America's ongoing Industrial Revolution. The industrial revolution pushed forward by the Civil War did not subside after the war but merely gained momentum as American headed into the last decades of the 1800s. Driving it forward was a small group of very energetic individuals, known often as either the "Captains of Industry" or the "Industrial Robber Barons" (depending on your view of them) whose capacity for taking on huge financial risks was enormous: the shipping and railroad monopolist Cornelius Vanderbilt, the steel industry giant Andrew Carnegie, the New York financier J.P. Morgan and oil industry monopolist John D. Rockefeller. These men stood at the top of a huge mountain of wealth that they personally commanded. Indeed, of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population that shockingly owned 50 percent of the nation's wealth (in contrast to the poorest 44 percent of the population which earned only about 1 percent of that total, these few individuals made most of the money of the top 1 percent.
True, America was making huge strides forward. America's growth rate exceeded enormously even Europe's growth rate — a fact of which Europeans seemed totally unaware, believing that America was still basically a nation of cowboys! Railroads crisscrossed the country; telegraphs, soon joined by telephones, also connected the country East and West; cities were lighted by gas lamps, soon replaced by electric lights; and the coal, steel and oil industries were growing at phenomenal rates. Inventions — such as those cranked out by Edison — were changing the very way that people went about their lives, even in their homes. The change impacting America was awesome to behold.
Nonetheless, there was something very, very wrong about how such "progress" seemed to advantage financially only a handful of Americans. This was not the America of fundamentally equal citizens that the Puritans had laid out. This most unequal distribution of the nation's wealth (and thus social power) made even the old Southern plantation owners and their workforce of slaves look small-time by comparison. In fact, there was much talk about the "wage slavery" of the American working class ... which caused people to wonder what exactly it was that the Civil War had achieved — a war that so recently had come at such a high cost to its citizens of merely ordinary ranking.
Washington D.C.'s minimal role in this development. Today we might expect the people to look to the Washington government to step in to correct such inequalities [actually most Americans are unaware that such skewing of the distribution of American wealth has been moving in the same direction since the entry of the country into the 21 century]. But the Washington government played basically just a backup role at the time. Indeed, since the end of the Civil War, Washington's political importance seemed to have declined dramatically. New York City, for instance, played a much bigger role in directing the development of the country. America's presidents were certainly quite capable individuals. But the nation really did not expect them to "lead" the country. Such leadership belonged to others, even just local political figures, as America's politics seemed to be largely a local or regional matter at the time.
True, presidents were called on to step into the country's economic affairs when some of the financial crises hit the economy from time to time, such as the panic of 1893 — crises often brought on by changing polices of the government itself: such as the ongoing gold and silver dispute over what exactly the value of the nation's currency ought to be based on, the decision favoring one sector of American society over another (forcing President Cleveland in 1895 to turn to J.P. Morgan to come up with 3.5 million ounces of gold to put the nation's finances back in order as a result of the 1893 crisis); or the question of tariffs, which protected one industry at a heavy cost to other sectors of society. And there was always the ongoing question of what to do about the corruption that seemed always to accompany positions of governmental power.
Into the 20th century. Heading into the 20th century, material progress continued to unfold: with the invention of the automobile — and the virtually simultaneous invention of the airplane. But now much of the development played more to the advantage of the average American, such as the Model T Fords which Henry Ford, using the streamlined process of the moving assembly line, was able to drop the price on .. putting it in the hands of millions of Americans — willing also at the same time to pay his industrial workers such salaries that they too were able to own these same cars.
At this point also (the beginning of the 20th century) Washington became much more active in looking after the country's development. This was due in great part to the personal dynamism of President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, his successor William Howard Taft ... and also the U.S. Supreme Court. Both presidents and the Supreme Court went after the big monopolies that had captured so much of the country's economic capacity, using the 1890 Sherman anti-Trust Act, originally designed to break up large workers' organizations, to break up instead the huge corporate and financial trusts ("trust-busting" as it was termed at the time) — such as when the Supreme Court in 1911 ordered the breaking up of Rockefeller's Standard Oil into 34 smaller companies.
The Progressivist Movement. In great part this attack on the industrial trusts was a result of the spirited growth of what came to be termed the Progressivist Movement, drawing not just activist politicians, but vigilant journalists and just concerned citizens — such as Jane Addams, founder of the huge Hull House complex in Chicago designed to bring the Chicago poor into America's social mainstream. Americans were being mobilized to action around such issues as the quality and healthfulness of America's food industry; the problem of rampant alcoholism among the depressed working class (and elsewhere for that matter); the protection of the natural environment (being ravaged by both the industrial revolution and also by just the huge human push into the countryside); and ultimately the ongoing problem of the corrupt city and state political machines — resolved in part by creating the political party primary system, letting the American voter and not just the local party bosses decide who got to run for the country's various electoral offices.
And ultimately, through the 17th Amendment (ratified in 1913), the Progressivists produced the "democratizing" of the U.S. Senate, by taking the selecting of the states' representatives to the Senate away from the state legislatures and placing that election in the hands of the citizens themselves. The presumption was that this would clean up the Senate by bypassing the power of the state political machines. At the same time Washington's power was enhanced with the 16th Amendment (also ratified in 1913) by giving Washington the power to tax directly the people, also thus cutting back on Washington's dependency on financial support from such state governments.
Of course transferring power from the state capitals to the national capital did not clean up political corruption but served to move much of that corruption to Washington — for corruption naturally locates itself where power is to be found. This was well illustrated in the vast corruption of the Warren G. Harding presidency that came to power only eight years later. Also ... by undercutting the states' power vested in the U.S. Senate, it would reduce greatly one of the federal checks and balances against centralized authority — so wisely put in place by the Framers of the Constitution. But the growing Humanism of the Progressivist movement did not see that coming.
The impact of European philosophy on America at this time. Despite its geographic isolation from Europe, America never ceased being strongly impacted by the thinking of Europe's great philosophers. Certainly America itself, from its very founding, was shaped deeply by just such a European intellectual heritage (from Geneva's Calvin, for instance). And America would continue through its own cultural-intellectual (and spiritual) development to be deeply impacted by European intellectual developments — especially when it came to the tendency of European philosophers to want to elevate Human Reason above Christian faith.
Already in the early 1600s, René Descartes tried to show the way Human Reason could serve humanity better than all the religious infighting going on between Catholic and Protestant armies at the time. Towards the latter part of that same century, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Isaac Newton and John Locke added considerably to the idea that mankind was on the brink of bringing a very mechanically-operating universe under human understanding and control. But pure mechanical rationalism did not reach deep into the European soul. Something more "Romantic" caught the attention of Europeans instead, especially as a result of the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who made human progress to be more a matter of going back to the natural, pre-civilized, instincts of primitive man. So deep instinct joined higher reason as the instruments that European philosophers believed could, under the right conditions, bring the world to even great human progress.
