Watchtower teaches the Last Days commenced in 1914, claiming there has been a dramatic increase in sickness, famine, war, earthquakes and crime since that year. The opposite is true, there has never been a better time to be alive. This article compares accurate figures for each of these metrics alongside Watchtower information.
Watchtower uses the imagery of Revelation’s Four Horsemen, with war, famine and disease preceding Jesus’ return, and quotes Jesus statement from Matthew 24:7 that the sign of his presence would include war, food shortages and earthquakes.
Image courtesy of Watchtower 2017 no.3 pp.6-7
Let’s examine if there has been an increase in these events since 1914.
Disease – Pestilence
Pestilence has scourged mankind since Jesus time. For example:
- Between 310 and 312 A.D. plague killed up to 99% of people in the Northwestern provinces of China. (End Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon p.274)
- Plague attributed to the decline of the Roman Empire.
- Between 1346 and 1720 Europe suffered a plague on average every 6 years, often affecting over 30% of the population.
- The black (bubonic) plague killed 75 million people in Europe between 1347-51 (abc.net.au 29 Jan 2008), and up to 200 million over the 14th century (bbc.net.uk 3 Oct 2001).
- During the 1800’s, five Cholera pandemics killed over 40 million people, with some estimates ranging as high as 100 million deaths.3
After raging unchecked for the last 2000 years, pestilence was finally and dramatically reduced in the 20th century. “Pestilence History of Public Health” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica 2002 explains;
“In terms of disease, the Middle Ages can be regarded as beginning with the plague of 542 and ending with the Black Death (bubonic plague) of 1348. Diseases in epidemic proportions included leprosy, bubonic plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, scabies, erysipelas, anthrax, trachoma, sweating sickness, and dancing mania. … The development of microbiology and immunology had immense consequences for community health. … Evidence of the effectiveness of this new phase of public health may be seen in statistics of immunization against diphtheria-in New York City the mortality rate due to diphtheria fell from 785 per 100,000 in 1894 to 1.1 per 100,000 in 1940.”
Watchtower publications such as You Can Live Forever on Earth make sensational claims the 1918 Spanish flu was the deadliest ever.
“Right after World War I more people died of the Spanish flu than had died of any disease epidemic in the history of mankind. The death toll was some 21 million people!” p.151
This is false, and undermined by an earlier Watchtower article.
“The article notes that the sixth-century plague of Justinian “supposedly claimed 100 million lives-but it endured for 50 years.” The 14th-century bubonic plague was said to have taken 62 million lives world wide, but it lasted for three years.” Watchtower 1977 Jun 15 p.359
Watchtower claims the greatest famines of all time have occurred post 1914.
“And in the wake of World War I came the greatest famine of all history.” “Let Your Kingdom Come” p.122
“Shortly after World War I China had the biggest famine it ever had” From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained p.181
These comments are entirely false. Twentieth century famines include;
“In 1921, famine brought death to some 5 million people in the U.S.S.R. In 1929, famine caused an estimated 3 million deaths in China. In the 1930’s, 5 million died of hunger in the U.S.S.R. Just a few years ago prolonged drought in countries bordering the Sahara Desert resulted in countless refugees and up to 100,000 deaths.” Watchtower 1983 Apr 15 pp.5-6
These pale into insignificance compared to prior centuries. Researchers such as F. Curschmann, L. Delisle and A. Schultz . During the 1800’s alone, over 100 million Chinese died from famine.
A combination of advanced crop technology and global charity efforts make famine related deaths in the millions unheard of.
“The study, part of the 2015 Global Hunger Index, says it’s one of the “unheralded achievements” of the past 50 years: the elimination of calamitous famines that cause more than 1 million deaths, and reduction “almost to a vanishing point” of great famines, which cause more than 100,000 deaths.” Global Hunger: Calamitous famine eradicated in last 50 years Associated Press, 12 Oct 2015
Watchtower presents World War I as a unique turning point in history.
“No generation previous to that of 1914 ever experienced a world war, never mind two.” Watchtower 1983 Jul 15 p.7
“Historians widely agree that World War I was the first war on a global scale.”Awake! 1981 May 8 p.8
“According to one study, World War I was reportedly seven times greater than all the 901 major wars of the previous 2,400 years” Watchtower 1975 Oct 15 p.633
This is blatantly false. World War I was not the first “World War,” most destructive or unique. Previous wars are also termed world wars, some involving more deaths and/or more countries. The following wars are all classified as world wars:
- The War of Spanish Succession 1702-1713
- The Seven Years’ War 1756-1763
- The War of American Independence 1775-1783
- The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815
Halvdan Koht in Folkets Tidsalder (Stolkhome 1982) p.7 states that the Napoleonic Wars were “a more than twenty-year-long world war, fought on all continents,” whereas The Great War of 1914, as it was originally referred to, was largely limited to Europe.
The Watchtower provides sensational, but contradictory numbers of deaths for World War I.
