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In the Great War and After:
THE WAR, THE ARMY, AND THE CHURCHES
“The world must be made safe for democracy.” Convinced of that, President Woodrow Wilson stood before Congress on the evening of 2 April 1917 and delivered his war message. He asked the nation to “accept the status of belligerent which has . . . been thrust upon it . . . [and] to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire to terms and end the war.” Then he carefully delineated the idealistic objectives which he hoped his nation would achieve. He concluded: "To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.” 1
After receiving a standing ovation, the President made the trip back to the White House, and with the applause still ringing in his ears, he said to his Secretary, Joseph Tumulty, “My message today was a message of death for our young men. How strange it seems to applaud that." ? Four days later, he received more than applause; Congress gave him its declaration of war. Thus, Woodrow Wilson—barely re-elected five months earlier under the slogan: “He kept us out of war”-led his nation into the "war to end all wars." 3
On 6 April 1917 the United States was ill-prepared to fight in the “Great War.” Its industrial base was geared for peacetime rather than wartime requirements. Its military forces lacked the manpower and equipment to make a significant impact against those of the Central
See notes at end of chapter.
Powers. There were, for instance, only 213,557 troops at the disposal of the War Department; of that total 127,588 were in the Regular Army, 5,523 in the Philippine Scouts, and 80,446 in the National Guard. Nevertheless, with the dedication requested by the President, the nation enthusiastically mobilized for war. It rapidly established a wartime economy and increased its Armed Forces. Nineteen months later, on 11 November 1918, the Army had increased to 3,685,458 officers and men.
Though there were notable exceptions, the churches and their leaders yielded to the influence of Wilson's rhetoric and endorsed both the declaration of war and the war aims." The Episcopal Bishop of the Philippines, Charles H. Brent, who happened to be in London during April 1917, was the preacher at the service in St. Paul's Cathedral to celebrate America's entry into the war. Taking II Maccabees 13:13-15 for his text, he proclaimed:
We are here to consecrate human life to a vision in order that we may perform a task and achieve a victory. We, comrades in a common cause, have come together, like sturdy Judas and his fellow-patriots of ancient story, to commit our decision to the Lord, and to place ourselves in His hands before we pitch our camp and go forth to battle. It were a poor cause, and an unworthy cause, which we could not commit to God with complete confidence. Indeed, as Christians, it would be wicked to ally ourselves with any purpose that we could not take to God's House and ask for His blessing thereon. To-day we have this great confidence—not that our cause is God's in the sense of our winning Him to our position,
but in the sense that God has won us to His position. Having endorsed the declaration of war, Brent then lifted up the Wilsonian war objectives:
Our war to-day is that we may destroy war. . . . War is not a game. War is a wild beast that cannot be tamed by conferences and conventions, and the one thing to do with war is to hunt it to its death-and, please God, in this war we shall achieve our purpose.
That is, I say, the duty of democracy.®
Other churchmen made similar statements. In a letter to the General War-Time Commission of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, the Reverend Reinhold Niebuhr called attention to the “need of support by the churches of the democratic idealism represented in the policies of President Wilson.” ? Daniel A. Poling, who represented the United Society of Christian Endeavor and several other
interdenominational organizations in France during the conflict, said that no “cause since men fought to free the sepulchre of Christ, no tourney of kings, no search for a grail, has been so worthy as the cause in which these soldiers of Democracy go forth by land and sea to dare their best and all.” 8 To that cause the churches rallied. For that cause, about 2,000,000 “doughboys” crossed the Atlantic to fight in General John J. Pershing's American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.). Tragically, President Wilson's remark about his war message proved to be the grisly truth; it was a message of death for 106,378 American young men, including 23 chaplains. (Appendix 2)
WARTIME RELIGIOUS SERVICES AND MINISTRATIONS
During the three years and two months between America's entry into the Great War and the enactment of the National Defense Act of 4 June 1920, United States troops were stationed in many parts of the world, but mostly in the United States and Europe. They fought in Europe and Russia, and though the conflict with the Central Powers ended on 11 November 1918, it continued in Russia. For rather complicated diplomatic reasons, doughboys were stationed in the Murmansk-Archangel area from September 1918 to September 1919, and in Siberia from August 1918 to April 1920. In Northern Russia they first helped the Allies to cut off German supply lines and then fought the Bolsheviks. In Siberia, where they ostensibly went to aid about 50,000 Czechoslovakian troops to withdraw from Siberia via Vladivostock, their presence served to restrain Japanese imperialism in Eastern Siberia and Northern Manchuria and to encourage the Russian “Whites” against the Bolsheviks.