The British however, led by such social and economic scholars as David Hume and Adam Smith — being the pragmatists that they were by social nature — tended to be skeptical of such idealizations of social dynamics. They preferred to stay with actual historical experience itself, as imperfect as that might be. But at least long-standing social traditions were time tested and thus proven empirically to work. Then ... this British tendency was strengthened even further by the way that the French efforts of French idealists to put their social theories to work in their French Revolution blew up in the faces. The British were shocked at the level of violence (Edmund Burke) ... but not by the way the French effort itself turned out. That came not as a surprise to them (though Jefferson had a very difficult time accepting the failure of the French Revolution).
The Germans were next to step up to answer the question of what was real and meaningful and what was not. They too, like Rousseau tended to go down the road of Romanticism, caught up in the dream of a possible rise of the German people and nation out of the chaos of too many separate states to make Germany a real power in Europe. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his friend Johann Gottfried Herder looked to the power of struggle itself (Sturm und Drang) to bring the German nation to glory, more as a spiritual than a military or industrial enterprise. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel picked up on this idea, seeing human progress itself resulting from the struggle of societies in the face of ever changing challenges — in particular challenges brought on by the dynamic of a society's development itself (a society's own would development automatically bring into being an opposing social force that would inevitably produce a clash, which in turn would birth yet a higher social form: the "dialectical" process of growth through conflict, but supposedly put by Hegel on a scientific rather than just a romantic basis — although Hegel did claim that there was a Weltgeist or World Spirit driving this dialectical dynamic forward.
But by the mid-1800s the American spotlight was back on Britain, where Charles Darwin shook the moral foundations of the Christian world with his Origin of Species (1859) — demonstrating "scientifically" how the present biological picture of the world would likely have emerged through a Hegelian-like dialectic, that is, through growth or evolution of all the biological species from simpler forms of long ago ... through what his friend Thomas Huxley termed "survival of the fittest." With the help of another Englishman, Herbert Spence, this "Darwinian" dynamic was even applied to social theory, demonstrating how social progress through struggle occurred. It was all very mechanical, very "scientific." In Darwinism, there was no Weltgeist, no God, to play any role at all in any of the processes of life on this planet.
Karl Marx took this dialectic, and applied it to an economic theory of his own, that showed how social progress was achieved through a struggle, step by step, involving society's various economic classes, particularly one between the owners of what was considered at one time or another of all "property" rights, and the subject workers whose toil put society's wealth in the hands of these exploiting property owners. But each economic phase in history emerged through social revolution — when the impoverished classes, through a natural process of gradually outnumbering the social exploiters, finally were able to rise up and overthrow their exploiters. This in turn produced a whole new class system. But, according to Marx, mankind was approaching the end of the historical process because given the social profile of the next revolution, that of the industrial workers against the industrial owners (members of the capitalist class), the whole matter of competing economic classes would come to an end. This is because under Communism, all property would be held communally — not privately — thus eliminating all possibility of social exploitation.
The rising spirit of nationalism ... and Western imperialism. Given the economic stress that the industrial revolution was creating as an exploding population faced with very limited opportunity for property ownership (as the West was closing up), one might have believed that Marxism or Communism would have become very popular in America. But there was another factor at play here — even in Europe (perhaps even more importantly in Europe). And that was a rising spirit of nationalism — a call to social-cultural glory that appealed to the hearts of the commoners more than the call to class revolution (Marx detested this nationalist spirit growing around him!).
The days in which Europe's politics was a game played only my monarchs and their hired armies were coming to an end. Since Napoleon had brought the "little people" into the political game and unleashed their fury on France's enemies, European monarchs had to look to their own little people to save their thrones from the French. But this merely stirred deeply the fires of nationalism in their lands, fires that would be very, very hard to control by the old royal authorities.
But by turning those fires away from Europe itself, sending the fire and storm of European passions abroad, to India, to China, to the Middle East, to Africa — nationalism was kept from tearing up Europe itself. But thus was born the Age of Imperialism.
In some areas this dynamic had been going on for a long time. The Portuguese and then the Spanish had planted colonies in America in the late 1400s and early 1500s ... and the English, of course, had done so in America at Virginia and New England in the early 1600s. Then there were the Dutch, who took over a small Portuguese colony at the very southern tip of Africa (the Cape) and planted a growing community there — at about the same time they were doing so at what eventually would become New York (thus around the mid-1600s). The Portuguese meanwhile held on to other positions in Africa established in the 1400s-1500s, and managed to plant trading colonies in India (Goa), southern China (Macao), and in what is today Indonesia — the latter also taken from the Portuguese by the Dutch in the 1600s. And the Spanish had put in place a strongly Hispanic colony in the Philippines (the 1500s). The British came along later on the Asian scene (the 1700s), through the work of the commercial company (but itself a huge political player in the imperial game) — the British East India Company — focused mostly on the subcontinent of India and its many different societies and languages.
By the 1800s the primary urge of European imperialism took on a number of new dimensions. One was aimed at the position of a dying European power itself, Spain. In this America joined in by simply seized much of the northern portion of Mexico (which itself had just broken away from Spain's control) ... meanwhile joining with Britain in putting economic and political "protection" (a favorite tactic involved in the not-so-subtle imperialist game) over the rest of newly independent Hispanic America. And by this same instinct America completed the job at the end of the 1800s by "liberating" the Philippines and Cuba — and placing American protection over those lands as well.
Another focal point was the Far East (China, Japan, the Philippines, and Indochina), with China itself being the biggest prize. In this, America joined newly rising Germany, plus veteran imperialists Britain and France, in taking over a collapsing Chinese dynasty (and putting down anti-Western rebellions) — in order to bring Western cultural "enlightenment" (plus heroin) to a society that once thought of itself as the cultural center of the civilized world!
The third point of interest was the rest of the African continent (mostly south of the Sahara Desert), when the European powers (America played a role in Africa only in Liberia) gathered in Berlin in the 1880s and assigned this area and that area to Britain, France, Germany and Belgium (letting Portugal hang onto its older African colonies). South Africa remained Afrikaner-Dutch and independent — in the face even of a British effort to take it over in the Anglo-Boer War at the end of the century.
