Written by Sheldon Harnick and performed by the Kingston Trio and others, "The Merry Minuet" did a fair job of capturing the burgeoning uncertainties of the late 1950s:
They're rioting in Africa. They're starving in Spain. There's hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain./The whole world is festering with unhappy souls. The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles./Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch. And I don't like anybody very much!/ But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud, for man's been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud./And we know for certain that some lovely day, someone will set the spark off...and we will all be blown away./They're rioting in Africa. There's strife in Iran. What nature doesn't do to us...will be done by our fellow man.
More than half a century later, some of this unhappy list—hurricanes, droughts, African riots, Iranian strife, Franco-German tensions—holds up all too well. And it would not take much time or imagination to update the lyrics to add tsunamis and nuclear disasters in Japan, upheaval across much of the Middle East, sky-high oil prices, war in Afghanistan, persistent unemployment, mounting debt in the developed world, climate change, terrorism, an aggressive and WMD proliferation-prone North Korea, an ambitious Iran, and a rising China.
For all this and more, though, the world is in relatively decent shape. Europe, the arena where much of the two world wars and the Cold War was waged during the previous century, is mostly stable and calm. The biggest problems there tend to be about budgets, not bombs, financing welfare, not war. Asia, too, is relatively stable despite a level of economic dynamism that has historically proved disruptive, some heavy-handed Chinese diplomacy and the absence of extensive regional arrangements comparable to those that exist in Europe. Latin America is mostly characterized by economic growth, open societies and peace; there are of course exceptions, but they are just that, exceptions. Africa resists generalization, but a good many countries there are enjoying considerable stability and growth; the few cases of civil conflict are awful, to be sure, but mostly local in their consequences.