Life is War

Compiled and condensed from the writings and speeches of Ralph D. Winter
By Brian Lowther

Here is an analogy: Not many people alive today lived through World War II. Those of us who did can recall the utter transformation of a nation involved in all-out war. Swarms of “servicemen” (including women) swirled about on planes, trains, and buses, heading off to ports of departure for the various “theaters of war” around the world. Eleven million were sprayed out across the globe in the Army, Air Corps, and the Navy. But 200 million “civilians” staying behind were equally occupied by the war. As millions of men disappeared from their jobs women back home took their places. A largely women’s workforce (“Rosie the riveter”) built entire ships one every fourteen days, medium bombers one every four hours. It was no longer a peacetime situation. Crime dropped, and thousands of industries were transformed. Factories that once made cars now built tanks. Others that made nylon stockings now made nylon cords for parachutes. Still others made new things like ammunition, thousands and thousands of vehicles of strange new types, plus thousands of ships (six thousand of which went to the bottom in the Atlantic war alone).

Don’t you know there is a war on?

I vividly recall that even domestic activity was extensively bent and refitted to support both the true essentials of society as well as the war effort. The gasoline being burned up by war vehicles on land, armadas of ships and submarines at sea, and hundreds and even thousands of fuel-burning planes in the air, did not leave enough gasoline for anything but truly essential use at home. You could be fined $50 (today that would be $500) for going on a Sunday drive with the family if that trip did not include some war-related or crucial civilian-related purpose.  I mean, you can’t believe the strictures on the civilian population during an all-out war like that.  Coffee totally disappeared as a non-essential: incoming ships had no room for such trivialities because more crucial goods took their place. Women saved their bacon grease to make explosives and planted victory gardens. People on the coastlines drove twenty miles per hour after dark with their headlights partially blacked out, or volunteered as air-raid wardens or donated their rubber raincoats and tires and bathing caps, even though they couldn’t be recycled for military use. Any idle moments or carelessly disposed materials were instantly challenged by “Don’t you know there is a war on?” 

An authentic U.S. ration booklet from World War II. These instructions appeared on the back cover of the booklet: "Rationing is a vital part of the war effort.  Any attempt to violate the rules is an effort to deny someone his share and will create hardship and help the enemy. Be guided by the rule: “If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.”

An authentic U.S. ration booklet from World War II. These instructions appeared on the back cover of the booklet: "Rationing is a vital part of the war effort.  Any attempt to violate the rules is an effort to deny someone his share and will create hardship and help the enemy. Be guided by the rule: “If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.”

Now I wish today, I wish today that Christians would say that also and they would say it often to another Christian who is blowing his time or his money or his interest on something that is very trivial. “Don’t you know there is a war on?”

(See reconsecration.org for more of Ralph and Roberta's thoughts on the subject of wartime lifestyle.)

Captured by the War

There has never been another war the scope of the Second World War. Our country has never really been jeopardized [since then]. We weren’t jeopardized by the Viet Nam War, or the Korean War, or by what happened in Rwanda.  We have never been running for our lives [like we were in] the Second World War.  The point is that every single citizen of this country—like in no other period since then—became captured by that war.  

The famous philosopher of yesteryear, Mortimer Adler, made the observation that what the world needed was the “moral equivalent of war.” That is, an attitude of all-out war effort not fighting against flesh and blood, but a similarly massive, urgent, intense, sacrificial concentration of human beings against not humans but human problems. I would add, against an enemy that is not human and whose very existence is denied apathetically by even most Christians today. Not since World War II has America seen all out mobilization of the general population to support the cause of attaining victory over what was almost universally acknowledged to be a great evil.

Wars in the past have typically gotten started because of some massive and aggressive challenge, like the sinking of the Lusitania (WWI), or the bombing of Pearl Harbor (WWII). The closest thing to that might be a global plague of the sort that killed from 50 to 100 million people in 1918 - far more people right after World War I than were killed in the war itself. But even that might not lead to the kind of total war which the United States and other nations experienced in what we call the Second World War.

Pearl Harbour bombing December 7, 1941--CC BY-NC-SA by akwccr

Pearl Harbour bombing December 7, 1941--CC BY-NC-SA by akwccr

There is no likelihood that the equivalent of a Pearl Harbor is going to happen that would rally the social resources of the world, or even Christian resources, or more particularly, the Evangelicals. But it is easily possible to imagine that the force of the Lord’s Prayer “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” would require us to do everything we possibly can, not just to exhibit fantastic personal sacrifice, but to mobilize as much of the Christian world and the non-Christian world as possible.

Ok now, one of my experiences getting into the war: I was at Cal Tech, already in my second year there. And the Navy and the Army both said, “We need some of these college students to join and especially those with engineering and scientific training. And we will pay their tuition until they graduate and then make them officers.” And this was a pretty good deal, because it wasn’t an option. It was only one of two or three inevitabilities. “You either do that, you go with the Army, or you get drafted. You don’t have any other choice.” Well, you know most students signed up for either the Army or the Navy in their officer program. And so, I got in the Navy.