- 37 million Awake! 1961 Feb 22 p.6
- 14 million Awake! 1971 Oct 8 p.16
- 21 million Awake! 1983 Oct 8 p.12
The generally accepted combined figure of soldier and civilian deaths for World War I is 10-12 million, a figure paling next to The Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864 that resulted in 40 million deaths, and similar to the 10 million deaths of The Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648.
World War II was the most destructive war of all time. Yet since then, the world has entered history’s greatest period of peace ever. War researchers such as Q. Wright and also Singer and Small show a reduction in the frequency and length of war in the 20th century.
In A History of Violence, Steven Pinker shows violence and warfare has been decreasing over the centuries, and particularly since the 1950’s.
“Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth. … If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million. According to the Human Security Brief 2006, the number of battle deaths in interstate wars has declined from more than 65,000 per year in the 1950s to less than 2,000 per year in this decade.”
There has also been an improvement in the ethics of war, with attempts to limit civilian casualties. This is in contrast to times past, when the genocide of entire groups of people was normal. Even Jehovah dictated the annihilation of all animals and people, with only young virgins being spared for the pleasure of Israelite soldiers.
Joshua 6:21 “And they went devoting all that was in the city, from man to woman, from young man to old man and to bull and sheep and ass, to destruction by the edge of the sword.”
Numbers 31:15-18 “And now kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has had intercourse with man by lying with a male. And preserve alive for yourselves all the little ones among the women who have not known the act of lying with a male.”
Watchtower’s Survival into a New Earth claim that “The frequency of major earthquakes has increased to about 20 times what it was on an average during the two thousand years before 1914″ ( p.23) ranks as one of their most deceptive comments ever.
Earthquakes are the result of the slow shifting of tectonic plates over thousands of years. There has been no increase in either frequency or size of earthquakes since 1914.
“We continue to be asked by many people throughout the world if earthquakes are on the increase. Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant. … According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 17 major earthquakes (7.0 – 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year.” earthquake.usgs.gov 27 Oct 2009
There have not even been more earthquake related deaths in the twentieth century.
Of the 5 earthquakes with the most deaths, only 1 was since 1914. The most destructive earthquake ever was in 1201 in Syria with 1.1 million deaths, and in 1556, 800,000 died in China. In comparison, the largest in the 1900’s killed 240,000.This information is readily available in encyclopaedias and from the United States Geological Survey website.
This seems surprising considering the increase in global population, and is a result of improved building standards, warning mechanisms and rescue response capabilities.
For more detailed information see https://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/earthquakes.php
The reduction in human death toll from the hands of war, disease, famine and natural disasters is startling. Life expectancy provides a comprehensive measurement for comparing periods of time. Between 1800 and 2007, global life expectancy at birth rose from 28.5 years to 68 years. (Riley, Rising Life Expectancy). The reason for this increase is each sign Watchtower uses to point to the Last Days is better than at any other time in history.
What period of time would you choose to live in?
The poorest middle class people in developed countries today enjoy food, healthcare and quality of life that the richest people from 4,000 years ago could not dream of. The last century has witnessed dramatic improvement in education and literacy, the rights of women, acceptance of minority groups and accountability for child abuse and domestic violence.
Apocalyptic religions draw followers by teaching the end is about to occur; in their current lifetime. Watchtower originally said the Last Days commenced 1799, that the 1800’s was the worst period in history, and the end was to occur in 1914.
“That we are living “in the last days” – “the day of the Lord” – “the end” of the Gospel age, and consequently, in the dawn of the “new” age, are facts not only discernible by the close student of the Word, led by the spirit, but the outward signs recognizable by the world bear the same testimony, … ” Zion’s Watch Tower 1879 Jul 1 p.1
When this proved false, Watchtower moved the Last Days forward by a century, with the latest batch of Jehovah’s Witnesses thinking the end will occur any time now, in their lifetime.
This is belied by the facts. Technological advances have led to a monumental decrease in death from famine, disease and war since 1914. Violence in general has declined dramatically.
“… the 17th and 18th centuries … saw the first organized movements to abolish socially sanctioned forms of violence like despotism, slavery, dueling, judicial torture, superstitious killing, sadistic punishment, and cruelty to animals, together with the first stirrings of systematic pacifism. Historians sometimes call this transition the Humanitarian Revolution.” The Better Angels of Our Nature – Why Violence Has Declined Steven Pinker (2011 Viking Penguin) Preface
Why do people think otherwise?
“No matter how small the percentage of violent deaths may be, in absolute numbers there will always be enough of them to fill the evening news, so people’s impressions of violence will be disconnected from the actual proportions.” The Better Angels of Our Nature – Why Violence Has Declined Steven Pinker (2011 Viking Penguin) Preface
In 1828, John Stuart Mill stated, “I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.” Watchtower feeds off the natural pessimism of human nature, convincing followers that these are dark times indeed, the Last Days, through constant presentation of negative, distorted information. The tragedy of this doomsday mindset and deception regarding world conditions is it perpetuates negativity towards current life, a lack of appreciation for current advances, and dissuades from attempts at further improvement.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 “Do not say: “Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?” for it is not due to wisdom that you have asked about this.”