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Millions of words have been published this year about the greatest advances of the past century or millennium and what the next holds in store for us. While much has been written about computers, space flight and other technological advances, I would consider the greatest advances to be those which bring us closer to making peace on earth something more than just a phrase we see on Christmas cards.
Perhaps the greatest advance of the past thousand years is not in the area of technology, but of human relations, and in the use of law and reason, rather than force and violence, to resolve disputes.
At the start of this millennium, nearly the entire population of earth lived some sort of slavery, either as a serf tied to the land or as chattel to be bought and sold. Law and justice consisted of the whim of your king, your lord or your master on whose word you would live or die. Where legal procedures did exist, it was trial by ordeal, not trial by jury, that would determine your guilt or innocence.
Then, in 1215, there was the Magna Carta, followed by such items as the Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Gradually, over the centuries, the rule of law has expanded worldwide to the point where despotism is now considered obsolete. Even while the growth of technology has brought us new means of killing man, this century has seen the Geneva Convention and Helsinki Accord to limit their use. And when violence is used, even by governments, you can now see courts acting to punish those responsible, as in the Nuremburg Trials, the International Court of Justice or the Pinochet case.
Without freedom and justice, we would never have seen the prosperity and technological advances that we now enjoy. The use of the law to settle our disputes and to expand and preserve our rights and freedoms ranks far above any of the material gains that we have made.
There is still a lot of work to do until we can truly achieve peace on earth. It is not an easy job, but bit by bit progress is being made.
Thank you for doing your part.