A Religious History of the American GI in World War II


A Religious History of the American GI in World War II

G. Kurt Piehler

Studies in War, Society, and the Military Series

416 pages
25 photographs, 1 illustration, index


December 2021


$65.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2021


$65.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2021


$65.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

A Religious History of the American GI in World War II breaks new ground by recounting the armed forces’ unprecedented efforts to meet the spiritual needs of the fifteen million men and women who served in World War II. For President Franklin D. Roosevelt and many GIs, religion remained a core American value that fortified their resolve in the fight against Axis tyranny. While combatants turned to fellow comrades for support, even more were sustained by prayer. GIs flocked to services, and when they mourned comrades lost in battle, chaplains offered solace and underscored the righteousness of their cause. This study is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the social history of the American GI during World War II.

Drawing on an extensive range of letters, diaries, oral histories, and memoirs, G. Kurt Piehler challenges the conventional wisdom that portrays the American GI as a nonideological warrior. American GIs echoed the views of FDR, who saw a Nazi victory as a threat to religious freedom and recognized the antisemitic character of the regime. Official policies promoted a civil religion that stressed equality between Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Judaism. Many chaplains embraced this tri-faith vision and strived to meet the spiritual needs of all servicepeople regardless of their own denomination. While examples of bigotry, sectarianism, and intolerance remained, the armed forces fostered the free exercise of religion that promoted a respect for the plurality of American religious life among GIs.

Author Bio

G. Kurt Piehler is director of the Institute on World War and the Human Experience and an associate professor of history at Florida State University. He is author of Remembering War the American Way and World War II.


"A Religious History of the American GI is a welcome addition to the growing literature on lived religious experience in wartime."—Brad Carter, Journal of Church and State

"Kurt Piehler's examination of religion and the World War II GI is exceptionally well researched and written. His extensive use of archival and secondary sources, including soldiers' memoirs, oral histories, and letters, strengthens his argument and takes the reader into the lived religious lives of American soldiers during World War II. Piehler's work will appeal to both scholars and the general public, as well as anyone interested in the intersection of religion and war during the Second World War."—Steve R. Waddell, Journal of Arizona History

"For readers interested in the experiences of the men and women who served, A Religious History of the American GI in World War II offers a tremendous collection of revealing anecdotes, accounts, and analyses of how religion was lived and felt during the war; and for those interested in the many ways that war and religion have intersected throughout American history, Piehler's study will prove a valuable resource and a useful point of departure for future studies."—Jessica Cooperman, American Jewish Archives Journal

"I heartily and unconditionally recommend A Religious History of the American GI in World War II as the best book available on World War II's chaplain service and the challenges US forces faced in trying to maintain their faith."—MM Gibson, Christian Century

“Deftly combining cultural, social, and military history, G. Kurt Piehler gives us a sophisticated understanding of the role of religion at the national and individual levels during World War II. This book should become the standard treatment on the topic.”—Michael S. Neiberg, author of Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I

“Why did GIs fight? When did America become a ‘tri-faith’ nation of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews? These seem to be separate questions, but G. Kurt Piehler’s insightful reevaluation of World War II shows how they and other questions are connected. By examining the spiritual lives of ‘the greatest generation’ in unprecedented depth, Piehler offers a new perspective on changing religious cultures and how they fit in American society.”—Andrew Preston, author of Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Promoting the Free Exercise of Religion
1. Mobilizing a Faithful Nation for War
2. Mobilizing Chaplains and Building Chapels
3. Turning Civilians into GIs
4. Pilgrims to the Four Corners of the World
5. Religion and the Ethical Conduct of War
6. Fear, Faith, and the Will to Fight
7. The Question of Race and Religion
8. Patriarchy and the Religious Life of Military Women
9. The Wounded
10. The Dead
11. Prisoners of War
12. Religion and Reconciliation with Enemies
Conclusion: Legacies of War


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