The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It WON’T Be Like!”: Conclusion
1965: The Eve of…The Zombie Apocalypse!
This post is the conclusion of an 11-part series. Each entry in the series
builds on information and commentary in the earlier entries.
So it would be best to start reading with the Introduction to the series.
As mentioned earlier in this blog series, back in 1965, at age 18, I came in contact with the teachings of radio evangelist Herbert Armstrong, his son Garner Ted Armstrong, and their associates who produced the very-widely-distributed, daily World Tomorrow radio program and the Plain Truth magazine.
Even after grade school and high school and college courses in history, I knew very little about the scope of American society throughout its history. I knew about battles and elections and inventions and partisan politics. But what life was actually like for the average American of various ethnic groups and races and classes? That was all passed over in a paragraph or two in a text book about any period, and focused on the most superficial of factors…clothing styles, entertainment, gossipy tidbits about famous people, and the like. Terms like “Trail of Tears,” “lynching,” “Jim Crow laws,” “child labor,” and much, much more, were treated just as “terms of definition” or footnotes—not realities of life that affected tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of people.
In 1965 there was no depth to my understanding at all of how we got to the chaos of American life of the mid-1960s. The Cold War scared me. The Cuban missile crisis in particular had scared me. The race riots in nearby Detroit scared me. The escalating Viet Nam war scared me. Actually, I wasn’t so much into reading the newspaper every day or watching the network news every night when I first got married. So when my new husband introduced me to the Plain Truth magazine, with its screaming headlines about all those issues and many more, it contributed to more paranoia than I would even have had normally. Here is just a tiny sample of the type of screaming headlines in the mag, all of these from issues in 1965.
Yes, for a long time after WW2, even up to the mid-1960s, the Plain Truth was speculating that Hitler’s suicide could have been staged and that he had fled Germany (probably for South America) and could be waiting in the wings to head a re-armed Germany that would start WW3!
So after the Plain Truth whipped my paranoia and panic up, it was such a relief that the authors ended almost every article with words reassuring me that yes, things were bad, but the Plain Truth ministry had the answers. All you needed to do was send for the many booklets that would clear up all your confusion. It took many months of reading the literature, and finally tuning in to the radio program, before I understood clearly what they were insisting was the primary answer to everything. The answer was that there was a Wonderful World Tomorrow coming very soon (by 1975) and they could tell me What It Will Be Like.
Jesus Himself would usher in this New World with His Second Coming. Before that, there would be a time of “Great Tribulation” on the earth, which by 1965 was supposedly already starting. I was conveniently aided in “envisioning” this terrible time by the illustrations created for Armstrong’s booklets and magazine articles by cartoonist Basil Wolverton.
Basil Wolverton had become a baptized member of the Radio Church of God in 1941 and was ordained as an elder (minister) in 1943. He was a board member of the denomination, and when Herbert moved his headquarters from Oregon to Pasadena, California, Wolverton was one of six people who signed California incorporation papers in 1946. In 1954, Herbert commissioned Basil to draw illustrations for a series of articles in the Plain Truth magazine covering the topic of the Great Tribulation that would lead up to the Second Coming of Jesus. Then in 1959 Basil started work on a major, ongoing serialized version of the historical parts of the Old Testament titled “The Bible Story.” It took 133 installments, from 1958 to 1969 to finish it. After that, the material was reprinted in book form as a six-volume set. I would guess almost every family with children in the church…
Although ostensibly aimed at children, it soon became obvious that Basil’s often very grim illustrations and “commentary” were also intended as a sort of “catechism” for adults too, emphasizing such things as the importance of obeying “God-ordained” leaders. (Such as Herbert Armstrong…)
However, unknown to most church members back then, at the same time as all this “religious” activity, and on to his death in 1978, Basil Wolverton had also been a well-known illustrator for sci-fi, humor, and horror comic books—and even Mad Magazine! His work was so widely known that he posthumously received a Will Eisener award in 2000 (sort of the comic book version of an Oscar.) Here are a few samples of his “secular”…ahem…art work.
