B J Kotwall

(Investigator 39, 1994 November)

The Jehovah's Witnesses often quote the following from their New World Translation of the Bible:

"Tell us, when will these things be and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?"  And in answer Jesus said…" (Matthew 24:3- 4
The Watchtower Society (WTS) claims that 1914 ushered in a period (generation) of unprecedented trouble including wars, famines, earthquakes, etc. These happenings differ from similar events prior to 1914, say the J Ws, because of their greatness and intensity. (From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained 1958 pp. 179, 181, 183)

The WTS claims 39 "signs" listed by Jesus mark our generation. I will treat only one of these "signs" – World War I.

Francis A Beer wrote:

"Casualties give wars their importance." (Peace Against War, p. 34)
Deaths are the main comparison to be made when judging the intensity and magnitude of wars.

The WTS has at different times quoted widely varying figures of casualties for WWI:

37,508,686 deaths     (Awake! 1961 February 22, pp. 6-7)
21,000,000     "          (      "      1983 October  8, p. 12)
14,000,000     "          (      "      1971        "           p.16)

Most authorities in contrast estimate the deaths directly due to the War at 10-12 million.  (C O Jonsson 1987 The "Sign" of the Last Days – When? p. 144)

The WTS has also claimed that WWI was:

"… seven times greater than all the 901 major wars of the previous 2,400 years before 1914."
(The Watchtower 1975 October 15 p. 633; 1982 April 15 p. 8; You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth 1982 p.150)
This claim is incorrect and ridiculous.

Jonsson shows that just seven wars fought between the 17th and 19th centuries produced 63 to 87 million casualties. This far exceeds those of WWI.

One conflict, the Taiping Rebellion  (1850-1864) was reported to have taken 20 to 40 million lives in China. (Jonsson p. 147)  

An Awake! writer, perhaps forgetting the WTS claim that WWI exceeded the 901 major wars of the previous 2,400 years in destructiveness, wrote that the number of victims in The Taiping Rebellion was: "possibly as many as 40 million."  (Awake! 1982 March 22 p. 7)

Jonsson provided the following figures of fatalities for seven wars fought prior to WWI:

Thirty Tears War  1618-1648                 9-11 million
Manchu-Chinese War 1644-1690s            25      "
War of Spanish Succession 1701-1714    c.1     "
Seven Years War  1756-1763                    1-2     "
Napoleonic Wars  1792-1815                    5-6     "
Taiping Rebellion 1850-1864                  20-40    "
Lopez War  1864-1870                                  2      "

Total estimated fatalities:                      53 - 87 million

Even if we took the WTS’s highest figure fatalities – 37,508,686 – it would limit the 901 previous wars to 1/7 of this which is 5,358,383.

After a thorough review of WWI in relation to its scope, duration, number of nations involved, combatants and casualties Jonsson concluded:

"In whatever way then the 1914-1918 war is measured ... the claim that it was seven times greater than all the major wars of the previous 2400 years combined stands as pure fiction.  It is so far from the truth that it is unbelievable that anyone – if he made a careful examination of the historical data – seriously or honesty could have made such a claim." (p. 149