Friday, November 5, 2010

"With God on our side..."

Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, warned that "Our task should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by claiming God's blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices—saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, we should pray and worry earnestly whether we are on God's side."

Standpoint gives us a lecture by Michael Burleigh, author of The Third Reich: A New History, Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror, and Moral Combat: A History of World War II, among others. The lecture is given the title "Is God on Our Side? Morality in World War Two," in which he discusses various aspects of the uses of religion in that war.  Excerpts:
.... The Old Testament presumption that God was on one's side was universal during the Second World War, although the churches toned down the sort of militancy they had espoused in 1914-18. Just consider Churchill's account of divine service aboard HMS Prince of Wales on August 10, 1941, where he and Roosevelt agreed the Atlantic Charter. ....

...[H]ere is what he wrote about the service: "I chose the hymns myself — For those in Peril on the Sea and Onward Christian Soldiers. We ended with O God, Our Help in Ages Past, which Macaulay reminds us the Ironsides chanted as they bore John Hampden's body to the grave. Every word seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live." Similarly, most of us know about the variant communiqué Eisenhower carried in his wallet on June 5, 1944, the unread one admitting blame for the failure of the D-Day landings. Few can probably recall the wording of the D-Day Prayer which the Episcopalian President Roosevelt broadcast as the invasion got under way: "Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavour, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilisation, and to set free a suffering humanity...With thy blessing we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances." ....

The third element of the Grand Alliance, the Soviet Union, was forced by necessity to abandon militant atheism and to allow a deeply nationalist Orthodox Church some slack as part of the drive to mobilise Russia's resources. It is well known, for example, that the Dmitri Donskoi monastery raised funds for a tank brigade, but maybe less familiar that the last issue of Bezbozhnik, the paper of the League of the Militant Godless, was devoted to denouncing Nazi persecution of the Protestant and Catholic Churches. Bezbozhnik disappeared on the grounds of "paper shortages." ....

Every German soldier (except for the SS) had "Gott mit uns" inscribed on his belt buckle. Himmler preferred his men to be God-believing for without belief there could be no fanaticism, while atheism would elide Nazism with communism in ways that were politically unhelpful.

The regime grew out of a political movement which had significantly mobilised north German Protestants, despite its leader being an Austrian lapsed Catholic who had become a German citizen only in 1932. That is not to say there were not Catholic Nazis, but merely that the latter were more heavily invested in Weimar through the Centre Party, which was vital to all the Republic's coalitions. Popes Pius XI and XII deplored all forms of totalitarianism and practised neutrality in wartime, with a pronounced tilt to the Allied side as Nazi barbarity became unmistakable.

Much of the Nazi movement's domestic political pitch derived from its claim to be remoralising German society after the decadent Weimar Republic. Hitler repeatedly claimed to be "doing the Lord's work" or to see God's Will in his own actions. In fact, like communists, the Nazis deified an historical mechanism, in their case pitiless racialism rather than dialectical materialism. This was camouflaged in a redemptive national myth, with Hitler, rather than a saviour social class, at the centre of an idolatrous Führer cult. Although the Nazis gave full vent to anticlericalism, they were also certain that sooner rather than later science would triumph and abstained from physically wiping the churches out. None of which should excuse clergy from both major German denominations for blessing, from afar or in the field, the invasion of the Soviet Union as a crusade against godless Bolshevism, a task made easier by Hitler's restoration of religious institutions in the occupied territories. .... (more)
Is God on Our Side? Morality in World War Two | Standpoint

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