Book Write-Up: The Summoned King, by Dave Neuendorf

Dave Neuendorf.  The Summoned King: Book One of the Kalymbrian Chronicles.  2016.  See here to purchase the book.

The Summoned King is a Christian fantasy book.

High school student James Madison Young ends up in the fictional country of Kalymbria after cramming in the library for a chemistry exam.  He was brought there by the wizard Maynard, and Jim is appointed king.  Kalymbria prefers to “avoid problems inherent in a hereditary monarchy” and thus summons its kings from other planets, after a process of observing them (page 8).  Jim is given a wife, Julia, who is from the peasant class, and Jim has to become accustomed to that, since he is rather awkward around the opposite sex.  Julia has the potential to become powerful in the usage of magic, but she is gradually feeling her wings, under Maynard’s tutelage.

Jim has to contend with a Council of Advisors, which expects him to rubber-stamp its every decision and is the real power in Kalymbria.  Jim devises strategies to gain more power and to create a just system in the country, against much opposition.  Meanwhile, there is the looming threat of war, and the witch Ruingia is making attacks.

If you like political science, then you will enjoy this book.  The book is detailed about the political, social, and religious system of Kalymbria and surrounding countries.  The book is also detailed about aspects of technology.  While that could be slow and tedious, in areas, it did add greater believability to the story.

Politically, Jim is rather progressive in Kalymbria, since Jim abolishes slavery, challenges human sacrifice, eliminates state support for religion, and attempts to create a republic.  The book seems to reflect a rather conservative political stance, in terms of American political ideology, since Jim supports the gold standard and institutes the right to keep and bear arms.

There are action scenes in the book, and they enhance the story, but the political, social, and religious aspects of the book’s world were what especially intrigued me.

A question that occurred to me was why Maynard would choose a teenager to be king, of all people.  But it actually makes sense.  Maynard wanted to effect reforms in Kalymbria.  Perhaps he felt that Jim was impressionable and teachable enough to do what Maynard advised, while having enough intelligence to be an effective ruler.

One of my favorite scenes is when the witch Ruingia sends Jim a message, and the message was like Princess Leia’s message to Obi-Wan in Star Wars (a hologram, of sorts).  Jim sees Ruingia, and she does not look like a hag at all, but rather like a grandmother.

This is the first book of a series, and I hope to read subsequent books.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

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Milavec-a new way for displaced people


The main and most interesting part of Aaron Milavec’s The Didache is the commentary. His subtitle is Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary. I had expected the analysis in a separate section, but what he means by analysis is the way he has broken down and outlined the translation. So the commentary is the longest section of the book.

I am always unsure how to proceed when summarizing and reflecting on a commentary. This one moves through the document chapter by chapter and section by section. Milavec often refers to more detailed discussions that are in his longer book. Since I am not making the effort to read that, I am going to try not to bash him for assumptions he makes here which he defends there.

So I guess I will just proceed with some thoughts about how he deals with the Didache’s first two chapters.

If you read the first chapter…

View original post 664 more words

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Book Write-Up: The Wish, by Beverly Lewis

Beverly Lewis.  The Wish.  Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

The Wish is the latest Amish fiction novel by Beverly Lewis.  It is largely set in Lancaster County, where there is a sizeable Amish community.

Leona Speicher enjoyed spending time with the Gingeriches more than her own family, for she felt accepted among the Gingeriches.  Leona especially had a bond with Gloria Gingerich, the daughter of the family.  When the patriarch of the Gingerich family, Arkansas Joe, was shunned by the Amish community, he and his family left.  Leona did not hear from Gloria for years, until one day, she received a letter from Gloria.  Leona paid a visit to the Gingerich family, which had ceased being Amish and had instead embraced mainstream ways.  When Gloria visits the Amish community with Leona, Gloria comes to terms with what she left behind, and her regret that her family left the Amish community.