And finally there was the "Sick Man of Europe," the Ottoman Turkish Empire, stretching across Southeastern Europe, the Near East (the Levant) and North Africa. The French grabbed most of Ottoman North Africa, the British took over strategic Egypt, and a number of smaller but rising countries (Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece, principally) moved to seize portions of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan Peninsula (Southeastern Europe).
The "Great War" (World War One - 1914-1918). Several factors finally spun all this expansive energy against the Europeans themselves in what would turn out to be not a only totally pointless war of nation against nation, but such a savage enterprise that it would bleed Europe so badly that it left Europe merely to decline rapidly from its dominating position globally. Besides the tempting decline of the Ottoman Empire and the ambitions this stirred in the Balkans, there was the factor of newly assembled Germany (finally unified into a single state through the leadership of Bismarck) and also a landlocked Austrian Empire, that had been left out of the imperialist game, and was looking for its own expansion into the Balkan region. And then there was Russia, that in the 1800s decided that rather than being invaded by Western interests, it wanted to get into the European power game as a player rather than a victim.
Soon the players were choosing sides in the contest, until basically there were two opposing sides — ready to prove their national greatness at the slightest challenge. And indeed it took only a couple of bullets taking down the Austrian royals that started the two sides to march against each other in August of 1914 — along basically two fronts. One was primarily in Northern France, which quickly entrenched itself so deeply in the land that it barely changed lines over the next four years of the war, despite the millions of young Europeans sent in to slaughter other young Europeans. The other front was in East Europe, along a line that flowed back and forth, and — like the front in the West — merely exhausting the European contenders to no great end ... except that it did finally in early 1917 collapse the Russian government, which found itself way, way over its head, involved in a military commitment it had no way of meeting (sending multitudes of poorly armed Russian troops into German guns was stupidly suicidal). Then, unsurprisingly, all hell broke lose in Russia with this political collapse.
And at that point, three years into this pointless war, American President Wilson got the brilliant idea that America should join in this game of mutual slaughter ... "to make the world safe for democracy." This was a clear case of an American president also getting in way over his head in terms of understanding what was actually going on in the world (not the last time this would happen to America, unfortunately). Wilson got it in his head that the fighting was actually about the good guys versus the bad guys, and if America were to join in, America could help the good guys win. He claimed that the bad guys were led by the undemocratic ("autocratic" was the term he actually used) Germany and its allies against the "democracies" Britain and France — and now, thanks to the collapse of the Tsarist Government — newly "democratic" Russia as well.
Actually Britain and Germany had pretty much the same type of Government. In fact Germany had proved itself to be much more "progressive" than Britain in terms of its social legislation. And what Russia was at that point was hardly decided. And it certainly had absolutely no democratic instincts, despite how Wilson glowed over "Russian democracy" as he stood before Congress in April of 1917 to call the nation to war. Wow!
But at least American entry (not really up and running until the Spring of 1918) helped to break the brutal stalemate and speed up German exhaustion. Thus in November of 1918, the Germans (under Wilson's own terms) met to discuss the terms of peace, minus their experienced Emperor Wilhelm, but instead represented by political newbies who themselves were supported only by a newly confused Weimar Republic. Thus the "democracies" Britain and France jumped at the chance to take revenge on a politically humbled Germany — despite Wilson's recognition of the very unfairness of it all (but politically he took no action to stop this destructive behavior of his "democratic" allies). Indeed then the "democracies" grabbed what was left of the Ottoman Empire in the Levant (Iraq, Syrian, Palestine and Jordan), awarding themselves "protective" rights over those lands. But, but ... democracies were not supposed to be imperialistic. They were supposed to be nice — lovers of peace and social justice.
Wilson returned to the States, heartbroken (and soon physically broken as well — although America was never let in on that fact). And America — sickened by the deep betrayal of their lofty war goals (which had cost them plenty of young American lives) — vowed never, never to get involved in the schemes of the European Old World ever again!
The "Roaring Twenties" (1920s). Actually, we have to be careful about labelling the next period the "Roaring Twenties" because only part of the country "roared." That would be urban America. But rural America did not roar. It moaned. During the war itself rural America had boomed. Europe (with its farmers in the trenches as soldiers) hungered for American food products. Thus American farmers had taken out huge loans from their local banks to buy more land and new equipment to meet this huge market for their goods. But with the end of the war and the return of the European soldiers to their farms, that market quickly dropped away ... to a point where the price of agricultural goods dropped to such a point that there was almost no profit to be had in the farming business. Yet those loans had to be paid off. Soon not only were farms in trouble, but so were their over-extended banks, which began to fail right along with the farms. From rural America's perspective, the Great Depression had already begun (10 years earlier than it hit urban-industrial America).
Meanwhile urban America partied on — trying to put the awful memory of the recent war behind it. Not only did urban America have a whole new range of material goodies to surround themselves with — cars, radios, telephones, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, etc. — it had whole new attitudes to go at life with — jazz, dance, clothing and hair styles, and above all booze, speakeasies and nightclubs. And because rural America was so disapproving of that lifestyle, urban America's drinking of booze increased under conservative America's 18th Amendment, which had made the drinking of alcoholic beverages totally illegal.
And where did Christian America fit into all of this post-war cultural development? It certainly was not supportive of the great popularity of Sigmund Freud's new psychological theories (supposedly very "scientific") — demonstrating how religion was just a form of neurosis that came to people when they could not manage their lives. And there was the battle that raged in America over Darwinism — the Darwinists claiming that the Bible was simply a superstitious account of life's origins put forward by unenlightened ancients. Indeed, such a battle over Darwinism did actually take place — in the form of a lawsuit (the Scopes Monkey Trial) in Tennessee in 1925, in which Clarence Darrow represented the "enlightened" urban attitude and William Jennings Bryan once again represented still deeply Christian small-town / rural America. What the trial ultimately proved was a matter of which side a person found themselves supporting going into the event. It changed nothing. Instead, it merely clarified and thus deepened a spiritual divide tearing at America.
On the foreign relations front, America's retreat into "isolationism" did not mean an end in America's involvement in the affairs of the larger world. It just meant that such involvement would be very selective. Thus America did not join Wilson's pet project, the League of Nations, which virtually every other major nation at the time joined as full members. The inflexible, "always-right" Wilson would not yield an inch in the Senate's understandable concern about where exactly membership in the organization would leave Congress's own powers to decide when and where to go to war. The Senate was not willing to leave that decision to others making up some kind of a majority in the League of Nations. But beyond that, America did engage in peace conferences, even sponsored one of its own (the Washington Naval Conference, 1921-1922) focused on limiting the size of the navies of the major powers America, Britain and Japan (among others). America even sponsored an agreement among the nations (the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928) not to ever go to war — except clear cases of the need for self-defense. These were odd terms, as virtually all wars are undertaken with the idea of a society acting in self-defense ... thus making the agreement nice, but ultimately pointless. But that was pretty characteristic of the Idealism of the times.
