1914—A Watershed Year
IT WAS 75 years ago this summer that a single gunshot snuffed out the life of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. Simultaneously, it set off a chain of events that resulted in our planet’s first global war—July 28, 1914.
Writers and historians point again and again to that dreadful war (and to the year that saw it ignite) as a watershed, turning point, or dividing line in human history. Was 1914 really such a year for humanity?
Note what John Wilson writes in The Globe and Mail of Toronto, Ontario, Canada: “The First World War stands as a landmark in modern history.” Though all that remains of that global conflagration are grass-grown trenches, rusty shells, memorials, and cemeteries, Mr. Wilson observes that time has done nothing to soften the importance of 1914 as a watershed year.
“The Victorian idea of an orderly progression toward the best of all possible worlds collapsed in the horror of 10 million dead,” says Wilson. “Today’s pragmatism and cynicism grew out of the futility and mud of Vimy and Flanders [in northern France and Belgium]. We can relate to the flappers of the twenties or the dispossessed farmers of the thirties with much greater ease than we can [to] the empire builders or moralists of pre-1914. The Great War is a watershed, . . . the other side of which is a foreign past stretching back into history.”
But it is what has happened since 1914 that proves its status as a watershed year. Far from being “the war to end all wars” that it purported to be, World War I merely introduced the world to a new kind of warfare. From its embers blazed forth World War II—yet another anniversary for 1989. Fifty years ago, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and the second world war began. Killing as many as 55 million people, it actually dwarfed World War I and introduced new, awesome fears to the human psyche; nor did it end war. Since 1945 some 150 wars have killed nearly 20 million people!
In 1914 humanity entered a grim age. As writer Wilson puts matters: “It is sobering to remember that, for all the horror of the trenches, society after 1918 was concerned with burying the dead in orderly rows and memorializing them. We live under the threat of a global destruction unimaginable to the soldiers who stormed up Vimy Ridge. If there is another world war, who will build the memorials to its dead?”
Long before 1914, faithful Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known) were already pointing ahead to that year as a watershed in human history. According to the most reliable Bible chronology, this entire world system of things entered a new phase in 1914, the climactic era that the Bible refers to as “the last days.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5; Matthew 24:1-14.
However, the Bible marks this “last days” period as more than just a time of trouble. It is also a time of hope. Far from allowing man to destroy himself in a final world war, God promises to step in and wage war against all who fill the earth with violence. All weapons of war will then be permanently destroyed. From then onward, all mankind will learn the ways of peace, not war. (Isaiah 2:2-4; Luke 21:28; Revelation 16:14) What a change! Surely, that will be the greatest watershed in all human history.