This book covered beautiful themes.  There is Leona’s eventual embrace of her own taciturn family, and her parents’ acceptance of her.  Gloria’s visit to Lancaster County evoked a profound sense of nostalgia and longing, though those elements were drawn out a bit too much.  The novel effectively conveyed Gloria’s feeling of being at home within the Amish community.  And the book was moving when it covered the themes of accepting people on a different path, and making restitution to those one has harmed.

The scene in which Leona visits the post-Amish Gingeriches and sees them sitting at the table in the same order that they sat at it back when they were Amish was rather eerie.

The book also had interesting details: there are Amish farmers who follow the biblical land Sabbath by allowing their land to rest every seventh year, for example.

Whereas a number of Amish fiction novels, including some of the ones by Beverly Lewis, have a lot of characters and things going on, this novel had a manageable number of characters, while still staying interesting.

In terms of critiques, the book would have been better had it gone more deeply into certain spiritual themes.  The question of whether one needs to be Amish to be a Christian is raised in this book, but the book should have at least attempted to provide an answer to that question, or at least more wrestling with it.  Gloria was drinking in from an Amish devotional, and the book could have had more of a spiritual content had it informed readers about what themes Gloria was learning from her devotions.

The book was somewhat confusing in its characterization of Gloria.  On the one hand, the book portrays her as a devout, spiritual person: she went to church after her family had ceased going, for instance.  On the other hand, the book depicts her as wanting to return to the Amish to be with Leona, rather than for any spiritual reasons, and that contradicted the book’s portrayal of Gloria elsewhere: as a spiritual person who felt at home with Amish ways.

The book is still beautiful, however.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.


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Book Write-Up: Sunlight, by Julius Buchanan

Julius Buchanan.  Sunlight: Acts of the United Sceptres, Book One.  Julius Buchanan, 2015.  See here to purchase the book.

The back cover of this book says that Julius Buchanan “writes fantasy novels that drill into the deep questions of life and faith.”  It goes on to say that Buchanan “doesn’t just want to entertain you” but “aims to leave you relishing life and finding your purpose for waking up tomorrow.”

Overall, that accurately characterizes this book.  Sunlight explores spiritual territory and offers constructive advice.  One character continually focuses on what she cannot do and what is impossible, and she is exhorted to look for the possibilities.  Another character was abused and unwanted when he was younger and still deals with the effects of that rejection; he is encouraged to forgive in order to find his destiny.  Different characters in this book fight a spiritual, not just a physical, battle.  They are challenging Marduk, a demonic entity who has taken over their country and has obscured sunlight, and yet a significant part of this battle is their war with their own inner demons.

Three of the characters need to undergo tests before they can use their gifts in battle.  One of them learns that failure and humility is a way to pass the test.  There is also the issue of weaponry: the heroes refuse to use the weapons of the enemy, for those weapons are evil, and how one fights is just as important as winning.

All of these are edifying themes, which can provide readers with a constructive outlook when they wake up in the morning.  They also enhance the story, in that they allow readers to know and identify with the characters.

There are aspects of the book’s world that are enchanting, or intriguing.  There are giant birds, who have a story in their own right.  The book also includes biblical-like accounts of the world’s past.  Perhaps the book could have been less obvious about this, as opposed to, say, using the name “Najo” for “Jonah.”  Still, its presentation of the land’s mysterious past added intrigue.

The book’s plot was dry and plodding, however, and there was a lot of focus on technical details.  The book also should have reiterated more often what the mission of the gifted children was, in case some readers did not pick up on that the first time.  Aspects of the book could have been better integrated into the plot.  The book did well to highlight some of the weapons that the heroes refuse to use, for example, but what weapons were they to use instead, and how were they effective?  The children had their gifts, but one of the heroes still used a sword.

In short, the homiletical parts of the book were the parts that I understood the best and enjoyed the most.  The fantasy plot, not so much.  The book edified me somewhat, but it did not entertain.  It had potential, though!

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.




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Ramblings on Music and Worship

Some of you may be coming here from Gavin Rumney’s blog.  Gavin referred to my recent write-up about the Book of Mormon.  You can read my post about the Book of Mormon here.

