Saturday, September 21, 2013

 This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 22

Methodist Student Federation Officers Meet in Fort Worth, September, 1924

Methodist  students from eleven Texas institutions (McMurry, SMU, University of Texas, Lon Morris College, Texas A&M, Sam Houston State Teachers’ College, East Texas State Teachers’ College, North Texas State Teachers’ College, Texas Women’s College. College of Industrial Arts and Southwestern University) met for five days at a campground on Lake Worth at the beginning of the 1924-1925 academic year.  They were all officers in Methodist organizations on their home campuses. 

Their planning retreat happened to include September 12, and that coincidence provided hours of late-night discussion for the college students.  September 12 was the date chosen by the War Department as “National Defense Day,” in which all regular army units and National Guard units engaged in practice mobilization.  There was no imminent (or even long range) threat and the event was mainly a gimmick to honor General J. J. Pershing who had announced his retirement for Sept. 13.

 For those of us who have lived in the post-1941 militarized world of standing armies and huge military appropriations, such a mobilization doesn't seem controversial.  Attitudes in 1924 were different.  The horrors of World War I were a painful, recent memory.  All over the world were young men whose missing limbs, blindness, scarred lungs, and shell shock (the old term for PTSD) were a constant reminder of the insanity of war. 

In 1924 historians and other interpreters were trying to make sense of the Great War.  Almost all the interpreters agreed that one of the most important causes of the war was militarization, including increasing armaments and frequent mobilization of forces.  The “Guns of August” had been preceded by military maneuvers and practice mobilizations by the European armies.

The Methodist college students attending the Methodist Student Federation in 1924 were too young to have fought in the war, but during their formative years they had been bombarded with war news.  It is little wonder that many of them studied the Gospels and dedicated themselves to working for world peace.

With such  historical memory it is little wonder that National Defense Day generated opposition not just from idealistic college students, but also from a wide swath of the population.  The governors of Maine, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Colorado all publicly denounced National Defense Day.

Governor Sweet of Colorado even refused to issue orders so the Colorado National Guard could participate.  Governor Al Smith of New York wavered and finally agreed to include his state’s National Guard.  He also asked the public to go to church and pray for goodwill among nations.  Religious bodies, including the Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference of 1924, passed resolutions against National Defense Day. 

One of the retreat speakers was Jack Doty, an assistant history professor from SMU.  His lecture was “Christianity in International Relations.”   In Nov. 1919 Doty and fellow student George Thomas were named the first Rhodes Scholars from SMU. Doty was thus speaking as one with European experience.  Since Doty’s lecture was held on National Defense Day, the discussion that followed focused on the event.  Although no resolution was offered, the reporter covering the event wrote that the group felt that the event should not have been held. 

Methodist college students of 1924 had lived through heady times.  They had seen Christian progressivism triumph with the prohibition of alcohol.  They had seen women get the vote in both civic elections and elections for General Conference delegates.   Many had devoured the works of Social Gospel writers such as Charles Monroe Sheldon and Walter Rauschenbusch.  The next compelling crusade seemed to be peace.—a vital religion demanded it, and they were ready to give their lives for the cause. 

Personal note:  As I wrote this blog, I was reminded of my link to the student idealism of the era through my aunt and uncle, the Rev. Charles and Ruby Hardt.  They lived out the gospel through a life of missionary service to war-torn Europe and pastoral ministry in the West Texas and then Southwest Texas Conference.  Among their other contributions to the cause of world peace is an endowment administered by the Southwest Texas Conference intended to promote the issues at the core of Jesus’ teachings—peace


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