Politically speaking on the domestic front, a big development was the 19th Amendment, allowing women the right to vote in all the states of the Union. The presumption was that not only was this the right thing to do, it would help clear up political corruption (women supposedly were exempt from the kind of political corruption typical of the male specie). This political right went into force just in time for all American women to vote into power what is probably America's most corrupt presidency in American history! But Harding's presidency was brief (1921-1923) and in his Vice President Calvin Coolidge taking over the White House, a very Puritan sense of political morality was put in place, which cut back on Washington's power (and thus its susceptibility to corruption) with the old adage, "that government is best that governs least."
The Great Depression (1930s). Then suddenly, with seemingly no warning, the music in urban America stopped. The Wall Street stock market came crashing down in late 1929 — and with it so did also the fortunes and prosperity of Americans — and Europeans — as well.
The mechanics of the depression were simple enough. It's termed "market saturation." By the end of the 1920s, everyone had their cars, their radios, their home appliances. True, there were always new consumers entering the market (the youth as they attained adulthood) — but far, far from the numbers that filled the market in the earlier 1920s. It was something akin to what happened to rural America ten years earlier: product oversupply in a world of consumer reduction. This forced businesses to have to cut back on their operations if they were going to stay in business, thus increasing the unemployment rate of the working class, this in turn cutting back even further consumer power among the Americans themselves. The whole thing was a circle of cause and effect slowly, then more rapidly, taking down the entire national economy. And then it took down also many European economies — most notably the German economy — deeply in debt to American banks, the latter who were forced to call in their loans to European banks (national and private), which of course themselves were in no position to pay off quickly. Thus down, down, down did things go ... everywhere.
Of course the president in power at the time, Herbert Hoover, received the wrath of a confused and angry America, though he had little to do with the causes of the depression. Updating for immediate action, even at a reduced rate, a pension due to begin its payouts in 1945 to those who had served in the recent war might have helped Hoover somewhat (he would not flex on this matter), there was actually little he could do. The market needed consumers, not government programs, although he attempted finally to put some government spending into action — and then was accused by his Democratic Party opponents of introducing hated "Socialism" into the American political system (ironic, because this is exactly what the Democrats would do once in power in 1933). In any case Hoover lost big in the 1932 elections to another Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who promised America and "New Deal" (details missing because very likely Roosevelt himself had no good idea of what to do at the time.
Roosevelt's great power came in his personal charisma. He could charm a goat. But great power was also found in his ability to get intelligent counsel (in the particular direction he chose personally to go) in his operations. And once in power he decided to go down exactly the Socialist road that Hoover had started down. Expect that Roosevelt went big. The social-economic programs that rolled out in his first "100 days" were phenomenal. Pledges drawn from companies not to cut back on their business employment (they got to display a sticker on their shop window to show their support), new stock market rules, banking insurance, pensions for the citizens and other rules designed to guide the way American was henceforth to go about its business. But above all the New Deal put into place huge government infrastructure projects that employed hundreds of thousands of otherwise unemployed Americans: national parks, national highways, dams and huge hydroelectric projects (bringing electricity to regions of the country up until that time out of the loop) — but also local / municipal swimming pools, museums, townhall makeovers ... in short, jobs, jobs, jobs.
Ah ... but the problem and the dynamic remained in place. Market saturation. Except this time it was market saturation for government projects. Once the national parks were up and running, the highways and hydroelectric projects in place, and all the small projects they could think of completed, what was Roosevelt to do next to keep all these government workers employed? By 1937 America seemed to be slipping back economically. And things did not improve the next year or the next. His projects had not brought the private consumer back to the market place that America's private economy depended on. People did not eat more or buy yet another car or radio. They put their money "under their mattresses" — so that they added nothing to an expanding economy. And of course no new consumer products were hitting the market place either. So the economy continued to stall.
Thus the intellectual, moral and spiritual confusion tended to continue through the 1930s. Simple solutions were proposed by various individauls to complex problems — because they were psychologically satisfying. They also brought enormous political support to those hungering for political importance.
The easiest formula was simply to blame capitalism as a system for having brought on this terrible catastrophe. Humiliated capitalists were put forward for public blame ... even strangely for having caused not only the depression but also for the war they although so had America's farmers, and for that matter all of America's workforce.
Socialism seemed to be a much more effective answer to society's challenges — especially after Hitler put into place a highly energized German economy after taking control of his nation in the name of German national-socialism. And Stalin seemed to be performing the same miracle in Russia in the name of workers' socialism (or Communism) — as Russia was industrializing at a breakneck speed (and a lot of Russian necks were indeed being broken, except that the enormous blood-price paid by the Russian and Ukrainian people was completely hidden from public view. Although eventually Hitler's socialism was identified as being located on the Right Wing of the political spectrum and Stalin's socialism on the Left, they actually together had much more in common than they did with American capitalism.
Ultimately this brought out the enlightened ones of America to come up with a new vision for the country, when Unitarian pastors and Liberal professors and journalists gathered to put together the Humanist Manifesto in 1933. They claimed that Humanism offered the world a vastly improved religion (yes, indeed they termed their goal as bringing "religious Humanism" forward to save American society from its failed former traditional and superstitious Christian religion. Religious Humanism was destined to bring both science and socialism to its proper place of glory in the new age unfolding before it. Of course this was written in the same year that Roosevelt was putting into play his guaranteed solution to the depression — and was an expression of the same optimism that the failed old ways were about to be put away definitively in the face of a newly unfolding world that the New Deal and its intellectual "Brain Trust" were certain to bring forth.
And where was Christianity in the midst of all this cultural-spiritual turmoil? Sadly the split between Conservatives and Liberals within the church itself merely intensified under the pressure brought on by the Depression. And it seemed that the trend in Christianity was to follow the "optimism" of the New Deal world and push out of the way the "old thinking" of Christian conservatives. For instance the theological conservative L.Gresham Machen was not only kicked out of Princeton Seminary in order to make way for a more progressive instinct to now guide that venerable institution, leading him to then set up Westminster Seminary in nearby Philadelphia, but then the increasingly "progressive" Presbyterians went all the way and had him kicked out of the denomination! This kind of stress would of course effect other denominations as well. They all faced the same issues. Ultimtely the outstanding H.Richard Niebuhr termed the message of the "new" look of Christianity as "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross " (The Kingdom of God in America - 1937). Once again Humanistic Unitarianism was advancing its way through Christian circles.
