world war ii

Image via Les Innocentes / RNS

A new film opening July 8 focuses attention on a long-ignored war crime — the sanctioned and systematic rape of Polish nuns during World War II.

The Innocents (Les Innocentes) tells the story of a young French doctor who is called to a Polish convent to aid a young novice in a breech labor. She discovers that Soviet soldiers, with the approval of their officers, raped dozens of the nuns during the occupation, leaving five of them pregnant.

Tad Taube Tad Taube 04-27-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Amir Cohen

An Armenian woman lights a candle in remembrance of the Armenian genocide. Photo via REUTERS / Amir Cohen

One hundred years ago — April 1915 — as World War I raged across Europe, the government of the Ottoman Empire attacked its Armenian citizens. Over the next several years, it is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Armenians died. Able-bodied men were murdered or enslaved as forced labor in the army, and hundreds of thousands of women, children, the infirm, and the elderly were marched into the Syrian desert to face death.

Supported by the Young Turks, an ultranationalist party that approved systematic deportation, abduction, torture, massacre, and the expropriation of Armenian wealth, the German-allied Ottoman government used the excuse of war to initiate the forcible removal of Armenians from Armenia and Anatolia where they had lived for centuries.

The targeting and mass murder of Armenians has been termed a genocide.

Although racial, ethnic, and religious wars have killed millions over the centuries, genocide is a unique byproduct of the 20th century. It requires both a rabid nationalism and the capacity of a central authority to organize and implement a sustained and systematic program of targeted mass destruction. Not until the 20th century had governments the necessary technologies, resources, and means to ally their historical ethnic, religious, or racist hatreds with radical nationalism to end the collective existence of a people.

The Armenian genocide was recognized and deplored around the world, even as modern Turkey resists the “genocide” label. American diplomats, Russians, Arabs, and German officers stationed in Ottoman lands witnessed the slaughter and alerted the wider world. In May 1915, Great Britain, France, and Russia vowed to hold the Turks personally responsible for their crimes. Relief efforts to save the “starving Armenians” were widespread.

Jim Wallis 06-06-2014
American War Cemetery at Omaha Beach, Normandy.  ilolab /

American War Cemetery at Omaha Beach, Normandy. ilolab /

On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, I thought of my father, who died several years ago. James Emerson Wallis, Sr. was commissioned in the Navy, graduated from college at the University of Michigan, and was married — all on the same June day in 1945! After a very quick honeymoon, my Dad was sent out almost immediately to the Pacific as the engineering officer on a destroyer minesweeper. I heard most about that day, and the days that followed, while sitting with my father on the benches at the World War II Memorial shortly after it opened in Washington, D.C. I soon realized why there were so many benches there — so old war veterans could sit down for a while, even for hours, to remember and tell their stories to the ones they most love.

For his 80th birthday, our family invited my dad to go anywhere in the world he wanted to go. He said he wanted to go to Oxford, England, to see the where his favorite Christian author C.S. Lewis lived — and then he wanted to go to Normandy, where so many of his high school buddies died on D-Day. He wanted to go to those beaches and to that special place himself to see the memorials to his friends. So we did both. My father got to sit at the desk of C.S. Lewis with a big smile on his face. Then I took my dad and my father-in-law to that very solemn place where American and Allied soldiers paid such a heavy human cost in perhaps the most historically significant military action in history.

QR Blog Editor 06-02-2014

Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese-American human rights activist, died on Sunday at the age of 93. Kochiyama's family was among those Japanese-Americans interned by the United States during World War II.

NPR reports on her work:

Living in housing projects among black and Puerto Rican neighbors inspired her interest in the civil rights movement. Kochiyama held weekly open houses for activists in the family's apartment, where she taped newspaper clippings to the walls and kept piles of leaflets on the kitchen table. "Our house felt like it was the movement 24/7," said her eldest daughter Audee Kochiyama-Holman.

Kochiyama is also known for rushing towards Malcom X after his assination, where she appeared images of the incident, according to NPR:

Minutes after gunmen fired at Malcolm X in 1965 during his last speech in New York City, she rushed towards him and cradled his head on her lap. A black-and-white photo in Life magazine shows Kochiyama peering worriedly through horn-rimmed glasses at Malcolm X's bullet-riddled body.

