The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (4. What the War cost)

[I am posting rough drafts of the chapters from a book I am writing about World War II and its moral legacy. My hope in posting these chapters is that I might receive helpful counsel. So, please, read the chapters and let me know what you think. All comments, questions, and challenges are welcome and will be most useful as I revise the chapters this winter and spring.]

4. What the War cost

Ted Grimsrud —12/31/10

Death and destruction

In the popular story in the United States about World War II, we hear almost exclusively about the positive elements of the War—how we totally defeated the Nazi and Japanese threats, how the United States finally became a committed member of the international community, how the American economy kicked into full gear and lead the way to this decisive victory for democracy and the American way of life.

We may question this story on three levels. First, directly in relation to the popular story—did the War actually accomplish these positive things in such an unambiguous way? Simply to mention one issue—we tend not to realize just how small a role the United States and Britain actually played in defeating Nazi Germany. At least three-quarters of all German casualties came at the hands of the Soviet Union. The Nazi defeat was, if anything, a victory for totalitarian Communism not democracy.

On a different level, what about the aftermath of the War? Have the fruits of the American victory in World War II been as positive as the popular story would have us think? Part Two of this book will provide evidence for questioning just how unambiguously positive the longer-term outcome of the War has been for the United States. Our victory pushed us in the direction of embracing a role of the world’s greatest superpower. That embrace has pretty clearly contradicted the stated purposes of our involvement in World War II—self-determination and disarmament everywhere in the world.

We also would do well to consider a kind of cost/benefit analysis. Certainly, World War II accomplished many positive outcomes. It was beneficial—both in terms of the negative task of defeating these powerful aggressor states, Japan and Germany, and in terms of the positive task of expanding the role of the world’s pioneer democratic society, the United States. And, for Americans themselves, the War was mostly a fairly positive experience. Our economy expanded tremendously, decisively bringing the Great Depression to an end. Masses of people were put to work, many of whom were able to enhance their social and economic status immensely. The war effort fed directly into the tremendous expansion of higher education, of membership in labor unions, and of church membership. Continue reading “The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (4. What the War cost)”

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The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (3. Jus in bello)

[I am posting rough drafts of the chapters from a book I am writing about World War II and its moral legacy. My hope in posting these chapters is that I might receive helpful counsel. So, please, read the chapters and let me know what you think. All comments, questions, and challenges are welcome and will be most useful as I revise the chapters this winter and spring.]

3. Jus in bello: The conduct of the war

Ted Grimsrud —12/30/10

Jus in bello criteria

In moral reflection on warfare in the western tradition, generally analysis is broken into two general categories. Political philosopher Michael Walzer describes these categories as follows: “War is always judged twice, first with reference to the reasons states have for fighting, secondly with reference to the means they adopt. The first kind of judgment is adjectival in character: we say that a particular war is just or unjust. The second is adverbial: we say that the war is being fought justly or unjustly. Medieval writers made the difference a matter of prepositions, distinguishing jus ad bellum, the justice of war, from jus in bello, justice in war….Jus ad bellum requires us to make judgments about aggression and self-defense; jus in bello about the observance or violation of the customary and positive rules of engagement.”[1]

In chapter two, I looked at the rationale for the U. S. entering the War, the jus ad bellum. I concluded that the basic criteria of “just cause” may arguably be seen as having been met. In the European War, the violence of Nazi Germany provided several bases for warfare being the appropriate response: “an injustice demanding reparation,” “offense committed against innocent third parties,” and “moral guilt demanding punishment,” among others.[2] In the Asian War, Japan provided the key basis for the response of war, “an aggression demanding reparation.”

I did suggest that the American mythology of World War II, established at the very beginning of the U.S. formal entry in the War with Franklin Roosevelt’s “day of infamy” speech, masks numerous complicating factors that made the “just cause” bases for America joining the War a bit more complicated than the mythology of the “good war” would admit.

