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The Pioneers: Our Models of Faith, Courage, Endurance … War?

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 20, 2009

From the Improvement Era, 1942:



23 Comments »

  1. Huh. Who knew that Fox News* was writing college ads in 1942?

    *”The cable channel that never met a war it didn’t like to exploit.”

    Comment by Hunter — March 20, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

  2. Well put, Hunter.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 20, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

  3. I suppose alot of people may be upset by this. I view it very positively. Military historian Victor David Hanson talked about the rustic Italian farmer that contributed to the superior effectiveness of Roman armies. (See Carnage and Culture 115-117) So when I see an article like the one you pointed out, I think of the courage and sacrifice displayed by our pioneers as being excactly the time of qualities needed to make an effective soldier. Thanks for bringing it up. Do you have acess to the original source?

    Comment by Morgan Deane — March 20, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

  4. Sorry- I spelled access wrong, but I still enjoyed your post.

    Comment by Morgan Deane — March 20, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

  5. Also meant “type” instead of “time”- sorry again. This is definitely the product of too much facebook. :)

    Comment by Morgan Deane — March 20, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

  6. Morgan, it’s an advertisement in the Improvement Era — I’d have to flip through again to identify the precise page.

    This appeared in the earliest months of the war when the church, along with everybody else in the US, was adjusting to the new footing. The talks and articles are filled with militaristic images and language, even when the topics are subjects that ordinarily have no connection to war. This ad, I think, stretches farther than most to find a way to cast college education as a patriotic duty in wartime. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that — it just catches the eye because it is SO much a product of its time.

    (I get caught in enough typos that I generally don’t tease anybody about them. Sometimes I even fix them silently so that the commenter isn’t embarrassed. I would have done that for you, except I didn’t want to delete your joke. That’s what you get for spotting your typo before I do. :) )

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 20, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

  7. Do you now of any LDS museums that have a collection of these kind of things?

    Comment by Morgan Deane — March 20, 2009 @ 2:06 pm

  8. I wonder if J. Reuben Clark had any objections to this, given his own views of the war.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 20, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

  9. If by that you mean copies of the Improvement Era, then yes, they’re available at the Church History Library in Salt Lake, at the BYU library, possibly at the UofU and other universities in Utah. (I don’t think the online Era files available by subscription through LDS Library include images, unless they have upgraded recently.)

    If you mean collections of other things, you’ll have to elaborate — I don’t know what museum-worthy “things” you might be looking for.

    Steve, that would be an interesting question for someone with a JRC specialty to explore. What I’ve seen in the magazines suggests that the editors and writers and the Board members behind the magazines took it for granted that such war-talk was not only acceptable but expected. If someone objected, even someone with such a high profile, he would have had to fight against a pervasive approach, not just to isolated ads or articles.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 20, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

  10. I don’t know that the average Mormon would think too hard about an ad like this. We’re neither Mennonites nor Quakers. Is there a body of anti-war rhetoric or literature in Mormon culture? It seems like you’ve covered the topic before, but I can’t remember any specifics off the top of my head.

    Comment by Researcher — March 20, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

  11. I have worked at the Marshall Foundation and their museum has extensive collections of World War II posters and good number of magazine ads promoting war bonds and such. These are good reflections of culture and what is accepted and the “things” I meant.

    Thus judging from today’s culture we would not be as ready to promote the war and war like culture the way this ad does. Just look at one of the first comments that derisively called this a “fox news” ad. Cheerleading the war is not as “in” as it was in World War II, and even on this page is called “exploiting it”. And celebrating the martial culture involved in war (“glorious courage and strength”, “glowing hope”, “valiant”, “steady vision”) and spirit of our answers (such as the pioneers) would seem to be even more unlikely. Except for a few things on, yes, Fox News (such as Heros of Lima Company, the show with Oliver North etc) most news coverage of our soldiers portrays them as victims (Todays USA today lamented the high unemployment rate of veterans for example) instead of extolling the war like qualities of our ancestors or even current soldiers.

    Anyways thanks for your time.

    Comment by Morgan Deane — March 20, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

  12. I know of no Mormon-created World War II posters or other such war-related material — I can’t think of circumstances that would have called for the creation of such materials by the church for its members. There are a great many war-related advertisements, some of which have been posted on this site; the magazines in which they appear are preserved in Mormon repositories, yes.

