A century has now passed since the conclusion of World War I. Time is erasing our civilization’s memories of the “war to end all wars.” What lessons must we learn?
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In Canada, if you travel south from Ottawa, Ontario on Highway 416, you may notice signs in English and French bearing a simple message: “Lest We Forget.” This highway is a memorial to war veterans and to the sacrifices of so many who gave their lives that we might remain free. In the upper right-hand corner of each sign is a red poppy—the flower that became a symbol of sacrifice during World War I, in large part due to the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian surgeon John McCrae.
November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of World War I. It was at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 that the “war to end all wars” officially ended. Estimates of the number of people killed and wounded in the war vary widely, but it appears that between 15 and 20 million died, and that another 20 million suffered wounds in that devastating conflict. Young men from every inhabited continent spilled their blood in a slaughter that lasted more than four years.
The signs along Highway 416 remind us not to forget, and thus introduce a serious question: What are we to remember? Ten people may give ten somewhat different answers, but most would no doubt include that we ought to remember the many lives lost in the senseless and brutal carnage. Some might say that we must remember the lessons of history, lest we forget and repeat our mistakes. Sadly, remembering history is not one of mankind’s strengths.
Whatever else it may have been, World War I was not the “war to end all wars.” That hope proved painfully hollow some 20 years later, when the Second World War broke out. Numerous wars, conflicts and “police actions” have followed. Genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda revealed that even the horrors of the Holocaust taught us little.
When will we remember? Will there ever be a time without war? While many people solemnly think on the lives lost in war, and others consider the events leading up to war, most do not consider the root causes of war.
Former United States President Richard Nixon explained the futility of man’s attempts to bring about real peace.
Those who make peace at the typing table rather than at the negotiating table have the luxury of being peace-makers without having to grapple with complex problems in the rough-and-tumble world of real international diplomacy. To them the only obstacle to peace is the regrettable lack of leaders who are as selfless and idealistic as they claim to be and who are willing to put aside parochial national interest in the interest of bringing peace to the world. They hope that this era will be the one in which self-interest, the force that has driven history since the dawn of history, will simply evaporate (Real Peace, Richard Nixon, p. 4).
Mr. Nixon recognized the need for a change in mankind’s fundamental nature, but he was not optimistic about the prospects for this change.
In the long term we can hope that religion will change the nature of man and reduce conflict. But history is not encouraging in this respect. The bloodiest wars in history have been religious wars. Men praying to the same God killed each other by the thousands in America’s Civil War and by the millions in World War I and World War II. Unless men change, a real peace must be built on the assumption that the most we can do is to learn to live with our differences rather than dying over them (Nixon, p. 14).
The American five-star General Douglas MacArthur famously recounted how all of mankind’s attempts to bring peace have failed. He rightly observed that, “It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh” (“Radio Broadcast to the Nation Following the USS Missouri Surrender Ceremony,” AmericanRhetoric.com).
Neither of these men lived long enough to see the horrors of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and U.S. Pentagon, the two Gulf Wars, and the numerous additional conflicts and genocides that have taken place over the past 20 years. One can only imagine that neither man would be surprised, considering the growth and proliferation of weapons of unimaginable mass destruction. Mankind’s ingenuity to destroy and kill is remarkable!
Statesmen such as Nixon and MacArthur appear irrelevant to younger generations. Each generation feels it is different, that it is immune to the mistakes of past generations, whether regarding stock market crashes or international conflicts. This is especially true of the last several generations, which have never seen a single conflict costing millions of lives. However, when someone with the stature of former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev told Time magazine less than two years ago that “It all looks as if the world is preparing for war,” at least some older heads took notice (Time.com, January 2017).
Surprising to many, Jesus Christ predicted nearly 2,000 years ago that mankind’s fondness for and skill in waging war would bring us to the point where, without His direct intervention, all life would be extinguished from this planet. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21–22).
Later, in the biblical book that bears his name, James, the brother of Jesus, asked and answered the question of what causes human conflict: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:1–3).
Mankind’s nature is clearly at the heart of the problem, and because we have no collective desire to change our nature, we will evidently have no peace in the near future. It is only after the return of Jesus Christ, and the removal of the spirit who now influences our nature and directs the course of this world, that we will finally enjoy peace (Romans 3:17; Ephesians 2:1–2; Revelation 20:1–3). That is one lesson we should never forget!
It is important to remember the lessons of history and the lives cut short by war, but is there a lesson that almost the entire world has completely forgotten?
While many recognize that human nature drives conflicts between neighbors and nations, few understand a major reason why. The Bible reveals that God intervenes in the affairs of nations, and sometimes that means He uses the human nature inherent within one nation to punish another. This is especially true regarding the Israelite nations when they fail to live up to the responsibilities of their special calling and forget their Creator!
Many Tomorrow’s World readers understand that the people known in the Bible as Israel comprise far more than the tiny nation that today calls itself Israel. Our free publication The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy reveals the truth that allows us to understand current events in the light of Bible prophecy.
It is important to understand that when we refer to the “chosen people,” we recognize that though God did choose Israel—not only the Jews, but all twelve tribes—for a special purpose, it was not because they were better than others. On the contrary, the Bible specifically states that they are not! While God anciently used the Israelites to drive out incredibly vile nations (see Leviticus 18:24–28), this was not due to some righteousness of their own: “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people” (Deuteronomy 9:5–6).