Actually, two very important developments were starting up at the same time, ones which would not only help America get through the Depression but also the coming World War ... and the Cold War beyond that! One was Congregationalist pastor James W. Fifield, Jr.me year that Roosevelt was putting into play his guaranteed solution to the depression — with his Spiritual Mobilization movement, dedicated to getting the gospel of personal independence out to the nation through the sermons preached from the pulpits of the movement’s extensive pastoral membership. The other development was Methodist pastor Abraham Vereide's City Chapel program, which brought together America's leaders of local organiations (political and industrial/financial) at "prayer breakfasts" designed to keep their courage up as they tried to find ways to bring Americans back under full employment. Indeed, Fifield's prayer breakfasts would establish a leadership dynamic all across America, almost as important as church attendance itself. So indeed there was a Christian voice to be heard, offering comfort to a confused America. And ultimately its advice was for the faithful to toughen up and know that somehow "God's got it." And thankfully that's what a lot of America did — toughen up and look to God for guidance. They would need that toughness — not the silliness they had indulged themselves in during the Roaring Twenties — to face effectively the challenges that were building off in Asia and Europe.
World War Two (1937 or 1939 to 1945). The reaction of most Americans to what was developing in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany as the 1930s developed was one of deep distaste. There were, however, on both the Left and the Right politically, American voices enthusiastic for the kind of leadership Stalin and Hitler seemed to be providing their people, seemingly moving their countries ahead — while America remained stuck in its confusion and pessimism. Overall, the general attitude however was to stay far, far away from any involvement in what was happening in Europe. The net result of America's previous effort "to make the world safe for democracy" was a deep spirit of isolationism, one which registered in the form of an annual warning (by actual law of Congress) forbidding President Roosevelt from getting involved in any way whatsoever with European developments.
The war actually started in 1937 in Asia, when Japanese troops invaded China in order to prove themselves to be an Asian super-race — in keeping not only with mounting Japanese nationalist pride, but in joining in spirit with Germany ... to scorn democracy as a weak and worthless social-cultural principle (China was striving to be something of a democracy at the time). Then these Japanese Shinto warriors proceeded to slaughter the Chinese — as they conquered city after city along China's long coast. Americans were shocked ... and deeply offended — as Americans had long held something of a romantic view of things Chinese. But ultimately the only thing America really could do was to cut off its sale of oil (America was a major oil exporter at the time) steel, and other strategic materials to Japan in response to this horrible act of Japanese aggression.
At the same time, the world's focus was also on Europe, Germany in particular — as Hitler began the buildup not only of Germany's huge industrial capacity, but also the German military, in total violation of the peace treaties (the Versailles Treaty) put in place at the end of World War One. Ultimately the "enforcers" of that treaty, Britain and France did nothing, not even when in 1936 Hitler also sent his troops into the Rhineland area to grab that strategic region away from France (the area was supposed to be under French supervision).
Fear grew that any attempt to block Hitler would merely break the "peace" that was supposed to prevail. But in fact, doing nothing only increased Hitler's popularity among the Germans — and his aggressiveness. In 1938 he marched his troops into Austria and incorporated that country into his expanding Reich (Empire). Then later that year he turned his eyes toward another neighboring country, Czechoslovakia, making British Prime Minister so uneasy that finally he agreed to meet Hitler in Munich ... and there he simply agreed to let Hitler take over portions of that countr — under Hitler's promise that this was all the territory he wanted from his neighbor. And Chamberlain (and much of the world) believed that by appeasing Hitler this way, they were saving the world from another war.
But Again, Hitler read this as a sign of the powerless leadership of his former enemy Britain, and in early 1939 he ignored his promise and simply seized the rest of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain tried to cover his embarrassment by telling Hitler that if he invaded any other neighbors (a greatly weakened Poland most likely the next victim) it would mean war. But Hitler, who at this point viewed Chamberlain's statement as an empty bluff, signed an agreement with Stalin to divide up Eastern Europe between the two dictators ... and immediately followed up that decision by invading Poland a week later (the beginning of September, 1939).
Chamberlain responded with a declaration of war against Germany ... but then did nothing as Hitler's troops rolled across Poland in the West, to be joined from the East by Stalin's Russian Communist troops (however, no declaration of war against Russia was declared by Chamberlain in response to this equally evil act of Stalin's).
World War Two was now officially underway.
Here too America looked on in horror ... but decided to stay out of the matter. That held true even when the following spring (1940) Hitler (joined by his weaker Italian ally Mussolini) invaded to the west of Germany, seizing Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in a matter of only a few weeks. Then Hitler turned on lonely Britain ... but was unable to cross the Channel for an invasion of that country because he could not secure air cover for his troops, air cover needed vitally for such an attack (the British air force managed to hold off the German air force from any kind of victory in the air.)
But still ... America did very little — offering only some mothballed battleships in exchange for British bases abroad — as Britain, under constant German bombardment, fought for its very life. Roosevelt wanted America to come to the defense of what was left of Free Europe. But Congress was still very adamant about staying out of Europe's business.
Then, making no headway against Britain, Hitler at the beginning of the next summer (1941) suddenly attacked eastwards towards Russia. Stalin was completely caught off guard (one devil mistakenly thought he had a permanent deal with the other devil!). So now the Russians were fighting against Hitler — rather than operating in concert with him. But Russia was a very big country to try to overrun ... and Russian nationalism stirred hot among the people (the way Stalin's previous efforts to get them to see themselves first and foremost as "Communists" had not). Hitler thus had misjudged terribly the character of the Russians.
Meanwhile, again, America did nothing at all — even as Britain remained the last free country standing in Europe — and all other European countries seemed to have come under German control (except Germany's ally, Italy, of course — and Spain, which was pro-Hitler, but chose to stay out of the war).
Meanwhile, over in Asia, Japan was desperate for oil now that America had cut off its oil supply to Japan. The closest oil fields were way to the south of Japan in the Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia). Seizing those oil fields from the Dutch (under control by Japan's ally Germany), and securing the path to those fields via French held and British-held land (both either under German occupation or German attack) would not be a huge problem. But American-held Philippines would be a problem. So the decision was made by the Japanese to knock out the American fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, and the American forces in the Philippines could then simply be cut off and ultimately overrun. Anyway, America was viewed as simply another one of those weak-willed democracies ... one that would come begging for peace terms once it had been hit hard in the Pacific. And thus on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked the U.S. army-navy installations at Pearl Harbor. America was finally at war.
