People have always been stumped by the question of whether the glass is half full or half empty.
Pessimists assure us the glass is half empty. Optimists claim the glass if half full. Realists want to know what the glass used to hold - has the level gone up or down?
The same view can be brought to the eternal desire of mankind and the perpetual plea from beauty queen contestants for peace on Earth. Everyone can agree that in this case the glass will never be full, but as we enter a new year we can take some solace in knowing that things have actually gotten better.
Joshua S. Goldstein, professor emeritus of international relations at American University, brought a realist's view to the situation in an essay for The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va.
"... the distance between the dream and the reality has been shrinking for decades," he wrote. "Worldwide, wars today are fewer, smaller and more localized than at any time in living memory."
As we look at Iraq and Afghanistan and other unsettled areas in the Mideast, that statement seems hard to believe. But Goldstein points out that wars between regular national armies - think World War I and World War II - are the most violent. "Today, nowhere in the world are these armies fighting each other."
A nuclear holocaust, one of the biggest fears since the end of World War II, is less of a threat as the world's nuclear weapons have been reduced by 75 percent in the last 30 years.
Tensions still exist between nations that have enough firepower to wipe out the planet, but they seem to have come to the realization that out-and-out war is expensive, deadly and doesn't seem to work very well.
Civil wars still occur, but "battle deaths worldwide in the 21st century reveal levels half those of the 1990s and a third the Cold War average," Goldstein reports.
He points out that a couple of decades ago whole regions were consumed with fighting. "... Central America, West Africa, the Balkans - are now at peace. East Asia, where the most lethal conflicts of the Cold War years occurred in China, Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, enjoys a stable peace.
"... As U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, the world's largest deployed army will be the U.N.'s 100,000 peacekeepers."
No, the world has not beat all its swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Violent acts will still be with us for the foreseeable future. But as we begin a new year there is some comfort in knowing that the level in the glass is rising and some day we may get as close to peace on Earth as is possible for human beings.