Difficult Choices, New Perspectives: The Mennonite Experience of World War II
Hans Werner is a Senior Scholar, Mennonite Studies, University of Winnipeg.
The recent invasion of Ukraine has again raised the spectre of war and the ethical challenges war presents. Along with the majority in Western societies most of us have empathy for the plight of Ukrainians and countries and individuals have risen to the challenge of helping in a variety of ways. Some assistance has been to alleviate suffering or to welcome victims, some to help defend using violent means by supplying weaponry, some to use economic and social pressure to try to end the war. This course will revisit the history of Mennonite responses to and experience of World War II with a particular focus on the challenge of not taking up arms in situations where there were no easy answers and many ethical challenges. We will begin by revisiting the 16th century context for the pacifist position and then engage themes of self-defence, suffering, compromise, alternative state service, and ethical choices as they were experienced by Mennonites in World War II. We will end with a look at how the war experience changed Mennonite thinking about political involvement, obligations to the state, and individual conscience.
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