wartime culture

wartime culture

Life in America today is a far cry from what it was from 1941-1945. World War II changed everything about our culture, and with good reason. America was plunged into an expansive war that seemed to reach every corner of the globe. “Our boys” were fighting on the ground, in the open seas, and in the air. They were spread across deserts and jungles, beaches and farmlands, tiny towns and some of the world’s greatest cities. The war engulfed so much of the world and cost so many families so much, but it also revealed amazing truths of how strong and determined a group of people can be when they have true “war” on their minds and in their hearts.

Please pardon my inner history geek, but just consider these staggering facts:

  • After producing more than three million new cars in 1941 alone, car companies shifted their focus on making airplanes, tanks, and guns for the war. As a result, a combined total of just 139 cars were built in the United States between 1942 and 1945.
  • Ford Motor Company produced a brand new B-24 Liberator, complete with more than 1.5 million parts, every 63 minutes. Production continued 24-hours a day. (Side note: the photo above is actually of another B-24 assembly plant in none other than Fort Worth, Texas!)
  • America launched more new sea vessels in 1941 alone than Japan did during the entire war.
  • The urgency for wartime production was so intense that when the United Mine Workers decided to go on strike in 1943, newspapers condemned the miners as traitors. Within months, Congress had passed authorization for the president to take over war-supporting production plants if another labor dispute broke out.
  • Eight million women stepped into the workforce during the war, often in hard labor positions like welders, electricians, and riveters.
  • African Americans and Latinos were offered job opportunities like never before.
  • Gulf Shipbuilding, a company that employed 240 people in 1940, had almost 12,000 employees three years later.
  • Factories worked 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Workers pulled 12-hour shifts Monday through Friday, 10-hour shifts on Saturdays, and eight-hour shifts on Sundays.
  • Ordinary Americans accepted rations on food, gas, and even clothing, which drastically limited how much they could purchase so those fighting the war might have enough.
  • Individuals and entire communities conducted scrap metal and rubber drives in order to help recycle more materials for the war.

This is what a nation truly at war looked like. And I suspect these facts are mostly why the WWII generation is referred to as “the greatest generation.”

Everything changed. All aspects of the culture, even the movie theatres, were dominated by the fact that we were at war. And the war wasn’t just for the soldiers. Everyone considered themselves to be part of it and fully accepted their role in the fighting.

Like I said, this is a far cry from what life in America looks like today. We live in the land of self-image and self-satisfaction– where the concept of self-sacrifice is absurd, unnecessary, or even cruel. For most of us today, the term “war” likely produces more imagery of drone strikes and economic sanctions rather than the sobering 425,000 lives lost at the beach invasion of Normandy (that’s more than the population of Arlington, Texas). We can’t even fathom Stalingrad, the battle with the highest casualties out of the entire war, which saw the loss of as many as 1.8 million lives (500,000 more than the population of Dallas). War today is the kind where 100 killed in a day is considered a calamity. It’s far removed and impersonal from American culture, not right in our faces, forcing each of us to wrestle with its meaning like WWII did.

Those of you who know me probably see where I’m going with this.

God has been amping me up lately about what it means to live like we are actually engaging in the spiritual warfare He modeled for us and promised would continue as our reality. Outwardly, of course, this war looks much different than World War II. Paul comes right out and says that in 2 Corinthians 10:4, and again in one of my personal favorites, Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Let’s all just take a moment and be thankful that Paul wasn’t beating the battle drum for literal, fighting war, especially since the kind of physical war Paul knew based on his time and culture still relied on swords, axes, and spears. That kind of close combat fighting has been almost entirely replaced with long-range missiles, coordinated mortar strikes, and sniper rifles.

It’s a good thing that such barbaric styles of war are almost entirely forgotten now, but I fear that we are likewise losing the significance of Paul’s message to begin with. It wasn’t actually about blood and guts, but rather the priority, urgency, and total devotion required of anyone truly engaged in a life or death conflict. War back then, just like now, was a total-life, full-time commitment. Paul meant to help us understand just how much of our lives this spiritual battle is supposed to impact.

That isn’t to say that we aren’t still known by our love for one another. In fact, a soldier’s love for his comrades is one of the closest definitions of true love, according to Jesus in John 15:13. And just because a soldier is fierce on the battlefield against the enemy which threatens to take his life doesn’t mean he is unable to show love to his family. This is not a call for all of us to just be more grouchy and ugly to people. It’s more like a call for us to act like we’re actually fighting against something and to be willing to call out our enemy where we see it.

What America pulled off in WWII for the sake of defeating physical forces should be but a glimpse of what the Church is working to pull off to defeat the spiritual forces of darkness around us. What Americans willingly and even proudly sacrificed for the sake of winning the war back then should just be a preview of what eternally-focused God-worshippers are ready to do now in order to overcome sin.

I don’t know how to put this lightly, but America’s wartime culture throughout WWII is a terrifying accusation against the modern Church’s commitment to engage spiritual darkness today. We are, quite simply, not at war. Or, better-stated, we are unaware of the war. Because, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it or live like it, there is a massive battle waging all around us.

Each of us who make up the body of the Church must take a good, long, hard look at how we spend our time and money. We must consider what we dwell on and dream of, and ask ourselves if those are the things a soldier at war would focus on.

Thankfully, the Bible gives more descriptions of what the wartime culture for the Church should look like than I can quote. Many of us are even comforted by the scriptures that contain them. But until we can shape our lives around these warfare strategies, and actually see them as warfare against darkness rather than just good deeds we do when our schedules allow for it, we might as well be fighting a forest fire with squirt guns.

When it’s all said and done, the God we serve has a long history of using the weakest to shame and defeat the strong. Gideon’s fighting forces were shaved down to just 300 men in order for God to receive more glory in their victory against what scholars guess to be over 100,000 Midianites (Judges 6-8).

My point in that is this: for God, it’s not about numbers. It’s about His glory, and He will have it regardless of what we do. From His eternal perspective, this battle has already been won. And neither our gifts nor our faithfulness are needed to help secure the victory. (He would be in serious trouble if they were.) For us, from our finite perspective, this is more an issue of loyalty and love for our Savior.

At the end of our lives, will God look at the equipment and armor He gave us to fight with, and find them clean and untested? Or will it be unmistakably clear that we spent our lives waging war with our provisions, relying upon and using them like a true soldier who wholeheartedly believed in what He was fighting for?

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