Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

God and Uncle Sam: Religion and America's Armed Forces in World War II

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

God and Uncle Sam: Religion and America's Armed Forces in World War II

Article excerpt

God and Uncle Sam: Religion and America's Armed Forces in World War II. By Michael Snape. (Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Boydell Press, 2015, Pp. xxiv, 704. $49.95.)

It is beyond question that crisis will often act as a catalyst to promote a shift in the religious beliefs and practices of the average individual. In his impressive work, God and Uncle Sam, Michael Snape argues for the same phenomenon more broadly for American society. The thesis of this volume is that World War II functioned as a change agent between the cultural tumult and religious upheaval of the inter-war years and the booming religiosity of the decade of the 1950s in the United States. Hence, World War II became a key moment in the history of American religion. Snape also chronicles how the millions of American "civilian soldiers" translated their pre-existing religious proclivities into military life and saw those beliefs and practices subsequently transformed by the war experience. Twelve thousand army and navy chaplains ministered to service personnel during World War II, the first war in which chaplains provided comprehensive pastoral care to American troops. The organization of these chaplains emerged through the trial and errors of World War I and enhanced the reputation of chaplains in the eyes of the American public. In chapter one, Snape paints World War II chaplaincy as a model of religious cooperation and a symbol of a Judeo-Christian national identity. This effort to depict a seamless inter-faith working relationship hid the animosities and tensions just under the surface between Roman Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Jews, conservatives and liberals. A common refrain in this book is that the Army was often more efficient than the Navy in its organization of religious support for service personnel and the chaplaincy was no exception. The chapter also includes a great description of the chaplain's role in combat.

Chapter two outlines the institutional emphasis of religion within the American military during World War II. The public ideal of the godly commander, oaths of enlistment incorporating religious language, and military graves marked with religious symbols are highlighted as just a few examples. The fact that dog tags indicated faith could prove to be a real problem for Jewish soldiers captured by the Nazis in Europe. This chapter features a great discussion of the religious culture of the service academies and the religious sentiments and reputation of some of the key World War II commanders including MacArthur, Patton and Eisenhower. Chapter three shows that the war was not a blank canvas upon which the religious beliefs of service personnel were painted. …

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