Anti-War Sentiments During World War I
In my reading and research, I've noticed, in particular, that there was quite a bit of anti-war sentiment in the United States during World War I. I wrote on this blog not too long ago, for instance, about the fact that such sentiment was not altogether uncommon among German Americans (although German Americans were suspected of harboring such sentiments more often than they actually did). I also wrote a year or so ago about the so-called Cleburne County Draft War, which was a clash in Cleburne County, Arkansas, in early 1918 between local law enforcement and a small sect of Russellites whose sons had been targeted for arrest because they had not registered for the draft. The Russellites, as I explained at the time, was a religious sect that was a forerunner to present-day Jehovah's Witnesses. Often called Bible Students or the Watch Tower Society, the Russellites were noted for their pacifism, as are Jehovah's Witnesses still today.
Another interesting case of Russellite opposition to World War I occurred in Jasper County, Missouri. A Webb City man named L.D. Barnes, an avowed Bible Student, became the object of an investigation by the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) in early 1918 after he wrote a number of letters to the Joplin Globe and to area citizens espousing his opposition to the war. Although the agent who investigated Barnes labeled him "a religious crank of the worst kind," some of the things Barnes said in his letters actually make a lot of sense for anyone who is interested in paying more than lip service to the ideas of the New Testament. For instance, in one letter that he wrote to the minister of a Methodist church in Webb City, Barnes (who was upset by something he had read on the church's marquee about supporting the war effort) challenged the minister and his followers to live up to what the Bible actually teaches. "War and Christianity won't mix," he declared. "Ye cannot serve God and the Devil. If war is right, Christianity is wrong, false, a lie. If Christianity is right, war is wrong, false, a lie. The God revealed by Jesus is no God of battles. He lifts no sword. His rule is peace, and His method of persuasion is forgiveness. Hear the Scripture: 'Thou shalt not kill.'"
Especially in light of the terror and fanaticism we see in the world today, one might reasonably argue that Barnes was an impractical idealist, but I don't think I would call him "a religious crank of the worst kind."