    Morgan, you have misunderstood us, no doubt due to your unfamiliarity with how we have discussed old Mormon advertising in earlier posts. My purpose in posting this advertisement is because I was struck by the incongruity of linking 1847 overland travelers with 1942 warfare. It says something about Mormon assimilation into American culture sometime during the course of that century. Exactly what that is, we have not really discussed — the conversation has been derailed somewhat.

    Nothing about the ad or this post or any comments has been derogatory of patriotism or American soldiers, and no one has said anything about hawks/doves, heroes/victims, or your other complaints.

    And “exploiting” has a neutral scholarly meaning apart from its loaded political one. You know only the one, and misjudge us because we use the other.

    But since you bring it up, while Mormons are willing to and do serve their countries during times of war (the inspirational stories of several such soldiers who served during both World Wars have appeared during the relatively short career of this blog), we prefer peace. Christ, after all, is the Prince of Peace.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 20, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

  13. By the way, anyone with a particular interest in Mormons and issues related to soldiers (the life of the soldier militarily and spiritually, the support of soldiers from the homefront, the history of Mormon soldiering, etc.) should spend some time exploring S. Faux’s blog, Mormon Insights. You won’t find anything better anywhere.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 20, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

  14. I think the misuderstanding goes both ways. My post was going more in depth at the incongruance of this adverstisement from Mormon culture with modern culture. They were meant to be simple statements of how I read and understood the ad, and what it meant to me within the context of my studies, but instead they somehow became loaded.

    My posts were meant to add a new dimension to the discussion, and the defensive nature of your response is uneeded- because I wasn’t attacking anybody or anything. (I did use Hunter’s post as an example, it was not with mean spirited intent)

    I’m sorry if I came on too strong, I was simply thinking aloud and adding my two cents in what I thought was a good back and forth dicussion of ideas sprining from the ad. I also asked you so much about sources because a research idea had sprung in my head.

    Anyways, I hope I didn’t derail your planned discussion too badly. Thanks for your time.

    Comment by Morgan Deane — March 20, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

  15. I do tend to be quick to defend regular commenters, that’s true.

    Glad to hear that this ad provoked a possible research topic for you, and I hope you’ve found what you were looking for.

    I’ve been trying to think of what other World War II Mormonabilia I’ve come across. The only thing that occurs to me besides the magazine materials is a little booklet addressing the duties of citizens, and the gospel in wartime, that was read in every Mormon congregation early in the war. I’ve got a copy in my own files somewhere (my mother was selected by her bishop to read the document in Sacrament Meeting in her ward because she read aloud so well; she kept the booklet, and passed it on to me).

    There may have been small items related to World War I, because many of the Relief Societies became branches of the American Red Cross; there would have been circulars and reports, possibly posters and certificates, related to that. And the Beehive Girls could purchase a “war emergency” pin to wear on their bandlos if they met certain requirements of service.

    Can anybody think of anything else? Ever see or hear of Mormon posters, or badges or banners or anything like that?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 20, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

  16. Dogtags stamped with “LDS” were authorized mid-war; that might fall into this category. And the servicemen’s edition of the scriptures.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 20, 2009 @ 9:33 pm

  17. Re #10, Ron Walker’s August 1982 Sunstone article discusses what he refers to as a strain of “qualified pacificism” in Mormon history. There’s also R. Stott’s thesis on selected Mormon thought on war.

    Comment by Justin — March 21, 2009 @ 8:11 am

  18. The tenor of the original post and the initial comment seem to ignore the realities of life in the United States in 1942. War in 1942 was far off for people in the mainland United States (not quite as far as Iraq or Afghanistan)–but the outcome of the war was surely in doubt, in a way that neither Iraq nor Afghanistan (nor Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, Somalia or on and on and on) were or ever will be.

    Remember: until Midway, in early June 1942, the American experience in the war had been one defeat after another, punctuated only by some unmitigated disasters: Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Clark Field, then Manila, then Bataan and Correigidor. The British in Asia fared just as badly: Hong Kong, then the Malay Peninsula, and then the “impregnable” island fortress of Singapore. The Dutch East Indies were next, and they fell before the Japanese advance.

