World War I and the Beginning of Sorrows
FROM earliest times, mankind’s history has been one of violence and wars. It was because “the earth became filled with violence” that God brought on the global Deluge in Noah’s day. (Genesis 6:11-13) Thereafter the Bible and secular history record hundreds of wars fought even prior to Jesus’ day. So “wars and reports of wars” would not be something new to the world of mankind.
For these “wars and reports of wars” to have meaning for Jesus’ disciples they would have to stand out as being different in some way. He went on to explain: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in [various] places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:7, 8, Authorized Version; compare Luke 21:10, 11.) So it would not be a case of just hearing of an isolated war here and there. This feature of the sign would take in many nations and kingdoms. It would be total war!
Have we seen such war? Yes, we have, and that starting with the generation of 1914. In fact, we have seen two such globe-encircling wars within this century. That this type of warfare was indeed something new in the annals of human history is attested to by the titles given them by historians. The first was called the Great War. Later this was changed to the first world war, and its successor was named the second world war. World war became a feature starting from the year 1914.
True to Jesus’ prediction, World War I marked a “beginning of sorrows.” As the publishers of the book The End of Order have stated on the book’s jacket: “The first world war and the Versailles Treaty that followed produced the most serious upheaval in the long and stormy course of modern world history. . . . Far from restoring the world to order, the diplomats who met in 1919 at Paris and at Versailles plunged the world again, this time irretrievably, into the chaos of the twentieth century. It was the end of order.”
Inside the book, author Charles L. Mee, Jr., goes on to explain: “At the end of the Great War, however, the diplomats confronted a world in fragments, a world that seemed to be in the midst of a massive psychic breakdown, of a breakdown of old combinations of states and of empires, of the disintegration of economic orders, of nineteenth-century capitalism, of the eruption of sudden disaster, of riots and assassinations, of tyranny and disorder, of frivolity and despair, exhilaration and dread on such an order of magnitude as to numb the mind. . .. Far from restoring order to the world, they took the chaos of the Great War, and . . . sealed it as the permanent condition of our century.”
Those sorrows—the human death and suffering that began with the first world war—are unparalleled in human history. Modern mechanized warfare—tanks, machine guns, airplanes and submarines—as well as the invention and use of poison gases in warfare—wreaked havoc on the world. “A generation had been decimated on the battlefields of Europe,” says the book The End of Order. “No one had seen the likes of such slaughter before: the deaths of soldiers per day were 10 times greater than in the American Civil War, 24 times the deaths in the Napoleonic Wars, 550 times the deaths in the Boer War.”
Yet, said Jesus, this would be but a “beginning of sorrows,” or “of pangs of distress.” Other translations render Jesus’ words as “the beginning of the birthpangs.” (Jerusalem Bible; Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English) A woman about to give birth experiences pains that occur with increasing severity, frequency and duration. World War I and its accompanying sorrows were but a start of pangs of distress.
World Distress Increases
Other and more intense pangs were soon to follow with the coming of World War II. “The total deaths from military action and war-distributed disease attributable to World War I have been estimated as over forty million and those attributable to World War II as over sixty million,” writes Quincy Wright in the book A Study of War. “At least 10 per cent of deaths in modern civilization can be attributed directly or indirectly to war.”
Civilian deaths were exceptionally high in the second world war. As Professor Wright explains: “Starvation, bombardment, confiscation of property, and terrorization involving the destruction of entire cities were applied in World War II against the entire enemy population and territory. . . . The entire life of the enemy state came to be an object of attack. The doctrine of conquest was even extended by some states to the elimination of a population and its property rights in order to open the space it occupied for settlement.”
The distress caused by the fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo in 1945, which resulted in 235,000 deaths, was eclipsed by the horrors unleashed a few months later by the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What used to take tens of thousands of bombs to accomplish, in terms of lives lost, could now be accomplished by only one bomb. But even more devastating were the deadly effects of the radiation poisoning, which continue until our day.
Writing about just the one atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, World Press Review of June 1982 states: “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had been turned loose. The lucky ones were those who died in the first onslaught—about 100,000 men, women, schoolchildren, round-faced toddlers, and newborn babies. Most of the additional 100,000 casualties would die in agony from ruptured organs, horrendous burns, or the slow hell of radiation sickness.” The pangs of distress were getting stronger.
Peace Taken From Earth
The reference to the “Horsemen of the Apocalypse” is interesting in that it is based on the Bible account given in the 6th chapter of the book of Revelation. Here, Re 6 verse 4 reads: “And another came forth, a fiery-colored horse; and to the one seated upon it there was granted to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another; and a great sword was given him.” How well this matches that feature of the sign Jesus gave of nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom!
Peace has indeed been taken away from the earth. While historians have recorded years of peace prior to 1914, there have been none since. Men hoped in vain that the last world war would usher in an era of peace. Says the book The Violent Peace: “The peace that came in 1945 did not mean, as we had hoped, the end of war. Men have fought since then in almost every corner of the globe—from Greece to South Vietnam, from Kashmir to the Congo—and insurrections sprout like mushrooms in the poor nations of the world.”
The U.S. State Department reported recently that there have been at least 130 international and civil wars since the end of World War II. “About 701,600,000 of the world’s people are involved in wars of one kind or another,” reports the Toronto Star of June 13, 1982. “That’s about one person in six across the face of the globe and a figure that falls not far short of the numbers directly involved in World War II. About 250,000 combatants and up to 2,000,000 civilians are dying in these [wars] every year.”
“Wars and reports of wars” continue unabated. As the book The Violent Peace states: “Since  men no longer declare war or make an end to war. They simply war. Ours is an era of mass violence that goes by the name of peace.”
Will there be another global pang of distress in the form of a third world war? “We are living in a pre-war and not a post-war world,” says Eugene Rostow, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency of the United States. Surely the nations are prepared for such a conflict! Currently they are spending about $1,000,000 each minute on armaments. Of the $550 billion spent on war preparations in 1981, about $110 billion was spent on nuclear weapons. Stockpiles of nuclear weapons are now equivalent in destructive power to one million of the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima. Peace has certainly been taken away from the earth.—Revelation 6:4.
The evidence regarding war in our modern times points to this conclusion: We are indeed living in the “last days” of this present system of things.
Yet Jesus did not stop with just the mention of worldwide war. He mentioned a number of features of the sign that, occurring together, would prove conclusively that we are living at the time of his “presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.”
These other features of the sign will be discussed in succeeding issues of this magazine.—Matthew 24:3-12; Luke 21:7-11.
[Blurb on page 6]
“At least 10 per cent of deaths in modern civilization can be attributed directly or indirectly to war”
[Blurb on page 7]
Over 130 international and civil wars have been fought since the end of World War II