It wasn’t until I got on the Internet in 1996 and eventually googled Basil’s name that I discovered his “alter-ego”! I’m quite sure most members thought that Wolverton was in the exclusive employ of the church, and dedicated, as all good members were supposed to be, to the concept that we were living in the very End of the Age. Surely, most would have thought, all his artistic efforts would be going into being a part of the Great Work of God to warn the world of the impending Tribulation! But as it turns out, at the same time he was helping promote the notion that The End would be in 1975, he was churning out fictional notions of a variety of very different Ends. Such as this Basil Wolverton Marvel Comic from 1951. It offers an end date in the 2400s AD!
Basil was at his elegantly gory best for the illustrations he made for Armstrong’s literature, particularly when he helped you envision the scenes connected to the Great Tribulation. The images below are from a series of articles in the Plain Truth magazine in 1954 and 1955 about the Book of Revelation, later combined together and turned into a bound booklet.
The magazine articles and booklet were all done in black and white, and the illustrations are horrific enough in that form. But a few years ago I discovered that Basil’s son, cartoonist Monte Wolverton, “colorized” all those old pics to look the way he believed his dad had originally envisioned, and uploaded them to the Web. The color certainly adds to their impact. Below are colorized samples of some of the most poignant. The prophetic scenario promoted by the Radio Church of God of the time, leading up to the Second Coming of Christ and the beginning of the “Wonderful World Tomorrow,” declared that first would come a thermo-nuclear World War III, with resulting famines and disease epidemics. Close on the heels of that would be huge natural disasters including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, asteroids hitting the earth, and more. All of this would occur before 1975. Here are parts of that scenario in glorious color, as seen in Basil’s fertile imagination. Actually, I guess these would all make excellent posters for a movie about the Zombie Apocalypse! The caption to the first one made it clear that the fellow with the club in the back on the left was chasing a rat to kill and eat, and the fellow in the front on the right was eyeing the dead child in its mother’s arms as a possible meal. I would guess the second pic was strongly implying cannibalism also.
I’ve personally talked and corresponded with many people who grew up in the Radio Church of God, or the later Worldwide Church of God, who vividly remember having nightmares in their childhood about Basil’s illustrations in these booklets, pushed on them by their parents. Why would parents force-feed such visions to their young children … sometimes even pre-schoolers? Because Herbert Armstrong, whom they believed to be a unique spokesman for God Himself, insisted they should:
Plain Truth magazine, February/March 1955 Herbert Armstrong
“Yes, I KNOW these pictures are terrifying… but they may save thousands of precious lives from the horrible fate they depict—including yours! Read WHY we are forced to publish them—and of the happy World Tomorrow just beyond! There is the final article on the BOOK OF REVELATION. READ! THINK! HEED!”
… Some few have written me gripes and criticisms. Some few have not wanted to SEE such realistic pictures of WHAT’S COMING IN REAL LIFE! Some few have threatened to stop reading the PLAIN TRUTH, unless I stop publishing such realistic pictures! Some don’t want their children to see such pictures! Yes, I KNOW these pictures are terrifying—revolting! THAT’S WHY WE ARE PUBLISHING THEM. Better show our children what’s coming—better WAKE THEM UP—and teach them how to SEEK GOD and His divine protection. Better explain to them that these horrible conditions NEED NOT ever strike them—that they MAY be taken on a flight to a place of SAFETY, where they need never SEE such terrifying scenes in real life.
I’m not convinced such explanations helped a lot of traumatized young children over the years! But most parents in the church seemed to be convinced that it was mandatory for them to indoctrinate their children with the same paranoia and panic that the pics and the accompanying articles instilled in many adults!
I’m also pretty sure that Herbert Armstrong was the only person in history to adamantly refer to Basil Wolverton’s art style as “realistic”! It has been typical for commentators to describe him as creating the “Spaghetti and Meatball School of Art”! You can perhaps see why more clearly in this pic.
Nah, nothing he drew, including the illustrations for Armstrong, was “realistic” at all, but much of it was definitely repulsive.
As an interesting aside…
I now realize Basil was a master at recycling! It is obvious that the bosomy babe in his Powerhouse Pepper comics of the 1940s was reincarnated (or would that be “PRE-incarnated”?) as Eve–1940s glamor hairdo and all–in his 1959 Bible Story, seen on the right.
