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

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

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

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


Faith in the Fight tells 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 Fight argues 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 Fight encourages 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.


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 of modernizing societies and their stunning capacities to produce and destroy combined with military leaders' equally stunning unwillingness or inability to adjust antiquated tactics to the industrialized violence gave the war its body count: an appalling 8 million dead among the combatants. This was the Great War.

The United States came late to the war, though U.S. citizens were involved in the fighting from the beginning. President Woodrow Wilson waited two years and eight months to ask Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, and he did so with scant capacity to back up the declaration. in 1917, the United States military could claim approximately 200,000 professional soldiers in the regular army and the National Guard combined, and a shipping capacity insufficient to transport a substantial fighting force to France. These facts struck little fear in the hearts of German leaders and inspired little more confidence in America's erstwhile allies. But between April 6, 1917 and November 11, 1918, the United States mobilized four million young men for war service. Two million of these newly minted citizen soldiers and tens of thousands of male and female support service volunteers crossed the Atlantic to fight alongside the French and English. They fought and died in places whose names they believed would be etched forever in American memory: Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Cantigny, St. Mihiel, Fismes, the Argonne Forest.

This is a study of the faith of these American soldiers and war workers as they prepared for and fought the Great War. It is an attempt to describe a moment in America's religious history when cultural and religious currents, fueled by concerns about the nation's future, gave rise to a military impulse suffused with, and framed by, Christianity. Following this impulse, Americans served and fought and died. This book argues that as . . .

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