Now for my church write-up!  I attend church every Sunday, and, each week, I write a post about something that I got out of the service.

Warning: scattered ramblings ahead!

At church last week, the pastor in his sermon was talking about how he and his wife were watching The Voice on TV.  On that show, a woman was singing on stage, and the people in the audience were waving their hands.  Some were closing their eyes and enjoying the music.  That reminded the pastor of church.

The pastor was drawing some conclusions from this.  One question he asked was why people cannot be as excited about God, as they are about a singer who does not even know them!  The pastor made clear that he does not want us to wave our hands in worship just to please him, but he asked us to consider his question.

That got me thinking about music.  Here are some thoughts:

A.  I do not think that The Voice was counterfeiting the church.  Rather, I think that music is a powerful force, and that is why it has been incorporated into worship throughout history.

This is not an absolute statement, for some biblical scholars have noticed that there is no reference to musical accompaniment in the priestly sections of the Torah.  Biblical scholar Israel Knohl wrote a book entitled The Sanctuary of Silence.  I say in my post here, as I interact with Knohl’s book: “For Knohl, the priest’s ideal was for people to be silent before a majestic God.  Knohl cites Psalm 65:2: to you (God), silence is praise.”

But there is a lot in the Bible about praising God with music!  To quote Psalm 150:4: “Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs” (Psalm 150).  King David in I Chronicles 25 is credited with establishing Temple musicians, but the Bible depicts music in worship before then: in Exodus 15, the Israelites sing after their Egyptian adversaries are thrown into the sea, and Moses’ sister Miriam plays the timbrel.

Music is a way for people to express their happiness and their longings.  The church uses music so that people can express their happiness and longings towards God, in the context of worship.

B.  The Church of Christ does not include musical instruments in its worship.  The people sing at Church of Christ services, but without accompaniment by musical instruments.  There were church fathers and Christian thinkers who were likewise critical of using musical instruments in worship.  See here for some passages that are critical of musical instruments, but also here for patristic passages that are more supportive of them.

A criticism that some Christians have employed against using musical instruments in worship is that instruments appeal to the flesh.  Their argument is that Old Testament religion was very physical and thus incorporated musical accompaniment to appeal to worshipers, whereas New Testament religion is supposed to be spiritual.  Yet, even those who use this argument seem to acknowledge a place for music in worship, so long as it is sung vocally.  Ephesians 5:19, after all, encourages “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (KJV).

Personally, I do not see what the big deal is when it comes to using musical instruments in worship.  If we are allowed to enhance or manifest our appreciation of God with singing, why not add instrumental accompaniment to the mix?  And is it so wrong to appeal to the physical senses in worship?  Nowadays, many Christian thinkers are rejecting the anti-physical, ultra-spiritual orientation that has characterized elements of Christianity throughout history, noting that God loves God’s physical creation and plans to renew it and dwell in it.

C.  A while back, I was reading Dan Barker’s deconversion testimony.  I cannot find what exactly I read, but here is wikipedia’s page about Dan Barker, in case you want to know more about him.  Essentially, Dan Barker was an evangelical musician who became an atheist.  And my understanding is that there was a season in which he was still singing Christian music, even though he was no longer a believer.

When Dan came out as an atheist, many of his Christian friends and acquaintances were shocked.  One friend asked Dan how Dan made such beautiful, heart-felt music, without believing a word that he was singing.  Dan replied that it was the music that was making him happy, not the words to the songs.

I can somewhat identify with this.  One of the things that I especially like about the church that I attend is its music.  The church is an African-American church, but there are people of other ethnicities and races who attend, as well.  The music is a force of nature!  And, in contrast to some of the other churches that I have visited, the congregation at this church actively participates in the singing: they clap, they wave their hands.  I have visited other churches, and I often feel unsatisfied with the music at these places: perhaps I want to hear more, or I wish that I could display enthusiasm without being looked upon as a nut.  At the church that I am currently attending, I feel fed by the music, and I leave the services feeling full.