And the poor slob in this 1952 picture on the right trying to escape the Brain Bats…was doomed by 1954 to be trying to escape the H-Bomb in the Plain Truth magazine and later booklet, The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last, as shown in the pic on the left.
There are many, many other examples of such recycling, throughout Basil’s repertoire. I found it unnerving at first to see so many “familiar faces” from the old Radio Church of God literature in such unlikely settings in horror comics. But now it’s just kind of like playing a grownup game along the lines of “Where’s Waldo”! “Where have I seen that shifty looking guy before?? Oh, yes…it was in the Book of Judges.”
But back to 1965–As I immersed myself in the Plain Truth magazine at that time, Armstrong and Associates chronicled every baby step toward the Wolvertonian version of the Great Tribulation…an earthquake or volcano eruption in South America, a devastating flood in some place in the Midwest, devastating droughts or rampant famines around the world, wars and rumors of wars in Asia and the Middle East, and on and on.
And, as outlined in previous entries in this series, Armstrong’s ministry insisted much of that Tribulation/chaos, just as the chaos on Earth described in the Bible before Noah’s flood, was going to be caused by…the US finally giving Constitutional rights to all citizens! Specifically, by eliminating social segregation in all aspects of life. Which would lead to the abomination of inter-racial marriage…just as, Armstrong insisted, had happened before Noah’s flood. And which was totally against the God-ordained social structure of geographical separation of the races. The races were meant by Him to stay “pure” just as cattle breeders were careful to not let their purebred cows intermix with other breeds. And the only way to make sure that happened would be to keep the races apart in their everyday lives.
The Plain Truth magazine was trumpeting these teachings to hundreds of thousands…maybe millions…of readers right during the 1960s Civil Rights Era. Herbert insisted he wasn’t “taking sides” in the Race Question that was the greatest problem of the day…his magazine wouldn’t be promoting the demands of the Negro, nor would it be endorsing the approach of the segregationists of the Deep South. It was, he insisted, just telling the “Plain Truth” about what God thinks of it all, about what the Bible says about it all, and about what the Bible predicts for the future.
The reality, of course, was that Armstrong did, indeed, “take the side” of the white anti-integration southerners. Often using some of the same arguments, the same “scripture quotations” that showed up on their protest signs. “God hates race-mixing.” “God is the author of segregation.”
How, at 18 years old, I didn’t immediately recognize what a totally ungodly and unbiblical mess this kind of teaching was is a total mystery to me. I can only plead that, although I’d gone to Sunday School and church as a child and teen, I had never actually read the Bible itself until I started reading Armstrong’s literature, and thus I read it through the lens of his teachings, thinking he was a sincere minister sent by God to set the world straight on biblical topics. And I can only reiterate that I had absolutely no real-world experience with people of other races that I could line up against what I was reading.
My husband and I attended our first “church service” with Armstrong’s “Worldwide Church of God” (WCG) in January 1968 in Flint, Michigan. (And, to jump ahead, became totally disillusioned and disgusted with it all eventually and attended our last service in September 1978.) I never thought through any of the implications of the racial teachings at that point in time. There were a handful of blacks in the congregation, although I later found out that was rare throughout the organization across the country…there were actually dedicated “black congregations” in bigger cities such as Chicago and Detroit. Only blacks who could not travel long distance to such segregated congregations because of advanced age or serious health problems were allowed to attend “white” congregations. Congregations were widely scattered in most parts of the country, so it wasn’t unusual for even “whites” to have to travel one, two, three hours or more (one way!) a week to attend a Sabbath service each Saturday.
Armstrong had established “Ambassador College” in Pasadena, California for the purpose of training ministers for his denomination. I knew that any black pastors of the black congregations would have to have attended there, so I assumed the college was integrated. What I didn’t realize at the time was that ONLY black married men were eligible to come to the college, bringing their wives, so that there would be no temptation to try to “date white girls.”
The church held an annual 8-day convention every fall (in celebration of the biblical “Feast of Tabernacles”) at numerous spots around the country and world. A single site, such as the one we first attended in the picturesque tourist area of the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in September 1968, could have up to 10,000 people or more in attendance. I have no independent memory of realizing that there was total social segregation at that gathering. In later years I realized that, other than the black people allowed in the choir and thus sitting in the choir section of the auditorium, the blacks all sat together in one section. There were probably somewhere close to 1,500 blacks in attendance. And … while the 8,500 or so white people were scattered at a variety of motels, hotels, and resorts throughout the area, the blacks all stayed together in one segregated resort.
