The United States is back at war—that didn’t take very long. One might argue we never really stopped fighting, or, frankly, that the country has been in a perpetual state of war since World War II. Religious as well as the more generic popular responses to America’s various wars often boils down to a tension between revulsion and obligation. Not surprisingly, that dualism relates directly to the simple formula presidents have used over the years (and through every war) to justify military actions in strategic and moral terms. The threats change—fascism, communism, terrorism—as do the locations, but the moral rationale rarely does.
Perry Bush has set himself a daunting task: to tell the story of Mennonite pacifism from World War I through Vietnam. Drastic theological shifts, the expansion of denominational bureaucracies in response to wartime pressures, the experiences of individual draftees: all are part of this complex narrative.
Why are wars so common given that they are so destructive? When they are so rarely won? When they are so often fought for reasons that turn out to be lies? When they invariably bring out the worst in human brutality? How do individuals and societies recover from such destruction and mendacity?
Part of the fabric of public life in America during the post–World War II years, perhaps the cross-stitch that held the symbolic boundaries in place, was anticommunism. Most mainline church editors were part of it.
I imagine it like this. We put up signs all over the Northeast Kingdom, that region of Vermont in which my neighbors and I continue to enjoy the distinction of being outnumbered by Holstein cows. The signs invite anyone with a chainsaw, and especially those who make a living with one, to come to a Monday sunrise service to have their saws blessed.