The mentally-challenged Hitler saw this Japanese attack on America as an opportunity for more German glory (things were not going so well for Hitler since Britain had not been brought to submission — and Russia was showing signs of most unexpected resistance)... by "honoring" his Axis Pact alliance with Japan and declaring war on America.
Thus it was also that America now had a war on both the Eastern (Asian) front and the Western (European) front facing it at the same time. And America had virtually no army of significant size nor most certainly much of a Pacific fleet (only four aircraft carriers that were out on a drill and thus not at Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese bombing there). That was not much to go to war with, against the two most extensive and battle-tested Empires in the world at that time!
But neither Germany nor Japan understood the Christian character of America. The Americans would be taking on the evil empires of Germany and Japan ... with "the help of God" — an understanding that was made clear to the American people by the American president himself, Roosevelt. Now this was to go into battle very well armed!
The battle details are well laid out in Volume 2. But suffice it to say it was hard going for the American soldiers heading across North Africa (linking up with the British at Tunisia), chasing the Germans out of Sicily and then heading on to Southern Italy ... at which point the Italians dropped out of the war. But the Germans then took over the fight against American and British troops in Italy. It was very slow going, the Germans well dug into the mountainous central spine of Italy.
In the Pacific those remaining aircraft carriers gave excellent account against the Japanese at Midway Island ... beginning Japan's slow retreat back across the Pacific, Americans taking island by island as they went (leaving some Japanese stranded on islands the Americans skipped past.)
Tragically, with no Pacific fleet at the time able to reach the Philippines, for the American and allied Philippine troops there was nothing that could be done when they ran out of food and ammunition. Their surrender was horrifying.
But up from the south (Australia and New Guinea) the Americans conducted the same advance northwards against Japanese emplacements (1942-1944), until finally the Philippines were fully liberated (early 1945). At the same time, the Americans had advanced westward into Japanese territory at Iwo Jima and Okinawa (early-mid 1945). And from there American pilots could unleash a fiery bombardment of Japan's capital city, Tokyo. But the Japanese seemed virtually suicidal in their defense of their homeland.
One of the more bizarre events to take place at that time was Gandhi's decision (August 1942) to use the desperate situation facing Britain (and its nearly 3 million Indians troops within its ranks) to do everything he could to make India ungovernable by British authority — even as the Japanese stood at India's doorway ready to invade. That was a terrible idea, given the well-known treatment by the Japanese of the subject people of Asia. But Gandhi's hatred of things British (years earlier he had tried so hard — and failed — to fit into the British world as a proper British lawyer) was so intense that it appeared he would rather have seen Japan ruling India than the British. Not surprisingly the troublemaker was arrested and taken off the streets by the British authorities (1942-1944).
Meanwhile the Russians were able to stop the German advance at Stalingrad ... and then by the summer of 1944 begin the pushback against the Germans. This was timed with the invasion of France by America and its allies at Normandy, the liberation of Paris, the ill-fated attempt to swing north to invade Germany itself in a hopefully less well-defended part of that country, the failed German Christmas counterattack in the Ardennes Forest ("Battle of the Bulge"), and finally the step-by-step advance into Germany, and the final link-up with the Russians coming into Germany from the East. Thus by the beginning of May the Germans surrendered (Hitler dead by suicide). The war in Europe was over.
The war with Japan dragged on — looking as if the war might drag on for a couple of more years, since the Japanese seemed prepared to defend every village by every remaining man, woman and child. Thus with the successful testing of the world's first atomic bomb in July (1945), the new president, Harry Truman (the exhausted Roosevelt had died unexpectedly in April) was quick to make the decision to use the (two) bombs in America's possession, to shake the Japanese out of their conviction that they could find any glory in fighting to the finish. It was a huge gamble, moving the world into this whole new realm of atomic warfare, but Truman did not hesitate. In early August those bombs were unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ... and the Japanese finally threw in the towel. Japanese authorities met with Americans on September 2nd on the battleship Missouri to sign the terms of surrender. The war in Asia was also now over.
The Onset of the Cold War. With both Germany and Japan out of the way, suddenly the political interests of all the players shifted deeply. For Americans there was only one interest that they all had at this point and that was to "get the boys home." Britain was in a similar mood, not only to get their boys back, but to pull back completely from the imperial world and its responsibilities. That's why in national elections in July (while the war in Asia was still underway) the British chose to dump Churchill, who had led them through the darkest days of the Battle of Britain, and bring in Clement Atlee, a "Laborite" (Socialist) who promised the British that his government would "take care of the people" (and quickly drain the government's resources, driving the British economy downward in the process ... as such programs always do). In short, Britain gave up entirely its position as a "great power." And France, after its humiliating performance during the war, found itself in much the same mood and situation. That left just America and Russia facing each other.
An attempt had been made by Roosevelt to lock Stalin's Russia into an ongoing, post-war alliance in service to the larger world. A new United Nations was assembled, with the presumption by Roosevelt that the "Big Five" of America, Russia, Britain, France and China would continue to work closely together to keep the world at peace. But political reality had other plans for the world. Stalin was in no hurry at war's end to pull his troops out of the eastern half of Europe — including the Eastern portion of of Germany and its capital Berlin. He understood clearly the shift in the power picture. With the Americans, British, and French in a hurry to demobilize, that left him in a commanding position, potentially able to dominate the whole of Europe.
Likewise Stalin found himself sitting nicely in Asia, huge amounts of Asian territory awarded him for promising to join America in its (expected long-term) war with Japan. This reward would include the Japanese-occupied lands of Sakhalin, Korea (the northern half anyway) and Manchuria (northern China). When the atomic bombs went off in August, Stalin was quick to declare war on Japan — in order to activate his claim to the territories Roosevelt had promised him. Not a bad reward for one week's worth of military action! Actually Stalin would turn Manchuria over to China when Communist leader Mao took control of China ... some kind of sign of friendship between Communist overlords (Russia would later regret his generosity). As for North Korea ... that piece of territory he would try to hang onto because of its strategic position on the ice-free waters flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
At first, the Communist Parties in Western Europe formed a big part of the "United Front" governments that were set up with the war's end. And at first it looked like cooperation would hold. But the economies of Europe soon began to sink rapidly (around 1947) when these governments used up their financial reserves to rebuild the destroyed economies of Europe. Indeed, unemployed veterans soon took to the streets to protest the falling off of government support — which the Communist Parties (especially big in Italy and France) used to try to spark "working class revolution."