The planners of these events organized totally separate dances and socials for the black attendees. No chance of white and black teens being tempted to dance together, or eat ice cream together. The denomination’s “member magazine,” the Good News, reported in 1968, regarding the Feast of Tabernacles (FOT) convention that was held that year in Big Sandy, Texas: “Nearly 9,000 people enjoyed camping on the grounds. Hundreds of people served as captains of ten, fifty, and a hundred. God’s government in action made the whole Feast function smoothly and efficiently. The Negro brethren had their own social and picnic, with nearly 2,500 attending.”
Here’s a pic of that feast site that year, which featured the world’s largest tent at that time, to hold the 9,000 in attendance for daily worship services.
Of course, the 2,000+ “Negro brethren” would have all camped together in a segregated section of the grounds.
In 1969, the Good News reported: “For eight joyous, exhilarating days, God’s people dwelled together in unity and love and experienced a foretaste – a kind of preview – of the wonderful WORLD TOMORROW.
Over 1900 of our Negro brethren were able to camp and keep the Feast together at Big Sandy.”
I must admit that as I read the words “preview of the wonderful World Tomorrow” that year, and read of the segregated FOT sites, it never dawned on me to make the connection that indeed, Herbert Armstrong insisted, regarding that Wonderful World Tomorrow, that “What It Will Be Like” would be…a thousand years of rigidly-enforced worldwide segregation!
And the changed attitudes regarding social integration of many American citizens as the years went by after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t make a dent in Armstrong’s bombastic dogmatism on this topic. He never changed his attitude:
Armstrong went to his grave without changing his opinions on race. In Mystery of the Ages, Armstrong lays out his racial theories in a book published just a few months before his death [in 1986]. Support for segregation, a distaste for interracial marriage, and a belief in black inferiority are all on display in his final book:
…In Noah’s day, the chief cause of the violence and chaos of world conditions was racial hatreds, interracial marriages, and racial violence caused by man’s efforts toward integration and amalgamation of races, contrary to God’s laws. God had set the boundary lines for the nations and the races at the beginning (Deut. 32:8-9; Acts 17:26). But men had refused to remain in the lands to which God had assigned them. That was the cause of the corruption and violence that ended that world. For 120 years Noah had preached God’s ways to the people – but they didn’t heed.
“At that time, even as today, that world faced a population explosion. It was when ‘men began to multiply on the face of the earth’ (Gen. 6:1). Jesus said, of our time, right now, ‘But as the days of Noe [Noah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be’ (Matt. 24:37) – or, as in Luke 17:26, ‘And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.’ That is, the days just before Christ returns. Today race wars, race hatreds, race riots and race problems are among the world’s greatest social troubles.
“Noah merely preached to people in his human lifetime. But Noah, in the resurrection, immortal, in power and glory, will be given the power to enforce God’s ways in regard to race.
“It seems evident that the resurrected Noah will head a vast project of the relocation of the races and nations, within the boundaries God has set for their own best good, happiness and richest blessings. This will be a tremendous operation. It will require great and vast organization, reinforced with power to move whole nations and races. This time, peoples and nations will move where God has planned for them, and no defiance will be tolerated.
“What a paradox. People are going to be forced to be happy, to have peace, to find abundant and joyful living! (Pages 341-342.)” [Source]
Do note that, just as he never addressed “details” in his earlier writings in the Plain Truth, Armstrong does not touch in this book on the subject of just how it will be determined where anyone who is not a 100% “racially pure” individual will be assigned to live as part of this relocation. This is, of course, ludicrous, because recent scientific studies of DNA have shown that just about everybody’s DNA gives clear evidence of racial mixing somewhere back in their family history, usually of many different types.
