Hey America! Remember that time I said Donald Trump seems kind of Hitler-like and you were all like, "Nah," and now two months later it seems like maybe I was right? Word, that was pretty great. I mean, except for the part where we could maybe end up electing a fascist president, obviously. I bring that up because this week's column is about another thing I hope I'm wrong about, which is that World War III could be way closer to happening than we realize. We talk about it on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by Cracked editor Alex Schmidt and musician Danger Van Gorder. It's also what I'm talking about here today. Let's do it!
Given the headlines we've all seen recently, it makes sense that any talk of conflict on a global scale would and should start with ISIS. This one will not. Instead, let's talk about monkeys.
In 1925, a substitute high school teacher named John Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which outlawed teaching evolution in state-funded schools. The ensuing court case was dubbed "the Scopes Monkey Trial" ...
Yay! Monkey lawyers!
... and it drew massive amounts of national attention to what, at the time, was viewed as a battle between two factions of Christianity: Modernists and Fundamentalists.
Whoa! Fundamentalists? Since when do we see that word in relation to Christians? It's rare these days, if nothing else, but that's precisely what the side of the argument that believed the word of the Bible takes precedence over everything was called at the time. The popular thinking is that Christian Fundamentalists mostly disappeared right around the time WWI started, but as pointed out in American Apocalypse: A History Of Modern Evangelicalism, author Matthew Sutton's exhaustive history of the relationship between Evangelical Christians and the apocalypse, that's not exactly true. Rather, as I probably telegraphed in the previous sentence, they just rebranded themselves as "Evangelicals" and carried on with trying to do everything in their power to make sure the world ends on their watch.
We did it!
See, that's the thing about interpreting the Bible literally; all that action movie shit at the end just reads like another thing that God himself said, so it must be true. That Jesus will return after a massive global conflict has been the thinking of huge numbers of Evangelicals for as long as that label has existed, and rather than propel them into a pit of ennui and despair, the idea filled them with purpose. If their years of faith were to pay off, an Armageddon-level war that finally prompts Jesus to hit us back must happen.
So what do a bunch of Christians who believed the Bible a little too hard back in your grandparents' day have to do with the world going to war today? Everything, because they've never gone away, they've only gotten stronger. The "enemies of God" who need to be destroyed ...
Fuck you, Ivan Drago!
... and the signs that the battle is imminent (the sinking of the Titanic was seen by some as proof that God would destroy the world soon) have varied wildly over the years, but it's all been tied to the belief that one gigantic, final war has to take place for everything to play out as promised in the Bible.
After all, you still hear the word "Evangelical" all the time, right? That's because some really powerful people over the years have counted themselves among the believers -- most notably, conservative Republican superhero Ronald Reagan. In 1971, he reportedly told California State Senator James Mills that the "fire and brimstone" mentioned in Revelations referred to the nuclear weapons that would destroy Russia, who played the role of "enemies of God" at the time.
It also came up repeatedly during his 1984 reelection campaign. Two investigative journalists published evidence of Reagan's obsession with Armageddon doctrine in the Washington Post that year. A radio documentary, "Ronald Reagan And The Prophecy Of Armageddon," appeared on 175 public radio stations. Because this was a time when we still asked questions about the things that were bothering us, it even came up in a televised debate with Walter Mondale.
Creepy! Notice how the question mentioned that the Reagan administration had plans to fight and prevail in a nuclear war with Russia? Later for mutually assured destruction, this is America, we're going to survive that shit and come back stronger than ever. A member of the Reagan administration, a man named Thomas Jones, famously once told a reporter who asked about our chances of surviving a nuclear attack that, "If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody's going to make it." What was his role in that administration? deputy under secretary of defense for research and engineering (strategic and theater nuclear forces), of course.
So, if you're keeping score at home, that's a former two-term president who not only believed that he was a key figure in an impending apocalypse that would usher in the return of Jesus, but also that he'd live to see it all happen. It's no wonder Genesis was so worried.
This video fucking terrified me as a child. And just now.
However, Reagan wasn't just some doom-obsessed anomaly. George W. Bush, who you might remember actually started a couple wars in his day, has even dedicated a good portion of his post-power years to trying to get Jesus to come back, speaking at fundraisers for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity. Why? Because Jews converting to Christianity in huge numbers is one of the things that has to happen before we can get on with the End Times. That's what that group does. They convert Jews to Christianity in the hope that it will someday lead to Armageddon. There are also Evangelical Christian groups who spend millions of dollars to pay for Jews to immigrate to Israel, because some interpretations of Biblical prophecy say half the world's Jews have to be there before Jesus can return. These people do not see a cataclysmic war in the Middle East as a bad thing. It is the end game of their entire belief system. Making sure it happens is what they feel like they've been put on Earth to do. Does that sound like anyone else you've been hearing about in the news lately?