Truman knew he could do nothing about the fact that promised elections in Soviet Russian zone of control were a joke, with Stalinist candidates coming to take over each of these East European countries. But he could do something about Stalin's manipulation of events in Western Europe ... and got Congress to agree to give Europe $billions in order to rebuild the destroyed infrastructures of the "Free World" (non-Soviet controlled portion of Europe). Thus the "Marshall Plan" helped West Europe get back on its feet economically, and head off any Communist political mischief designed to bring those countries under Soviet domination.
At first, Truman was working faster than the average American's understanding of the political dynamics going on in the larger world. But when Stalin's communists took total control in Czechoslovakia and then tried to squeeze America (and Britain and France) out of Berlin, the Americans awakened ... and swung strongly behind their president to help where they could. Nothing could be done about Czechoslovakia. But Berlin could be saved ... and was by Truman's swift and unyielding actions. And then to make sure that Stalin understood what he was up against, in 1949 America joined with its European friends in its first peace-time military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty and its organization, NATO.
In the meantime disturbing news of the same order right here at home in America was coming out ... namely, that a number of individuals placed high up in Washington political circles — and also in the world of the intellectuals (scientists, professors, and authors) and Hollywood (the movie industry very important to America at the time) — were found to be Communist or at least Communist sympathizers. Then when in 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy took up the cause of ferreting out Communists in high places (he himself seeing Communists everywhere), the American nation began to freak out! McCarthy was playing on the passions of the American masses, who at this point were seeing the totlitarian (fully authoritarian) involvement of "Big Brother" everywhere in their world.
Yet ... for the Americans who had spent the recent past as soldiers, or just as patriots on the "home front," fighting the war against the Fascist or totalitarian dictator Hitler (and Japanese leader Tojo) — and now in the post-war period the threatening totalitarianism of Stalin — there was little danger of them being seduced any time soon into the world of Communism.
They were in fact strong Christians, made ever stronger in their faith by the rigors of the life-threatening battle they had just been through. Indeed, this post-war or "Cold War" world of America was intensely Christian, with almost all Americans to be found in church on a typical Sunday — and celebrating the Christian life in its special holidays throughout the year ... some of those of the typically "rational" world of American intellectualism excepted of course (as had long been the case in America, even since its earliest years). They were indeed, a nation under God." They even had that wording added to their national Pledge of Allegiance.
And of course they were highly patriotic, having so recently put their lives on the line for their country. Further, by 1953 they had as president former general Dwight Eisenhower, who represented all the virtues of "Middle America," a people or nation ready to defend the freedoms of the people of the world against spreading Communism.
And giving clear evidence of the correctness of that social-cultural position, clearly (to the Americans anyway, although many others probably agreed with this assessment) God himself had made America the richest, strongest and freest country of the world. Capitalism, Constitutionalism, and Christianity made America the savior of the "Free World" in the global battle against Communism — and against any other form of totalitarianism (although "Communism" pretty much summed up the world of totalitarianism in the American mind at the time).
Yes ... but what about the next generation of Americans, the "Boomers" — named for the "Baby Boom" that hit America when the boys came home ... and after the long war-time delay, were finally able to get married and start a family. This dynamic had produced a dramatic population explosion of babies, thus the "baby boom"!
This rising generation of Boomers, however, will not have not faced or even seen the dangers of life that their parents had. Thus they will lack the acquired wisdom of their World War Two "Veteran" parents (thus the term "Vet" used in this volume to designate that post-war adult generation).
At the same time, the Vets had seen how easily the youth of Germany and Russia had been "brainwashed" by the totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin. Consequently, they were determined that such totalitarian brainwashing would never happen to their Boomer children. And so as their children began to grow up in the 1950s and early 1960s, they taught their children to "think for yourself," ... accept nothing on the basis of someone else's authority. In fact, take on life heroically by challenging all forms of social authority that they might encounter in life's journey. This way their children would develop naturally ... just as they had, free of the possible influence of totalitarianism.
Of course the Vets seem to have no idea that their own strong social instincts were in fact not at all natural or "instinctive" to them (or anyone else), but instead the byproduct of a lot of social engineering, in their case necessitated by the social challenges of the Depression and World War they had grown up with. There was nothing "natural" or "inevitable" about the social values that these Vets, as a deeply tested generation, held as True and Necessary.
Tragically, the Vets seemed to understand none of this ... and made the horrible mistake of assuming that their children would grow up holding the same strong social ideals that they did — if they just stood back and let their Boomer offspring shape their social personalities "instinctively" ... on their own, by themselves.
Thus they went on to teach their Boomers to challenge all things presented to them as the voice of authority — not realizing that authority itself is the source of all social cohesion, especially the kind that is unseen because it is so deeply integrated into the "rational" processes of a people. So it was that the Vets, in freeing their children from the hand of social authority in their lives, had just created a generation of social monsters. These Boomers would soon enough (starting with the mid-1960s when the first of the Boomers finally reached adulthood) prove themselves to be unable, in the face of life's challenges, to maintain loyally, and certainly sacrificially (as their Vet parents had), the social commitments necessary for society's survival and success, commitments such as jobs, marriages ... and just social loyalties in general.
In fact, "shaming" the America that the Vets loved with such a passion, would itself become the heroic duty of these same Boomers when they reached adulthood. Boomers would see the love of country as a sign that totalitarianism had taken over a person's thinking. Patriotism was akin to Fascism! In fact the word "Fascist" would come to be applied again and again to the thinking and ways of the Boomers' own deeply patriotic Vet parents. Wow! ... the Vets never saw that coming their way!
But overall, the 1950s would finish out with America in some kind of national glory, such as never had been experienced before by the nation. America had indeed become the "City on the Hill," — the "Light of the Nations" — as the Puritans had once themselves intended for the grand experiment of this American "covenant nation" to become.
But the question would then naturally arise as America was about to head into the 1960s: would all this glory not affect the American hearts with a confusing and self-destructive pride? Would not all that achievement come subtly (in the way that the Adversary is always so subtle) to cause Americans, especially the more "enlightened," the more "rational" among them, not to see their own powers — and not the powers of God — to be the source of all this achievement? Would they, as the Puritan Father Winthrop warned back in the early 1600s, fall into the same condition as Israel of old did in its own "successes" ... and begin to look to themselves as the source of their success? Would they forget God and his hand in that same success?
For in falling into this latter condition, as Winthrop warned, they would lose all the harmony, unity and strength that comes with social success. Corruption and chaos would fall upon this people. Would this same thing then happen to America?
Soon enough, the rising 1960s — and the way it ended — would give answer to that question. But that matter belongs to the next volume.
