Creation and Culture in a Time of War


The continent of Europe had been consumed by war for two years when a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor catapulted the United States into conflict. Within days, the United States would enter the war on the side of the Allied powers and the Pacific Ocean would become a significant theater of war.

A previously noninterventionist American public reevaluated their nation’s place in the world and their personal place within that nation. No one was left unscathed by this entry into the war. What would emerge from the wreckage of a second Great War? Everyone knew what the soldier's role would be in this war. But what about the civilian? The scientist? The artist?


At Butler University, the small campus population reeled in the wake of Pearl Harbor. In a December 19, 1941 letter to The Collegian campus newspaper, Butler President Daniel S. Robinson:

"Just as we were preparing to celebrate another peacetime Christmas the Japanese militarists attacked our shores and brought us into the second world war as belligerents. Many sons of Butler will have to join the armed forces of our Government during the coming year. Scores are already in uniform. No man knows what the outcome will be. We only know that we must strive to do our duty in any way that we can. Let us use our Christmas vacation this year to adjust our thinking to the unprecedented situation which now confronts us. […] May the New Year bring victory and a durable and just peace!"

Well aware of the historical significance of the moment, the editor of the literary magazine MSS (now Manuscripts) Frank Wintin, announced that the January issue would carry an editorial for the first time in its seven years of publication.

This editorial defends its publication in a time of war, arguing that writing and reading "any but the most superficial literature" requires "the facing of spiritual realities" that war is not a personal matter and that real victory is not "total destruction of the enemy." This journal, this collection of work, argues Wintin, "is a manifestation of the spirit that may prevent [...] another Hitler or Mussolini and all they stand for."

This argument could be (and was) applied to other creative arts during the War, including drama, music, and the visual arts. Within Butler and the regional community, there was a sense that the freedom to practice the arts as a free people was, in fact, what we were fighting for.

This exhibit draws together student materials from Butler University and the surrounding region to explore student life and creative work during World War II. Read the extraordinary essay of Thomas Haynes, who feared for his future in an "inevitable war [that] has broken, shaped, and reshaped maps and men's lives." Peek into the 1942 editor's lounge of the Purdue Independent. These are the stories of the Greatest Generation.


Butler University Libraries