Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
God and Uncle Sam

God and Uncle Sam: Religion and America's Armed Forces in World War II

Michael Snape
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 744
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    God and Uncle Sam
    Book Description:

    America's armed forces played a critical part in the defeat of Hitler's Germany and made by far the biggest contribution to the Allied defeat of Japan. In the US, military veterans of World War II are widely revered as the foremost representatives of 'the greatest generation', a generation that vanquished fascism in Europe and the Far East, faced down the threat of communism during the Cold War, and achieved unprecedented levels of prosperity and social mobility in their own society. Elsewhere, America's service men and women are often remembered more ambivalently for their material abundance, their hedonism, and even their rapacity. God and Uncle Sam shows that both perspectives are problematic: America's armed forces were the products of one of the most diverse and dynamic religious cultures in the western world and were the largest ever to be raised by a professedly religious society. Despite constitutional constraints, a pre-war 'religious depression', and the myriad pitfalls of war, religion played a crucial role in helping more than sixteen million uniformed Americans through the ordeal of World War II, a fact that had profound and far-reaching implications for the religious development of post-war America. This timely and authoritative book draws on meticulous research in US archives and is informed by contemporary films, photographs, posters, and sound recordings. MICHAEL SNAPE is Michael Ramsey Professor of Anglican Studies at Durham University.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-485-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xv)
  5. Note on Spelling
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Chronology
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-46)

    So wrote Tom Brokaw, NBC journalist and broadcaster, in the first of three hugely successful paeans of praise to ‘the greatest generation’.² Appealing to the ‘simple, shining legend of the Good War’,³ and to its sense of national unity and purpose undimmed by the doubts and traumas of Vietnam and even Korea, here Brokaw firmly identified a strong religious faith as one of the four distinguishing virtues of the peerless generation born around 1920, namely ‘personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith’.⁴ Captured – with a touch of irony – in the title of Studs Terkel’s pioneering oral historyThe Good War(1984)...

  9. Chapter One Chaplains and Chaplaincy
    (pp. 47-137)

    Despite the long history of American military chaplaincy, World War II marked its emergence as the paramount provider of religious and pastoral care for the US Army and the US Navy. Prior to this, army chaplains in particular had faced strong and persistent competition from comparatively well-resourced civilian agencies, most notably the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Even if this competition could be ostensibly supportive and well-intentioned, only on the Western Front during the last year of World War I was a working system hammered out that placed chaplains at the centre of religious provision for the American soldier. Although...

  10. Chapter Two Religion and American Military Culture
    (pp. 138-243)

    As we have seen, a greatly enhanced form of military chaplaincy formed the centrepiece of religious provision for American service men and women in World War II. However, and although it seems hard to dispute Doris L. Bergen’s assertion that ‘World War II marked the high point of the status of military chaplains in the United States’,¹ it must be borne in mind that religious support went much further than formal military chaplaincy. This chapter will show that the American armed forces were, like American society in general, culturally and historically predisposed to support religion, and that this orientation had...

  11. Plates
    (pp. None)
  12. Chapter Three The Faithful in Arms
    (pp. 244-316)

    In the previous chapters, we have seen how religious life in America’s armed forces in World War II was shaped and influenced by their chaplaincy systems, by their commanders, traditions and institutional cultures, by political imperatives surrounding the draft, and by a plethora of concerned civilian organisations. We now turn to the sixteen million men and women who served during the war, the overwhelming majority of whom were not military professionals and whose wartime religious outlook and experience owed at least as much to their civilian backgrounds as to the conditions of service life. Consequently, this chapter shows how key...

  13. Chapter Four Foxhole Religion and Wartime Faith
    (pp. 317-395)

    In previous chapters we have examined chaplaincy provision, the institutional strength of religion in America’s armed forces, and the interplay of civilian religious tendencies and habits with the tenor and circumstances of military life. In this chapter, we look more closely at the effects of the threat, experience and aftermath of combat on religious belief and behaviour. Inevitably, we focus on the much-vaunted phenomenon of ‘foxhole religion’, locating it in the context of a national wartime culture of prayer and of other, more service-specific stimulants to religious belief and practice. We also examine how the perils of World War II...

  14. Chapter Five Global Encounters
    (pp. 396-510)

    In November 1943, a Lutheran American army chaplain, Israel Yost, baptised seven Japanese-American soldiers in a ceremony in southern Italy. As Yost remembered:

    This was a unique event: it took place in an Italian Roman Catholic church converted for the time into an American aid station; the pastor was a German American and the new believers were Japanese Americans; one of the witnesses, Sergeant Akinaka, was a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon); the other witness, Doc Kometani, told the converts that this was the most important decision they had ever made.… That evening two of the...

  15. Plates
    (pp. None)
  16. Chapter Six Religion, War and Morality
    (pp. 511-590)

    Chaplains and other interested parties could find much to reassure them concerning the religious state of the American serviceman or woman. Atheists were rare (even non-existent in military cemeteries) and, quite apart from combat and other experiences, the American military environment seemed to promote a greater religious consciousness. Furthermore, and in contrast to the brutal example set by other armed forces, America’s soldiers and sailors could be admirable exponents of the Golden Rule, and even of the Christian missionary impulse, among Allied, liberated and even enemy civilians. Nevertheless, and as the experience of World War I had recently shown, military...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 591-600)

    Ten years after the end of World War II, the Jewish theologian and sociologist Will Herberg publishedProtestant–Catholic–Jew, a seminal study of religion in contemporary America. As Herberg saw it, and although there had been no federal census of religious bodies since 1936, there was every indication that organised religion was booming by the mid-1950s. ‘That there has in recent years been an upswing of religion in the United States can hardly be doubted’, he wrote, ‘the evidence is diverse, converging, and unequivocal beyond all possibilities of error.’¹ With Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism now functioning as ‘equi-legitimate’ expressions...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 601-656)
    (pp. 657-688)
  20. Index
    (pp. 689-704)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 705-705)