1913 franc

As 2013 draws to a close, I keep thinking about the world of 1913, exactly one hundred years ago. 

Exactly a century ago, globalization was all the rage.  The West was dominant, though it was western Europe, not the US, that dominated everything.  The great European empires had been a stabilizing factor in Europe for centuries.  It had been almost a hundred years since there was a major threat to world peace, Napoleon.

Yes, other wars had happened (no century in history has been without its wars).  The United States was engulfed in civil war for four years in the 1860’s.  The Germans and the French had fought a particularly bad war in 1870, the British and Russians a few years earlier.  There had been minor wars in the Balkans.  At the turn of the century, the British Empire was at war with the Boers in South Africa.  But essentially the world had enjoyed a century of peace under the Pax Britannica.

So, in 1913, the future looked rosy.

That year, the Romanovs celebrated the tercentenary of their dynasty.  Their tour across Russia brought out millions of loyal subjects, joyously celebrating peace and growing prosperity.  Lenin wrote to his wife in Geneva that the revolution would not happen in his lifetime, such was the popularity of the Romanovs.  Four years later, the empire and the dynasty collapsed; within a few months, Lenin was the new Bolshevik leader.  After seventy years of communism, the country still has not recovered from the fall of the czars.

In Germany, wealthy shoppers on the Under den Linden in Berlin, were enjoying the great prosperity that had come with Germany’s rapid growth rate since the unification of the country forty years earlier under the Prussian Hohenzollerns.  Nobody would have predicted the collapse of both empire and dynasty within five years.

Next door, the Habsburg dynasty continued to bask in the peaceful reign of the Emperor Franz Joseph, Europe’s longest serving monarch.  If anything happened to him, there were plenty of other Habsburg princes and grand dukes to take his place.  Vienna, too, was enjoying the greatest prosperity, even though the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not have overseas colonies.  Again, nobody would have guessed they only had five more years.

On the Avenue Champs Elysees in Paris, the city’s wealthy citizens enjoyed spending their increasing wealth.  France’s overseas empire was second only to Britain’s and, finally, after more than a century of political upheavals, the country had achieved stability under the Third Republic.  The republic was to last until 1940, but the events that led to its eventual demise were about to be set in motion.

London was the financial capital of the world, at the head of the greatest empire in history.  The British Empire was impregnable and money deposited in the country was “as safe as the Bank of England.”  The royal family had been on the throne for two centuries.  The country seemed as secure and stable as any country could be.

Six months after 1913 ended, an assassination in Sarajevo was to lead to the greatest conflict in history, World War One.  The world would never be the same again.  Wars and rumors of wars have replaced the old world order.  The ripples can still be seen, the never-ending consequences of “the war to end all wars.”  Afghanistan and Iraq are two recent examples.

On Monday, November 11th, it will be exactly 95 years since the guns of World War One fell silent.  A time to remember.  Time to pause and reflect.  In my childhood, wherever we were, we paused for two minutes at 11am, the exact time the fighting stopped – a token of respect for those who had paid the ultimate price.  In the United States November 11th is Veterans Day, in the United Kingdom, Remembrance Day.  On Sunday, the Queen will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in London, to honor troops from all the Commonwealth countries that fought in the war from beginning to end.

But we should also pause and reflect to remember how quickly the world changed, how suddenly the peace and prosperity came to an end, how radically different the world of 1914 was from the world of 1913.

Could it happen again?  Of course it could.

Until then, the world will continue as it is.

It brings to mind the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:37-39:   “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

Something to reflect on over this Remembrance Day /Veterans Day weekend.



  1. Sobering, indeed. I think that a lot of people, myself included, don’t really want to know all the bad stuff going on in the world. It’s too depressing. We think, “What will be, will be.” And I think that I’ll be prepared for whatever happens. I have to ask, though, “Will I?”

  2. I have wondered about the end of that verse, …” so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” It seems to refer to when Christ will return—not to the start of the tribulation. If that is true, and I believe it is, it clearly implies that most of the world will be basically oblivious to the times. If history tells us anything, it also seems clear that most “Christians” will be oblivious as well. This is probably true when the tribulation starts as well. Interesting.

    Although the tribulation will be the worst time in all of history (as the Bible says) human beings are very adaptable and will get use to it–at some level. For those that believe the Church is in the Laodicean era that is not so hard to understand.

    Most Christians, of course, do not believe they are part of the Laodicean mindset.

  3. Just an afterthought. Mel brings up some significant trends happening in the world today and he has a knack for putting them in a historical context, as well as suggesting a biblical perspective. It would be great to see more participation and meaningful discussion on this blog.

    It seems high time for true Christians to start thinking long and hard, and deeply, about the times we are living in. The idea that God will take care of it all is a very immature perspective and runs counter to this phase of his plan. He’s looking for leaders–not mindless followers.

  4. In the “Generation of Materialism” (as one history book called much of the generation before 1914), there was remarkable progress in raising average people’s standard of living. For the first time, a large number of people, not just the rich, were safely living above the hand-to-mouth lifestyle of neolithic peasant farmers. The fruits of the industrial revolution were finally starting to reach large masses of people, the working class, beyond the middle class (of professionals and large business owners). But a fatal conceit had settled in among so many intellectuals, journalists, and others leading Europe’s nations: They thought that slow and steady progress was inevitable, in their (optimistic, distorted reading) spirit of Darwin’s theory of evolution. But so much of this progress was blown away so uselessly in the muddy fields of Flanders and Verdun. The West never really has recovered from World War I, even when counting the collapse of Soviet Communism in 1989-1991. This history should always be a warning to those who think mankind has the strength to fix all his problems by his own physical strength, intellectual power, and (ha-ha) moral responsibility.

  5. Appreciated this article very much! I enjoy your perspective. I grew up in the south of England, but have now been living in the US for 25 years.

  6. Well put, despite the bad economy, as Thanksgiving approaches, the western European and English speaking peoples, especially the United States, are the wealthiest people on earth, even our poorest are the envy of those in the 3rd world. But we’re sitting in kind of a space of time where those of us who know prophecy are kind of waiting, waiting for that period of time when the Beast person and False prophet will make their appearance, probably to quell a major Arab/Israeli war that could turn nuclear, and initiate a 7-year peace treaty. Then for 3 and a half years, there will be peace, but we’ll know what’s approaching, the 3.5 years of World War III. But right now we’re waiting, waiting for the appearance of those two. It’s sort of like the Sitz-Kreig peace, but there is no peace, in 1939. Remember Adolph Hitler and Bonito Mussolini were not recognized by the the general public as being evil dictators in the 1930s. Henry Ford and Charles Lindberg thought Hitler’s economic reforms were what America needed to end the Great Depression. My grandmother, although she couldn’t speak German, heard Hitler on the radio, giving one of his ranting speeches. She said, right there, that this man was evil, Some recognized, most didn’t. We’ll probably recognize, and try to warn our unconverted neighbours and relatives, but they’ll all think we’re nuts and try to shut us up. But right now, we wait, wait for those two men to make their appearance. Are we ready for that? I’m glad every day I wake up and find they’re not here yet. Let’s not waste that time we have before that occurs.

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