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Warm Beer and Cold Canons: US Army Chaplains and Alcohol Consumption in World War II



US Army Chaplains in World War II grappled with many problems associated with the moral welfare of their soldier congregations. One of the most troubling issues was the consumption of alcohol. Analysing the archival data from the Chief of Chaplains files and the first-person accounts of chaplains, this article focusses on the difficulties chaplains faced with their concerns about saving men's souls during a time of war. Alcohol consumption was high among both enlisted men and officers in the US Army and many chaplains worried about the impact that alcohol would have on the men's moral well-being. There were differences among chaplains relating to their denominations, which goes some way to explaining the different approaches taken by individual chaplains. Methodist chaplains did not approach the issue of alcohol consumption in the same way as many Catholic chaplains, for example. The Chief of Chaplains, as a Catholic and a regular army serviceman, had a more pragmatic view. This article explores those differences.



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1 Burnham, John, Bad Habits: Drinking, Smoking, Taking Drugs, Gambling, Sexual Misbehavior, and Swearing in American History (New York: New York University Press, 1993) p. 37.

2 Rubin, Jay, “The Wet War: American Liquor Control, 1941–1945,” in Blocker, J., ed. Alcohol, Reform and Society: The Liquor Issue in Social Context (Greenwood, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979), 235–58, 236.

3 Ibid., 246.

4 Chambers, John W. II, ed., Oxford Companion to American Military History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 699.

5 Rubin, 238.

6 Memo, Chief of Staff to Secretary of War, 12 May 1941, NARA RG 407, Army AG, Box 993, File 250.1, Morals and Conduct. All subsequent archival references are from the National Archive and Record Administration and will be indicated by use of record group and box numbers only.

7 Clarence W. Hall, “A Tale of Two Cities Near the Military Camps,” Christian Advocate, 27 Feb. 1941.

8 Letter, C. Coulter to D. Terry, 17 Feb. 1941. RG 247, Box 193.

9 Letter, D. Terry to W. Arnold, 22 Feb. 1941; and letter, W. Arnold to D. Terry, 27 Feb. 1941, RG 247, Box 193.

10 Rubin, 245 n. 55.

11 Rose, Kenneth D., Myth and the Greatest Generation: A Social History of Americans in World War II (New York: Routledge, 2008), 38.

12 Ellis, John, The Sharp End: The Fighting Man in World War II (New York: Charles Schribner's Sons, 1980), 289.

13 Griesedieck, Alvin, “Beer and Brewing in a Nation at War,” Quarterly Journal of Studies in Alcohol 3 (1942), 293301, 293.

14 Ibid., 298.

15 Ellis, 290.

16 Ibid., 291. Drinking figured heavily in James Jones's epic first wartime novel, From Here to Eternity, set in prewar Hawaii.

17 Rubin, 249. Note that this is over one six-month period.

18 Fussell, Paul, Wartime: Understanding and Behaviour in the Second World War (Oxford University Press, 1989), 102.

19 Letter, J. A. Eberhart to Chief of Army Chaplains, 2 Dec. 1942; and letter, A. Corpening to Pomona Grange, 10 Dec. 1942, RG 247, Box 193.

20 Letter, G. Turner to G. Marshall, 2 Jan. 1943, RG 247, Box 193.

21 Letter, W. Arnold to G. Turner, 21 Jan. 1943, RG 247, Box 193.

22 Letter, W. Arnold to J. Ball, 18 March 1941, RG 247, Box 193.

23 Letter, Arnold to Turner.

24 Rubin, 239.

25 Letter, G. Eads to H. Stimson, 21 June 1943; and letter, G. Eads to C. Opsahl, 17 June 1943, RG 247, Box 193.

26 Letter, L. Griffeth to W. Arnold, 23 Oct. 1943; and letter, H. Heuer to L. Griffeth, 26 Oct. 1943, RG 247, Box 193.

27 Letter, E. P. Vogel to General Commission of Army, 10 Feb. 1944; and letter, H. Heuer to E. P. Vogel, 19 Feb. 1944, plus attached advertisement from Cincinnati Times Star, RG 247, Box 193; and Rubin, 243.

28 Chaplain Raul T. Perkins, “Beer for Soldiers,” Virginia Methodist Advocate, 14, from Christian Advocate, RG 247, Box 193. Unfortunately, articles by chaplains, as well as letters from chaplains to the Chief of Chaplains, did not include information on the denomination of the correspondent, hence any firm conclusions about the religious background of complaining chaplains is impossible to determine.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 Press release, General Commission on Army and Navy Chaplains, n.d., RG 247, Box 193.

32 Letter, R. Honeywell to C. F. Zimmerman, 14 July 1945, and attached F. R. Kerr, “Information Regarding Manufacture and Sale of 3.2 Beer in the Army,” Army Exchange Services, 23 May 1945, RG 247, Box 193. There was no copy of the original Zimmerman letter in the file.

33 Kerr, “Information Regarding Manufacture and Sale of 3.2 Beer.”

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Letter, P. McCullers to W. Arnold, 3 March 1945, RG 247, Box 193.

37 Letter, W. B. Zimmerman to P. McCullers, 14 March 1945, RG 247, Box 193.

38 Letter, R. LaRue Cober to War Department, 11 April 1945; and letter, J. A. Ulio to R. LaRue Cober, 14 May 1945, RG 247, Box 193.

39 The use of benzedrine reached its peak in the United States in the late 1950s but clearly skyrocketed during the World War II years. Alan Jacobs, “The Lost World of Benzedrine,” The Atlantic, 15 April 2012.

40 Chapman, Robert, Tell It to the Chaplain (New York: Exposition Press, n.d.), 98.

41 Rose, Ben, A Chaplain in Combat in World War II (Richmond VA: QP Press 2002), 53.

42 Ibid., 80.

43 Knowles, Edith V., ed., Ever, Your Ben (West Point, GA: Crossroads Productions and Publications, 1981), 64.

44 Ibid., 65.

45 Watt Cooper, With the Seabees in the South Pacific (n.p., 1981), 91.

46 Maher, Richard, For God and Country: Memorable Stories from the Lives of Mormon Chaplains (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1976), 103.

47 Knowles, 168.

48 Cooper, 81.

49 Knowles, 147.

50 Ibid., 196.

51 Kennett, Lee, GI: The American Soldier in World War II (New York: Warner Books, 1987), 143.

52 Adams, Michael C. C., The Best War Ever: America and World War II (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1994), 94.

53 Rubin, “The Wet War,” 248.

54 Cooper, 184.

55 B. Rose, A Chaplain in Combat, p.

56 Whitebread, Charles H., “‘Us’ and ‘Them’ and the Nature of Moral Regulation,” Southern California Law Review, 74 (2000–1), 361–70, 362.

57 Cutten quoted in Rotskoff, Lori, Love on the Rocks: Men, Women, and Alcohol in Post-World War II America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 47.

58 Ibid., 48.

59 Ibid., 49.

60 Herzog, Jonathan, The Spiritual–Industrial Complex: America's Religious Battle Against Communism in the Early Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 17.


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