But let’s say just two races are involved in some situation. Did Armstrong think an American who is 1/16th black and 15/16th white would be going with the blacks back to Africa, or with the whites to… wherever. (Armstrong was not clear on that either…he seemed to feel that white Americans of Northern European ancestry had a “manifest destiny” to be in–and conquer–North America, so I was never sure if they would have to go “back” somewhere when Jesus came back. And…where would any leftover Native Americans go??) I can answer that 15/16ths question with almost 100% certainty, based on policy of the Worldwide Church of God when I became a member. Any person who had any slightest facial or hair characteristics stereotypically considered “Negroid,” no matter how small the percentage of inheritance, was…a Negro. And could not date or marry a “white.” So I guess Herbert assumed that all of the “mulattos” in America would be sent back to Africa by Noah.
Looking back at how insanely racist all this was at the time, I’m relieved to remember that AT LEAST the convention centers where the FOT church meetings were held in the fall didn’t have separate white and black bathrooms and drinking fountains!
Some of these issues “lightened up” by the mid-1970s, I would suppose as a result of the cultural change in the whole nation as a result of the success of the Civil Rights Act and eventual nationwide school integration. Single black young men and women were eventually allowed to attend Ambassador College (although I’m sure they were always very careful to keep the numbers of males and females equal to provide for all dating needs!) A few more blacks began showing up at white congregations…although inter-racial dancing and dating was still totally unacceptable. To say nothing of interracial marriage.
In case there was any doubt in anyone’s mind on this matter, Herbert Armstrong’s son Garner Ted (who was Second In Command of the organization and its stable of ministers at the time in 1974) wrote the following in a “ministerial bulletin” that went out to all of the organization’s ministers in December 1974:
Now to the important points I need to cover in this letter: First, let me stop the rumors that I am for interracial dating and interracial marriage! I am most positively, profoundly, absolutely and without reservation “AGAINST” interracial dating.
Armstrong was responding to garbled reports about a meeting for Ambassador College students that he’d spoken at earlier in the year. He takes great pains to clarify just what he said at that meeting.
… I said words to the effect that: “Do you want to marry interracially? If this is what you decide to do; if this is what you are determined to do, then GO AHEAD AND DO IT! You are FREE to do whatever you choose. You are “FREE” to become obese; to ruin your health with wrong foods and lack of exercise; to fill your mind with wrong thoughts and wrong entertainment. You are “FREE” to leave college any time you choose; to quit attending church—to make CHOICES!” I did not say the statement exactly that way—but that is what I MEANT! My attitude toward interracial dating and marriage may be somewhat different from some others in the ministry—that I do not know for sure. But so far as me being “for” serious interracial dating and miscegenation, I am most emphatically and decidedly against it! I was merely answering the allegations that we are running some kind of concentration camp where we are “depriving people of their civil rights”—I was showing the doors swing both ways; that people are FREE MORAL AGENTS!
What is ridiculous about Armstrong’s comments about “free choice” above is this—one of Herbert Armstrong’s central teachings was that his organization was the ONLY “True Church of God” on Earth! Once you became a member of that Church, if you stayed a loyal member and obeyed all the rules, you were assured of your place in the Kingdom of God when Jesus returned to Earth. But if you rebelled against those teachings, if you took the opportunity as a free moral agent to “walk out that door,” you just signed your own eternal death warrant. You were on your way to the biblical “Lake of Fire”! Only if you repented of your rebellion and returned would you be able to save yourself from that fate.
This puts Garner Ted Armstrong’s almost flippant comments above in quite a different light. Frankly, once a group has brainwashed people to the point of firmly believing that their eternal salvation is directly connected to the group, they really are not any longer a “free moral agent.” They are in spiritual bondage! I know…I was there for a few years. The psychological pressure to “be obedient” is extremely intense.
Herbert Armstrong added his own adamant statement on the topic almost a decade later, at a Bible Study in 1982, less than four years before his death. Another former member of the WCG put the following excerpt up on the Web a while back.
Below, I have transcribed pieces of one of Herbert W. Armstrong’s shockingly racist sermons…He was 90 years old when he spoke these words. I have capitalized certain bits of text to note the volume of Armstrong’s voice. Anyone who has heard a sermon by HWA will remember his bouts of screaming, when he was trying to make a point.
Apparently, what had spurred him to write this sermon was a letter, written by one of his followers.
