World War II as Spiritual Warfare

By Published on December 17, 2015

There are many books about the Second World War, perhaps too many. Each year, a new batch descends upon a public that still appears to have an endless fascination with that conflict. Nevertheless, Fr. George Rutler’s Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (St. Augustine Press) is different from all those others. Its focus is not simply a political or military analysis of what took place; instead, it offers a view of events that includes the spiritual, the supernatural, with the result being something more than simply history.

The book opens with how the author came to write it. Left to him was a stash of papers that detailed one year of that global conflict from June 1942 to June 1943. This proved to be a crucial period in the war. It was a time of decisive battles at El Alamein in North Africa and of Midway in the Pacific, as well as the hidden executions of Sophie Schall and her friends, and, on the eve of Passover, the public obliteration of the Warsaw Ghetto to a cry of “Heil Hitler” as the final charge was detonated. While past the smouldering ruins of once civilized cities, long lines were seen moving towards Trebinka and other death camps. In one such a camp 2579 Polish priests were then being held with most never seeing freedom again. These were also the last days of the siege of Stalingrad; a battle that was pivotal in deciding the course of events in the East. It was also a sign to the whole world that the Wehrmacht was not invincible, even if it was as much a victory for the harsh Russian weather as for any army. It was, by contrast, a time of stalemate in the West. Europe struggled with Nazi domination. Its control of all aspects of life no better exemplified than in France. In that now occupied land it was a time of great heroism and of great betrayal, of conquerors and conquered, of Vichy and the Resistance. Similar acts of selflessness and of treachery were to be replicated throughout Occupied Europe. It is easy to judge those concerned from the distance of time; the author never does. One feels that it is Fr. Rutler’s knowledge of human weakness, born of his years in ministry, which prevent him from so doing. The book is stronger as a result.

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Blessed are the Insulted
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