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THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE TODAY?

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Hold off on the hats and horns! Stop the celebrating! Despite the optimistic developments in Eastern Europe lately, the world is still a long way from being free from war and hatred.

Just how far off those goals remain can be seen from this week's report from the Lentz Peace Research Laboratory in St. Louis, Mo., showing that 17 wars are still being fought in various parts of the world.Those conflicts range from the 23-year-old civil war in Guatemala to more recent wars in Africa.

Yes, the number of this year's wars - defined as an armed conflict involving at least one government and 1,000 deaths a year - is down from 1988, when there were 22 wars.

The wars that fell from the list this year were in Chad, Burma, Colombia and Burundi. Also removed from the list were the Iran-Iraq war and the conflict between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish minority. The only war added to the list was in China, where government troops fired on student protesters.

Despite this modicum of progress, the fact remains that total deaths over the years from all the wars still being fought in 1989 was 3,772,000, including deaths from famine and disease related to the fighting.

What's more, civilians accounted for 74 percent of all those deaths.

Sadly, even with fewer wars, it's easily possible for more carnage to take place. That's because the killing power of military weaponry has increased two-hundredfold since 1945.

The monetary cost of war is escalating, too. Globally, military spending to wage or prevent war amounts to more than $800 billion a year. Russia's share alone is bigger than all the outlays on education and health care for 3.6 billion people in developing countries. The budget of the U.S. Air Force is larger than the education budgets covering 1.2 billion children in Africa, Latin America and Asia except for Japan.

Even developing countries are not immune to the trend. Third World military expenditures are calculated to be some six times larger than they were 25 years ago.

To put the problem in a broader perspective, look at development of the past few centuries. There were 50 wars in the 18th century with 6 million war-related deaths, 208 wars with 10 million deaths in the 19th century, and more than 217 wars with more than 87 million deaths so far this century.

Still another measure of how far the world is from real peace: Around the world there is one soldier for every 43 persons but only one physician for every 1,030.

What does all this mean? Simply that much of the progress the world thinks it is making is in reality an illusion, that the world won't become truly civilized until it reverses the trend toward ever more strive, and that no skills should be in as great demand today as those of the peace-maker.