Wherever American troops were stationed, and for whatever purpose, they were accompanied by chaplains. Compared to its pre-war strength, the size of the chaplaincy during the war was massive. On the day of the United States' entry into the Great War, 74 chaplains were in the Regular Army; they were soon joined by 72 National Guard chaplains who were called to active duty with their units. By Armistice Day, 2,217 other clergymen had been commissioned as chaplains in some component of the Army." In spite of the ultimate wartime strength of the chaplaincy, however. there were numerous places where chaplains were in short supply. The Act of 25 May 1918, which authorized one chaplain for every 1,200 men, did not become law until
13 months after the declaration of war. At that time the number of chaplains increased at rapid rate, and about 150 joined Pershing's A.E.F. each month. On Armistice Day there were between 1,250 and 1,300 chaplains in France for more than 2,000,000 troops, but Bishop Charles H. Brent, whose appointment as “General Headquarters, A.E.F. Chaplain" Pershing had arranged in January 1918, said that the "very lowest computation” should have been 1,800.92 Brent was an old friend of Pershing who had baptized him and his family, confirmed the general and his wife into the Protestant Episcopal Church, and consoled him when Mrs. Pershing and three of their children died in a house fire. 13
The ministry of chaplains at camps and posts in the United States was much like that of chaplains who had served on many of those same installations in previous years. There were, however, more installations and more troops to serve. Moreover, for the first time since the Civil War, there were Jewish chaplains. A Jewish enlisted man said that wherever he was stationed-Camps Gordon and McClellan in the United States, in England, or in France—“the rabbi's tent or something like it, was there," and that he visited the tent regularly “to see friends from the old neighborhood, to make new friends, to read Jewish newspapers, to get some refreshments, and to talk with the rabbi.” During the 1917 high holy season of Rosh Hashanah, while he and other Jewish men stationed at Camp McClellan were feeling very homesick, the rabbi secured a nice room for services in an office building off post and arranged for Jewish families from Anniston, Alabama, to invite the men into their homes. The men participated in the services, saying the prayers and reading the Scriptures, and the chaplain gave the sermon. The families made the men feel at home. As a result, "it turned out to be one of the best Rosh Hashanahs ever.” 14
The same enlisted man reported that the Jewish chaplains “looked after us, and not just us Jew boys' but all the men.” He said that he left home “stirred by President Wilson's speeches and feeling very patriotic, but that when he arrived at Camp Gordon, he found that his "sergeant's attitude did not match the President's rhetoric” and made him “feel anything but patriotic”:
I was the only Jew in a company of 249 men, and the sergeant was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was big thenanti-Negro, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic. The sergeant singled me out and made me miserable, riding me and giving me more than my share of the dirty jobs. I took it for a while, but it made me
frustrated and angry. I can't recall a worse experience; just talking
One evening I vented my feelings to the chaplain, who listened
could do no wrong.
Some chaplains conducted interfaith services. On Easter Sunday 1917, two days after the declaration of war, Chaplain Joseph S. Loughran held a "Field Mass” on the parade grounds and, as a gesture of goodwill, arranged for an Episcopal chaplain to preach the sermon, a Lutheran chaplain to read the Scriptures, and a black chaplain to give the benediction. Loughran sang the Mass, and the regimental band played. Those who attended the service seemingly appreciated it, along with the "camaraderie of spirit,” but one week later Archbishop Patrick J. Hayes sent his representative to rebuke Loughran for violating one of the canons of the Catholic Church.18
On the Europe-bound transports the chaplains held services just as their predecessors had done on voyages to Cuba, the Philippines, and Veracruz, Mexico, but the threat of German submarine attack seemed to encourage larger attendance. Joyce Kilmer, the poet who was killed in France, wrote about the “spectacle” on the America's "main deck amidships every afternoon and evening”:
There could be seen a line of soldiers, as long as the mess-line,
altar resting on two nail kegs, Father Duffy said Mass.? On some transports there were several chaplains, and the troops were not the only ones to benefit from their services and ministrations. Chaplain Elzer De Jardins Tetreau wrote in his diary: “Services at 5:00 A.M. for Catholics on the port side of the ship. At 10:00 Episcopalian service of worship, Presbyterian chaplain spoke. Holy Communion. I attended both and came away helped.”
Once the chaplains arrived in France, they seldom enjoyed the luxury of attending anotheer chaplain's services. They found that there was a shortage of chaplains, that they had to conduct numerous services every week, and that they had to depend on each other if they were to provide religious ministrations for all the men of their units. At the A.E.F. Chaplain School, after a Catholic chaplain described