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I published Tao and War by Lao-tzu and Sun-tzuin 1977, which was a multi-year effort to understand why people behave as they do when it comes to wars and mass murder. I added the last line to my rendering of The Art of War which became the words quoted in the best seller The Fifth Generation: Artificial Intelligence & Japan’s Computer Challenge to the Worldby Pamela McCorduck. “Spies are the most important element in preserving the health of the people, because on them depends the ability to see and to know what is really happening and thus to act properly.”

I wasted years of my life on the hideous subject of war, because I realized, “This study of evil and war is of vital importance to the peace of the world. Its subject is the life or death of entire peoples, and of the methods required for attaining the security or ruin of nations. It must never be neglected by a sovereign or his general.” Although I have avoided participating in wars personally I have been dead center with it all my life, interacting with seemingly fine people who have. How can it be that the most civilized and kindest people I have ever known were also the most deadly?

Atrocities: The 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human Historyby Matthew White is a book that must be read by every human being, because it demonstrates just how much at risk we humans are to the behavior of other humans. The book limits the atrocities to the deadliest one hundred, and that makes a general cut-off point of about three hundred thousand deaths directly attributable to human intention. Remote famines, diseases like plagues, and flus that killed millions were not listed in the atrocities even though they were exacerbated by them. Even the Black Death of 1347, which killed one-third of all Europeans and was directly caused by Genghis Khan’s son tossing plague victims into the walled port cities in the Crimea,  wasn’t counted. Obviously all of the body counts of these conflicts have an element of arbitrariness in accuracy, but in general the rank order of the atrocities is close.

Each one of the labeled atrocities has a chapter dedicated to it, and some are only two pages long, like Cromwell’s Invasion of Ireland, the Greco-Turkish War, and the Angolan Civil War. Bigger events get more pages, like WW2 with 22 pages, WW1 with 15 pages and Genghis Khan with 12 pages. There is a lot of analysis of why  and how of the wars, and an apportioning of blame. When it comes to body counts it is dangerous to be a civilian anywhere near an army, and they usually have more deaths than soldiers. You have better life expectancy if you have armed comrades who want you to survive, rather than armed men who want to take everything you have, including your life.

Log chart of historical war deaths

A history of major war deaths shown on a logarithmic chart.

War is dangerous to your life and property, so choose leaders who will keep you out of war.