The mythology asserts (not inaccurately) that the U. S. had more legitimate causes for going to war in World War II than probably any other war. However, this assertion may actually be making more a statement about the lack of justifiability in going to war in the other cases than the clear justness of entering this particular war. That being said, though, I am willing to accept that as far as the just war tradition goes, even though America’s entry into World War II does not match up perfectly with the traditional criteria—the most obvious tension lies with the crucial criterion of “war must be a last resort”—we do not do violence to just war thought to accept that United States entry into World War II was “just.” Continue reading “The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (3. Jus in bello)”

Word and Deed: The Strange Case of John Howard Yoder

Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the death of the Christian theologian who has influenced my thinking more than any other—John Howard Yoder. Yoder’s published writings, beginning with The Politics of Jesus down through the recently published posthumous collection, The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking have provided the intellectual bases for my pacifism as well as many other of my core convictions. However, his legacy is seriously tainted by allegations of sexual misconduct. So I am left with a puzzle—how to reconcile the theology that has helped me so much with practices that seem repugnant and that surely contradict that powerful theology. Here is a kind of tribute I wrote shortly after Yoder’s death that only briefly touches on this problem. I have continued to reflect on these issues and want to share a bit of my more recent thinking here.

Yoder’s books were the main catalyst in my wife Kathleen and me first seeking Mennonites out back in the 1970s. His presence at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary is what took us to northern Indiana as students in 1980. And our experience at AMBS was the main reason we decided to become Mennonites. Now, these past 30 years have seen a lot of stresses in our relationship with the Mennonite world. Still, our joining up with Mennonites has and continues to define so much in our lives—and it’s hard to imagine that happening without our encounter with Yoder’s writing.

My interest in and valuing of the Yoder published corpus remains strong. I recently co-edited A Pacifist Way of Knowing: John Howard Yoder’s Nonviolent Epistemology (Cascade Books, 2010), a collection of Yoder’s fairly obscure writing that touch on epistemology. I also published an article on this theme of epistemology a number of years ago that is not in the book. I have introduced myself at theology conferences as a “Yoderian,” and I probably still would, depending on the context. Continue reading “Word and Deed: The Strange Case of John Howard Yoder”

The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (2. Jus ad bellum)

[I am posting rough drafts of the chapters from a book I am writing about World War II and its moral legacy. My hope in posting these chapters is that I might receive helpful counsel. So, please, read the chapters and let me know what you think. All comments, questions, and challenges are welcome and will be most useful as I revise the chapters this winter and spring.]

2. Jus ad bellum: The reasons for war

Ted Grimsrud —12/29/10

The storm clouds gather

My father, Carl Grimsrud, graduated from high school in the tiny western Minnesota town of Hitterdahl in 1934. Those were challenging times. On a personal level, just days before high school graduation, Carl’s mother Dora died of cancer. The mid-1930s were the height of the Great Depression. Carl’s father, Carl, Sr., had served for years as a Lutheran pastor in rural congregations mainly made up of farmers whose economic depression actually dated back to the early 1920s and had only gotten worse and worse. Western Minnesota was at the northeastern edge of the Dust Bowl, environmental devastation that gave dramatic visual expression to the economic devastation shaking the Great Plains.

Lurking in the background, but surely in the consciousness of a socially aware person such as young Carl, deeply problematic global political dynamics were foreshadowing profound crises to come. In 1934, Adolf Hitler was in his second year of power in Germany, consolidating his National Socialist dictatorship. Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union was in the midst of government-imposed famine meant to consolidate its power over the Ukraine. Japan’s effort to expand its power in China was building into a full-scale attempt at military conquest. Continue reading “The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (2. Jus ad bellum)”

The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (1. Introduction)

[I am posting rough drafts of the chapters from a book I am writing about World War II and its moral legacy. My hope in posting these chapters is that I might receive helpful counsel. So, please, read the chapters and let me know what you think. All comments, questions, and challenges are welcome and will be most useful as I revise the chapters this winter and spring.]

