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It has been awhile since I have had the time or energy to write regarding my maternal grandfathers letters home from France during and after World War I but things have slowed down a little so I'll try my hand at a few of them now.

We are also at a time of year where the whole adventure begins. The first letter regarding World War I's effects on him and his family is dated March 31, 1918 and speaks of the draft, war bonds, and attempts by various entities and individuals to get him to go on speaking tours in support of the war. As you may recall from some of my previous diaries he was a gifted and award winning orator. By March 1918 he was out of college and beginning his first job as a teacher in the (I believe newly created) Public Speaking department at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

This letter is written home to his parents in Fairmount, Indiana from his new home in Crawfordsville.

Dear father and mother,

I am sitting in our combination study and bed room in our new home. It is a little past one o'clock of as beautiful an easter day as I have ever seen. We wish you could be here with us to spend the day. We have been in our new home since Thursday and are delighted with it.

The letter goes on to talk a little about their efforts in setting up their new home and then about tilling and gardening the half acre or so of land that comes with it. Apparently there was a milk thief in town. Anyone remember when the milk man delivered?

There is an "epidemic" of milk ticket stealing in town here, and people are growing restless under it. One puts out a .12 milk ticket for a quart of milk and some petty thief sneaks up and takes it out before the milk man arrives.
A little more about judging oratorical contests and then he gets into the meat of the letter.
Last Monday I received a letter from the State War Savings Committee asking me to spend the summer touring the state speaking in behalf of the War Savings Stamp movement. The committee offers to pay all of my expenses and a salary of $25.00 per week. Of course I felt it my duty to refuse, for in spite of the fact that one of the Richmond Friends churches the other day voted officially to buy $1000 worth of War Savings Stamps, I do not see how a person conscientiously opposed to war can buy or urge others to buy thrift stamps, when he knows that the money is to be spent for wars purposes. That is the first time in my life in which I have had to make a big sacrifice in order to do what was right. But I am stronger and happier for having made it. I have also been asked three times lately by the council of defense to go on speaking trips and have had to decline for the same reason (no pay was promised for these trips, however). You may be wondering why I consented to go on that speaking trip which Dr. Mackintosh asked me to make, so I'll explain that it was to have been in the interests of food conservation, which is in my view an entirely different matter from that of urging men to lend the government money with which to buy powder. Food conservation is a matter of keeping people from starving. I don't know what may happen if Dr. Mackintosh urges me someday to speak for the Liberty Loan, or to go somewhere to stir up hatred against the Germans.  If he forces me to a point where I shall have to tell him my view of war the only thing he can consistently do is to "fire" me. Whether he would or not I am not sure.
It is very interesting to read him working out the problem in his own head. Dr. Mackintosh was President of Wabash College from 1906 to 1926. Clearly he thought he was in a tenuous and job threatening situation but that he had to maintain the integrity of his conscience.

He goes on a bit with family matters but then returns to the issue of the war, war bonds, and its direct effect on the family.

Just a word about the coming liberty loan. I would not say a word to deter father from investing in a bond this time if he believes it his duty to help the cause. But I do want to call his attention to a fact or two before he has to face that question. My own conviction as to what my personal conduct must be is more certain than it was at Christmas time when I talked with you. I feel that I cannot participate in the war. So long as the draft law continues to exempt ministers I shall be safe from any attempt to force me into military service; of that you may rest assured. But there are other possibilities which we must face. First, altho' it is neither my duty nor wisdom on my part to go about expressing my views, yet with the increasing and insistent demand for war speakers it seem likely that my attitude will come to the attention of the "powers that be" before long. If it does, it may mean the loss of my job, and if I lose my job here on that account I couldn't get anything else other than day labor, and might need financial help before the game was through. Now comes the second point: what I should likely do in such an event would be to enlist in the Friends Reconstruction work as an active testimony of my belief.  If I did this Jean would be without any support from me, and I would not even have money to keep up my life insurance. Whereas if I should go to France my insurance must be kept up at any cost. So, my point is this, that if you save what little you can now you may have a chance to use it for the sake of a cause which I believe you will agree with me is as worthy as the war itself.