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

An interfaith coalition has again asked the U.S. House of Representatives to reject a prayer plaque at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The proposed plaque, which is under the consideration of a House subcommittee, would feature a prayer spoken by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the radio on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

“O Lord, give us Faith,” it reads in part. “Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade.” It concludes with, “Thy will be done, Almighty God.”

The coalition — a mix of religious and secular organizations that includes the Center for Inquiry, a humanist organization; three Jewish groups; the Hindu American Foundation; and the United Methodist Church – said the prayer does not reflect the religious diversity of the United States.

Paul Alexander 01-31-2014

Early Pentecostal denominations, including the Assemblies of God, opposed war and supported peacemaking. What happened to this peace legacy?

Chris Herlinger 01-17-2014

Marc Chagall with Solitude, 1933. Private collection. ©Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris. Photo:RNS courtesy The Jewish Museum

At a moment when the world is flush with new books and ever-evolving interpretations of Jesus, one of the last century’s artistic masters is providing art lovers with a striking take on the first-century religious figure.

The first U.S. exhibition exploring the “darker works” of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) shows a Jewish artist obsessed with Jesus.

Chagall: Love, War, and Exile,” at The Jewish Museum in New York showcases the work of the Russian-French artist during World War II as he tried to make sense of a world gone mad.

Of particular interest are paintings depicting the crucified Jesus — depictions that are often read as metaphors not only for war but the particular expressions of Jewish suffering and persecution in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.

John Caniglia 03-20-2012
Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Demjanjuk emerges from a Munich court after a judge sentenced him to 5 years in prison.Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images

CLEVELAND--Former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk died Saturday (March 17) in Germany, ending nearly 35 years of legal battles with officials in three countries who claimed he was a guard in a Nazi death camp. He was 91.

During his decades-long trials, Demjanjuk was imprisoned in the United States, sentenced to death in Israel -- until its highest court freed him -- and, last May, convicted in Germany for serving as an accessory in the deaths of more than 28,000 people at a death camp.

A German court sentenced Demjanjuk to five years in prison but he was freed while he appealed the conviction.

Demjanjuk had been living in a nursing home in Bad Feilnbach in southern Germany, according to The Associated Press. He died nearly three years after being taken from his home in suburban Cleveland and flown overseas.

Demjanjuk was deported after U.S. judges ruled that he lied about his Nazi past when he entered the country in 1952 and that he was a guard at two concentration camps and a death camp in World War II.

Crowds gather at the Subtreasury building on Wall Street for Armistice Day 1918

"Thousands gather at the Subtreasury Building on Wall Street during Armistice Day, 1918."

Before Veteran’s Day was Veteran’s Day, it was Armistice Day.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the cessation of hostilities of World War I took effect.

It was supposed to be the end of the "war to end all wars."

In 1926, Congress passed a resolution to commemorate the day “with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding.”  

In 1938 the day became known as “Armistice Day” with the intent that it would be a day dedicated to the world peace.

In 1954, after World War II, when the world stood in horror at the sight of the Nazi genocide machine and ghastly bombings of civilian populations culminating in the first ever deployment of nuclear bombs, the day became known as Veteran’s Day — a day to honor military service.

I say if we are to truly honor veterans, we ought to remember and honor Armistice Day with the hope that we can bring an end to violent conflict within and between nations.

Bryan Farrell 05-25-2011
No one delivers sad irony quite like the United States Military. Yesterday the U.S.
Lisa Sharon Harper 04-12-2011
I've been fasting for 15 days in solidarity with the hung
Elizabeth Palmberg 08-03-2010
As is pretty universally agreed by economists and (these days) ignored by many politicians -- who seem determined to run on a Herbert Hoover platform -- in the short term, the government must and
Ryan Beiler 04-09-2010

Several sources have recommended this commentary by M.J. Rosenberg at Media Matters as a helpful analysis of the new "Obama Peace Plan" for the Middle East.

Marilyn Anderson 03-19-2010

I never doubted that I was a descendant of immigrants. Shortly after World War II, students were asked to fill out forms listing their nationality. For several years, I laboriously spelled out "Norwegian" until a teacher tapped me on the shoulder and told me it was more correct to write "American."

Brian McLaren 12-17-2009
The president's campaign speech in Philadelphia on race and his speech earlier this year to the Muslim world from Egypt were, in my mind, two of the most important presidential speeches of my lifet