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No. 1 killer over the last 170 years

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Jim Thompson

By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

These days we hear a lot about guns and the gateway to needless deaths they cause. Samuel Colt, inventor of the revolver, received a U.S. patent for this device in 1836. By the Civil War, revolvers were everywhere. Revolvers, semi-automatic pistols (1911) and long rifles are held up as violent instruments of the modern era.

This is only partially correct. Yes, modern guns have played a part in modern violence, both during times of war and times of peace. But you would be wrong to attribute anything but a tiny portion of untimely deaths to guns.  

There have been between 160 to 200 million people killed, i.e., they did not die of natural causes but at the hand of their fellow humans, since about 1860. It stands to reason if we could find one root cause of this tragedy, we would ban it from the face of the earth. Yet, I am sure we won’t.

Why? The root cause is electricity.  

Starting with the Mexican American War of 1846-48, electricity has played a significant role in the conduct of wars and peace. The Mexican American War introduced telegraph to the battlefield and as an information conduit back to the US Capital, Washington, D.C.  

The Civil War saw widespread use of the telegraph to inform troops of enemy locations and to call troops to battle. By World War I, telephones were in widespread use on the battlefield and radio was in its nascence. By World War II and continuing since, radio, radar and now lasers and computers have become the efficient and necessary ways to wage war.  

In civilian life, radio, television and now the internet allow civilian mass murderers to transmit their crimes live and induce others to do the same. And let’s not forget the role modern media plays in modern violence. All driven by electricity. 

So say what you will say, we are not going to ban electricity.

Electricity has infiltrated modern life so deeply we cannot extract it. It is the cancer we must live with.

James Clerk Maxwell and his four equations brought us the modern foundation of electrical theory. The pragmatic Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, likely did not know what he loosed on us.  Neither did Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikolai Tesla or Guglielmo Marconi. It is no coincidence these geniuses of the 19th century lit the fuse for the horrendous, wholesale deaths of the 20th Century.   

Lenin without the telephone, Hitler, Stalin and Mao without radio, the Vietnam War without television, would have all turned out differently without electricity. This pattern continues to this day, both in war and in civilian life.

So where does this leave us?

In the name of climate change, today we are allowing the electricity devil to embrace us ever more tightly. Yet, we have no more clue what this further infusion will do to humankind than did the geniuses I named. We look at the bright shiny baubles, not the entrapment possibilities lurking in the sidelines.

How many millions of innocent victims will our current path take down with it?

No one knows. But the next time you see a Mennonite or Amish buggy, slow down, give them space and wave. They are way ahead of the rest of us.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at


Matthew (not verified)

8 May 2023

I have always been under the impression that politics involved the concept of compromise. Usually the progressives hound Conservatives; with the overwhelming help of the press and Hollywood. They shame and coerce the Republican politicians to yield to leftist policies. But there have been no concessions the progressives make to come to an agreement. If I, or any of my friends or family members are going to compromise on leftist gun legislation, then I want the convicted felons, the addicted, the mentally unstable to give up their firearms first... That seems fair and proper. I could see a way to a 21 and over law on the retail purchase of all firearms; the only exceptions to under a 21 person would be a Military ID, Law Enforcement and Corrections ID, or a firearms safety certificate. And an extensive overhaul of the mental health system, mental health treatment and housing, and a database for confirmed cases of volatile behavior. Parents and friends need to accept that someone close to them may need help, before they hurt someone. I have acquired another military-style instrument last week. I hope this one doesn't "assault" anyone or anything without me knowing about it.

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