Chautauqua considers war on its own terms: political, sociological, spiritual

Column by George Cooper.

Before coming to Chautauqua to help George Vincent in presiding over the Institution, Arthur Bestor Jr. had studied at Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wis., and graduated from University of Chicago in 1901. According to Theodore Morrison’s book, Chautauqua: A Center for Education, Religion, and the Arts in America, Bestor had taught history and political science at Franklin College in Indiana and lectured on political science in the University Extension Division, established by William Rainey Harper. He came to Chautauqua in 1905.

A decade later, in the summer of 1915, the Great War was a year into its duration. In 1914, a symposium had been hastily arranged to give various perspectives on the brewing conflict: German, English and French. In the 1915 Season, The Chautauquan Daily communicated various perspectives on war, but that summer they were framed from a particularly Chautauqua point of view.

Political scientist Bestor was a natural to give a “Concise War Story: Dominant Personalities in the Great War.” The Daily reported that the speech was perhaps “the most concise story of the greatest war in the history of the world that the audience had ever heard.”

Bestor said that it was a Great War because “nine hundred and fifty millions of the fourteen hundred millions of men on the earth are under the domination of the nations engaged in the war.”

He traced the history of the war, reviewing the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, describing the development of the world’s colonization and Germany’s growth, and reflecting on how “the vast, ever-widening extent of the British Empire, upon which ‘the sun never sets’ made it imperative that that nation retain supreme command of the seas.” France needed a buffer between herself and Germany. Russia wanted the Dardanelles. Serbia and other small Balkan states wanted independence.

In closing, Bestor struck a patriotic though even-tempered note, reviewing the position of the U.S. in relation to the war and emphasizing “the necessity of the loyalty and cooperation of all our people in upholding the President.”

Dr. Herbert Adams Gibbons of Paris offered a more partisan perspective on July 16 — the “Effect of War on Drink.” The Daily reported that “speaking from personal observation, he told of the prohibitory measures in France since the outbreak of the war and their salutary effect in that country.”

Gibbons said that the French are a great people for posters. When war first broke out, news of it was communicated through posters “stuck on all the walls of Paris.” By the second day of mobilization, the posters indicated “the military authorities of the city of Paris had ordered all cafes and places in which liquor was sold in Paris to be closed every evening at 8 o’clock.”

Absinthe had been prohibited. No drinks could be sold to soldiers within the war zone. In a short time, no liquor could be sold to anyone in that territory, Gibbons said. From those prohibitions, Gibbons implied how closely allied were the forces of disorder and lawlessness and those of liquor. Once liquor had been prohibited, “there hasn’t been the slightest disorder in Paris.”

The prohibition was not due to a mere scare from the German invasion, “but that the suppression is absolutely essential to the welfare of the nation. Do not believe the stories you hear that things in France are the same as before, and even worse than before. They are not true. There is no drinking among the soldiers in the trenches,” Gibbons said.

A similar view appeared in the July 20 Daily as it reported on a meeting by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. It was an “interesting” meeting. It opened with the singing of the Chautauqua County song. Mr. C.E. Treat of Jamestown read the Scripture, and the Scripture was followed by a prayer.

“Mrs. Katherine Warner, the vice president of the Chautauqua County Union, was then introduced and spoke on ‘Social Service,’ ” the Daily reported, “The liquor traffic, she said, is a worse enemy to humanity than war, pestilence, or famine.”

The Divinity School offered a perspective on war, as presented by its Dean Shailer Mathews who would give three lectures on “Wars of the Bible.” The lectures were given during the Devotional Hour and delivered in the Amphitheater at 10 a.m. on Aug. 16, 17 and 19. The Daily reported that he spoke to a large congregation.

In his first lecture, “Wars of Conquest — Joshua,” Mathews said, “We are in need today of a clear Christian conception upon military and naval matters, for we have been passing through a crisis for the last year much greater than that which sent us to war with Spain in 1898.”

The early wars under Joshua were brutal and terrible wars of conquest. Despite the brutality and slaughter, “we see arising the Semitic traits of idealism and acquisitiveness,” Mathews said. “Looking deeply at this chapter of barbaric history in which there is so much that is terrible, we still feel that somehow God was preparing the way for the time to come when not generals with the sword, but prophets with the divine word shall be the leaders and guides of humanity.”

Dean Mathews’ second lecture was titled “Wars of National Deliverance — Saul.”

After the death of Joshua, there was an age of darkness and confusion; “ignorance, superstition and brutality prevailed.” Saul was big. He stood head and shoulders above other men. But he lacked aspiration and had “a hard time with the tribes and the Philistines, and David.”

David succeeded Saul but continued the brutality. Mathews spoke of the psalm attributed to David which “speaks of dashing the heads of the little ones against the wall. And there are others where Jehovah is praised and invoked as the god of war.”

While these stories are of ugly times, they were preparation for higher things and for the distant advent of “Christ even in those dark and bloody days. There is evident a growing sense of the presence and power of God in the world. We begin to see that by and by there will be a Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule.”

Finally, Mathews spoke of “War with Spiritual Forces — Paul.” In man is a fighting instinct, the animal idea to hurt somebody. Opposed to the animal idea is a Christian idea to fight to help men. “In Paul’s time people were full of superstitions about spirits and demons in trees and in grave yards. Men feared the shades of their ancestors.”

The idea of Christian warfare is to subdue and control the animal and to release and develop the spirit. “Paul does not have much to say about social relations,” Mathews said. “Almost all his teaching is in terms of the individual because he thought the world was soon to come to an end.”