Loyalty

After the U.S. declared war on the Central Powers in April 1914, articles related to the war in the Lindsborgs-posten took on a tone much more conducive to promoting loyalty.  In September 1917 an article in the Lindsborgs-posten stated that taking one side or the other regarding the war was permissible prior to April 1914, but once the U.S. officially took a side there was an expectation of unquestioned loyalty to the nation.  In early 1918 after the abdication of the Russian Tsar, another article in the Lindsborgs-posten declared that Russia’s position in world affairs was significantly weakened, thus making them a threat no longer.  On the other hand, German provocations, especially regarding Finland, made that nation more of a menace meaning that its defeat in the war could not come soon enough.  Despite these statements in support of American war aims, Swedes and Lutherans in Lindsborg had to answer to questions of loyalty until the end of the war.

In fall 1917 President Pihlblad wrote Swedish filmmaker, Axel Palmgren, that showing his Swedish travel films in Lindsborg would not be “profitable” for either party, in the case of Bethany College because it might place the institution in an “unfavorable light” due to “strained conditions between Sweden and America.”[1]  Pihlblad worried that Swedish neutrality during the war aroused questions of loyalty within the community of predominantly Swedish immigrants.  The films would only fuel that concern.  Palmgren’s films, while designed to promote tourism to Sweden after the war, may have had a political element that worried Pihlblad.  The Brainerd Daily Dispatch in Minnesota reported in February 1917 that Palmgren, the editor of the conservative Stockholm Dagblad, shared stories of the “terrible results of the European War” along with showing films of the Swedish countryside.[2]  If Pihlblad knew of this commentary he certainly sought to protect Bethany College and the community by ensuring Palmgren did not visit.

In public Pihlblad trumpeted the loyalty of Bethany College and the citizens of Lindsborg.  Privately he expressed reservations and even exasperation.  In a letter to Rev. Adolf Hult of Moline, Illinois, Pihlblad worried that American Lutherans might be creating a “self-imposed martyrdom” because of vociferous condemnation of the American war effort coming from certain quarters.  Pihlblad thanked Hult for raising the issue of Lutheran loyalty in a recent publication.[3]

Referat Lutherska Kansas-Konferensens af Augustana Synoden. Lindsborg, Kansas, 10-14 April 1918, (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concerns, 1918), 7.

Issues of Swedish American loyalty continued into 1918.  At the April 1918 meeting of the Kansas Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in Lindsborg, those assembled crafted a statement telegraphed to President Wilson expressing their loyalty and support for the war effort.  An image of the statement – in English – adorned with a waving American flag appeared in the published minutes of the meeting.  Wilson responded later with a message of thanks for the the continued support of Swedish Lutherans in America.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Ernst Pihlblad to Axel Palmgren, September 11, 1917, Ernst Pihlbald Papers, Bethany College, Lindsborg, KS.

[2] Brainerd Daily Dispatch, February 19, 1917.

[3] Ernst Pihlblad to Rev. Adolf Hult, October 6, 1917, Ernst Pihlblad Papers, Bethany College, Lindsborg, KS.