Date of Award
Fr. William Greytak
Few events in history are as emotional and thought provoking as war. World War 1,1914-1918, was no exception. The United States remained neutral for the first two and a half years of “The Great War,” as it was called. In the beginning, popular belief held that the war would end quickly; however, the four-year struggle proved to be a defensive war fought in trenches separated by “No Man’s Land.” With the introduction of submarine warfare, the battles at sea were no less destructive. Warring nations exhibited unprecedented nationalism. Battles were fought to preserve or install democracy in all countries of the world. This ideological aspect of the war prompted many to support the war effort. One such supporter was Newell Dwight Hillis, pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. Through his captivating oratorical skills, Hillis generated popular support for the war. He raised millions of dollars through the First and Second Liberty Loan drives for the war effort. These contributions made Hillis “the most famous of all American clergymen to call upon the Almighty to hurl the Germans into an eternity of fire and brimstone.” Hillis’s role in World War I represented a struggle involving trust that he also faced in his personal life. He lacked a competent business sense but desired to earn money for his family through land speculation. He put his faith in a financial director that ended up cheating him out of money. Throughout “The Great War” Hillis lectured around the country asking for trust from Americans in the war effort. He asked for financial support from them. He wanted trust from people who were at first reluctant to ive it to him. Some historians might say that Hillis used the American public to create fame and fortune for himself. Others might say that he too was used by outside forces to get the United States to join the war. Regardless of the way Hillis is viewed, he is an interesting historical figure. He was a man who believed in the importance of being well-informed about current issues and events. He perceived it to be his role as preacher to inform his congregation about the evils in the world. In the case of World War I, he explained to them why, in the eyes of God, Germany’s actions were wrong. Unlike most preachers in 1914, he told his religious community that the only thing for the United States to do was to enter into the fight against autocracy. Hillis was a reformer with a progressive attitude who eventually accomplished a great deal during the Liberty Loan drives. Hillis is especially remembered for the time he spent as a preacher in Brooklyn and for the money he raised during the war. However, there is more to this man than those achievements. He was the son of a farmer who rose from a meager upbringing to reach the pulpit of a famous church; he was a man who believed a woman’s place was in the home; he was a scholar who had a passion for reading; he was a minister who gave his life to God, and he was an American who desired the American dream.
Oliveira, Nancy, "Newell Dwight Hillis And His Fight For Democracy During World War I" (1999). History Undergraduate Theses. 18.