“Today I want to speak on what may possibly be the very next attack that Satan will use against this church […] interracial marriage.”
“It was stated that the blacks in God’s Church are dissatisfied with such doctrines that are not in keeping with the current social trend in the world [civil rights movement] that are a part of this nation’s background. […] And this letter also says that they are trying to line up a group of blacks to give ME AN ULTIMATUM, that I get on the side of the social trend of this world, or else! I’ll tell you what I’ll give them, I’LL GIVE THEM THE ‘OR ELSE!’ (church audience laughs) I WON’T COMPROMISE ONE MILLIONTH OF AN INCH! And if you will, you can go into the Lake of Fire if you want to. […] Some are saying that we have to have racial balance at Ambassador College. […]”
“Genesis 6:1-2; And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them; That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of ALL WHICH THEY CHOOSE.”
“That’s what they want to do today. A black man wants to take a white woman for a wife, THAT’S WHAT HE CHOOSES. […]
And lest anyone have the slightest doubt about whether this whole position is just based on worrying about wanting to be obedient to the Bible, wanting to be sure to keep the “pure races” God created pure so that they are all “their best” …or whether there is a not-so-subtle utterly racist foundation under it all—there is this little rant.
Now I don’t know any cases where a WHITE MAN wants to marry a black woman, WHY IS THAT? Answer that for me! Why is it only BLACK MEN who want to marry white women?” [Source]
Yes, that was at the very end of his very long life. He never changed his mind, a mind likely made up in the Whitopia of Oregon of his early years of his ministry, that what was going to make the Wonderful World Tomorrow so peaceful and happy was going to be the reinstitution of total geographical separation of the races.
But back to 1965, when Armstrong was in the heyday of his influence on the racial issues of America.
In addition to the Plain Truth articles on the Race Issue, many other articles kept up a continual litany of horrific world problems growing bigger and bigger.
In fact, it wasn’t just the Plain Truth telling me about it all…one of the hit songs of 1965 was Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction! You can hear Barry sing this anti-war anthem in July 1965 in the Youtube video below. (Note the reference to Selma, Alabama. This song was written by P. F. Sloan some time between the iconic March 7 Selma “Bloody Sunday” confrontation between nonviolent demonstrators and the violent police force of Selma, Alabama, and the recording of the song by Barry McGuire in July that year.)
The eastern world it is explodin’
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war but what’s that gun you’re totin’?
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’
But you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction
Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave
Take a look around you boy, it’s bound to scare you boy
And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction
Yeah my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth it knows no regulation
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’
And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction
Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it’s the same old place
The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace
And tell me
Over and over and over and over again my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction
Mmm, no, no, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction
The anti-war ballad, “Eve of Destruction,” was issued in 1965 when opposition to the Vietnam war began gaining momentum in America & the record immediately faced reactionary responses. Never before had such a grim & angst-ridden anti-establishment lyric [“you’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’’] sold well enough to register on the popularity charts, & as the folk-rock tune hit #1, detractors raced to condemn it. Christian Crusade leaders charged that the lyrics were “obviously aimed at instilling fear in our teenagers as well as a sense of hopelessness,” with a nefarious goal of inducing “the American public to surrender to atheistic international Communism.” Such sentiments caused the disc to be banned by many radio stations. [Source]
McGuire’s LP, The Eve of Destruction, reached its peak of number 37 on the Billboard 200 chart during the week ending September 25, 1965. That same week the single of that name went to number one on both charts. McGuire was never again to break into the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. The song knocked Help! by The Beatles out of the top spot on the chart. According to McGuire, “Eve of Destruction” was recorded in one take on a Thursday morning (from words scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper) and then he got a call from the record company at 7:00 the next Monday morning, telling him to turn on the radio—his song was playing. The recording includes an “ahhh” where McGuire could not read the words. [Source]
So—what about 1965 being on the “eve of destruction”? My hubby and I, ages 20 and 18, had just gotten married and expected to be “in the Kingdom of God” by 1975. The Plain Truth was predicting that by another year or two blood would be “running in the streets” from a major Race War that would rage throughout the whole US if the government tried to enforce integration and the non-violent movement didn’t give up its demands. And if the end didn’t come as soon as expected, and more and more integration happened in schools (along with other social integration like letting blacks eat in white restaurants and pee in white bathrooms), Armstrong et al were utterly convinced the whole nation would be mulatto before too long from all the intermarrying going on.