    And, not only were the U.S. forces being beaten, but we didn’t have sufficient men, weapons and materiel to send any reinforcements or supplies to the Pacific. The doggerel coined by someone in the Philippines was appropriate:

    We’re the battlin’ bastards of Bataan,
    No Mama, no Papa, No Uncle Sam.

    On the other side of the world, things weren’t looking much better in 1942: England stood alone in the West (barely–German submarines were still sinking huge amounts of Allied shipping), and the Soviets appeared to be getting whipped again in the Germans’ summer offensives. All of Eastern Europe was under German control–the Baltic States, the Balkans, Greece, Crete, Byelorussia, large areas of western Russia and the Ukraine had been taken by the Germans–Leningrad was besieged, and would remain that way for 900 days, the German Army was not far from Moscow, and in the south the Sixth Army was advancing rapidly towards Stalingrad.

    In Africa the British fortress at Tobruk fell, and it appeared that Rommel and the Afrika Korps might march all the way to the Nile, perhaps Jerusalem, and then what? The Caucausus–to link up with the Sixth Army?

    Surely those conditions required the same kind of faith and fortitude that the 1847 pioneers needed. For as in 1847, the very survival of a people was at stake.

    To suggest that encouragement to join in that effort is simply exploitation is shameful. Or it’s simply a sign of rank ignorance.

    Surely there was substantial faith in ultimate victory by the Allies. Churchill expressed that faith in his speech to the Commons after Dunkirk:

    [E]ven if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

    But the disasters of late 1941 and early 1942 must have tried even Churchill’s faith in those words.

    And calling people to join in that struggle is “exploitation”? All I can say to that is “HBO!!”

    Note also: none of the subjects listed in the ad were directly applicable to war fighting–except perhaps “aviation.” But I’d be surprised if BYU ran a flight school–perhaps aeronautical engineering or airplane mechanics would be a more apt description, if we were writing the ad today.

    It seems unlikely that the chemistry, physics and math that my father took the one quarter he was at BYU, a year later, was applicable either to infantry tactics or field stripping and cleaning his M-1 rifle. No, the copywriters were thinking of a much different type of work that needed to be done.

    And they rightly said that education at BYU could help both in the life-and-death struggle in which the nation was engaged and in the struggles of the peace to come.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 21, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

  19. Thank you, Mark B., for taking me back and making me stand in the shoes of church members who read this advertisement in 1942. The analogy between the 19th century refugee/pioneers and 20th century war-time now feels right, and isn’t incongruous as it first struck me.

    In defense of some commenters, I’ll note that I have recently posted university advertisements that teased BYU (the school I attended) and were deliberately intended to play off the BYU/University of Utah rivalry in a humorous way. Some commenters responded to this ad as if it were another entry in that dialogue of one-up-manship between the schools without intent to offend other readers or disparage the courage of our parents and grandparents or the sacrifices of today’s soldiers.

    This discussion has resulted in some offense and misunderstandings which I didn’t foresee, and which I never intend to have a place on Keepa. I apologize for my contributions to that, and hope that if the discussion continues it will be with more sensitivity to each other and to the likely intentions of those who wrote and read this advertisement in 1942.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 21, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

  20. I wanted to pop in and say that my initial comment (referring to Fox News) was not meant to be just snark. I regret it to the extent that it perhaps caused some offense. I don’t regret the message I was trying to convey; it was meant to be a light-hearted way of commenting on the fact that it seemed the ad took an unlikely route to get to promoting enrolling at BYU. In no way did I intend to disparage the “greatest generation,” for whom my esteem is great.

    Comment by Hunter — March 21, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  21. Interesting as usual, Ardis – and a superb comment by Mark B.

    We talk of Niblet nominations for humorous comments, but Mark’s is worthy of praise on its own – even out of the context of the discussion. Add that context, and it was absolutely masterful.

    Comment by Ray — March 21, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  22. Agreed, Ray — if I had known where this was headed, I would have asked Mark to let me put up that ad with his comment as the initial post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 21, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

  23. I’ve found this discussion very interesting. I understand the desire to avoid conflict and hard feelings, but I don’t know if the original post alone would have elicited the very interesting response from Mark B in comment 18. What a magnificent historical context and explanation of the original post.

    Comment by Researcher — March 22, 2009 @ 8:53 am

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