Harder Than War: Catholic Peacemaking in Twentieth-Century America

By Patricia McNeal | Go to book overview

2
Dorothy Day Mother of American Catholic Pacifism

PRIOR TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, pacifist in the United States was a term with a broad connotation and was applicable to anyone advocating international cooperation for peace. The definition narrowed with World War I and came to be "malevolently" applied to anyone who would not support even a "war to end war."1 The government further narrowed the definition in its selective service legislation to include only those opposed to "war in any form." It was this definition that provided the legal recognition of conscientious objection in the United States during World War II.

Among Roman Catholics the pacifism of the primitive Christian church, like other features of the radical Gospel, largely disappeared with the Age of Constantine. Only in the twentieth century did American Catholics rediscover this heritage in their attempt to address contemporary issues of war and peace. The first American Catholic to challenge the accepted just war teaching was Dorothy Day. Perhaps, because she was a convert to Catholicism, she did not initially confront the just war tradition or offer an intellectual critique; she merely proclaimed her pacifism.2

Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn Heights 8 November 1897 the daughter of John 1. Day, a sportswriter. Essentially a conservative, John Day attempted to combine respectability with journalism. The Days were an austere Scotch-Irish Presbyterian family and Dorothy found the coldness of their family life unsatisfying. "There was never any kissing in our family, and never a close embrace," she wrote years later. "There was only a firm and austere kiss from my mother every night. . . . We were like most Anglo-Saxons."3

Unable to embrace her parents, Day embraced the poor and the

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