But here is a question: am I excited by the music, or by the God towards whom that music is directed?  I cannot deny that I love the music.  I like to clap my hands and sing and bop my head, even when there are times that I am not sure what I believe or feel about God.  I don’t think that is horrible.  I just hope to feel good about God, too.

Whether I display that sort of enthusiasm at secular concerts or when I am listening to secular music, that is a good question.  I suppose that it depends on whether I like the music!  I one time attended a secular concert and I did not care for the music.  But I will say this: I do like art that actually makes a valuable or an edifying point, and that is one reason that I tend to gravitate towards worship music, or Christian music.  I still enjoy the secular stuff, but its lyrics do not edify me that much.  If I were to go to church, and the music there lacked any reference to God, I would be disappointed.


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Book Write-Up: The Book of Mormon

I recently finished the Book of Mormon!  Here are some thoughts:

A.  Let’s start with a summary of what the Book of Mormon is about.

Jerusalem is about to be destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C.E..  Lehi, who lives in Jerusalem but is descended from Jacob’s son Joseph, leaves Jerusalem on a ship with his family.  Lehi is a righteous man.  His son Nephi is also righteous.  But his son Laman is not: Laman resents Nephi, loves riches, and does not want to leave Jerusalem.

Lehi’s family arrives in America.  The Lamanites descend from Laman, and the Nephites descend from Nephi.  The Lamanites are warlike and desire power.  They carry around a distorted memory that their ancestor Nephi deprived them of what was rightfully theirs.  The Nephites are somewhat like Israel in the Old Testament: they have the truth, and there are times when they are fairly righteous, but they often stray from the straight and narrow.

A lot of the Book of Mormon describes conflict between the Lamanites and the Nephites.  God often uses the Lamanites to punish the Nephites when the Nephites are unrighteous; the Nephites do well, however, when they trust in God to help them in battle.

At one point, some Nephites send missionaries to the Lamanites.  A group of Lamanites convert, and they decide to forswear war, at great cost to themselves.  God does not require pacifism in the Book of Mormon, but these Lamanites want to repudiate their warlike past, so they covenant with God not to fight in wars anymore.

Zarahemla is a region in America.  My impression is that it was started by other Jews who left Jerusalem when Jerusalem was about to be destroyed.  Nephites offer to rule Zarahemla, and Zarahemla accepts their rule.

Jesus Christ comes to America in the first century C.E. and preaches to the Nephites, the Lamanites, and Lehi’s other descendants.  Jesus preaches some of the things that are in the New Testament, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and pieces of his last speech in the Gospel of John.  Jesus also establishes a church in America.

At this point, the distinction between the Nephites and the Lamanites becomes rather confusing.  On the one hand, there are indications that the Nephites and the Lamanites are no longer racial or ethnic groups, but rather religious groups: the Nephites are those who accept Jesus Christ, regardless of what their nationality may be, whereas the Lamanites are those who reject Jesus Christ.  On the other hand, there also seem to be indications that the distinction between the Nephites and the Lamanites is still ethnic, or racial.  There was a prophecy before Jesus came to America that the Nephites would be exterminated in four hundred years on account of their sin, and, when this prophecy was made, the Nephites were still Nephites in a racial or ethnic sense.  And, four hundred years later, long after the coming of Christ, the Nephites were fatally defeated because they had fallen into deep iniquity.  This prophecy-and-fulfillment would make more sense if the Nephites remained an ethnic group before and after Christ came; maybe the solution is that most of the ethnic Nephites accepted Christ, whereas most of the ethnic Lamanites did not.

Mormons consider the Lamanites to be the ancestors of at least some of the Native Americans.  In the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites receive dark skin twice: one time before Christ came, and the other time after Christ came.

There is another group in the Americas, and it is discussed in the Book of Ether.  These people descended from Jared’s family, which came to America after God scattered the people at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.  The Jaredites had successions of righteous and wicked kings, and there was political infighting.  Centuries later, the Nephite Moroni, who also hid the Book of Mormon, read the Jaredites’ records.