With much love from us both,


And as we know he did end up going to France as part of the American Friends Service Committee Relief and Reconstruction work and spending nearly a year there.

Quakers, members of the Society of Friends, believe that all are called as ministers to one another and not just a special few as is generally considered to be the case in most Christian denominations. Even in many denominations that separate out a specially trained person as Priest, Minister or Pastor there is the belief that we are each of us called to minister to one another with whatever gifts we possess. So when he speaks of the ministers exemption above that is what he is talking about. He was not ordained. However, even in the Society of Friends there are some that call a specific minister to lead their meeting and in others the person filling the role of Clerk of the Meeting often fills that role. Grandfather, later in life, was the longtime Clerk of the 57th Street Meeting near the University of Chicago where he taught. In other letters it becomes clear that, probably due to his speaking skills, he was sometimes called to give sermons as a fill in when the usual minister was on vacation.

America was very different prior to World War I in its attitude towards war and particularly European wars. As far as I can tell the modern day attitude we see of "patriotism" being defined by war lust began with the propaganda used at that time to stir up passions against "the Hun." Note that the racist tinge to that simple phrase. Germans shared a common heritage with the English and French while "the Hun" does not. War passions were stirred up against Germans but they were called "Huns" in order to make them "other." One does not easily kill ones own but much more easily fears, hates and kills the "other." Even so, the accepted and acceptable pacifist nature of the American public was apparently rather quickly pushed aside once "war fever" took over.

Grandpa in his strident belief refused to volunteer to fight, be drafted to fight, use his award winning oratorical skills to stir up hatred and urge others to fight, or to even sell war bonds to raise money for war. He was willing to speak on behalf of food conservation which, while unstated, must have been to ensure enough food to send overseas to feed the troops and the allies in France. Further, he was willing to go to France to help in that feeding and in the reconstruction that was needed. All of this at risk of his just beginning career as a college professor.

There is a gap of several months before the next letter in which his mother writes to his wife about what must have been fresh news that he was indeed to go to France with the American Friends Service Committee. It is not clear how exactly that came about but one can only assume that one of the many pressure points he mentions above made it necessary for him to take action.

Originally posted to Andrew C White on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 11:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by Genealogy and Family History Community, History for Kossacks, Group W: Resisting War, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My father was the age of most of my friend's (7+ / 0-)

    grandfathers.  He, too, was a Quaker and had been a Conscientious  Objecter during World War I. He served four years of alternative service in lieu of Military Service.  He had just finished college with a teaching certificate (Only two years required then).  For his alternative service he was sent as a teacher to the Native American Schools outside Norman, OK. He taught American History, German and coached Basketball--- all 5 ft. 7 in of this Quaker.  After the war, when he returned to Indiana he taught elementary school in the New Augusta School System (Now Pike Township Schools) but coached their High School Basketball team. He always claimed his teams originated the fast-paced "run and gun" style he learned on the Indian Reservarion.   His claim to fame as a coach was that he was one of the referees for the first State Final Game held in Indiana.

    Dad was too old for the draft in World War II, but ironically, worked at the Munitions Plant in Charlestown, Indiana.  Still trying to be faithful to his Quaker traditons, he served as a supervivor in the "Bag Factory."  This was the part of the Munitions plant where the packing materials for the weapons was assembled. So, technically, he wasn't handling weapons of war.  I think the mood of the country was much different about World War II. Everyone was called upon to add to the war effort.  

    Dad retired from the Gas and Water Company when the powers that be pushed to get his work partner to leave the job because at age 50 they claimed work buddy was too old to do the up-on-the-roof jobs. Dad's work buddy pointed out Dad was almost 70, doing the same high roof, outside in the elements work. "Oops" was the response. "I guess you both have to retire."

    •  In some of the latter letters (7+ / 0-)

      there is a lot of talk of one of my grandfathers friends who was incarcerated for refusing to go to war. The details of how it all came about are never explained unfortunately but for whatever reason he did not get the option for alternative service.

