Rumors of War: Part 1
By: Pete Garcia
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” (Matthew 24:6)
Europe at the turn of the 19th century was a continent embroiled with political intrigue and nationalistic ideations. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was the great royal dualistic power at the center of Europe. To the east there was the Slavic provinces and Czarist Russia. To the west Spain, Great Britain and France. The Austrians were aligned politically and militarily with their German neighbors to the immediate north, but there had been growing rumblings between France and Germany. Throughout the various provinces of the Austro-Hungarian provinces, political and nationalistic factions were stirring and threatened unrest. Militarization, hyper-nationalism, and a swelling arms race was well on its way, as European nations began jockeying for the preeminent position as top military power.
But militant nationalism wasn’t the only thing stirring in the hearts and minds of men. New ideas had been simmering in the various academic circles some 40-50 years prior, about where man came from, what man was, and where man should be. If proven true, these radical ideas would shake the old traditions to the core. These ideas were studied, shaped, and reasoned upon by Europe’s brightest scholars, and would be the very ideas that helped provide much of the justification for the 20th century’s greatest atrocities.
Vienna, Austria in particular was a political and ideological hotbed. Stomping grounds to infamous heavy-weights like Stalin, Hitler, Tito, Freud, and Trotsky. They honed their philosophical and political skills in backlit, smoky rooms, before they went on to perform their role on destiny’s stage. Marxism at its roots, was a relatively new political worldview that divided the world up between the haves (bourgeoisie) and the have-nots (proletariats). The ultimate goal of Marxism was to take the power away from the minority, give it back to the many and form a classless society in where everyone got their fair share. It was an appealing idea, but untested.
During this same time period (1870-1914), there was an ideological “axis of evil” that leaned upon each other for validation, and in augmented the socio-economic-political leg of Marxist socialism and Fascism. These three worldviews would form the tripartite pillars that would provide the foundational support for the motivations behind the wars that devastated much of the 20th century. More accurately, they were the undercurrents that swept a generation of idealists along into their watery graves of time.
1. Darwinian evolution as proposed in books like “The Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Man” fueled the flames of atheism, eugenics, and race. But not to lay the blame solely on Darwin’s feet, but his work was taken and used as justification to believe that there were various hierarchies of superiority amongst different ethnicities. White Europeans were considered superior to the dark skinned, the Slavic and Jewish people. Darwin’s adopted the term “survival of the fittest” from Herbert Spencer, which gave birth to the racially motivated ideas of Aryanism and Eugenics. Hitler used this as scientific justification for the “The Final Solution”.
2. Psychology was still in its relative infancy, and atheistic doctors like Nietzsche and Freud (who had been influenced by Darwin) propagated ideas that men were not made in the image of God, but were soulless evolved animals driven by sexual desires and ruled by the id, ego, and superego. He viewed the monotheistic religion of Christianity and Judaism, as the “opiate of the people”. Lenin and Stalin shared this same view. The Nazi’s embraced Nietzsche’s “Will to Power”.
3. Anti-Semitism was also on the march across much of Europe at the turn of the century, and offered up the Jews as a common point of consternation that people could blame their problems on. The Communists pointed to the “rich Jews” as the bourgeoisie, and the Nazi’s looked at them as biologically inferior. Communist had their Pogroms, and the Nazi’s their concentration camps.
By 1914, Europe was a dangerous, swirling tinderbox of ideas and hyper-nationalism just waiting to explode…and all it needed was one little spark.
The “War to End all Wars”
The spark had come in the form of a baby boy, born on July 25th, 1894, in Obljaj, Bosnia. Almost 20 years later to the day, the actions of this boy would forever change the course of modern history. So fate had it, that on June 28th of 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Little did he know, or could know, that his actions would lead to a declaration of war only a month later.
The Great War would go on to kill over 20 million people over the next four years. The aggressive use of modern weaponry and chemical weapons changed the nature of how wars were fought. Armies would no longer face each other in flank on battlefields, because tanks, planes, artillery, and machine guns would make such attempt an exercise in suicidal futility. At the end of this war, the first failed effort at uniting the world under some form of global leadership was attempted through the doomed “League of Nations”.
Germany was forced to pay exorbitant amounts of ‘war damages’, further hobbling their already crippled economy. Those reparations as well as loss of territory to France formed the embers that were still glowing bright some 20 years later. These embers would stoke the fires for a Second World War. Whether Gavrilo’s action then was the straw that broke the camels back, or perhaps he was just the perfect excuse Germany and Austria needed for starting a war. Either way, the fuse of war had been lit, and a chain of events would be set in motion that could not be undone.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (Matthew 24:7)
WWII was really a perfect storm of; leftover unfinished business from WWI (Germany), fascist ideations (Italy), and aggressive Imperial expansion (Japan). These three nations formed what was then known as the Axis Powers (or the Axis of Evil). Germany had suffered a humiliating defeat and surrender at the end of WWI.
A young war veteran named Adolph Hitler was able to ride on the backs of people’s misery and anger all the way to the office of Chancellor. Adolph led the increasingly powerful National Socialist Party (Nazi’s), which sought to seek revenge on the rest of Europe for what they perceived as unjust and perpetual punishment. He successfully fixated all of the German’s problems on the Jewish minority, then systematically and legally, stripped them of their rights as citizens, pooled them together in ghettos, and then hauled them off in boxcars to concentration camps. Benito Mussolini in Italy thought it was his destiny to reestablish the power of the Roman Empire again, through fascism. Seeing as nature hates a vacuum and all, Japan, sought to capitalize on the diminishing influence of the British Empire in Asia, and plunge in to take their place.
In the human toll, more than 55 million people died during WWII with all sides suffering heavy losses. The war had ended in 1945, and introduced again, a new way of fighting. For the first and only time in our history, atom bombs had been detonated over two Japanese cities (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), which would forever change the face of war. Mankind now had the means to completely annihilate itself off of the face of the planet.
Almost as soon as the bullets had stopped flying, the Allied Powers became divided over Berlin into two camps: Great Britain, France, and the United States on one side of the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union and China on the other. We soon entered a new kind of détente war…called the Cold War, which would last for another 40 years. Greece, Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and Afghanistan were just a few of the conflicts that would keep east pitted against west in the struggles against perceived tyranny. These wars would not always be fought head on, but through rumor, influence and proxy until the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
I realize that I’m painting with a pretty broad brush here, but there is simply not enough space available to capture the more than 117 major conflicts over the course of the 20th century in today’s letter. With an estimated 167 million deaths due to war, the 20th century ranks as THE bloodiest century on man’s historical ledger. It is as if we had left the 19th century with its pretty horses and neatly dressed marching armies, and plunged into an age of mud, tanks, airplanes, machine guns, and chemical weapons overnight.
And as terrifying as this rapid modernization was, the untested ideological theories set forth and embraced by men like Nietzsche, Darwin, Marx, and Hitler were far more devastating. Their political, economic, and philosophical worldviews were the motivational undercurrents that led to the great wars of the 20th century. Not only that, but they still control people today, solely because every generation brings in a new crop of leaders who believe that they can apply these same failed principles today, and get it right the ‘this time’.
Mixing increasingly destructive weapons to an arsenal while systematically removing the ethical barriers to use them, has always been a recipe for disaster. And while it is true that war has always been amongst fallen man, what Jesus was declaring in His Olivet Discourse was that war, along with all the other signs, would increase in both intensity and frequency just as a woman who is moving closer to giving birth. No preceding century had seen the level of bloodshed that ours parents generation had. And if our understanding of Scriptures are to be correct, no generation will see as much death and destruction as ours will.
“And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22)