The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
generation, that was more than any custom, no matter how sanctified by tradition, could endure.” 49 Today the expression “Take ten paces, turn, and fire” is more likely to call to mind Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam than “men of honor.”

THE 20th CENTURY
     
    As our tour of the history of forgotten violence comes within sight of the present, the landmarks start to look more familiar. But even the zone of cultural memory from the last century has relics that feel like they belong to a foreign country.
    Take the decline of martial culture. 50 The older cities in Europe and the United States are dotted with public works that flaunt the nation’s military might. Pedestrians can behold statues of commanders on horseback, beefcake sculptures of well-hung Greek warriors, victory arches crowned by chariots, and iron fencing wrought into the shape of swords and spears. Subway stops are named for triumphant battles: the Paris Métro has an Austerlitz station; the London Underground has a Waterloo station. Photos from a century ago show men in gaudy military dress uniforms parading on national holidays and hobnobbing with aristocrats at fancy dinners. The visual branding of long-established states is heavy on aggressive iconography, such as projectiles, edged weapons, birds of prey, and predatory cats. Even famously pacifistic Massachusetts has a seal that features an amputated arm brandishing a sword and a Native American holding a bow and arrow above the state motto, “With the sword we seek peace, but under liberty.” Not to be outdone, neighboring New Hampshire adorns its license plates with the motto “Live Free or Die.”
    But in the West today public places are no longer named after military victories. Our war memorials depict not proud commanders on horseback but weeping mothers, weary soldiers, or exhaustive lists of names of the dead. Military men are inconspicuous in public life, with drab uniforms and little prestige among the hoi polloi. In London’s Trafalgar Square, the plinth across from the big lions and Nelson’s column was recently topped with a sculpture that is about as far from military iconography as one can imagine: a nude, pregnant artist who had been born without arms and legs. The World War I battlefield in Ypres, Belgium, inspiration for the poem “In Flanders Fields” and the poppies worn in Commonwealth countries on November 11, has just sprouted a memorial to the thousand soldiers who were shot in that war for desertion—men who at the time were despised as contemptible cowards. And the two most recent American state mottoes are Alaska’s “North to the Future” and Hawaii’s “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness” (though when Wisconsin solicited a replacement for “America’s Dairyland,” one of the entries was “Eat Cheese or Die”).
    Conspicuous pacifism is especially striking in Germany, a nation that was once so connected to martial values that the words Teutonic and Prussian became synonyms for rigid militarism. As recently as 1964 the satirist Tom Lehrer expressed a common fear at the prospect of West Germany participating in a multilateral nuclear coalition. In a sarcastic lullaby, the singer reassures a baby:
    Once all the Germans were warlike and mean,
    But that couldn’t happen again.
    We taught them a lesson in 1918
    And they’ve hardly bothered us since then.
     
    The fear of a revanchist Germany was revived in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and the two Germanys made plans to reunite. Yet today German culture remains racked with soul-searching over its role in the world wars and permeated with revulsion against anything that smacks of military force. Violence is taboo even in video games, and when Parker Brothers tried to introduce a German version of Risk, the board game in which players try to dominate a map of the world, the German government tried to censor it. (Eventually the rules were rewritten so that players were “liberating”

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