Welcome to “Bethel at War”

The year 2014 marks 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.

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 parts 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.

Boardman Robinson's 1916 anti-war drawing, "The Deserter," depicts Jesus as the victim of a firing squad composed of soldiers from five European nations

Boardman Robinson’s 1916 anti-war drawing, “The Deserter” – Wikimedia

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.

To better understand Bethel’s experience of that century of war, this summer we’re researching and publishing a digital history project entitled 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 (students, faculty and staff, alumni) 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?

When it’s done, this site will feature narrative and interpretive essays, plus documents, photographs, and other sources from Bethel’s archives and digital library.

"Help keep it great! Freshmen! Sophomores! Stay in college and become a naval officer!"

1942 recruiting poster – Northwestern University Library

While the project is under construction, we’ll use this blog to share our questions, reflections, and observations, and to preview our work. When complete, the blog will serve as a kind of document itself.

But for now, the blog also gives you a chance to help shape the project! Please let us know what you think, either leaving comments on the blog or e-mailing us at bethelatwar@gmail.com.

  • How would you answer the questions we’re posing? What other questions should we ask?
  • What strikes you about the sources we’re curating?
  • Do you have your own memories of these wars and how they connect to the history of education and religion in this country?

Thanks for reading and commenting, and stop back often as the project takes shape!

– Chris Gehrz and Fletcher Warren

One comment

  1. […] do this? From Chris’ post introducing the […]

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