INTERNATIONAL DESK - Eugene, Oregon
They didn't know each other, but in late October 1933, two editors sat not far from here putting their publications together.
The editor of the Jefferson Review never claimed his newspaper to be one of the world's major newspapers. Its job in the Great Depression was, once a week, to faithfully report the events of a peaceful farming community in the Willamette Valley, a few miles north of Eugene.
But even a small newspaper has a responsibility to try to inform its readers of more than local trivia. Oregon's Willamette Valley was a peaceful place, but the news from outside was worrying. Far away across the ocean, war clouds were gathering again over Europe.
It had been less than 16 years since the end of the First World War. In November 1918 Germany signed an armistice, and her Kaiser had gone into exile. It had been a bloody war, the like of which the world had not seen. It was fought in the fields of France and Belgium, but its horror was brought home to the Willamette Valley when some of the local fellows who went off to fight returned maimed, wounded — or to be buried.
When the guns were finally silenced, a shocked world said; "Never again." That had to be the war to end all wars.
But now new rulers in Europe were starting to sound belligerent. Yes — it was worrying — very worrying indeed. The Jefferson Review's readers needed to know what was going on.
And so, amid the news of plans for organizing a harmonica band and occurrence of the school carnival, the editor printed this:
"We have advanced far in our civilization, but not so far, that we cannot hear the rattling of the sabre. Difficulties now, as in the time of David and Goliath, must be settled with vast armies, death to the youth of the world, and a step backward in all that civilization is supposed to have accomplished. Instead of using common sense, understanding, and reasoning when some difficulty arises, we fly off in a tangent, and the argument can only be settled by a flare of brass bands, uniforms, marching feet, exploding guns and death....
"Greed for more power, more wealth is usually the basic cause for war.... War looms heavy on the continent, and the futility of the [last] World War is no argument against another. We can only hope and pray that the human race has advanced a step since that war, and that this lurking danger of conflict can be escaped through our superior intelligence and Christian religion of which our present civilization so boldly boasts."
I found this old editorial among the microfilmed records on file at the University of Oregon Library in Eugene. I don't suppose more than a handful of people have read it for more than half a century. But probably most of the Jefferson Review's few hundred readers read it back in October 1933. Perhaps it reassured them, because in 1933, the thought of another war was terrible to contemplate. The weapons were too awesome — the consequences too dreadful.
The First World War had shown that the days when quarrels could be decided by hired armies in set — piece battles were over. Whole populations — soldiers and civilians — had been involved. It had been total war. So, said the Jefferson Review, our "superior intelligence" and "Christian religion" must lead us to find a better way to solve conflicts between nations.
Needless to say, they didn't. In 1939, the Second World War in Europe began, and millions more were to die before it was over. During nearly six years of conflict, "superior intelligence" and "advanced civilization" developed the technology and apparatus of slaughter to new heights.
The editor of the Jefferson Review didn't know all this, of course. What he did know caused him to select that poignant editorial for his readers. But there was something important that the author of this little piece did not understand. He was not the only one.
Two major newsmagazines had begun publication in the U.S. that year. They brought a new standard of excellence in reporting world news. People could now have a better idea of what was happening. And yet there was still a missing dimension in news reporting in 1933.
But not far from where the editor of the Jefferson Review was putting his paper together, a unique magazine was taking shape. It was a humble affair — its hard-pressed editor lacked most of the resources needed to produce a magazine. But Editor Herbert W. Armstrong was also concerned about the state of the world. His understanding came not only from reading the disconcerting news from Europe. He also had begun to understand the true significance of the prophecies of the Bible.
His eyes had been opened to the true identity of the peoples of North America and Northwest Europe. Prophecies that most people considered historical curiosities had suddenly become dramatically and frighteningly alive. He realized that the situation was far more serious than anyone thought. The people of Oregon — of America — indeed, of the world — were in mortal danger.
Yet no news source seemed to understand the seriousness of the times. There was a need for a "magazine of understanding," so-carefully-by hand-holding a mimeograph stencil against a window — Mr. Armstrong wrote The Plain Truth's first headline — "Is a World Dictator About to Appear?"
Five years later, Hitler's armies swarmed over Europe, and Britain stood alone and practically defenseless. Then came Pearl Harbor, and the dramatic success of the Japanese offensive in the Pacific. It seemed that the time of "Jacob's trouble" had come.
But slowly the tide began to turn against the Fascist powers.
Peace came in 1945, and once again the world breathed a sigh of relief. That had to be the war to end all wars. War was no longer a practical way for man to solve his conflicts — there had to be a better way. Much hope was placed in the United Nations — a place where nations could talk instead of fight.
But The Plain Truth did not share this optimism for the immediate future. Even before the dust settled, this magazine was warning that the world should expect another, even more terrible war.
Certainly in 1945, as Europe staggered around in its ruins, that seemed unlikely. But the years are proving us to be right. Since the end of the Second World War mankind has learned more than at any other time in history. Astonishing progress has been made in transport, communications, health, science, building construction and agriculture. But men are still fighting, starving, destroying and dying. We still do not know how to live in peace. In spite of all other progress, we have learned absolutely nothing about that.
Nations with "advanced civilizations" and "superior intelligence" still threaten each other (and everyone else). Even so-called Christian nations quarrel and fight with not even a passing thought for the sixth (or any other) commandment. Peace is as far away as ever. As men fight and die, famine and pestilence are increasing, as Jesus Christ said they would just before the final catastrophe (Matt. 24:6-8). In spite of superior technology, advanced civilization and what passes for the Christian religion, this earth is a far more dangerous place than it was in 1933.
The Willamette Valley, however, is still as beautiful as ever. I know of few places on earth that can rival this part of Oregon for scenic splendor — snowcapped mountains, soaring forests, cascading rivers and neat farms nestling in quiet valleys.
In the pleasant university town of Eugene, the wars overseas, the missile crisis in Europe, the dirt, filth, poverty, disease and misery of the Third and Fourth Worlds all seem far away — just as they did in 1933. There is one difference. Another conflict would not just affect those who volunteer to fight.
The superior intelligence of advanced civilizations has made it possible now for war to be brought to everyone's doorstep, so that, "except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved" (Matt. 24:22). It is now 50 years since The Plain Truth began to say that. We cannot change our tune — not yet. Not while there is still a need for a warning and a witness.
Looking through the old newspaper of 50 years ago really underscores this point. People have learned so much — but human beings are as far as ever from developing an advanced civilization based on the true Christian religion. One day we will have one — but God will have to show humanity how. First these prophecies must be fulfilled — we will not learn our lessons any other way.
The Jefferson Review is still published regularly. It is a decent little paper, faithfully reporting the comings and goings of its Willamette Valley community.
The Plain Truth offices moved from Eugene in 1947. It is now a worldwide magazine, published in seven languages. But it is still concerned for the people of the Willamette Valley, as it is with its other millions of readers worldwide.
Today, as 50 years ago, other news sources cannot bring you the full significance of the events that affect your life. They don't understand why we cannot solve the problems that threaten human existence. Or why, as our civilization "advances," things keep getting worse.
It is no longer considered outrageous and doom saying to warn of imminent disaster and the collapse of the present world order.
Other publications do that regularly. But they still don't know the real cause of the trouble. They still can't help you anticipate and prepare for the marvelous future as it is going to be.
You need to know the "plain truth" about these things.
That's why the world needed this magazine of understanding 50 years ago.
It still does.