If you consider it rude to reduce human suffering to cold statistics, you don't have to. Turn away now.
That's how historian/librarian Matthew White introduces his "Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Man-made Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century." It's a shocking, scrupulously researched, indispensable information source.
Blogger Sean Carroll, a physicist at the University of Chicago, summarizes White's list in an entry titled "A million is a statistic." He says:
Our emotions simply lack the dynamic range to really appreciate what it means to have over a million people -- the population of Detroit, Michigan -- be killed by their fellow humans.
Here is a list of the human-initiated events of the twentieth century that left over one million people dead. Wars, genocides, and famines are all lumped together, for what it's worth. . . Talking about such a subject is difficult, because it immediately veers off into quibbling about the numbers and pointless comparisons about whose tragedy is worse or more shamefully neglected. All of these events are unique and horrible, and the reason they are worth remembering is to prevent their like from ever happening again.
After listing 24 man-made million-death events, Carroll adds, "I suppose there is some comfort in the fact that the total number of deaths was lower in the second half of the century than in the first. Not much."
We agree. It's not insignificant that we have avoided world war for the last sixty years. Good for us.
But this is no time for feeling complacent. Factors are emerging -- and merging -- that potentially could lead to a new level of geopolitical instability, global war, and many more millions of dead human beings.
Molecular manufacturing, made possible by advanced nanotechnology, is a leading cause for worry in addition to being a source of many potential benefits. How we manage this transformative technology will determine whether the 21st century claims even more lives than the 20th.
By the way, White's "Megadeaths" list is part of his amazing Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century, an online compendium in which it's easy to lose oneself for hours.