God warned the Israelite people that if they rejected His laws and commandments, many curses would follow. One such curse would be war. “But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments.… I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant… and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy” (Leviticus 26:14, 25).
While mankind’s flawed nature, the selfish desires of leaders, and nationalistic pride all cause intense and widespread suffering, God also directly intervenes in human affairs from time to time in order to wake people up. In effect, God must sometimes use such things as war, disease, and natural disasters to chastise rebellious nations and bring them back to Him.
In addition to understanding the identity of every Israelite tribe, not only the tribe of Judah, it is important to understand the identities of other biblical nations in their modern context. Twice during the last century, Germany warred against the peoples of British descent, the United States, and certain European nations. Most of these countries that Germany opposed are descended from what was anciently known as the house of Israel. This is to say nothing of the anti-Semitic holocaust during the Second World War! As explained in our article “Resurgent Germany: A Fourth Reich?,” modern Germany is primarily descended from ancient Assyria.
Through the Holy Scripture, God reveals to us that He uses modern Assyria as He used ancient Assyria: to punish His chosen people for their sins. God calls Assyria, “the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation” (Isaiah 10:5).
This prophecy in Isaiah continues: “I will send him [Assyria] against an ungodly nation [Israel], and against the people of My wrath” (v. 6). Then comes a revealing statement regarding the ruler over the Assyrian peoples. “Yet he does not mean so, nor does his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and cut off not a few nations” (v. 7). In other words, the king of Assyria, who is filled with pride (see vv. 8–11), does not understand that it is God who brings him against, first of all, the ten tribes known as the house of Israel, and secondly, against the house of Judah (the Jews).
In late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were once again ripped open as World War One raged through Europe’s heart. Once the conflict was over the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields.
The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was realised by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields. The poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by his comrades and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in World War One and later conflicts.
A former example of this prophecy’s fulfillment occurred in roughly 720bc, when the Assyrian empire took the northern ten-tribe house of Israel into captivity. Assyria also sought to subjugate the house of Judah, but it was not God’s time for Judah to be defeated and to go into captivity. That time would come more than a century later, when God would stir Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian Empire to take Judah captive. But the greater fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy is yet in the near future.
We see from the prophet Isaiah that God uses Assyria, from which descended many of the German people, as His rod of punishment against rebellious Israel. The peoples of British descent, the United States, France, and various other nations found in Northwestern Europe, have traditionally thought of themselves as righteous, Christian nations, but are they? Is the modern, widespread form of Christianity actually the religion delivered by Jesus and practiced by the Apostles and first century Church of God? The answer is that it is not! The late Dr. Roderick C. Meredith’s eye-opening series on the Protestant Reformation—published over the last year in this magazine—should make this perfectly clear.
Modern Assyria has brought pain and sorrow to the people of God’s covenant, yet God has spared us for His purposes. And after God punishes Israel, He turns to deal with the sins of the nation that is His rod. “Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Lord has performed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, that He will say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his haughty looks’” (Isaiah 10:12). God asks, “Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it?” (v. 15).
What happened millennia ago with Israel and Judah was only a shadow of future events. We have done exactly what a loving God warned us not to do—forget! “So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers… when you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 6:10–12). It is evident that this was a direct warning to the generations that came out of Egyptian bondage, but many prophecies have yet to be fulfilled, and the warning, “lest you forget the Lord” is even more applicable to the Israelite peoples today.
Near the end of the Book of Genesis, the patriarch Jacob utters a remarkable prophecy as he predicts what will happen to each of his twelve sons at the end of the age. We read in Genesis 49:1, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days.” We learn that Joseph’s descendants will have many enemies, but God will help them. “The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob” (vv. 23–24).
This prophecy uses terms understandable to those living when it was written, but the time it refers to is designated “the last days.” A similar end-time prophecy regarding Joseph is found in Deuteronomy 33:13–17. Horns are a symbol of military power, and we are told, “His glory is like a firstborn bull, and his horns like the horns of the wild ox; together with them He shall push the peoples to the ends of the earth” (v. 17). Could there be a more accurate description of what happened in World War II, as Britain, America, Canada, Australia, and their allies literally pushed their enemies to the ends of the earth?
Two world wars should have humbled us, but instead we have become arrogant and prideful, despising God and His commandments. It is no wonder that terrorism has come to our shores. “But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you…” (Leviticus 26:14–16). He further warns us, “I will break the pride of your power” (v. 19). Further punishments will result from our pride and our forgetting the One who pours out such great blessings on us.
Many recognize human nature as a cause for war and strife, but few realize that God uses natural human inclinations to punish rebellious nations in order to bring them to repentance. God allowed the modern Assyrians to bring death and destruction upon the stiff-necked nations of Israel twice over the past century. At the same time, He made our nations strong by His mighty arm, sparing us from complete destruction and punishing the punisher, but we have not learned from these conflicts. Refusing to give God His due glory, America and its allies are prideful and descending into immorality. God will not be so gentle with us next time! Defeat is in our future!
We see ourselves as the source of our own economic strength, having forgotten the true source. “And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). Further punishment is coming upon the Israelite nations, as many other prophecies show. Speaking of our people, the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s [Israel’s] trouble, but he shall be saved out of it” (Jeremiah 30:7).
Nevertheless, millions will die in the future, because we have forgotten!
Be sure to check out this issue’s “London Calling” article by John Meakin for an additional perspective on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.