Evangelical Christians are nothing new, nor is their desire to run this country, but what makes their line of thinking particularly scary is that, in ISIS, we now have an "enemy of God" with an almost identical vision for the end of the world. As Robert Evans touched on in his brilliant examination of the official ISIS magazine, Dabiq, the group views war with the United States as inevitable, and that war is meant to play out almost exactly as it does in the Bible. Dabiq is the town in Syria where the apocalyptic conflict is supposed to start.
Find it on this map. You have 10 seconds. Go!
From there, a drawn-out war with the West ensues, culminating in the return of Jesus. That's right, ISIS is also banking on Jesus being the one who comes back to fix things in the end; they just disagree over who he'll be coming back to save. What both sides agree on, though, is that they definitely want this war to happen.
I know, Hillary Clinton has already won the election and is well into her second term in most people's minds, but having another Evangelical Christian-leaning president in office by this time next year is still a possibility. No one thought Bush would win in 2000 either, you know?
It goes without saying that, Evangelical Christian or not, Donald Trump will be more than happy to give ISIS the war in Syria they so desperately crave.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images News/Getty Images
And he'll swear his Muslim friends love him for it.
In line behind him are the likes of Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, both favorites among Evangelical Christian voters. It's not at all impossible that we could, at some point in the very near future, have a president in office who panders directly to those who share ISIS's lust for cataclysmic conflict in the Middle East, almost to the letter. That's a scary thought.
What's even scarier is that we might not even need an Evangelical-friendly leader in office for ISIS to get their war. After the recent terror attacks in Paris, the French immediately began bombing Syria. This is exactly the response ISIS wants. Dropping bombs will inevitably lead to the deaths of a lot of innocent people, prompting even more Muslims to radicalize and take up sides with ISIS.
Russia joined France in their bombing campaign after it was discovered that an Islamic State bomb took down a Russian plane over Egypt, killing all 224 passengers on board. England and Germany joined the fight not long after. This is all in addition to the countless bombs the United States has been dropping on Syria in response to the ISIS threat.
Vladimir Putin is into the apocalypse too, but just the part about horses.
What happens when the bombs aren't enough? They haven't been so far, obviously, or we wouldn't be dropping more of them now. So what's the next step when the problem doesn't go away and people demand more action? Historically, the response has been to send in troops on the ground, and we only need to look as far back as Iraq and Afghanistan to know what kind of a quagmire that strategy can turn into, but it's a move President Obama is already getting pressure to make from some circles. This would be a goldmine for ISIS. Occupying forces in Muslim lands produce radicals. People who never would have considered fighting with ISIS will absolutely join in if it means getting us to leave. That will be especially true when ISIS points to the presence of invading armies as evidence that their End Times prophecy is coming true.
So far, we're lucky in that, apparently, our current president has researched this situation enough to know the implications and potential ramifications of a ground war in Syria. He said this when addressing the nation in response to the recent San Bernardino shootings:
"ISIL fighters were part of the insurgency that we faced in Iraq. But they also know that if we occupy foreign lands, they can maintain insurgencies for years, killing thousands of our troops, draining our resources, and using our presence to draw new recruits."
Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
However, that's a voice of reason that we have at our disposal for only roughly another year. What will the world look like by that point? No one is explicitly saying they'll put troops on the ground, but positions change. A few months back, Ted Cruz felt that intervening in the civil war in Syria at all was a bad idea aside from airstrikes to fight ISIS. As of yesterday, his stance is that he "never said" he wouldn't put troops on the ground, only that he would do whatever was necessary to defeat ISIS. Let's say the American voting process fails us altogether and he becomes our next president. How long do you trust that guy to hold out when the pressure to invade Syria gets more intense? How long do you trust any president to hold out?
From there, does all the Biblical stuff even matter? War is war, and a lot of people will die on both sides. That's a bad thing, no matter what. Sometimes it becomes necessary, though; I'm not denying that at all. I'm just saying that if it does eventually come to that, it would be in our best interest to not have a president in office who might secretly be harboring fantasies that the next war in the Middle East will be his chance to secure his place in history as the man responsible for bringing Jesus back.
Get your apocalypse started the right way by following Adam on Twitter @adamtodbrown.
WWIII is close. ATB can feel it. See why he thinks we already have our Hitler in 5 Ways Donald Trump Perfectly Mirrors Hitler's Rise To Power, and try not to panic when you realize how close we've come to WWIII before in 5 Gigantic Wars You Won't Believe Almost Happened.
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Most rich kids just want to be pop stars.
How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.