The Desert Cross, World War I, and the Justification of War

The Sojourners posted a great, brief article and a Colbert clip on the Desert Cross controversy.

How the Desert Cross once looked:

How it looks now:

I find it disturbing for a cross to be a war memorial, especially during WWI in which both sides claimed to on the God's side.

During WWI, an American preacher gave a passionate sermon in which he said, “ It is God who has summoned us to this war. It is his war we are fighting...the greatest in history—the holiest. It is in the profoundest and truest sense a Holy War....Yes, it is Christ, the king of Righteousness, who calls us to grapple in deadly strife with this unholy and blasphemous power [Germany].” The dilemma with a statement such as this is that “inscribed on the belts and helmets of the men fighting for this 'unholy and blasphemous power' was the slogan, 'Gott mit uns' (God [be] with us), and their greatest wartime motto, inscribed on scores of monuments to their dead, to be covered by the ruins of a second World War was, 'Fuer Gott und Vaterland' (for God and country). On whose side was God?” [1].

On whose side was God?

One of the dilemmas of war is that every side believes they are on the morally righteous side. Albert Keim and Grant Stoltzfus, two prominent CO historians, wrote:
This view [just war] today the essence of the war ethic of most Christian groups. Implicitly, of course, it contains an alternative to war; if the war to be waged is an unjust war, the Christian alternative is not to participate. Unfortunately very few Christians through the centuries have rejected war on the grounds that it was unjust. Virtually all wars have been 'just' wars [2].
WWI, in the end, had no righteous winner. Americans were not quick to stand up and declare the war a just war although it was sold to them as such. Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes, a historian from Columbia University, noted that none of the stated reasons for entering the first world war were achieved. Americans had been sold a basket of lofty ideals that more resembled deception after the war. Prior to WWII, Barnes wrote:
We are all familiar enough with the myths that we believed in the first war. We were taught that our intervention was the only thing that could prevent Germany from conquering the world. We were informed that we were saving the world from further carnage and the rule of brute force. Finally, we were led to believe that we were fighting for noble ideals which would set up a new era in human civilization. On every point our experience in the first World War proved a tragic disappointment and disillusionment...By entering the first World War we did not save the world. We only made possible the smashing victory of the Allies which produced the fatal peace treaties...Not a single major ideal of wartime was realized [3].
This animosity toward war because of the false bag of goods sold during WWI crept up in the discussions prior to America entering WWII. The dominant thought against joining another war in Europe raged through America in the late 30s. Former President Hoover gave a statement in a speech on peace that was representative of the thoughts of many Americans in 1939 prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States entry into WWII:
Last night I referred to the suffering of women and children in the Great War...For years it was my sole occupation to care for the homeless, the foodless, the frightened, and the helpless. I have witnessed their sufferings in twenty nations. And when one speaks to me of war, I do not see the glorious parade of troops marching to the tunes of gay music. I do not think of great statesmen planning and worrying in their chancelleries. Nor do I think of those dazzling chambers where the peacemakers of the world meet to settle the affairs of mankind. I see the faces of hungry, despaired, and terrorized women and children. These are the real victims of modern war. The violence of war is year by year falling more and more horribly upon the civilian populations. Starvation by blockade and killing from the air have become weapons of attack in modern war. At least they have become methods of reprisals. Put bluntly that means wholesale killing of women and children [4].
War had been revealed during WWI as a new beast in the modern age with advanced military technology. In war, especially with air warfare, women and children die. Bombs did not distinguish between the warrior and the civilian. Blockades caused advanced industrial societies to starve since much of their food needs to be imported. The victims of this starvation were not the military or government leaders; they would be first in line to receive food. “All over Europe it was the women and children who, weakened from scanty food supplies, died not in hundreds of thousands but in millions” [5]. The new weapons of war—bombing, blockading, and complete mobilization of industrial society—caused whole societies rather than just the men to become participants and victims in war [6].

In modern warfare, can any war be just?

[1] Quoted in Mennonite General Conference, Peace Problems Committee, The Churches and War, (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1956), 16.

[2] Albert Keim and Grant Stoltzfus, The Politics of Conscience, Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1988, 19.

[3] Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes, Common Sense Neutrality, ed. Paul Comly French ( New York: Hastings House, 1939), 14-15.

[4] President Herbert Hoover, Common Sense Neutrality, ed. Paul Comly French ( New York: Hastings House, 1939), 110-111.

[5] Ibid, 111.

[6] Ibid, 111-113