Barry McGuire seemed to belt out his 1965 song in a way that implied he felt an urgency about the world conditions of the era. He wasn’t a religious man at the time, so I’m guessing he was just perhaps wondering if, for instance, the US and Russia would step over the line into “mutually assured nuclear destruction.”
So how has all that panned out now that we’ve reached 2015?
Well, my husband and I just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary last May 1. In Savannah, Georgia, not in the Millennial Kingdom.
After a couple more years of resistance in the Deep South in the 1960s, “legally sanctioned” segregation and Jim Crow laws of all kinds finally were ended. Mind you, there is plenty of evidence that racism is alive and well in America today, but it is expressed in more subtle ways most of the time than the rabid ranting and overt persecution of the Civil Rights Era.
No button was ever pushed by either Russia or the US.
Barry McGuire became a born-again Christian, and as a result renounced the Eve of Destruction song for many years, refusing to perform it. Though he is now known primarily as a singer of contemporary Christian songs, McGuire has resumed singing Eve of Destruction in recent years, often updating the lyrics to refer to such events as the Columbine High School massacre.
Barry McGuire updated the lyrics when he performed at a reunion of folksingers, with the line about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches replaced by the words “Columbine, Colorado”, referring to the student massacre of 1999. On March 12, 2008, McGuire appeared on the Australian music comedy/game show Spicks and Specks, performing an updated version of “Eve of Destruction”, with new lines such as “You’re old enough to kill/ you just started voting” and “…can live for ten years in space”. The reference to “Red China” was also removed, and in its place were the more generic “Now think of all the hate, still living inside us/ it’s never too late, to let love guide us”. [Wiki]
I happened to have the opportunity to sit in the front row of an intimate live concert in about 2001 at a small church in a small town in Michigan starring Barry McGuire and former gospel music great Terry Talbot. They were traveling a circuit together as “Talbot McGuire.” Both had abandoned doing totally gospel music and were instead mixing a few spiritual songs in with a lot of general folk music. I’m pretty sure Barry sang Eve of Destruction that night, but you didn’t get the vibe that it was a whole lot more than “nostalgia” fueling his singing of the song. I must admit I was a little surprised at how much Barry had aged…why, he looked so young when he sang this song at age 30 in 1965! Oh. Wait. I looked young in 1965 too, at age 18, and I had aged the same amount. We were both creeping up on forty years older. Now he’s 79, and I’m 69. Here’s what he looked like when I saw him perform. That’s him on the left, next to Terry Talbot.
In 2015, legal segregation of schools no longer exists, including in the Deep South, and there was no blood running in the streets all over the country as a result. This is not to say that “de facto” segregation doesn’t exist. It surely is widespread in our time, as an end result of years of redlining blacks out of neighborhoods, “white flight” from inner cities, and so on. In fact, the school “integrated” by 6 year old Ruby Bridges in New Orleans in 1960, which was eventually somewhat integrated, is now back to almost 98% or so black.
There is indeed interracial marriage today, but not in the slightest at the rampant level predicted by the Plain Truth magazine as being the “inevitable result” of school and social integration. Here in the Deep South where I live now I see mixed couples at the store on occasion (probably even more than I ever saw in Michigan, which never had legal segregation), and quite a few white grandparents pushing shopping carts with multi-racial grandchildren. But of course, there were multiracial children clear back in pre-Civil War days! I certainly wouldn’t call the phenomenon an “epidemic” as had been implied by the Plain Truth back in the 1960s.
And of course the Second Coming has not yet happened.
I am personally convinced that there still is going to be a Wonderful World Tomorrow someday, with Peace on Earth. But I have no idea whether it will be in 25 years, 100 years…or a whole lot more.
What I do know is What it Won’t Be Like.
It won’t be some supernaturally-enforced Whitopia.
Armstrong’s speculations were ultimately just as wild-eyed and just as fanciful as one of Wolverton’s fictional tales of The End–for indeed, Basil did envision in his Brain Bats story…the Zombie Apocalypse!