Welcome to Bethel at War

The year 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, one of the most devastating events in human history.

Much less famously, 1914 was also the year that the Swedish Baptist Theological Seminary moved from Chicago, Illinois to St. Paul, Minnesota, where it merged with — and took the name of — a Christian high school called Bethel Academy.

That fall the battlefields of Europe must have seemed impossibly far away to the teachers and students starting classes on a quiet campus nestled in the middle of neutral America. But only three years later, some of them would be in the military, readying to play their part in the Great War, and Bethel’s campus would host Red Cross workers and Liberty Loan drives, its athletic field dug up for a potato garden.

Laying the cornerstone for the new Bethel Academy building, June 1915

Photo courtesy of Bethel University Digital Library

In the century separating 1914 and 2014, warfare has become a totalizing experience — not confined to relatively small groups of professional soldiers fighting to relatively clear conclusions on clearly demarcated battlefields, but a phenomenon that has lingering repercussions for politics, economics, culture, and, yes, religion and education. In the same century Bethel has developed into a master’s level university, with war sometimes fueling growth and ambition, other times threatening demise and division, and always forcing those who fought and those who stayed home to wrestle with its implications for how they lived and what they believed.

Front page of student newspaper reporting the recent 9/11 terrorist attacks

The Clarion student newspaper from Sept. 27, 2001 – the first issue out after 9/11 – Bethel University Digital Library

To help the people of Bethel — and any others interested in the intersection of war, education, and religion — understand Bethel’s experience of that century of war, we present this digital history project: Bethel at War, 1914-2014.

We mean it to be an impressionistic survey focused on four modern conflicts: World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the War on Terror. For each, we’re trying to address the following questions:

  • How did people from Bethel participate in the war?
  • How did the war shape life at Bethel itself?
  • During each conflict, how did people at Bethel understand and respond to the sometimes competing demands of national solidarity and Christian commitment?

There are multiple ways to engage with the site. There’s a traditionally linear Narrative composed of long-form interpretive essays taking you war-by-war through our century-long story. (Note that this part of the project is still a work-in-progress. Only a few pages are finished; others are incomplete or not yet started.) You can also explore via the Timeline interface or by going back through our Project Blog.

About Us

Chris Gehrz is professor of history and chair of the History Department at Bethel University. For Bethel at War he took primary responsibility for coverage of the two World Wars.

Fletcher Warren graduated from Bethel University in May 2015, with majors in History and Business & Political Science. He focused on Bethel’s experiences of the Vietnam War and the War on Terror for this project.

7 comments

  1. Gordon C. Krantz · · Reply

    Responded to the Viet site. Bethel ’42 and ’46-’47. Wrote “Ordinary GI” about my WW II experience — on Amazon or I can furnish. Have done interviews with two other U archivers.

    1. Thanks, Gordon! I’ll look up your book.

  2. Gordon C. Krantz · · Reply

    To look me up, use my middle initial. I can furnish the book free, and faster than Amazon.

    1. Thanks, Gordon. I’d certainly accept such a kind offer! You can send it to me care of Bethel. – Chris

      1. Gnrkrantz@aol.com · ·

        Will do. Gordon

      2. Gnrkrantz@aol.com · ·

        Sending the book to Chris Gehrz, Bethel U. Hope that’s enough address. Lemme know if it doesn’t arrive. Gordon

