Prior to the outbreak of World War II, nearly forty thousand German Catholics were involved in the German Catholic Peace League, a movement that caused many people in various countries to seriously reconsider the dimension of pacifism in their faith. During the course of the War, however, many of these same German Catholics raised no serious objection to serving in Germany's armies or swearing allegiance to Adolph Hitler.
First published in 1962, German Catholics and Hitler's Wars created a furor, ultimately causing a serious reevaluation of church-state relationships and, in particular, of the morality of war. This work began as an attempt to understand the demise of the German Catholic Peace League. But because of various factors, including the destruction of vital records, Gordon C. Zahn began to consider the behavior of German Catholics in general and the evidence of their almost total conformity to the war demands of the Nazi regime. Using sociological analysis, he argues convincingly for the existence of a super-effective system of social controls, and of a selection between the competing values of Catholicism and nationalism. Although Zahn never speculates, conclusions are inescapable, chief among them that the traditional Catholic doctrine of the "just war" has ceased to be operative for Catholics in the modern world.
Gordon C. Zahn (1918–2007) was professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and former national director for the Center on Conscience and War.
“A classic study of Roman Catholic support of German military ventures during the Second World War . . . careful work such as this reminds us how vigorously and diligently Christians must work to do ‘things that make for peace.’ ” —Review and Expositor
“There is no better documentation of the hollowness and dangerousness of ‘just war,’ than this courageous book, which presents with clarity the threat to the whole body of Christianity.” —Cistercian Studies
“Zahn has lived and done his work in the light of a vision and with a fidelity that many of us find difficult to sustain.” —New Oxford Review
“A sober book written against the background of the most terrible war of all the ages and the destruction of a people unexampled in history.” —The Catholic Worker