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Faith in the Fight

Faith in the Fight: Religion and the American Soldier in the Great War

Jonathan H. Ebel
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 272
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    Faith in the Fight
    Book Description:

    Faith in the Fighttells a story of religion, soldiering, suffering, and death in the Great War. Recovering the thoughts and experiences of American troops, nurses, and aid workers through their letters, diaries, and memoirs, Jonathan Ebel describes how religion--primarily Christianity--encouraged these young men and women to fight and die, sustained them through war's chaos, and shaped their responses to the war's aftermath. The book reveals the surprising frequency with which Americans who fought viewed the war as a religious challenge that could lead to individual and national redemption. Believing in a "Christianity of the sword," these Americans responded to the war by reasserting their religious faith and proclaiming America God-chosen and righteous in its mission. And while the war sometimes challenged these beliefs, it did not fundamentally alter them.

    Revising the conventional view that the war was universally disillusioning,Faith in the Fightargues that the war in fact strengthened the religious beliefs of the Americans who fought, and that it helped spark a religiously charged revival of many prewar orthodoxies during a postwar period marked by race riots, labor wars, communist witch hunts, and gender struggles. For many Americans, Ebel argues, the postwar period was actually one of "reillusionment."

    Demonstrating the deep connections between Christianity and Americans' experience of the First World War,Faith in the Fightencourages us to examine the religious dimensions of America's wars, past and present, and to work toward a deeper understanding of religion and violence in American history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3500-3
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Between August 2, 1914 and November 11, 1918, European powers waged a war of then unprecedented scale and lethality. Soldiers from the warring nations and their proxies battled each other on three continents, across vast expanses of ocean, and, thanks to technological advances of the preceding decade, in the skies as well. An assassination in Sarajevo started the war. The failure of a tightly choreographed German plan to disable the French military and the subsequent entrenchment of hostile armies along a jagged line stretching from the North Sea south to the Swiss Alps produced the war’s Western Front. The involvement...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Redemption through War
    (pp. 21-53)

    Edwin Austin Abbey II was an American soldier who never fought under the American flag. War broke out in Europe in August of Abbey’s twenty-sixth year. Some American men and women joined European armies and their auxiliaries as quickly as they could, but Abbey did not rush to the fight. Through the spring and summer of 1915, he was busy, far from his parents’ home in Philadelphia, “superintending the construction of the bridge at Shaw’s Creek” in Ontario, Canada.¹ Abbey often took time, sitting at his desk in the “engineers’ shack” to ponder the world situation, America’s relationship to it,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Chance the Man-Angel and the Combat Numinous
    (pp. 54-75)

    This chapter examines two kinds of reflections on combat common among soldiers and war workers. The first type consists of attempts to answer the question of design in a world where devastating violence shattered some and not others. The second—touched upon in the previous chapter—includes descriptions of battle as invigorating and revelatory. Theories of battlefield order and beliefs in battlefield redemption are linked, I will argue, by the Great War’s diminution of the individual—by its myriad, often devastating, assertions that individuals were not in control. American soldiers and war workers could have found in this wartime catechesis...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Suffering, Death, and Salvation
    (pp. 76-104)

    Death in war is different from death as most will encounter it. War brings particularly violent deaths to men and women who are relatively young, enhancing the awfulness, the tragedy, and the sense of loss felt by family and friends. War shatters healthy bodies, sometimes beyond recognition. Yet in the experiences and the imaginations of both those who have fought wars and those who have translated war experiences into cultural memory, these very same qualities of war death—the violence, the youth of its victims—enhance its glory, beauty, and meaning. War and stories of war would be far less...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Christ’s Cause, Pharaoh’s Army
    (pp. 105-126)

    African American men and women fought a different war than their white counterparts. In addition to the German enemy they faced in the fields of France, black soldiers and war workers were fighting an American enemy every bit as vicious and far more deeply entrenched. For African American soldiers and war workers, the Great War was a two-fronted war. Every military skill that a black soldier learned, every box that a black stevedore lifted, every battle that a black unit fought, every black soldier who was wounded or killed, every body disinterred and reburied by a black laborer was significant...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Ideal Women in an Ideal War
    (pp. 127-144)

    Lady Randolph Churchill, the American-born mother of Winston Churchill, knew something about war. Born in 1854 to Brooklyn-based financier Leonard Jerome and his wife Clarissa, Jennie Jerome lived through the tumult of the American Civil War before her mother moved her to Paris in 1867.¹ Later in life, she witnessed first-hand England’s mobilization for the Great War and likely heard stories of combat from her son, then serving as the First Lord of the British Admiralty, and from countless others. In the spring of 1916, Lady Churchill sat down with a “representative of theNew York Times” to share with...

  10. CHAPTER SIX “There Are No Dead”
    (pp. 145-167)

    There were dead. One hundred and fifteen thousand American soldiers lost to combat, injury, and illness. There were dead and there was death enough to sicken and sadden comrades, to break hearts, to dash dreams. And there were the living, left for a day or a lifetime to grieve, to fight on, to reflect on what had become of the dead.

    Soldiers’ understandings of the afterlife are important as intellectual artifacts of a vibrant religious culture and as evidence of the strain and grief poured out upon young men and women by war. This strain is, perhaps, reflected in Quincy...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN “The Same Cross in Peace”: The American Legion, the Ongoing War, and American Reillusionment
    (pp. 168-190)

    November 11, 1918 brought the end of the Great War. By the terms of the Armistice, the conflict among armies ended at 11 a.m. There was no dramatic, cathartic breakthrough and drive to Berlin. There was no rout. There was German fear that both were imminent, and that was sufficient. American troops on the front celebrated with their wearier French and British allies. Many soldiers in the rear areas felt cheated. Indeed, many at the front who had hoped for a more decisive victory over German militarism felt cheated as well. On the Sunday after the guns went quiet, the...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 191-198)

    In the course of ninety years, the events and figures of the Great War have been almost completely wiped from American memory. By the time this book is published, the last living veteran of the American Expeditionary Force will likely be dead. There will be precious few men and women alive who remember wishing a Doughboy well, waiting for letters from France, and either rejoicing at a soldier’s return or mourning his death, and facing life without a husband, a brother, a father, a friend. In cruel defiance of bold proclamations from soldiers,The Stars and Stripes, and from the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 199-234)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 235-248)
  15. Index
    (pp. 249-253)