B.  There were a lot of surprises in the Book of Mormon.  Mormons are often associated with polygamy, on account of their history.  But the Book of Mormon condemns polygamy!  In terms of their view on the Godhead, Mormons are usually labeled as tritheists: people who focus on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being three distinct beings rather than their unity in one Godhead.  In the Book of Mormon, however, there are places in which Jesus seems to be equated with God the Father, as if the two are the exact same person; that would be modalism, not tritheism!  (There are also places in which the Father and Son appear to be distinct.)  Mormons fall on the continuationist side of the cessationist-continuationist debate.  On the one hand, that is not much of a surprise: after all, they believe that Scripture was written after the time of the New Testament, so, in their mind, prophetic gifts must not have ceased after the completion of the New Testament canon!  On the other hand, it is surprising because I never thought that Mormons believed in speaking in tongues or the continuing existence of miraculous healing!  The Book of Mormon says that these gifts remain and that, if they are not around, it is due to a lack of faith.

Some friends who have read about Mormonism helped me out on some of these items.  One said that Mormonism changed its position on polygamy and noted that the Book of Mormon is not the final authority within Mormonism, since there is the Pearl of Great Price.

(UPDATE: Something else that surprised me about the Book of Mormon was that it lacked the heresies or oddities that many say are characteristic of Mormonism: Satan and Jesus being brothers, God the Father once being a baby on a planet, human beings becoming God, people being married in the afterlife, etc.)

C.  There seemed to me to be some interaction in the Book of Mormon with nineteenth century thought.  Universalism, the idea that all people will eventually be saved, is criticized in the Book of Mormon.  There is also a criticism of atheism, as a hero uses the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the idea that people should have faith to support belief in God.  Another idea that gets criticized a couple of times is the idea that God could not become flesh; perhaps the Book of Mormon, in that case, is arguing against a nineteenth century idea that Jesus was merely a man.  The Book of Mormon also takes a swipe at people who form secret societies to overthrow kings.  Could that reflect concern about Masons or the Illuminati, or something like that?  (I am just speculating here.)

D.  Related to (C.), one indication to me that the Book of Mormon was written in the nineteenth century, as opposed to having authentic pre-Christian documents, is that its prophecies about Jesus are so heavy-handed and specific!  In the Book of Mormon, people in the B.C. era knew who Christ was, and some were even converting to Christ in the Christian sense.  The Old Testament is not that heavy-handed and specific when it supposedly predicts the advent of Christ!

E.  In the Book of Mormon, salvation comes by faith, repentance, and baptism.  It does not believe in once-saved-always-saved, for it maintains that a person can fall from the faith and become worse than he was before, even more hardened to God and morality.  My impression (and this is subject to correction) is that it held that Christians need to uphold their salvation through continued repentance.

F. The Book of Mormon is against the baptism of children because it believes that children are innocent, perhaps in the sense that they are not yet accountable.  In fact, the Book says that those who promote the baptism of children will themselves go to hell!

G.  A question that I had in my mind is whether the Book of Mormon maintains that only those who accept the Book of Mormon will be saved.  There is a sense in the Book of Mormon that the Gentile world, or Christendom, has the truth, on some level, for there is a prophecy that the Gentiles will bring the New Testament to America.  At the same time, Christendom is deemed to be corrupt and immoral; there seem to be a couple of swipes in the Book of Mormon against Christians who preach grace-only!  There do appear to be statements that true Christians will accept the Book of Mormon.  The argument for the Book of Mormon in a few of these passages is that it encourages people to do good, and this shows that it is from God.  But couldn’t the same be said about the Bhagavad Gita?  And suppose that people do good without guidance from the Book of Mormon.  Why wouldn’t God accept them?  What would Mormonism say about that?  The Book of Mormon may be edifying, but what does it add, that is not already in the Old and New Testaments?

H.  There is a passage in the Book of Mormon that appears to suggest that everyone is invited to attend services; I thought that Mormons were more secluded or mysterious than that, but I am open to correction.  While all can attend services, however, communion can only be taken by actual believers, who are also subject to church discipline.

