The Winnipeg Free Press published an article today on the phenomenon of Mennonite soldiers and WWII.
Over 40% of eligible Canadian Mennonites enlisted in the Armed Forces during WWII. The varying reactions this provoked at home, the activity of COs during and after the war, and the long-term results of this mass enlistment on the Canadian Mennonite community are all interesting, complex, and important stories.
Unfortunately, the Free Press seems to have taken this story as an opportunity for military propaganda. Soldiers are simply praised for accepting new values and bravely breaking with tradition, even when they did so because they “were looking for adventure.” The potential courage (and real consequences) of breaking with the sentiment of a country at war is not addressed or acknowledged in any manner. And, the author, Randy Turner, condemns those Mennonite churches who “shunned” unapologetic returning soldiers. It’s not explicit, but it seems like he, like those I wrote against a week and a half ago, thinks that the church should not be in the business of judging, but should rather unconditionally support each person in his or her individual choices. Add to this a number of historical discrepancies, and you end up with a very bad article.
I’ve written to the Free Press, telling them as much. The text of that letter is below.
Randy Turner’s article is an excellent example of someone writing out of his depth on nearly every level imaginable. If the Free Press wanted to use Remembrance Day as an opportunity to attack Mennonite practices and convictions it should have done so explicitly, rather than through the pretense of running an historical report on Mennonite soldiers. Those Mennonites who signed up for military service during WWII were certainly entitled to do so, but I fail to see why a church that views all violence as contrary to the Christian life should have welcomed these soldiers back, no questions asked. Indeed, such action would have been contradictory and hypocritical. Meanwhile, I find myself resolutely on the side of those churches who “weren’t interested in glorifying the war” (D5) and condemned the unapologetic stance that war is a good opportunity for adventure (D2, D4) amidst the nationalistic military fervor of the time. Certainly this is an interesting story, full of complexity, nuance, and shameful acts on every side. That story still waits to be written.