All of a sudden the whole school was taken over by the Navy. And it was now a military training base. We were studying all the same engineering things and science things. But there was now a new course called “The History of Naval Warfare” and a few other things. And so, we were being prepared for being officers in the U.S. Navy. 

Ralph Winter - 1943

Ralph Winter - 1943

Among other things, we were issued new clothes. We couldn’t just wear our own clothes. They shaved our heads. They changed everything. They had a whole new vocabulary.  In the Navy they didn’t have walls and floors and ceilings. They had bulkheads. Every word practically, was different. People would say all kinds of crazy things like “Knock it off.” At night I thought to myself when I was first in the Navy, “What do they mean by knock it off?” They mean, “Shush up! Be quiet.” That was just a Navy phrase. But it became so customary that it eventually sounded perfectly fine.

Everything is subordinate to winning the war

The thing I do recall is, the clothes we were issued––the shoes, the pants, the other garments we were given––were absolutely high quality stuff. Now, my family was never really a poor family, but we never bought stuff like that. And the navy took very good care of you. You didn’t have to say, “Now let's see, I think I need to get my teeth cleaned.” [That] was on a schedule. Your whole life was scheduled. The Navy was really basically, a very good operation to belong to. Talk about safety and care and concern. 

When somebody joins the Navy and he gets all these nice clothes, got his hat, got his belt, got his shoes. There is always a meal. You never have to lift a finger. You have a place to sleep. All this is worked out, and he says: “My, this is really great. I just love the Navy. The Navy has been so kind to me. I just want to glorify the Navy. The Navy has just taken my life and given me new clothes, and a new life and a new vocabulary” and on and on and on…  and he keeps saying this and saying this and saying this. Pretty soon somebody is going to say: “Wait a minute, we didn’t give you these things to [make you] happy. We gave you these things to fight a war and to give your life if necessary." 

You see, the Navy didn’t really care about me, they cared about winning the battle. The war was more important than any one person’s life. They were training us to give our lives. In the battle of Midway, there were seventy-five planes that took off after those Japanese ships. They knew they were never coming back, they didn’t have enough gas to get back. They were doing it, not to save their lives, but to give their lives. They were winning a war and everything was subordinate to that. 

Missionary Call

Up until now, in your church you may have gotten the impression that you get the missionary call and off you go. You lose all your possibilities of being a rich businessman or a great computer programmer because now God is going to waste your life as a missionary. Either that happens, or it doesn’t.  Either you’re called as a missionary, or you can just live your life. Try to get the best job possible. Try to marry the right person. Get the right kind of house. Get the right kind of car. Maybe get a boat, and just have a great time! “My this is really great, I just love God. The Lord has been so kind to me. I just want to glorify the Lord. The Lord has just taken my life and given me new beliefs, a new life, new friends, new vocabulary. He is so good, so good, so good, so good, so good, so good…" 

And God says, “Wait a minute, I didn’t give you these things to enjoy them merely, or simply to praise me. I gave you these things to fight a war and to give your life if necessary."

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a missionary call. Is there anybody here who has accepted Christ but not accepted his commission? If you have not accepted his commission you have not accepted Christ! You can’t divide between Christ and the work he is doing and the purposes he has. 

And God says, “Wait a minute, I didn’t give you these things to enjoy them merely, or simply to praise me. I gave you these things to fight a war and to give your life if necessary."

He who seeks to save his life will lose it

America today is a “save yourself” society if there ever was one. But does it really work? The underdeveloped societies suffer from one set of diseases: tuberculosis, malnutrition, pneumonia, parasites, typhoid, cholera, typhus, etc. Affluent America has virtually invented a whole new set of diseases: obesity, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, venereal disease, cirrhosis of the liver, drug addiction, alcoholism, divorce, battered children, suicide, murder. Take your choice.

Labor-saving machines have turned out to be body-killing devices. Our affluence has allowed both mobility and isolation of the nuclear family and, as a result, our divorce courts, our prisons and our mental institutions are flooded. In saving ourselves we have nearly lost ourselves.

Now when Jesus said, “He who seeks to save his life will lose it,” he may have been referring to something like this. We really don’t have any basis for assuming that all God wants of us is to make each one of us a wonderful, glorious, worshipping believer. 1 John 3:8 says “The Son of God appeared for this purpose that he might destroy the works of the devil.” And “As my Father has sent me, even so I send you.”  John 20:21

The Bible more than any other thing in my life has really stopped and stunned and changed my life. And it’s something that you can’t laugh off.  I want to refer you to 2 Corinthians 5:15. He died for all so that they might have nice uniforms and a place to stay and food to eat and just get along wonderfully? No, that's not what it says. It says, “He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and rose again.” Do you know what that means? That means you have no options. You cannot say, "God has not called me." God has called you. You’re all part of the war effort. Let me read it again. “He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and rose again.”

What would happen to this world if more evangelical Christians were to realize that God blessed them with money in order to make them a blessing, not to pamper them?
~Roberta Winter
Posted on July 10, 2012 and filed under Blog, Second 30, Essays.