I.  On the Calvinist-Arminian spectrum, the Book of Mormon seems to me to fall more on the Arminian side.  There appears to be an acknowledgment of prevenient grace, and a belief that Christians can lose their salvation.  At the same time, in an enigmatic passage, there seems to be an indication that the Fall of Adam and Eve was a necessary part of God’s plan.  In 2 Nephi 2:23-24, we read that, had Adam and Eve not sinned, they would have had no children.  V 4 then says, “But all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.”  This reminds me of the Calvinist view that God decreed the Fall, yet I do not want to say that Calvinists and the Book of Mormon are exactly alike in regarding the Fall as positive.  I should also note that there are places in the Book of Mormon in which the Fall is treated as negative.

J.  2 Nephi 18:19 intrigued me.  It is drawing from Isaiah 8:19, yet diverges from it on a significant detail.  Isaiah 8:19 states: “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?” (KJV, emphasis mine).  2 Nephi 18:19 states: “And when they say unto you: Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and mutter—-should not a people seek unto their God for the living to hear from the dead?”  (Emphasis mine)  Do you see the difference?  Isaiah 8:19 forbids consulting the dead.  2 Nephi 18:19, however, seems to say that consulting the dead is acceptable, as long as people do so through God.  Why would the Book of Mormon change Isaiah 8:19?  My speculation is that it did so because of its belief that Moroni, long after his death, appeared to Joseph Smith and told him where he (Moroni) buried the plates.  Joseph Smith heard from a dead person, but not by going to wizards or fortunetellers.  Maybe I am reading too much into 2 Nephi 18:19, but its difference from Isaiah 8:19 certainly stood out to me.

A final word: I apologize for any distortions or important omissions in this book write-up.  Any distortions are not intentional.  This write-up is my informal general impression of the Book of Mormon.   

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Book Write-Up: War Against War, by Michael Kazin

Michael Kazin.  War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918.  Simon and Schuster, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Michael Kazin teaches history at Georgetown University and co-edits the publication DissentWar Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918 is about the American anti-war movement during World War I.  The book talks about who was involved in the anti-war movement and why, chronicles the events that led up to American intervention into the war, and discusses the attempts by the U.S. government to suppress anti-war dissent through such measures as the Espionage Act.

A book that was continually on my mind as I read Kazin’s book was William P. Hoar’s Architects of Conspiracy, which I read back when I was in the sixth grade.  Hoar’s book was published by Western Islands, which was the publishing arm of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society, and my understanding is that some of the chapters of Hoar’s book also appeared in the Bircher periodical American Opinion.

Why was Hoar’s book on my mind as I was reading Kazin’s book?  In a sense, much of what I knew about World War I and the players involved came from Hoar’s book, and I have not read much about World War I since then.  The school that I attended as a child covered the high points of World War I, such as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the sinking of the Lusitania, and the Zimmermann telegram.  But it did not talk much about the prominent personalities who had an opinion about the war: Woodrow Wilson, Charles Lindbergh, William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Jane Addams, Eugene Debs, Henry Cabot Lodge, and the list goes on.  Hoar’s book covered a lot of those personalities.

But, in significant areas, the narrative in Hoar’s book was different from the narrative in Kazin’s book.  Both clearly overlapped in that both were highly critical of American entry into World War I.  But Hoar talks about World War I within the context of his sweeping narrative about how the rich Insiders were trying to create a one world government.  In the course of Hoar’s narrative, there are heroes and villains.  Woodrow Wilson was a villain because he broke his promise not to get America into war, and because he promoted the League of Nations after World War I.  Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan was a hero because he valiantly opposed American entry into the war.  Charles Lindbergh, Sr. (father of the famous pilot) was likewise a hero because he opposed American entry into the war (and also the Federal Reserve, which is another story).  Henry Cabot Lodge was a hero because he stood against American entry into the League of Nations.  Henry Ford was a heroic anti-Internationalist.  Andrew Carnegie was a villain because he supported a one-world government.  Jane Addams was a villain because of her left-leaning stances.  The progressives were bad because they wanted socialism.

