Peace and War (Part III)

Debate among American Protestant churchmen in 1940–41 on the question of U.S. intervention in the war was intense and at times bitter. But Pearl Harbor cut it short. Pacifism then receded, though not completely. Yet it was not replaced by the fervor of a holy crusade.

The stopping of Hitler seemed to many a more clear-cut and vindicable war motive than the Kaiser’s defeat. But whereas The Christian Century responded to America’s entry into World War I with enthusiastic support of what it felt to be a just and virtually holy war, it reacted to the second intervention as “an unnecessary necessity.” It would now stand dubiously with its country though it had opposed the course by which the administration “was taking us into a war which was not our war.” The nation had chosen the way of “doubtful morality.” Even at the moment of Japan’s treacherous attack, the United States was “engaged in an undeclared war” (Dec. 17, 1941, pp. 1565 f.).

Before Pearl Harbor, Charles Clayton Morrison had pronounced himself an agnostic on the question of absolute pacifism (Dec. 12, 1941, p. 1536), and with war’s arrival the Century was quick to point out that both pacifist and nonpacifist were “involved in guilt” because national solidarity prevented the escape of cither from the war. The soldier kills and the pacifist leaves the treasures and destiny of the community to be preserved by others. When war comes, the citizen faces three questions,

“and the question of righteousness is not among them: Do I want my country to live? Do I want its independence preserved? Am I willing to do the monstrous evil which war requires in order to maintain the power upon which the independence of my country now depends?”

These questions “define ...

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