      Attitudes were definitely different in World War II. One of my grandfathers friends and colleagues at that time was Paul Douglas. They were both professors of economics at the University of Chicago and members of the 57th Street Meeting. Douglas, at age 50, believed it was his duty to go to war and enlisted. Other members of the meeting wanted to kick him out. My grandfather argued that if they were to honor the belief that each was to follow his inner conscience then who were they to question or reprimand Douglas' call to war. Douglas later went on to be US Senator from Illinois for many years.

      "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

      by Andrew C White on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 12:17:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for an inspiring diary (3+ / 0-)

    Republishing to Group W, and sharing with Quaker and Mennonite folks in OKC.

    Oklahoma: birthplace of Kate Barnard, W. Rogers, W. Guthrie, Bill Moyers & Eliz. Warren. Home to proud progressive agitators since before statehood. Current political climate a mere passing dust cloud; we're waiting it out & planning for clearer days.

    by peacearena on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 12:00:34 PM PDT

    •  The American Friends Service Committee (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      klompendanser, bluedust, kurt, edwardssl

      though primarily a Quaker organization was set up at the outset of World War I as a place for members of the 5 traditional "peace churches," of which the Mennonite's were one, could go for alternative service.

      My grandfather was an active participant in a meeting of young friends in Indiana where the original idea was hatched, though it did not take fruition for a few more years when some of the older members ran with the idea and made it happen.

      He was later the leader of the midwest office of the AFSC for many years.

      If I recall correctly one of grandpa's best friends during his time in France was a Mennonite minister.  

      "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

      by Andrew C White on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 12:22:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Very glad to see more posts from you. I think (6+ / 0-)

    I suggested editing the letters into a book a while back -- can I make that suggestion again?

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 12:52:55 PM PDT

  •  I've missed these diaries ... nice to have a (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jim H, frosti, Andrew C White, kurt, edwardssl

    new installment.

    Lots of interesting ideas to ponder here, but I like the image of your grandfather living his beliefs with the requisite courage to understand what that might eventually mean.

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by klompendanser on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:30:06 PM PDT

  •  T&R (5+ / 0-)
    "War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today" -- President John F. Kennedy

    White-collar conservatives flashing down the street, pointing their plastic finger at me..

    by BOHICA on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 05:56:59 PM PDT

  •  a book rec (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Andrew C White, drmah, edwardssl

    I recently finished reading  Adam Hochschild's "To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918" which I very much liked.  It is British based, but talks a fair amount about those that opposed the war.  I think you would find it very interesting.

    •  The British Friends Ambulance Corp (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluedust, drmah, edwardssl

      was part of the British counter part to the Americans Friends Service Committee. They earned great praise for their work and their bravery on the front lines rescuing injured soldiers and civilians.

      Sounds like an interesting book. I'll keep my eyes open for it.

      "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

      by Andrew C White on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 06:58:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I used to like Wilson. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drmah, kurt, Andrew C White, edwardssl

    General history classes tend to briefly gloss over things like his suppression of dissent against the war, his massive propaganda campaign, his racist policies, and the later Palmer raids to destroy the radical left. I think it's the period in American history with the most parallels to European fascism. I now rank him as one of the worst Presidents.

    •  I'm not sure I'd go so far (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      as ranking him among the worst but he was certainly a mixed bag. For all the praise worthy things he said and did there is plenty for which to castigate him as well.

      "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

      by Andrew C White on Wed Aug 29, 2012 at 06:11:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Interesting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Andrew C White
    War passions were stirred up against Germans but they were called "Huns" in order to make them "other."
    I had always wondered how my German ancestors and their extended families felt about returning to Germany to fight against their distant cousins.  This certainly could provide part of the explanation.
    •  As I understand it several different things (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      happened. One is that you start to see more anglicization of german names. You see the use of the german language in the US ending rapidly. You see German-Americans referring to themselves as "Dutch." You also saw mistrust of German-Americans much like the later mistrust of Japanese-Americans during WWII (though not to the extreme it was taken then). But you also saw German-American families making the decision to fully adopt their new home country and "be American" first and place their German heritage firmly secondary.

      "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

      by Andrew C White on Wed Aug 29, 2012 at 09:19:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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