You only thought the world was on fire in 2014

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm glad 2014 has come to an end. This year, for the first time, I really got the feeling that the world was completely out of control. The crises -- from Ebola to ISIS beheadings of Americans to missing airliners to North Korean cyberattacks -- seemed to combine as a kind of force multiplier, leaving the image of a veritable world on fire.
But is it really? Is it really a more dangerous place, particularly for the United States, than in the past? Or is this a mistaken impression, fueled by a 24/7 news cycle that relentlessly funnels disasters into our living rooms and smart phones?
Aaron David Miller
Let's take a look at some of this year's catastrophic events and alleged game changers.
Ebola: It's a terrible disease that has exacted a terrible cost for West Africans -- 20,000 infected and 7,800 fatalities. And epidemiologists agree that viewed against the history of at least two dozen previous outbreaks, many failed to appreciate how much more catastrophic the 2014 version would be.
But even now, some health care experts believe that had these signs been detected earlier this spring, and a more coordinated response been implemented, even this disastrous outbreak might have been better contained.
Still, consider: Last century, the Spanish flu -- a far more easily transmitted disease than Ebola -- affected about one-third of the planet's population and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million people, including some 675,000 Americans. This is only slightly less than the number of deaths that the nation's leading killer -- heart disease -- claims today. Ebola is bad, very bad.
But it's not your grandfather's pandemic, neither in Africa nor in the United States .-- at least not yet. And we are all -- with all the caveats -- much better prepared to deal with it.
Terror: The rise of ISIS this year, particularly the savage beheadings of Americans and Europeans shocked us and made us fearful that we were once again on the verge of major terror threats to the homeland.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel declared that ISIS was "beyond anything we've seen so we must prepare for everything." Former CIA director Michael Hayden predicted that an ISIS attack against Europe or America was just a matter of time.
Hagel and Hayden might be right. And nobody should trivialize the terror threat. But we need not exaggerate it either.
Ebola patient moved to London hospital
Ebola patient moved to London hospital

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Ebola patient moved to London hospital 03:54
Two anti-terror arrests in Australia
Two anti-terror arrests in Australia

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    Two anti-terror arrests in Australia

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Will North Korea go back on U.S. terror list?
Will North Korea go back on U.S. terror list?

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    Will North Korea go back on U.S. terror list?

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Analyst: Brennan admits agency mistakes
Analyst: Brennan admits agency mistakes

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    Analyst: Brennan admits agency mistakes

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Since 9/11, there have been al Qaeda-inspired lone wolf attacks but not a single successful attack directed by a foreign terror organization against the United States homeland. Last year, there were 17,958 global fatalities to terror, according to the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database. But 82% of those occurred in one of five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. As for the United States, of the 17,000 plus, only 16 deaths were American. In 2013, 33 people were killed in this country in lightning strikes.
We aren't safe. Yet since 9/11, we are a good deal safer, better prepared, and more vigilant when it comes to the terror threat.
The new Cold War? Hardly. Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and his threat to eastern Ukraine convinced too many people that we were on the brink of a new Cold War; that Putin was either a new version of Hitler or Stalin; and that the entire post-1991 architecture in Europe had been irreversibly undermined.
But the idea that we are back in the 1950s -- when the two (and only two) superpowers with contrasting ideological systems and nukes and fought by proxy from one end of the globe to the other -- is a fantasy. Putin may continue to play spoiler, but Russia is hardly on a roll.
It's not in a position to create a new Iron Curtain or compete globally with the United States and the rest of the West. Indeed, Western sanctions combined with collapsing oil prices have now imposed serious costs on Russia's economic power and well-being.
We clearly live in a more complicated world. And if we don't pay more attention to environmental issues, such as climate change, we may eventually destroy it. But today as counterintuitive as it may appear, we also live in a less violent world, too.
No more world wars that kill scores of millions and dictators that erase millions more. If you believe scholars such as Steven Pinker, who has run the numbers, deaths from homicides, mass atrocities, genocides and wars between nations are all in decline in comparison with our much more violent past.
So Happy New Year. In 2015, read more history and next year, as Bill Clinton once advised, try to pay less attention to the headlines and more to the trend lines. At least it might make you feel better.