This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bluffton College and WWI COs

    Major Walter Guest Kellogg’s World War I memoir,  The Conscientious Objector (1919) (Boni and Liveright, New York, New York, P. 141), is greatly informative, if not highly flattering, reading for those Anabaptists continuing to hold to a Pacifist idealism.  Very intelligently, Kellogg examines the dilemma of the wartime conscientious objector and the necessary conflict with the state needing to field armies of soldiers, “Numerically, the problem indeed is of small importance; as a matter of principle it is of great importance.  The problem is to be fair to the minority without thereby being unfair to the majority.  A sovereign government must not oppress the honest objector nor, assuredly, should it grant him such special privileges that it thereby discriminates against its patriotic soldiery,” (Kellogg, p. 6). 
    Kellogg is the military appointment as Chairman of the Board of Inquiry who reviewed the status of conscientious objectors.  Admittedly, it is not exactly clear as to how one would be summoned before the board, but Kellogg did interview hundreds of CO s, both religious and non-religious, of all manners of idealism.  Regrettably, it is clear that Kellogg came away from this experience feeling that especially of the Anabaptists (he lumps Mennonites, Amish, Brethren and Hutterite together into one solid group), that we are serious in our faith, and legitimate in our pacifist claims, but all in all, not very useful or even helpful citizens.  Of the Mennonites, he reflects, “These men knew their Bibles.  They had read in the Testaments daily, or almost daily, they testified, for a long period of years.  They did not read so much for the story of it as they read it for a guide which, in all things, was to govern their conduct.  They knew it narrowly, unintelligently, but they knew it.  An they knew nothing else.”  Nor would he be the last one to make certain insinuations, “Not infrequently it transpired that, prior to his induction into service, an objector had been employed in some shipbuilding yard or munition plant, where he had received large wages and where, in the shape of torpedo boats or shrapnel, he had directly contributed toward the war.  His unwillingness to serve in the Army was undoubtedly due to the fact that he had been taken from a job which paid five dollars or more a day and put into service at thirty dollars per month,” (Kellogg, p. 60-61).  Kellogg also relates numerous incidents where Mennonites and Hutterites asked to be stationed close to their homes, which clearly went against the spirit of the CO status.  Part of his denigration of the Mennonites personally was due to his feeling that Mennonites were not so much unpatriotic as they were self-obsessed and more or less ignorant of the world.  He gets pretty blunt -- “It is difficult to realize that we have among our citizenry a class of men who are so intellectually inferior and so unworthy to assume its burdens and its responsibilities… They are good tillers of the soil; they are, doubtless, according to their lights, good Christians, but they are essentially a type of Americans of which American cannot be proud,” (p. 41).  Of the Quakers, on the other hand, he says, “The spirit of the Friends, though we may attribute it to an inherent narrowness, is yet a brave spirit, prompted by a genuine intelligence and backed by a fine sincerity,” (Kellogg, p. 43).
    Discouragingly, one sees where the actions of a few all too often called the values of their entire culture and religious affiliates into question and made all Anabaptists look bad.  He records that the Camp Dodge, Iowa, newspaper, The Camp Dodger, contained the following item in its January 4, 1919, edition: 
    “His religion, which would not permit him to wear the uniform of a soldier, went back on Priv. Joshua A. Hoffer, Bridgewater, S.D., when he was discharged from the Army last week.
  “Hoffer, who is a Mennonite and maintained that he was a conscientious objector to military service, refused to wear the uniform after he was inducted.  No arguments could batter down his religious scruples on this score and all the time he was in the service he wore his civilian clothing and was assigned to noncombatant duties.
“Evidently Hoffer admired the men around him who wore the uniform, and when he was discharged he hied himself to Dodge City and purchased a classy uniform to show the folks at home how he looked as a ‘soldier.’ His religion gave way to pride in his personal appearance and his conscientious scruples gave way to his vanity,” (Kellogg, p. 92).
    Distressingly, of the scriptures quoted to support the pacifist stance, the whole point of being a positive witness before the world seems to have been too often lost.
    Not all Mennonites come across poorly in Kellogg’s recollection.  Generally, while he keen that those who truly object to carrying a gun in defense of their homeland based on long-established, and consistently held and pursued religious ideals should be free to honour the dictates of their consciences, yet such persons should be willing to at least work to mitigate the sufferings of war (whereby the Quakers earned so much more respect from him), or to serve in other ways.  President Mosiman of Bluffton College  both earned Kellogg’s respect, and I believe his appreciation, “The admirable tone of [Mosiman’s] letter seems to have been little heeded by the Mennonites,” (Kellogg, p. 97).
    The letter in question was written by Mosiman in response to letters from Mennonites at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia, seeking guidance as to what level of cooperation with the Army was appropriate:
    “It is impossible for me to tell you what to do.  This is a matter of conscience and it is your conscience that must decide and not mine.  I fear that many of our boys have only got themselves into trouble by much well meant advice…
    “Personally, I feel that in this time of war every citizen owes his country some service.  I feel that it is up to the conscientious objector to do more in the service that he undertakes than the average soldier.  I might add that almost all the boys that have gone out from Bluffton College are in the hospital service.  My advice to them was that they should prove themselves worthy of their country.  They have, on the whole, received splendid treatment and have done good work in the hospital.  Of course, I cannot say that you shall do the same, if your conscience does not permit… No Mennonite has a right to exemption as a Mennonite, but only as a conscientious objector…
   “I hate war as much as any one.  But I have seen the menace of German militarism from two and a half years’ residence in Germany, and I have trembled when I saw it.  I have exclaimed, ‘What will happen if the Beast should ever break loose?’  America did not want this war.  The Mennonites who came to this country to escape war, because they hated it, wanted it least of all.  Not to fight has been bred into us.  But not that we should not love our country… So there can be no thought in the choice of service that would take us away from danger.  Nor should there be hair-splitting about wearing the uniform and such things,” (Kellogg, p. 96-97).

   Three observations stand out from this engagement of Kellogg’s work, first that it is easy for Mennonites to forget just how different our world and cultural understanding are from that of the greater West (as part of his job, Kellogg researched and shares how the question of pacifism was handled in ancient Rome, France, Britain, and Canada, as well as the United States).  Second, that we need to be aware of our actions and attitudes.  Even if we do the right thing with the right heart and attitude, we can often do inestimable damage to both our reputations and the cause of Christ if we do not also take into consideration how others will see our actions.  Finally, from the archives, we have numerous letters from young Mennonites writing to my great-great grandfather, J.C. Wall, writing to him as teacher and church officer to instruct them as to how to handle their situation relative the army.  The point is that Kellogg observes a somewhat unfair split between those Mennonites who like the Quakers have educated themselves and are able to apply reason to the understanding of the promptings of their conscience, and those who are willing to ignore the training of the intellect so as to be able to “give a reason to everyone who asks after the hope that is in you.”  By the time the young men were in contact with Mosiman asking for instruction and understanding, they were already well into their situation.  Those contacts and discussions should have happened well before the war occurred.  For this reason, programs such as Sunday School and religious courses should be taken a lot more seriously by both the students and the teachers.

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