Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
- Mark 13:5-8
“’It looks as though we were caught up in a little war,‘ I said. ‘Such things happen in outlying provinces but I never expected to see anything like it here. We always think that nothing will happen.’ She looked frightened and I did not want her to be afraid.”
- John P. Marquand, Thank You, Mr. Moto
The ‘here’ in the Marquand quote above is in Peking, China (now Beijing).
I do not write many book reports or quotes from novels, but this Mr. Moto was the last for me to read, second in the series of six books, having read the other five in 1995 when we lived in Washington state.
First the quote versus the Scripture. We look at World War II from our position 80 years later, and for those in the US, in an antiseptic environment of a nation that for 150 years, sort of, our wars have been somewhere else. Note: Jesus says in the Scriptures that we should not be alarmed with wars. Those will always be around. They are not necessarily a harbinger of End Times. The earthquakes and famines are only birth pains of the End Times. Yet, what can we learn from the setting of the book, Thank You, Mr. Moto?
The book was probably written in 1935 and was published in 1936. The Manchurian peninsula was attacked in 1931 and conquered by Japan in 1933 (when the truce was signed). There was little doubt that the Japanese would expand further, but the second Sino Japanese War did not officially begin until 1937. Even in 1936, the Mongols attacked China. Then adding to this confusion, the Chinese were having their own internal revolution. There was the army of Chang Kai-shek for the Nationalists, Mao Zedong for the Communists, and a few warlords whose allegiance might vary from time to time.
From our place in history, especially in the US, we read a simple story of Japanese expansion, and after World War II, the two Chinese factions fought in the vacuum left by the end of Japanese occupation. This is far from what happened. The odd phrase used by Jesus in this Scripture above of ‘Wars and Rumors of Wars’ is appropriate for the turmoil in China in the 1930s. If the focus is on the revolution, Japan’s preparation to attack toward Peking was a rumor of war. The Mongolian attack in 1936 might have been considered a rumor of war. From a World War II perspective, the revolution was the rumor of war as the two sides could not establish a unified front against the Japanese.
With this backdrop, we have a fictional story by John P. Marquand. His titled character, Mr. Moto, is never the protagonist of any of the six novels. The protagonist, in this case Tom Nelson (speaking in first person in the quote above), is usually an expatriate from the US living in China. In the course of doing business with the local Chinese, the protagonist gets in trouble. Suddenly, an agent for the Japanese government, working in China (Mr. Moto), appears to lend a hand and get the protagonist out of the jam he got himself into. Of course, Mr. Moto may also be the one who introduces the protagonist to the lovely American girl who is into something that she does not understand, in this case Miss Eleanor Joyce.
Marquand wrote one Mr. Moto mystery per year from 1934 to 1937, each published the following year. He skipped a couple of years, probably due to the constant changes in China due to the war, but the fifth mystery was written in 1940. It was scheduled to be published in 1941, in time for Christmas. When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, the publishers thought to pull the plug, but published the book in 1942 instead. Mr. Moto’s role was downplayed even further than usual, and he did not win in the end, instead being left holding the bag. This subtle change in Marquand’s formula made the difference. It took a while before the final book was published in the late 50s. By then, the anger toward an old enemy had subsided, but Marquand died in 1963 before any more stories could be written. Oddly, in the movie based on the last book, Mr. Moto was written out of the screen play entirely.
In the book that I just finished, the second of the series, Wu Lo Feng is the local warlord or a Communist sympathizer (never clear) who wants to conquer Peking prior to the Japanese attack, having worked out a truce with one of Mr. Moto’s rival agents, but one of a different political leaning. Prince Tung, a rich, but deposed royal family member, is a friend of Tom Nelson, our hero. Prince Tung supplies a Chinese mindset within the storyline. ‘General’ Wu has stolen items from Prince Tung to sell to Eleanor Joyce, who has no clue that the items are stolen. And so, the tangled web goes full circle. Being a formula style writer, you know Mr. Moto will save the day, sort of (rarely seen in much action), but you never know how. There is blood on Mr. Moto’s hands in the end, but only in conversation and only a hint of what might have happened. As Mr. Moto might say, “Everything is nice. It is very, very nice.”
The quote above from the novel says volumes about people of any age who do not live where the bombs are falling. You never expect it. When it is someone else’s war, we can dismiss it out of hand. Most Americans have no concept of the psychological change that happens as the bombs fall near them.
In traumatic events other than war, nearer to home, there is always that thought of it happening to someone else. It will be someone else’s home that is destroyed in the hurricane, flood, tornado, or wild fire. It will be the other guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was injured or killed in the auto accident. I have heard that people who get trapped in their cars in a flood, driving down roads that have been closed, suffer from the ‘Normalcy Syndrome.’ They think, “I’ve driven down this road a hundred times or more. I can do it again.”
What was the point Jesus made in this Scripture above? We are to anticipate. We are to be on guard. We are to be ready for what is coming.
Sadly, Jesus prophesied at the beginning of this quoted Scripture that many others will claim to be Jesus, returning to earth, and many will be deceived.
Why are we deceived so easily? We are looking in all the wrong places because simply believing and trusting someone who has not been seen in the flesh in nearly 2000 years is just too hard to do. Too many of us would take the bird in the hand versus the two in the bush.
I could talk about politics and how there are parallels today, without shots being fired, to what was happening in China 80 years ago, but my focus is on the Christian anticipation of Jesus’ return.
We need to study Scriptures, pray, and spend time with other believers, in church and in social gatherings. We need to know who Jesus is, so that when the time comes, we will know His Voice.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.