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Newspaper editors hardly have to be told about the importance of press freedom. Nor do they need to be lectured on the virtues of peace. But surprisingly, few editors seem to be aware of or articulate the strong connection between the two. Quite simply, a free press promotes peace; creating a universally free press would promote universal peace. The bridge between the two is democracy.
Only to academics is democracy a complex term requiring elaborate definition. To most people, correctly I argue, democracy is easily defined by certain rights: that of voting and the secret ballot, of being able to run for any political office, including the highest, and of freedom of speech. And the latter, of course, means not only the freedom to publish criticism of the government, but even to advocate revolution. Except in a time of war, censorship and democracy are not only seen as incompatible--they are incompatible.
This is clear from a survey of governments around the world. For all countries, without exception, as shown by the latest Freedom House survey of freedom (Freedom at Issue, January/February, 1989), the most democratic have the freest media; the least democratic have the least free media. Indeed, it is inconceivable that it could be otherwise. Plainly, a free press is essential to democracy, but I would put this even in stronger terms: promoting freedom of the press also promotes democracy--a way to democracy is by working to create a free press. I think that most newsmen would agree with this.
Now, on the other side of the coin, research on war and peace has shown the following results. First, democracies do not make war on each other. There has been no war and virtually no threat of violence between two countries that are democratic. The most war occurs between the least free countries. Note that there are 167 sovereign nations in the world today, 60 of them democracies. Not only has there been or is there no war between them, but there is not even the threat of war; none of these democracies arm against each other. Not one. In its long, bloody history, for example, Western Europe is finally at peace. There is not even the expectation of war among these countries. And, it is no accident that Western Europe is also totally democratic.
Second, democracies tend to have the least internal violence (riots, revolutions, guerrilla warfare, civil war); those countries with the least freedom tend to have the most.
Finally, democratic governments just do not kill their own citizens for any but the most reprehensible civil crimes, such as executions for murder; the least free tend to kill their citizens by the millions for political, religious, or racial reasons. In many parts of the world, genocide and totalitarianism are almost synonymous. Consider that in this century alone, aside from foreign or domestic wars, totalitarian governments have killed in cold blood more than 115,000,000 people, over three times the number killed in battle in all wars in this century, including the two world wars.
The major perpetuators are well known; disagreement now only exists about the numbers: Hitler may have slaughtered as many as 14,000,000 people, including near 5,000,000 Jews; Stalin surely outdid him by murdering well over 20,000,000; Mao Tse-tung possibly liquidated even more; Pol Pot in Cambodia exterminated around 2,000,000 Cambodians; the Young Turks killed over 1,000,000 Armenians during World War I. And then there were the assorted butcheries in Ethiopia, Vietnam, Syria, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Indonesia, East Pakistan, and elsewhere.
A twentieth century, global blood bath of over 100,000,000; over 140,000,000 people when battle-deaths in foreign and domestic wars are included. But not one of these millions were killed in a war or violence between democracies; few, if any, citizen of a democracy have been killed by their own government for other than civil crimes like murder (the number of criminals executed in the whole history of the United State by federal and local authorities up to 1982 is 13,630).
It should be clear that democracies are a way to nonviolence. In fact, promoting democracy is promoting world peace. For were democracy universalized, the lesson of history and contemporary events is that international war would be eliminated, domestic violence minimized, and genocide and governmental mass murder of its citizens ended.
The conclusion is now manifest. Since advancing freedom of the press furthers democracy, spreading freedom of the press promotes world peace. And the reverse logic is also true. Without democracies, there will be war; without freedom of the press, democracies cannot exist. Newsmen everywhere should realize this simple equation, then. To foster peace, foster freedom of the press.
* From the pre-publisher edited manuscript of R.J. Rummel, "Freedom of the press--a way to peace," ASNE Bulletin (February 1989): 27. ASNE stands for the American Association of Newspaper Editors.