The lack of a major world conflict for the past 65 years reassures some that the world will never again face another world war. But is our world really growing safer? And what does Bible prophecy reveal about a future world war?
This year marks 65 years since the end of World War II. Nations around the globe pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price by sacrificing their lives for their countries in the greatest conflict the world has ever seen. Some people hope remembering the catastrophic events will help ensure such a devastating global war will never happen again.
But have the nations of the world really learned their lessons? The cycle of war continues unabated and technological advances make future wars more dangerous. The current reshuffling in the world's balance of power will likely generate more instability, infighting and conflict. And still lurking behind the scenes is the deadly root cause of war. What does the Bible reveal about where our world is ultimately headed?
Honoring the sacrifice
My wife and I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. World War II memorial while touring Washington, D.C., earlier this year. It is strategically located at the east end of the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Both the Atlantic and Pacific pavilion pillars are dedicated in honor of the 16 million who served in the armed forces, the more than 400,000 Americans who died and the millions who supported the war effort from home. It is a tribute to what some call "the greatest generation" and their sacrifice, heroism and commitment in the common defense of the nation and to the broader causes of peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world.
Former NBC television news anchor Tom Brokaw encapsulated the war effort during the dedication ceremony in 2004. "Men, women, young and old, everyone had a role. Farm boys who had never been in an airplane were soon flying new bombers with four engines. Surgical nurses were in mash [sic] units on front lines operating while they were being shelled.
"Teenagers were wearing sergeant stripes and fighting from North Africa to Rome. Guys from the city streets were in close quarter combat in dense jungles. Women were building ships and whatever were needed and driving trucks. Kids went without gum and new toys and in too many cases they went the rest of their lives without fathers they never knew" ("Dedication Speakers," www.wwiimemorial.com , May 29, 2004).
Looking back, it may be hard to comprehend the far-reaching impact of the deadliest military conflict in history. During the six years of the war, more than 100 nations became involved on several continents. The number of military personnel mobilized exceeded 100 million. And most nations placed their entire economic, industrial and scientific capabilities into the war effort as the world degenerated into a state of "total war."
Margaret MacMillan of The Guardian newspaper summarizes the resulting upheaval: "During the war, millions more had fled their homes or been forcibly moved... In Germany, it has been estimated, 70% of housing had gone and, in the Soviet Union, 1,700 towns and 70,000 villages. Factories and workshops were in ruins, fields, forests and vineyards ripped to pieces...
"Britain had largely bankrupted itself fighting the war and France had been stripped bare by the Germans... The four horsemen of the apocalypse—pestilence, war, famine and death—so familiar during the middle ages, appeared again in the modern world" ("Rebuilding the World After the Second World War," Sept. 11, 2009).
The war expanded to include all of the enemy's territory, blurring the distinction between combatant and noncombatant. So monstrous was the devastation that between 50 and 70 million people perished. About 65 percent were civilians, a major increase from the 5 percent common in war at the beginning of the 20th century, according to the United Nations.
Today, civilian casualties of war are as high as 90 percent, reflecting humanity's increasing indiscriminate capacity to kill.
Cycle of wars
In spite of the unspeakable devastation, carnage and death, neither World War II nor World War I, which preceded it by two decades, proved to be the war to end all wars. The cycle of war simply appears unbreakable.
The Encyclopedia of Conflicts records "more than 170 significant post–World War II conflicts around the globe" (second edition, December 2006). And Cornell University's Peace Studies Program totals more than 41 million war-related deaths since World War II (Milton Leitenberg, "Deaths in Wars and Conflicts in the 20th Century," 2006).
At any given time, about a fourth of the nations of the world are caught up in some form of armed conflict. Foreign Policy magazine reports, "From the bloody civil wars in Africa to the rag-tag insurgences [sic] in Southeast Asia, 33 conflicts are raging around the world today" (Kayvan Farzaneh, Andrew Swift and Peter Williams, "Planet War," Feb. 22, 2010).
To many people, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the ongoing struggle with Islamic extremism may seem like only distant conflicts. Yet these wars have taken the lives of more than 6,400 coalition forces and more than 20 times that many enemy combatants and civilians.
Terrorists bring the bloody reality of war closer to home with an estimated 36,000 attacks and 57,000 fatalities since Sept. 11, 2001.
Past wars have not taught us to be more peaceful. They have taught us to kill more indiscriminately and more efficiently.
The growing technological sophistication of modern implements of war makes future wars even more frightening. Consider nuclear weapons, the most potent explosive devices ever invented. The fission bombs of 1945 are no more than primitive versions of the first-stage triggers of modern nuclear weapons, like a match that lights the explosion.
A 1-megaton thermonuclear weapon releases 100,000 times greater energy than the largest 10-ton "blockbuster" bomb of World War II. Its yield is equivalent to a million tons of TNT, producing an incandescent fireball that vaporizes everything in its path with blinding light, searing heat and lethal radioactive fallout over many miles.
And newly developed sea and land-based delivery systems can bring this ominous threat to a nation in less than 30 minutes.
Nuclear terrorism is also a major concern. U.S. President Barack Obama identifies it as "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security." The Washington Post also reports that "Just 55 pounds of highly enriched uranium—about the size of a grapefruit—is needed to make a small nuclear device." And "there is enough 'weapons-usable nuclear material' in the world to build more than 120,000 nuclear bombs" (Scott Wilson and Mary Beth Sheridan, "Obama Leads Summit Effort to Secure Nuclear Materials," April 11, 2010).
