All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:7, 8,
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.