The Scopes Monkey Trial, Dayton, Tennessee—1925 (excerpt from pages 141-143). But undoubtedly the most dramatic confrontation of the decade between the two cultures occurred over the issue of the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution in the public schools.
In 1925 the two sides, liberal urban America and conservative rural America met for something of a showdown in Dayton, Tennessee, over the question of teaching Darwinism in Tennessee’s public schools. The battle was over the fundamental question: was man descended, as Darwin stated, through the evolutionary process of natural selection ("survival of the fittest") from some early version of a primate (something of an early “monkey” specie)—or was he, as the Bible states, created fully as a man by God in a single event?
The confrontation came to pass when in May of 1925, a group of Dayton civic leaders met at F.E. Robinson’s Drugstore and decided to challenge Tennessee’s new statute forbidding the teaching of Darwinist evolution. One motivation for holding the trial in Dayton was to revive the town’s flagging economy. They knew that this would somehow put Dayton on everyone’s map (and indeed it did!).
The mastermind behind this event was George Washington Rappleyea, an engineer and geologist who managed the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company. Rappleyea was widely credited with suggesting that Dayton challenge the new anti-evolution statute. Cooperating in this venture was the twenty-four-year-old John Thomas Scopes. He was teaching at the local high school, his first job after graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1924. He taught algebra and physics, served as athletic coach, and occasionally substituted in biology classes at the Rhea County High School. The idea was that he would teach Darwinist biology—at least once—in violation of the state’s law prohibiting the teaching of Darwinism. This act would then set up the opportunity for the legal world in Tennessee to decide whether such a law was indeed constitutional.
During the extremely hot summer of 1925 the “Scopes Monkey Trial” riveted the attention of the nation as newspapermen from all around the country crowded into the steaming courthouse to follow the trial.
The old political warhorse, William Jennings Bryan, represented WASPish America, with its fervent dislike of Darwinism. Representing the Darwinists was Clarence Darrow, the celebrity New York lawyer who had dazzled the nation with his clever defense of two society boys who had killed a young fourteen-year-old neighbor in order to see what it would be like to commit the ultimate crime and to prove their Darwinian superiority (Darrow blamed their actions on the extravagantly wealthy socio-economic circumstances that had distorted their moral sensitivities). Darrow also represented the fast-rising urban, secular culture which ridiculed the superstition of the traditional Christian culture. Backing up Darrow was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which was to become the leading voice behind a movement to replace WASPish Christianity with Secular-Humanism as America’s cultural-religious underpinning.
Which side actually won the 1925 contest depended on the natural sympathies of the person giving answer to the question. From pulpits, anti-Darwinism seemed vindicated by the fact that the judge decided to support the law prohibiting the teaching of Darwinism in the Tennessee public schools. But the up-East urban newspapers celebrated the quite obvious (obvious to them anyway) intellectual victory of the scientific Darwinists over the superstitious, backwoods fantasies of the anti- Darwinists.
Closing arguments were not allowed (defense attorney Darrow refused and thus prosecuting attorney Bryan was not permitted to do so either) and the sentence of guilty was quickly decided in matters of only minutes on July 21. But Bryan published his proposed closing argument subsequently. It is well worth the read because it is actually prophetic:
Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endanger its cargo. In war, science has proven itself an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before. Man used to be content to slaughter his fellowmen on a single plane, the earth’s surface. Science has taught him to go down into the water and shoot up from below and to go up into the clouds and shoot down from above, thus making the battlefield three times as bloody as it was before; but science does not teach brotherly love. Science has made war so [brutal] that civilization was about to commit suicide; and now we are told that newly discovered instruments of destruction will make the cruelties of the late war seem trivial in comparison with the cruelties of wars that may come in the future. If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings alone, can solve the problems that vex the heart and perplex the world
Five days after the verdict, Bryan—back on the speaking tour—died quietly in his sleep. Ultimately the case itself decided nothing. But it considerably clarified the WASPish and anti-WASPish split in American culture.
Truman’s own Christian faith (excerpt from pages 278-279). For Christian Americans, it was truly miraculous that God put in their midst a man who was one of them, a battle-tested soldier, someone who had tried and failed and then tried again to move himself forward in life the “American way,” who was a man of great moral integrity in the way he handled power—and yet who frequently used profanity and enjoyed playing poker and drinking whiskey (major no-noes to certain Christians), just like one of the boys!
Truman was not looking for social approval—or at least not expecting it. He found that in his wife and family—and he found it in God. He was a man of deep personal faith.
A loyal Baptist, Truman as president however was not regular in his Sunday worship, explaining the matter as a result of finding himself in a job that kept him at work seven days a week, morning, noon, and night. Also, Truman was not at all like his presidential successor Eisenhower, who understood the importance of frequently just getting away from those same pressures, golfing or just relaxing at a retreat (Eisenhower suffered a heart attack anyway). Truman was something of a workaholic!
But he had a hugely uncharted course to lead the nation on. And the European crises that exploded in the early post-war years moved so fast that it seemed at times that only Truman had the ability to respond to them quickly and effectively. His wisdom in shaping an America ready to take on a new form of Cold War was enormous. And he rested that wisdom on a very prayerful, deeply scripturally-based Christian faith.
But he also understood the importance of connecting the Christian faith with the American self-understanding of the nation’s place in history. Several times he called for a National Day of Prayer, specifically urging the nation to call on God to help the people know what to do in the face of various challenges, even crises, facing the nation. He also spoke openly before the American public about how the Christian faith had formed the democratic foundations of America and how America enjoyed its obvious blessings because of a special trust God had put in place with the nation. And Truman looked to the church (not Washington) to take the lead in the battle against greed, racism, and injustice, both at home and abroad.
And perhaps most importantly for a national leader whose most important task was to put a clear social vision in front of the people he was destined to lead, Truman had a very strong personal belief that America was called to show the world how to live God’s way, according to the very teachings of Scripture, and the example of Christ: in charity and concern for others, even for one’s former enemy (in this case Germany and Japan). He truly believed that if the world would simply live by Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 7, 8 and 9) peace would prevail across the world.
This did not mean that the strongly opinionated Truman did not find himself in opposition to aspects of the way the Christian life was lived in America. More sophisticated Christians, for instance, attacked him for his biblical simplicity, seeing only foolish ignorance in Truman's hope that living according to Biblical principles would bring the world a better peace. He also had a terrible split with his long-time Baptist pastor Edward Pruden, when Truman appointed General Mark Clark as his personal representative to the Vatican. While this pleased America’s twenty-five million Catholics immensely, it upset greatly many Protestant conservatives who were deeply suspicious of any Catholic pro-Vatican popery.