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton describes the impact of a small nuclear weapon with only about half the explosive power of the one dropped on Nagasaki at the close of World War II. "A 10-kiloton nuclear bomb detonated in Times Square in New York City would kill a million people.
"Many more would suffer from the hemorrhaging and weakness that comes from radiation sickness...Beyond the human cost a nuclear terrorist attack would also touch off a tsunami of social and economic consequences across our country" (Associated Press, "US: al-Qaida Exemplifies New-Age Nuclear Threat," April 9, 2010).
The growing sophistication of our weapons of war makes it appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.
Changing balance of power
Major tectonic shifts in the world's balance of power could lead to more chaotic times furthering the likelihood of war. As old alliances break down, the world becomes a less stable place. Small skirmishes are more likely to mushroom into regional or even world war.
Many experts express concern, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Kissinger, in an interview a couple of years ago on the Charlie Rose Show, stated that the "international system is in a period of change like we haven't seen for several hundred years" ( emphasis added throughout)
On the same program Brzezinski said, "The political awakening that is happening worldwide is a major challenge for America, because it means that the world is much more restless. It's stirring. It has aspirations which are not easily satisfied" (June 15, 2007).
Kissinger underscored this point in his classic book Diplomacy :"International systems live precariously. Every 'world order' expresses an aspiration to permanence; the very term has a ring of eternity about it. Yet the elements which comprise it are in constant flux; indeed, with each century, the duration of international systems has been shrinking... Never before have the components of world order, their capacity to interact, and their goals all changed quite so rapidly, so deeply, or so globally.
"Whenever the entities constituting the international system change their character, a period of turmoil inevitably follows" (1994, p. 806).
This major global readjustment is occurring on many fronts simultaneously. The Middle East appears in perpetual conflict. North Korea and Iran seek power through nuclear weapons.
Almost two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is like a mother bear that lost her cubs—looking for a new identity and her place in the world. Her paw still packs a powerful nuclear punch.
The European Union (EU) is like a multiheaded beast with old forces of national self-interest and disorder lurking beneath the surface.
China, the Asian dragon, is bobbing and weaving its way to independent superpower status with a growing anti-Western tone. China's and India's exploding populations and economic growth will likely lead to additional diplomatic and military entanglements at the expense of the United States and EU.
Mixing together all these profound global changes is like trying to brew a new world order with vastly different ingredients—some blending, some conflicting and some maybe even poisoning the entire global pot.
Heart of the problem
Above all, what underlies the growing potential for a major world war is the root cause of war itself. Newsweek journalist Evan Thomas grapples with the age-old question of the cause of war in his new book titled The War Lovers. "The reasons and causes—territory, ideology, WMDs—may change with the times, but our lust for it is eternal... War fever, I believe, never really goes away. It is too fundamental to the male psyche" ("Why Men Love War," Newsweek, May 10, 2010).
This root cause of war is an aspect of our human nature. The Bible explains that our human nature is a warring nature, and it resides in all of us to one degree or another. Until it is tamed and redirected for good, it naturally spawns selfishness, lust, and a desire for power over others. These forces lead to envy, strife and war (Romans:8:5-8; 13:13-14).
The apostle James makes this clear. "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them" (James:4:1-2, New Living Translation).
Until warring human nature is changed, the world will never have peace. Literal peace on earth will only come when Jesus Christ returns and begins to change the hearts of all mankind, putting an end to war and teaching a better way to live (Micah:4:1-4). He will transform the world by transforming human nature through the power of the Holy Spirit (Joel:2:28; Acts:2:17, 21).
Only then will humanity's history be marked by peaceful achievements and not by bloody wars (Amos:9:13-15; Ezekiel:36:35-38; Zechariah:14:10-11).
Coming world war
Jesus Christ understood the reality of human nature and predicted wars would continue through the tiresome ebb and flow of history, culminating in a final world war (Matthew:24:6-8; 21-22). The apostle John's graphic vision of the ghoulish ride of the red horseman of the Apocalypse also illustrates this gruesome progression of war (Revelation:6:4).
Do not be lulled to sleep. A major world war is on the horizon. The harsh realities of our world demonstrate that the cycle of war remains unbroken. Technological advances make war more deadly than ever before. The global realignment of world power will likely lead to more infighting and conflict as the root cause of war—human nature—pushes humanity to the brink of total annihilation.
Jesus Christ and the prophets Daniel, Jeremiah, Zechariah and John all describe this final world war as far worse than anything the world has ever seen—including World War II (Matthew:24:21-22; Daniel:11:40-12:1; Jeremiah:30:6-7; Zechariah:14:1-3; Revelation:9:13-19; 16:14-16).
The good news is that Jesus Christ will return in time to end the madness of unchecked human nature. The Captain of humanity's salvation (Hebrews:2:10) will inaugurate a 1,000-year period of peace often called the Millennium (Revelation:20:6).
It is during this time that the incredible words recorded by Isaiah will be fulfilled: "He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah:2:4).
May God and His Son, Jesus Christ, the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah:9:6), hasten that day! WNP