Kazin’s book presents a picture that is more complicated.  Woodrow Wilson emerges as a figure who was trying to keep America out of war as long as he felt he could, and he had reservations even after the U.S. got into the war.  William Jennings Bryan was largely critical of American intervention, yet, at the same time, like many in the anti-war movement, he supported a globalist system to keep the peace, the sort of system that many Birchers would find abhorrent!  Charles Lindbergh was critical of American entry into the war, but he was one of the few Republicans to oppose it: in Kazin’s telling, many Republicans wanted a stronger military and supported the war because that would benefit their wealthy corporate backers.  Henry Cabot Lodge supported American entry into the war.  Henry Ford was against the war and sided with leftists who wanted a one-world government, or something like that.  Andrew Carnegie and Jane Addams opposed American entry into the war, as did the progressive Robert La Follette.  Hoar’s heroes were not entirely heroic, by Bircher standards, and his villains were not entirely villainous.  At the same time, while Kazin talks a lot about the leftist opposition to American involvement in World War I, Kazin also tells the story of Southern conservative Democrats who were against the war.

(This is not to suggest that I had a Bircher view about World War I until I read Kazin’s book, but rather that Hoar’s book was on my mind when I was reading Kazin.)

Kazin is a compelling narrator and storyteller.  He gives the background of many of the people who opposed World War I, and their reasons for opposing American entry.  Among the criticisms of American entry was a sense that it would benefit wealthy capitalists rather than workers, a belief that negotiation could alleviate the international tension, a utopian desire for a globalist sort of system to maintain the peace, a recognition of the horrors of war, and a sense that America need not worry about foreign conflict because America was invulnerable to outside attack, since two oceans protected it.  Moreover, for a while, President Woodrow Wilson was reluctant to create a standing army or to boost U.S. military spending because he preferred the Jeffersonian Democratic aversion to a strong military.

Kazin also talks about the rationale of Americans who supported the war.  There was a sense that war brought out the best in people, giving them the opportunity to think beyond themselves and to exercise such virtues as courage.  There was some fear that Germans could attack America’s cities, and the Zimmermann telegram confirmed in some minds that the Germans had hostile intentions towards the United States and could attack from Mexico.  Germans were interfering with U.S. and British trade by sinking ships.  Some American labor representatives thought the the war could boost the economy and help workers.  There was a desire for the U.S. to be strong: Theodore Roosevelt especially articulated this, as he portrayed Wilson as a weakling.  Among certain leftists, there was concern that Germany could threaten the newly emerging Soviet Union, which they saw as the beginnings of a model and just society.

In reading Kazin’s narrative, I had difficulty identifying a clear event that got America into the war.  Even after the Germans sank the Lusitania, Wilson was still dragging his feet.  There were anti-war people who considered the Zimmermann telegram a fake.  But, as Germans continued being aggressive and rejected peace overtures, more and more Americans got tired and thought that the U.S. should enter the war.  Wilson later targeted the anti-war activists whom he once embraced because he thought that they were undermining morale.

Kazin explores interesting historical topics: how women conducted the anti-war movement in a different manner from men; the different attitudes toward the war within the African-American community, as some championed the war as an opportunity for African-Americans to support freedom and demonstrate their valor, whereas others contended that it was hypocritical for America to fight for freedom abroad while neglecting it at home; and how anti-war legislators sought to modify American entry into the war, by attempting to impose a heavy tax on wealthy industrialists to pay for it!  Kazin also discusses the role of Helen Keller in opposing the war, and Henry Ford’s unsuccessful and derided attempt to negotiate a peace settlement.

In addition, Kazin provides a helpful timeline and list of books at the end.

In terms of critiques, Kazin perhaps could have been clearer about what specifically precipitated American intervention.  Moreover, although Kazin effectively described the motivations of so many people, he also should have gone into more detail about German motivations: why were the Germans doing what they were doing?

Overall, though, this is an informative, interesting, and engaging book.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.




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