1. Introduction

Ted Grimsrud—12/28/10

Why I have written this book

World War II was big, maybe the biggest thing ever.

Within the six years of what truly became a global conflict (or, maybe more accurately, a series of conflicts that encompassed the globe), as many as eighty million people were killed. That’s more than the entire population of most of the countries of the world. Many times more people had their lives profoundly traumatized. Countless millions were displaced. We simply have no way to measure or even to comprehend the scale of suffering and destruction the nations of the world unleashed not only onto each other as human beings but also on nature.

Yet, we have not even begun to take the measure of this extraordinary trauma. It’s impact remains present and alive throughout the world. It has shaped the morality of all subsequent generations. For many, especially in the world’s “one superpower,” the United States of America, World War II remains the moral touchstone for understanding the necessity and even moral “goodness” of military force.[1]

My own life, I imagine in typical ways for Americans of my generation, has been shaped by the War—though surely in ways that are fairly minimal in comparison with people from the parts of the world much more directly impacted by the War’s destructiveness. For me, for my generation of Americans, the War’s impact was more subtle—on one level fairly benign, on a deeper level quite morally problematic.

Both of my parents enlisted in the U.S. Army in order to contribute to the war effort. My father, Carl Grimsrud, enlisted in the National Guard in 1941. After Pearl Harbor, he was pressed into active duty. He was stationed in eastern Oregon to guard against a possible Japanese invasion and he met my mother, Betty Wagner. In time, Carl was shipped to the South Pacific where he spent three intense years—he was wounded, he killed, he suffered malaria, but he managed to survive, even to thrive. He received a battlefield commission and reached the rank of captain. As the Army demobilized, he was asked to stay in and make a career of the military, with the promise of further advancement. He said no, not because of any negative feelings about “the Service,” but because he had made a commitment to Betty to return to Oregon and establish a life together. While Carl served in combat, Betty worked as a military recruiter, gaining the rank of Sergeant prior to her discharge. Continue reading “The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (1. Introduction)”

Thinking Pacifism blog

Thinking Pacifism is a new attempt to find a place for reflection and conversation on pacifism, religious faith, and social transformation. I have another website (peacetheology.net) that serves as a repository on my more formal writing on these themes. The purpose of this new blog is more conversational. I hope at least once a week to write about some of my thoughts from the previous week. And I hope these writings will trigger some conversations. Please share your responses and questions.

Our fathers’ war

Several months ago, I embarked upon a big project of trying to make some sense of the moral impact of World War II on the United States. I have done quite a bit of reading, speaking, and writing so far—aided by the blessing of a sabbatical from my teaching responsibilities at Eastern Mennonite University. This lecture especially summarizes some of what I have been thinking about. Here is the link to the rough drafts of the chapters to this book.

One theme has arisen for me that I did not anticipate when I started. That is thinking a lot more about my own father’s involvement in this war and how that involvement might have had an impact on our relationship. I was the fourth of my parents’ five children, but the first and only son. On the surface, I can think of several ways the war shaped my life—I was named after a friend of my dad’s who died in combat during the war, my parents met each other because of the war, and the new medical technology that saved my life when I was born (blood transfusions) would likely not have been available had it not been for the war.

Something I had not really thought about until I started on my project, though, was the trauma the war inflicted on those who fought in it. It makes a lot of sense to imagine the terrible trauma on the people in the many parts of the world who endured the fighting first hand, and the trauma for those societies that poured heart and soul into the fight and lost, and the trauma for the loved ones of the millions upon millions who lost their lives in the war (including about 400,000 American soldiers).

But what about the soldiers who fought on the winning side, who returned home physically whole to a country largely unscathed by the conflict, and who went on to live successful lives? That is, what about people like my father? Continue reading “Our fathers’ war”