  3. Hello. I’m Richard Evans and I attended Bethel from 1969 to 1973. I think I have a unique perspective on events at Bethel during that time, even though my own efforts were not impressive. I wish my memory for names was much better. Historians want documentation and names and details. The best I can give, in most cases, is my own memories.
    For the two years before attending Bethel, I lived with my dad, a U.S. Air Force Colonel, at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. At the time, my dad was the Director of Personnel for the 3rd Air Division. Previously my dad had been the base commander of Walker Air Force Base at Roswell New Mexico. Daily, and nightly, we would hear sorties of dark, camouflaged, B-52 bombers taking off from our little island home. These bombers were on their way to Viet Nam. My high school buddies and I believed in our dad’s missions and thought our parents were fighting to protect the U.S. and its interests. My parents were both dedicated Christians. My mom had heard Dr. Bob Smith speak. She was so impressed that she thought any school he was connected with must be a good one. When I decided that I felt God wanted me to be a pastor, I applied to Bethel and was accepted.
    This meant dramatic changes in several ways. For example, during my first winter at Edgren Hall, I remember putting a wet paper towel on the screen of the open window. I was amazed at how fast it froze. This was different than our typhoon resistant home in the heat and humidity. More significantly, the culture was considerably different. There was a lot of anti-war sentiment on campus. When I say “a lot”, you will have to remember that I had just come from an Air Base culture. I don’t remember hearing any anti-war sentiment on Andersen Air Force Base. So, in reality, maybe the anti-war sentiment was mild or moderate. But from my perspective it seemed pretty strong. I felt like my opinions were definitely right of the majority. I felt like I held minority views.
    Here are a few specifics. I accidentally went to a Peace Club meeting at Bethel. The advertisement made me think this group was something different entirely. I was in favor of peace. Even my Air Force dad was in favor of peace. But the leader of this group had a hippie look. What he said made me think he was anti-government, anti-war, anti-establishment. I never returned to another meeting. On the other hand, I don’t think a lot of other students returned either.
    While I was at the old Bethel campus, we learned that there was going to be an anti-war rally held across the street at the state fair grounds. Even though I was scared to death, I decided to attend the rally. It featured one of the Chicago 7 as a speaker. My purpose for attending was to try to speak to the group about Jesus. I asked who was leading the rally, and had the leader pointed out. I went to talk to him, and asked if I could speak to the crowd about Jesus. Of course, the answer was “No”. I looked out at the crowd, some in skeleton costumes, some seeming angry, some accusing people of being F.B.I. agents, and I was very, very, relieved. The main speaker took out a marijuana joint and smoked it on stage. My Bethel friend and I left soon after.
    I also heard that some conservative Bethel students had gotten a large U.S. flag and were waiving it across the street from Bethel. Most of the comments I heard about this were negative. I think some Bethel students were afraid that this would send the message that Bethel was very conservative and they didn’t want that message. Personally, I was glad they did it. I didn’t know they were going to do this until after it happened, but I was glad for what they did. Actually, I don’t think many Bethel students attended either of those events.
    I believe it was my first year at Bethel when a meeting was held concerning the war in Viet Nam. One Bethel professor was more liberal. I’m sorry, I don’t remember his name. At the meeting he spoke. He mentioned a military officer with “scrambled eggs” insignia on his hat telling an Asian to get his little legs moving and to get over here. I was really disturbed by that comment. I waited a long time to tell my side of the story. I finally got to the microphone at about 11:30 P.M. I said that my father was an Air Force Officer. I said I had accompanied him to Taiwan and Hong Kong and Japan. I said that I had never heard him speak in a derogatory manner about Asians or others and that most people in the military were not like that. As I finished speaking, I began to cry and had to leave quickly. It was all very emotional for me. I loved my dad. He went to be with the Lord 5 years ago, and of course I still love him and am very proud of him. (By the way, you can look him up on the internet – Ivor P. Evans.)
    There was a professor named Dr. Rainbow. I never had him for a course, but I heard he was quite liberal.. One of my buddies said Dr. Rainbow didn’t like Dr. Smith and wished he was no longer with Bethel. I assume this was nothing personal, but was more based on politics or theology, but I don’t really know.
    “Unequally Yoked” was a book that some Bethel students read. It may have been required reading in some Bethel course, but was never required in any of mine.
    The Bethel professor that I mentioned before (who mentioned scrambled eggs insignia) posted anti-war, conscientious objector type messages on bulletin boards. I never agreed with his point of view. I had read the entire Bible. I knew that God sometimes called people to go to war, even people that didn’t want to do it. (For example, Gideon) I heard that one Bethel student had said he was a conscientious objector. Interviewers from the government came to interview him. He apparently told them what he believed and why. When I turned 18, early in my first year at Bethel, I went with a small group of Bethel students to the federal building in St. Paul and signed up for a draft card. I was not excited about either joining the military or being shot at. But I decided if I was drafted I would go and do my best to serve the country. I actually think my number one reason for not wanting to join the military was this. I knew I could never be as successful as my dad had been in the Air Force. I thought my job would likely be peeling potatoes or something similar, and I didn’t want my dad to think I was a loser. Of course, as I mentioned before, I was also not excited about being shot at. When numbers were pulled out of a large jar on national television, my number was in the 180’s. I wasn’t drafted. I think most young men at Bethel were not excited about going to war. But I also think most of them registered with Selective Service and would have served if they were drafted. Some, of course, did serve. I think that in my day most Bethel students were less conservative than I was, but were also not active in an anti-war movement. I only heard of one who was a conscientious objector.
    These are the only things I recall on this subject, but perhaps they will add something to the many other comments you receive.
    Best wishes,
    Rick.

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