If you ignore the boils, this could be a scene from any number of war zones around the world today. But it isn’t. It’s the vision of destruction that Mad Magazine cartoonist Max Wolverton has conjured up after having read the blistering anti-technology rant of American Radio evangelist Herbert W Armstrong entitled 1975 in Prophecy.
This pamphlet of some 32 pages contains other examples of Wolverton’s artwork, including a rather chilling reminder of 9/11 in which bodies are shown falling from a cliff to their deaths. There are also photographs of the technological miracle that was post-war West Germany—all to show how the 'fantastic push button world' brought to us by scientists and technologists was likely to turn us into a 'western world of soft degenerates, irresponsible, immoral, sick of mind and diseased of body’ prey to a take-over by Communism, and even, more absurdly, Neonazism.
Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, argues that the Almighty doesn’t really approve of all this progress nonsense and will take his retribution in 1975 (a handy borrowing by Armstrong of the number- switching method by which Orwell turned 1948 to 1984), bringing plagues, earthquakes, flooding, etc to a world that was too obsessed with bringing about a life of leisure to care much about worshipping the Creator.
If we think this hysteria was over the top consider the date 1956—it was the height of the Cold War, Stalin’s salt mines and death camps were still around, and then ramifications of McCarthysim were still rife in Hollywood. In the 1951 film The Day the World Stood Still, where a robot from another world arrives to warn of a threat to Mankind, the anti-Communist, anti-technology message is more nuanced, but powerful all the same.
Armstrong was playing on these fears, but it is impossible to say whether or not he truly believed his own dire prophecies. What we do know, however, is that his Radio Church of God grew rich on the donations sent in by not very bright listeners.
And though he was way out on most of his speculations on future technology -- private helicopters taking the place of cars for many, baths where ‘supersonic waves took the place of water, and air passengers travelling by rocket--Armstrong proved prescient on a few things. When he predicts that 'food is to be cooked by heat waves' he looks forward to microwave ovens; and the telephones that he claims will show an image of the person being called have existed for a number of years.
On future social problems, Armstrong concurs with another source, the October 1955 issue of the magazine Coronet when it predicts that by 1965 'one child in ten will spend time in a mental institution' and 'juvenile delinquency and marital infidelity will increase, and one in every three marriages will end in divorce'. On these social issues the forecasts may have been a little premature, but the basic trends surely have come to pass.
Interestingly, Armstrong has nothing to say on other world religions. There is no mention, for instance, of the merits and demerits of Islam or any threat posed by it. Why should there be in 1956? Armstrong died in 1986 aged 94, long before Islam became the most discussed religion in the world. It would have been interesting to hear Armstrong’s views on it.[RR]