Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 21, 2000
New sense of solidarity arose in post-war world
With fascism apparently defeated, the post-war period was marked on the one hand by triumphalism, with the terms "capitalism" and "democracy" used almost interchangeably.
On the other hand, an equally hyped-up paranoia for creeping socialism threatened to spoil the victory party of the "free world."
It was the beginning of the arms race, backyard bunkers, sirens on street corners and basic safety instructions to school children should the enemy's bomb drop on their neighbourhood.
It was also a time of U.S. witch-hunts to weed out suspected anarchists and communists and a time of serious discussions about the "Yellow Peril." In 1949 Mao Tse Tung at the head of a popular army had walked into the forbidden city of Beijing.
The move was greeted by a small group of western artists and intellectuals as an end to feudalism and crippling medieval disparity between the obscene wealth of the ruling aristocracy and abject poverty of the peasantry.
In the mid-'50s I joined the Knights of Columbus. It happened to coincide with a request from China to join the UN. Word came down from the K of C headquarters that all Catholic men were to sign a petition and vote no to the request.
I argued in vain that it was insanity to deny the legitimacy of the government of the world's largest population and to refuse them membership in the only institution that offered hope for global peace.
My objections were overruled. I was young and idealistic and decided I had to leave this group of older men who were too easily swayed by blind obedience.
Obedience had become a major issue in the post-war era. At the Nuremberg trials, most German officers charged with crimes against humanity pleaded innocence on the basis that they had followed orders.
Obedience to authority had been a virtue upheld for centuries by Church, state and the military. Suddenly the virtue had been demonstrated to be a vice.
Young people were persuaded to question authority as Thomas More had some centuries before. Civil disobedience became an option and a tool to address issues of social injustice.
Other time-honoured structures fell as a result of the war. War not only results in death and destruction but the upheaval also impacts society at different levels, sometimes positively.
One outcome of the war was that people were thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, with their humanity as the only common denominator. Barriers that had kept people apart began to crumble.
The old order of class distinction gave way, denominational differences began to evaporate, division of labour on the basis of gender was found wanting, parochialism and regionalism were considered too restrictive.
The gulf between clergy and laity was narrowed and even the chasm between rich and poor was no longer seen as ordained by God. Hopeful visions of one humanity were put forward.
The revolutionary idea was proposed that we were responsible for each other's welfare and that we could improve the world by becoming better persons ourselves. Moral Rearmament clubs and Catholic Action groups sprang up while inspirational speakers such as Archbishop Fulton Sheen and others addressed vast audiences through radio and television.
In France, this new sense of responsibility for each other found its most hopeful expression in the movement of the worker-priest. A number of heroic young priests descended from the safety of their pulpits to enter the mines and factories to work shoulder to shoulder with their parishioners.
A certain Angelo Roncalli was papal nuncio in France at that time. His time to change the world had yet to come.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.