When Abdu’l-Baha wrote to Beatrice Irwin in 1914, he asked her to spread his warnings about a universal war as far as she possibly could.
World War I began in June of that year, when an assassin killed Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in the Balkans, now better known as South East Europe. But that horrible war, which took 16 million lives, actually started many years before, when a whole host of European nations and kingdoms began accumulating large storehouses of weapons and ammunition in an unprecedented “defense” build-up. Frightened that their absolute rule might come to an end, many of Europe’s monarchs, oligarchs and tyrants spent their countries into near-bankruptcy to increase their armaments during that period.
But long before the unprecedented arms race of the late 19th Century began, Baha’u’llah warned the world’s political and religious leaders about their excessive spending, their elaborate preparations for war and the great injustice they perpetrated upon their peoples:
Lay not aside the fear of God, O kings of the earth, and beware that ye transgress not the bounds which the Almighty hath fixed. Observe the injunctions laid upon you in His Book, and take good heed not to overstep their limits. Be vigilant, that ye may not do injustice to anyone, be it to the extent of a grain of mustard seed. Tread ye the path of justice, for this, verily, is the straight path.
Compose your differences, and reduce your armaments, that the burden of your expenditures may be lightened, and that your minds and hearts may be tranquillized. Heal the dissensions that divide you, and ye will no longer be in need of any armaments except what the protection of your cities and territories demandeth. Fear ye God, and take heed not to outstrip the bounds of moderation, and be numbered among the extravagant.
We have learned that you are increasing your outlay every year, and are laying the burden thereof on your subjects. This, verily, is more than they can bear, and is a grievous injustice. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 250-251.
Abdu’l-Baha continued that cry of peace, spiritual moderation and demilitarization when he traveled throughout the western world between 1910 and 1913. In his letter to Beatrice Irwin, he wrote:
In short, before all the meetings in the West I cried out: “O ye thinkers of the world ! O ye philosophers of the Occident! O ye scholars and sages of the earth! A threatening black cloud o’ershadows, which ere long shall envelop the horizon of humanity; an impetuous tempest is ahead, which shall shatter to splinters the ships of the lives of mankind, and a turbulent, furious torrent shall soon drown the countries and nations of Europe. Awaken ye! Awaken ye! Become ye mindful! Become ye mindful! Thus in the spirit of co-operation we may all arise with the utmost magnanimity and through the Favor and Providence of God hold aloft the flag of the Oneness of Humanity, promote the essentials of Universal Peace and deliver the inhabitants of the world from this Most Great Danger! – Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 244.
Abdu’l-Baha recounted, in his article, his contention that Europe had become a tinderbox, an overloaded powder keg that the slightest spark could ignite:
While travelling in Europe and America I met altruistic and sanctified souls who were my confidants and associates concerning the question of Universal Peace and who agreed with me and joined their voices with mine regarding the principle of the Oneness of the World of Humanity; but alas, they were very few! The leaders of public opinion and the great statesmen believed that the massing of huge armies and the annual increase of military forces insured peace and friendship among nations. At that time I explained that this theory was based on a false conception; for it is an inevitable certainty that these serried ranks and disciplined armies will be rushed one day into the heat of the battlefield and these inflammable materials will unquestionably be exploded and the explosion will be through one tiny spark; then a world conflagration will be witnessed, the lurid flames of which shall redden all the horizons. Because the sphere of their thoughts was contracted and their intellectual eyes blind they could not acknowledge the above explanation. – Ibid.
This passage about the doctrine of “mutually-assured destruction”—the proposition that a heavily-armed group of nations would constitute a balance of military power and thus protect the world from war—has prevailed since the latter part of the 19th Century. It culminated in the two devastating World Wars of the 20th Century, which the Baha’i teachings warned the world about many years before.
It might be useful to examine those warnings to see if they still apply today, which we’ll do in the next essay in this series.