“Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”: World War II, the Apocalypse, and Fundamentalist Political Activism

Friday, January 8, 2010: 10:10 AM
Elizabeth Ballroom B (Hyatt)
Matthew Avery Sutton , Washington State University, Pullman, WA
Shortly after the United States entered World War II, fundamentalist leader Louis Bauman preached, “the nations have gone goose-stepping toward Armageddon ever since 1914. It would seem that it is about time for their arrival on that fateful spot.” He went on to identify Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union in Old Testament prophecies, and predicted that World War II would culminate in the second coming of Christ and the battle of Armageddon.

Although Bauman has been overlooked by historians, his efforts to link biblical prophecy to the United States’ role in World War II were not unique. He was part of a large movement of fundamentalists who in the 1940s blended apocalyptic rhetoric with cultural activism. This paper, which examines the relationships among American fundamentalists, apocalyptic thought, and political activism during World War II, is significant for the following reasons. First, it demonstrates how evangelicals read biblical prophecy through the lens of current events, which in turn shaped their understandings of the war, the enemy, and American political liberalism. Second, this research reveals the origins of evangelicals’ hyper patriotism and nationalistic ideology, and the consequences of that ideology, as the faithful came to see themselves as the saviors and guardians of American culture in a world wracked by depression, war, and the rumblings of the Antichrist. Unlike their World War I-era predecessors, fundamentalists in the 1940s emerged as the nation’s most patriotic (and xenophobic) citizens. Finally, this paper analyzes the specific ways in which fundamentalists moved from the cultural margins to the center of political debate in the post-Scopes Trial era as they responded to what they perceived as increasing secularization, the breakdown of the family, and the federal government’s encroachment on their liberties.

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