At the turn of the last century, Pope Leo XIII appealed to the world's population to start the "century of peace." His grand plea didn't sound at all far fetched, as Europe (the civilized world) was at that time a peaceful continent, with no major wars on the horizon.
The contentious issue of African and Asian colonies was put to rest at the 1885 Conference of Berlin, and only such petty and unimportant things as nationalism were a threat--be it a minor one--to the powers that be.
The Boer War came around in 1904 but no one seemed to notice. It was in far-away South Africa so how could it possibly affect peace at home? Then came the Russo-Japanese War, but again no one noticed. After all, how would a minor threat to one of the great powers be anything to worry about? The Japanese weren't really treated as people back then, so their aggression was not viewed as anything serious.
Economic prosperity was on the rise, international trade was at an all time high, and all worries of conflict were put to rest. Why would anyone want to disturb the beautiful status quo?
It's safe to say that by 1914 Pope Leo's pleas were long forgotten. The "century of peace" turned into the century of Hitler, the century of Stalin, the century of carnage. Wars were fought, people lost their lives, and here in 2001, we all sit and wonder, "How did it all take place?"
Pope John Paul II made an appeal to the people of the world in the year 2000. It was an appeal for peace not only in the next century, but also in the next millennium. Here we sit and think that maybe this time it'll all work out. After all, in our time of economic prosperity and globalization, who'd want to go to war? Sure there's some trouble in the Middle East, but it's so far away. The Arabs and Jews will work out their differences. Besides, Washington wouldn't let anything bad happen. There is war on the African continent, but it's civil war--not something that will ever affect us.
We're living in denial, just as our great-great grandparents were in 1900. India and Pakistan are involved in an arms race, with both nations possessing nuclear technology. The contested region of Kashmir is a powder keg just waiting for a spark. A Chinese fighter crashed into a U.S. spyplane in the South Pacific. "The U.S. and China are trading partners," you say. "Nothing can come of it, it would be madness."
In 1900, Russia and Germany were trading partners too.