200 Years of United Methodism
An Illustrated History

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The War to End All War

Americans supported President Woodrow Wilson in his efforts to keep the United States out of the mud and moral muck in which Britain, France, and Germany had become mired after French troops halted Germany's drive toward Paris. This support for neutrality during the first years of World War I was based on the pacifism that washed over America between the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 and 1917 when Congress declared war on Germany. Poster by Mildred Coughlin published by the National War Council of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1917.But as soon as war was declared, a storm of patriotism swept over the land. Church papers criticized Quakers and other conscientious objectors to war. An Evangelical bishop declared, "He who is neutral in this country is a traitor: and he who is silent is disloyal." Sermons contrasted the just and noble cause of the Allies with the greedy and unholy ambition of Germany to conquer the world. Sauerkraut was renamed "Liberty cabbage," German measles became "Liberty measles," and even German Christmas legends and customs were considered unpatriotic.

The war became a holy crusade to end war, and Americans gloried in the idealistic notion that all-out fighting would make the world safe for democracy. One Methodist conference answered the question, "When will the war close?" by saying, "When Germany is whipped out of all semblances of militarism into Christian democracy!" Another conference, after declaring that "men in khaki and blue and white are filling up the measure of the sufferings of Christ," said, "But 'tis a morning storm, preluding a new day for man. And we are grateful for the honor of a part in this air-clearing tempest of war.''

Tempest of war there was, but the air had not been cleared by the time the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. Indeed, the seeds of a more devastating conflict were sown by that treaty, just as the seeds of disillusionment had been sown by the illusion that war could be overcome by war. But for the time being, Methodists and Evangelicals were too busy with their own crusades to notice early signs of disillusionment.

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