Each year at this season, I am asked to reflect on how peace on earth has fared this year. And, doing so, I find myself being not of good cheer.
It is not simply the shooting wars, of which 1999 has had its share. Kosovo, where NATO intervened with bombings to stop the Serbs from killing the Albanians, only to be succeeded by a smaller civil war where Albanians kill Serbs.
Or East Timor, whose people were punished for voting for independence by an Indonesian invasion that killed at least 200 and made refugees of 300,000.
Or Chechnya, which the Russians seem determined to reduce to rubble in order, the Kremlin says, to root out "bandits" resisting Russian rule.
Or Kashmir, where more than 25,000 have died in a decade as India and Pakistan, both now with the makings of nuclear bombs, dispute with guns to whom Kashmir belongs.
Or Afghanistan or Angola or Congo or Sri Lanka, where fighting seems to go on endlessly.
But there are other kinds of violence. In Sudan, an estimated 2 million people have died and 4 million have been uprooted in a 16-year civil war.
But Sudan offers evidence of another kind of calamity. More than $2 billion, half of it from America, has been spent to combat starvation in Sudan. However, officials running the program have now concluded that the food aid helps to fuel the war and fails to stop the misery. Something like that is also happening in Rwanda and the Congo.
In much of Africa another kind of war is being lost to an AIDS epidemic.
And particularly frustrating at this season is the war on children. UNICEF, in a "State of the World's Children" report, says that 1 in 4 of the world's children lives with violence that might erupt at any time, or with being displaced or enslaved.
One looks for silver linings. Peace has survived in Northern Ireland. Peace may be on the horizon between Israel and Syria. Peace persists between China and Taiwan, although the Chinese occasionally rattle their missiles.
America enjoys peace, but it is a jittery peace with warnings to watch for terrorists.
I guess if we are ever to enjoy real peace on earth we'll need first a little more goodwill toward men.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society