as typhus, or starvation, all of which the camp administrations did little to prevent. Bergen-Belsen, which was not a work camp but rather served as something of a way station for prisoners of the camp systems being moved about, is perhaps one of the most infamous of camps on this count, saw some 50,000 deaths caused by the conditions. Often located in the Reich, camps liberated by the Western forces were exclusively Concentration Camps, and many survivor testimonies come from these camps.

The Concentration Camps are contrasted with the Extermination Camps, which were purpose built for mass killing, with large gas chambers and later on, crematoria, but little or no facilities for inmates. Often they were disguised with false facades to lull the new arrivals into a false sense of security, even though rumors were of course rife for the fate that awaited the deportees. Almost all arrivals were killed upon arrival at these camps, and in many cases the number of survivors numbered in the single digits, such as at Bełżec, where only seven Jews, forced to assist in operation of the camp, were alive after the war.

Several camps, however, were 'Hybrids' of both types, the most famous being Auschwitz, which was vast a complex of subcamps. The infamous 'selection' of prisoners, conducted by SS doctors upon arrival, meant life or death, with those deemed unsuited for labor immediately gassed and the more healthy and robust given at least temporary reprieve. The death count at Auschwitz numbered around 1 million, but it is also the source of many survivor testimonies.

How Do We Know?

Running through the evidence piece by piece would take more space than we have here, but suffice to say, there is a lot of evidence, and not just the (mountains of) survivor testimony. We have testimonies and writings from many who participated, as well German documentation of the programs. This site catalogs some of the evidence we have for mass extermination as it relates to Auschwitz. Below you'll find a short list of excellent works that should help to introduce you to various aspects of Holocaust study.

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8 more replies

level 1

I have a comprehensive database of wars, including major and minor conflicts categorized by importance, from all around the world, and battles on each conflict, since 3500 BC to present day. It's huge. I'm sure this database could answer your question fairly easily after about 3 days work of sorting, filtering and querying -no kidding. It's the database that I use to build interactive timelines like this Timeline of the Vietnam War. You can see here the level of detail the database has.

level 2

Where can I find that database? I'm interested in doing some research.

level 2

Wow, you maniac, impressive work!!

level 2
Op · 2 mo. ago

This is one of the most impressive works of private historical research I've ever seen. Stunning.

level 2

Can I query that database? Or help optimise it? lol

level 1

Well, if you want to start looking for them I'd suggest starting with the 5 years or so after large scale wars ended. There tends to be a lot of minor conflicts in these times, but there's very little cash or manpower available for major conflicts.

level 2
· 2 mo. ago · edited 2 mo. ago

I'm unsure if this would work. Like, immediately after WWII, you have the Chinese Civil War, immediately after WWI, you have a bunch of wars over the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, like the Turkish Revolution, Turkish-Armenian war, and Greco-Turkish War.

level 1
· 2 mo. ago · edited 2 mo. ago

With your current criteria, I'm not sure how feasible this would be as an analysis.

For one, the vague semantics like "major engagement" or "extremely localised" won't be helpful. You'll need to quantify that somehow.

If, say, the Alyawarre people of Australia have a conflict with a neighbouring tribe, and one hundred men die... is that extremely localised? Is it major? One hundred men might not sound like much, but what if that's more than half of all Alyawarre men? What if the Alyawarre territory is larger than some modern countries?

And secondly, though you've kindly excluded everything before 1500BC due to "sparse records", records after 1500BC can be just as sparse.

Take those Alyawarre again - they are one of hundreds of Australian Aboriginal tribes, who fought frequent conflicts and wars with each other (as all nations did), but our records of those conflicts are nearly non-existent. The same applies to large parts of the world. How many written records do we have of the countless wars in North-America before the 16th century?

Do you exclude all of pre-Columbian Australia, North America, and large parts of pre-colonial Africa and South America? That doesn't seem quite fair.

I think you'd be better off limiting the scope.

You could, for example, take one written source and count the number of peace years in that source. Like, count the number of years in Wikipedia's timeline without a recorded battle of 1000+ combatants. Would that exclude the majority of earth's history? Yes, but at least you were upfront about it.

Or you could, for example, limit yourself to a well-documented region. You can count the number of years in Italy without a recorded battle of 1000+ combatants. Would that exclude the majority of earth? Yes, but at least you were upfront about it.

Or you could, for example, limit yourself to a better documented era. You can count the number of months in the 20th century without a recorded battle of 1000+ combatants.


level 2

Even delineating by number of combatants doesn't really work because numbers tended to be vastly inflated, even in areas where "good" records were kept.

level 2

Exactly, would the USSR invasion of Afghanistan be considered a major engagement?

level 2

Please never use the term Pre Colombian Australia again. Pre Cook.

level 1
· 2 mo. ago

You raise an extremely interesting question but it strikes me as a major scholarly undertaking. It could be effectively crowd-sourced but would require careful organization and study by region as well as period. I seriously doubt any living person remotely has this all at their fingertips.

level 2

An approach might be to work one century at a time from 20th backwards - start on easy mode and build up from there. Would also be interesting to see if there is any trend in number of peace years per century.

level 2
Op · 2 mo. ago

I totally agree and given how fantastic the engagement has been here I'm half tempted to consider turning it into a full-blown crowd-sourced undertaking.

level 1

Why not define it as for example at least 5% of the world population are involved in conflicts. A population counts as being in conflict if their leader goes to war, or if they are involved in a civil war. These definitions are obviously just intended as a suggestion and maybe a starting point.

level 2

5% of world population would basically mean when were either India, China or the entirety of europe involved. Take for example the 100 years war; In 1400 the combined population of France and england was about 15 million, while 5% of the world population was about 22 million meaning this would not be a significant conflict on its own. (I know that there were most likely half a dozen other wars in 1400 but this is just an illustration)

level 1

Whatever the answer might be, the correct answer is not enough


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Created Jan 25, 2008